Tag Archives: female musician

Christina Linhardt

The Beauty of Variety: Christina Linhardt Covers the Artistic Gamut

Christina Linhardt

Christina Linhardt of Local 47 (Los Angeles, CA) works with a nonprofit arts therapy organization, Imagination Workshop (photo credit: Anthony Verebes)

Christina Linhardt of Local 47 (Los Angeles, CA) is a musical chameleon. Her talent spans classical music, high opera, folk dance, cabaret, and when called for, the occasional circus performance. Her artistic upbringing meant traveling the world, spending summers in Germany, Switzerland, and Austria, among artists and musicians, notably the Arnold Schoenberg family.

In Berlin, she attended the Goethe Institute, later studying French at the Eurocentre in Paris, and acting at Oxford University. Back in the States, Linhardt graduated in music and vocal arts from the University of Southern California.

A recurring role for Linhardt is that of chanteuse. Her “Classics to Cabaret” act is a favorite both here and abroad. In Germany, it headlined the opening of the Grand Concert Hall Parksalle in Dippoldiswalde and the reopening of the Palace Ligner in Dresden. Linhardt adds, “I have done it in Germany with the Berliner accent and included songs made popular by Marlene Dietrich.” 

Linhardt has a gift for innovative art forms. She had exposure to diverse traditions early on—for instance, attending cabarets in Vienna—and says, “I was influenced by the authors, writers, and artists I lived amongst as a child in Europe.” Her dramatic interpretation of new and avant-garde music is often accompanied by professional acrobats and clowns. She has successfully parlayed opera, theater, and contemporary rhythms into her CDs Circus Sanctuary and Voodoo Princess, which were both recorded under union contracts.

With fellow Local 47 members Susan Craig Winsberg and Carolyn Sykes she established the Celtic Consort of Hollywood and with Carol Tatum of Local 47 and Cathy Biagini she performs with Angels of Venice—“a classical trio with a new age twist,” says Linhardt, who is also a featured soprano on their CDs. In addition to vocals, she plays flute. “We do a lot of Medieval and Renaissance music: harp, voice, mandolin, cello. It has variety.” With longtime accompanist and pianist Bryan Pezzone of Local 47, this summer Linhardt is planning local concerts and another recording, also in a Celtic-Renaissance vein.

Linhardt points out that she’s relied on the benefits of the union throughout her career. “Early on, I was a music contractor for a score contracted through Local 47. They gave me legal advice when I was producing albums and doing radio promotion—what to do and how to not get scammed.”

As a soloist, Linhardt has performed classical arias and premiered new opera pieces—many written exclusively for her—in Los Angeles and throughout Germany. She is the official national anthem singer for the German Consulate and represents Berlin every year at the Los Angeles Sister Cities Festival.

Her clown and mime training landed her a part in the Vamphear Circus in 2006, when the troupe traveled to the naval base on Guantanamo Bay. “A friend of mine said he was going to Guantanamo Bay for a gig,” She remembers saying, “You’ve got to get me on that circus gig.’”

Known primarily for the notorious detention camp, the sequestered region is also home to US military personnel and service workers.  Linhardt says, “At the time, there were about 2,000 children on Guantanamo Bay. It was very 1950s. People said it was a great place to raise your kids. It was a Twilight Zone set—almost surreal.”

The subsequent documentary Guantanamo Circus, by Linhardt and fellow performer Michael Rose, won the Hollywood FAME Award for Best Documentary.

Off stage, Linhardt works for the Imagination Workshop (IW), a nonprofit theater arts organization that uses music and art as therapy for senior citizens, those with Alzheimer’s disease, at-risk youth, and homeless veterans, among others.

Linhardt says, “Music is an effective tool, especially, with Alzheimer’s patients, who cannot engage in the same way,” she says. “I’ll have people who can’t speak, except through the words of the music. After a session, sometimes we can get a few words out of them because they just sang the song. Music activates different parts of the brain and that’s why music can still be remembered when all other memory is gone.”         

For the past 16 years, she has been working with veterans with PTSD. “As the veterans are highly functional, we take the program to the next level, like a play written by and starring the participants. A lot of vets say, ‘For once, we don’t have to be our addiction; we don’t have to be our PTSD; we don’t have to be our past. We can try to be somebody else.’ It’s a new opportunity,” Linhardt says.

Recently, she has taken on yet another role, that of staff writer for the California Philharmonic, where she writes a Meet the Musician series. “Classical musicians are trained to be soloists, to be super stars,” Linhardt says, “I wanted to give each musician a moment in the limelight.”

Tania León

Tania León: A Celebration of Diversity in Composing and Life

Tania León

Tania León of Local 802 (New York City) conducts the Youth Orchestra LA (YOLA) in the premiere of her work Pa’lante. (Photo credit: Craig Mathew)

The music of North America would be vastly different if not for the richness brought from other cultures. That’s one reason why the career of Tania León is so remarkable. If she had not bravely come to the US on a 1967 “Freedom Flight” from Cuba, she would not have gifted New York City and the country with her talents and influence, inspiring generations of artists. The pianist, composer, conductor, and educator’s career culminated in the founding of her own composer organization and festival seven years ago.

“I wanted to create something that brought composers together from all walks of life,” says León. Founded in 2010, her nonprofit Composers Now is dedicated to empowering all living composers, while celebrating the diversity—in gender, culture, genre—of their voices and contributions. This month, composers gather in New York City to take part in this year’s theme: “the impact of arts in our society.”

“We have more than 99 events all over the city—each attended by the composer,” says León. “It’s a very inclusive audience.”

A proud and longtime member of Local 802 (New York City), León recalls joining the union early in her career when she was as an accompanist and worked as a music director and conductor for Broadway shows, including The Wiz and The Human Comedy. “I’ve worn lots of different hats, and all the while, backed up and supported by the union. A lot of musicians depend on Local 802. The AFM is a core organization—instrumental to having a career in music.”

Cuban Roots

Tania León

Tania León of Local 802 (New York City) looks on while Henry Louis Gates, Jr., speaks at a September 2017 event commemorating the anniversary of the desegregation of Little Rock High School. (Photo credit: Blake Tyson)

Though she grew up poor in Havana, León’s entire family supported her remarkable musical talent. Her grandmother insisted she be admitted to the music conservatory at age four, before she could even read. Her grandfather purchased a piano for the household when León was five. An avid reader, her grandmother often spoke to her about artists—Marian Anderson, Josephine Baker, Paul Robeson, Leonard Bernstein—many of whom Tania later got to work with.

When she was nine years old, León’s teacher casually planted the seed of her becoming an international pianist. While performing in France, he sent her a postcard of the Eiffel Tower. “It had such an impact; I kept saying to my family that one day I would live in Paris,” says León.

Before leaving Cuba, she earned a BA and MA from Carlos Alfredo Peyrellade Conservatory, and simultaneously, earned her CPA from the school of commerce—in case her dream of being a musician never materialized. “My family did so much to give me the best education they could,” she says.

Arriving first in Miami, she knew the city could not offer the opportunities needed to launch a music career. She explained her predicament to a church sponsor. Three days later she had a one-way ticket to New York City, which she has called home ever since.

León was able to work as an accountant at the Americana Hotel, while she worked towards validating her degrees in the US. “Following an audition, I was given an almost instant scholarship from New York College of Music and they sent me to study English at New York University [NYU],” she says. Eventually she earned her BA and MS from NYU.

Soon after arriving in the country in 1967, she became aware her new home was facing challenges—protests over civil rights and the Vietnam War were in full swing. While New York City was diverse and accepting, the unrest in the country raised her consciousness. “At NYU there was a rally every three days and the suspension of classes. Because I didn’t speak English, my classmates would tell me what to scream when we attended the rallies,” she says. “Within that first year after my arrival, Martin Luther King was assassinated.”

“When I first saw what was going on with desegregation I was saddened,” she says. Coming from a multi-racial background, racism was not something she had experienced up to that point in her life. “My neighborhood [in Cuba] was integrated. We were unified in that we were all poor.”

Racism is something she’s never been able to wrap her head around. “I don’t care what you look like. There are no two people in the world with the same skin tone; we are all different,” she says. “We all reflect each other; we are all created in the image of one another; and everyone has something to give.”

Birth of a Composer

A chance meeting with Arthur Mitchell, the New York City Ballet’s first African American principal dancer, changed the course of her life. She had agreed to sub as a ballet accompanist, and during a break, she met Mitchell when he heard her playing. “The door opened and there he was; it was like he’d come out of a movie set,” she says.

Eventually, he asked if she’d like to help with his new project, Dance Theatre of Harlem. Motivated by the assassination of King, Mitchell had the idea of using art, specifically dance, to affect social change. León became the organization’s first music director. Eventually, Mitchell inspired León to create her first composition, Tones, which she dedicated to her grandmother.

“One day Arthur said to me, ‘Why don’t you write a piece and I will do the choreography?” recalls León. “The whole experience moved me so much that I wanted to change my major to composition.”

Similarly, on the suggestion of Mitchell, León first conducted the Juilliard Orchestra for a Dance Theatre of Harlem performance in Italy. “The next thing I knew, I was in the pit and the next day my picture was in the paper with the caption ‘woman conductor,’” she says. “When we came back, I studied conducting.”

León never thought she would write an opera either. When she was first contacted by Munich Biennale festival founder Hans Werner Henze to write one, she thought it was a joke. Her opera, Scourge of Hyacinths, commissioned in 1994 and based on a BBC radio play by Wole Soyinka, won the BMW Prize for best new opera at the festival in 1999.

León instituted the Brooklyn Philharmonic Community Concert series in 1978. Over the years, she’s advised and worked with dozens of other organizations, among them: The New York Philharmonic, American Composers Orchestra, Sonidos de las Americas Festivals, International Alliance of Women in Music, Quintet of the Americas, Symphony Space, Sphinx Organization, Orquesta Sinfonica de las Americas, altaVoz, and Chamber Music America.

Today, León is an inspiration to young composers, a cultural activist, and a champion for contemporary music. She has been a professor at Brooklyn College since 1985 and is a City University of New York (CUNY) distinguished professor since 2010. As a professor, she sees her role as supportive: teaching students to believe in themselves and helping them to bring out their best compositions.

“I encourage them to follow their beliefs and support them spiritually—to find who they are. We all get preoccupied about how to start a piece and the first time the piece is heard by others. In my teaching, I incorporate everything—how to bow, how to address an audience, and how they are going to make a living,” she explains. “After years of working, you develop your voice. And hopefully, with that voice, you can write in different styles.”

Return to Cuba

Even she had to find her voice. Early in her composing career, in 1979, León visited with her father in Cuba. She played him some of her compositions. “Before I left, my father said my music was very interesting, but asked ‘where are you in your music?’ Unfortunately, that was our last conversation and I was left with that question, not knowing what he meant,” she says.

As she thought about her trip and Cuba, it occurred to her that she could include traces of the music of her primary culture in the music she was composing. Shortly after, she began Four Pieces for Cello. “The third movement, ‘Tumbao,’ refers to my father’s way of walking—very happy from the heart. That was my first gesture where I included myself,” she says.

In 2016, León was invited to return to her birthplace to perform for the first time. She conducted the National Symphony Orchestra of Cuba in a program that included one of her works. León, who has memories of attending the symphony’s concerts with her grandmother, dedicated the performance to her ancestors.

The Little Rock Nine Opera

Tania León

(Photo credit: Andrea Morales)

León is currently working on her latest commission, The Little Rock Nine opera. Commissioned by the University of Central Arkansas (UCA), the opera tells the story of the desegregation of Little Rock’s Central High School in 1957. Rollin Potter, former dean of UCA’s College of Fine Arts, came up with the idea and Thulani Davis wrote the libretto.

As she researched the project, León was deeply moved. Research is important to any commission, she explains. “When you get a commission and you have to start writing, you panic. What is important to say? You have to get inspired. At least with an opera I collaborate with the librettist.”

She first met with historian Henry Louis Gates, Jr., historical researcher for the opera. Then, in September 2017, at the event “Imagine If Buildings Could Talk: Mapping the History of Little Rock Central High School,” she met the surviving Little Rock Nine and even some reporters who had covered those defining moments of the Civil Rights Movement.

“They spoke and gave their stories,” says León. “I remember all my dreams when I was studying at their age. I believe in empathy and compassion. You have to put yourself in the heart and shoes of the characters. I’ve been trying to hear the syntax of the Little Rock students.”

One thing León has felt strongly about is the Little Rock Nine’s chorus. “I hope the members of the chorus will address diversity to show how much we have grown in compassion and empathy,” she says. The premiere of the opera (in concert form) will be at the high school around the end of 2018 or early 2019.

Commissions & Accolades

In December 2017 León’s composition Ser, commissioned for the Los Angeles Philharmonic, premiered. Other recent premieres include Pa’lante, (commissioned by the Los Angeles Philharmonic for Youth Orchestra LA), Ethos (commissioned by the New York State Council of the Arts for Symphony Space), del Caribe, soy! (commissioned by Saint Martha Concerts for flutist Nestor Torres), and Inura (commissioned and premiered by Dance Brazil).

In January, it was announced that León was selected for a $50,000 United States Artists (USA) fellowship. In 2017, she was honored as one of Musical America’s 30 Professionals of the Year. Among other honors, she was awarded the New York Governor’s Lifetime Achievement Award, ASCAP Victor Herbert Award (2013), and was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 2010. She has also received accolades from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Koussevitzky Music Foundation, and Meet the Composer, among others.

Even today, León retains her sense of wonder about the world, recalling the sequence of events that brought her to where she is today. She remembers her excitement about witnessing last year’s eclipse in Central Park. She still cannot understand, with the vastness of the universe, why people put so much emphasis on how we look and speak.

“We are riding on this vessel and there’s this universe we don’t even know about. It doesn’t make sense that we don’t respect each other,” she says.

Dolly Parton Launches Album to Benefit Imagination Library

On September 29, Dolly Parton of Local 257 (Nashville, TN) releases her first children’s album, I Believe in You. Proceeds from the album will go to the Imagination Library, which provides monthly, new, age-appropriate books to children in four countries. Founded 20 years ago in Parton’s hometown of Sevierville, Tennessee, the organization has served more than one million kids. The most honored female country performer of all time, Parton has been a member of the union for 50 years this December.

Anja Wood

Hamilton Cellist Anja Wood Follows Her Heart to Aid Families in Ethiopia

Anja Wood

Anja Wood, cellist for the Broadway show Hamilton and a member of Local 802 (New York City), founded her own charity to help Ethiopian families overcome poverty.

When Anja Wood of Local 802 (New York City) graduated from the Cleveland Institute of Music in the early 1990s, she headed east to carve out a life as a freelance musician. A classical cellist armed with a master’s degree, she easily settled into a tidy routine of playing in regional orchestras and touring Japan during the summer with conductor Mamoru Takahara (also of Local 802) and the New York Symphonic Ensemble.    

“I lived like a pauper with little gigs here and there, and eventually worked my way up,” she says. Wood joined the union in 1997 when she first started subbing on Broadway.

In 2014, Wood received a call from musical director Alex Lacamoire of Local 802, who asked her to join the orchestra of the Broadway hit, Hamilton. It was the same creative team that produced In the Heights. Wood says, “It was exactly what I’d been wanting to do for years,” adding, “It was long before we knew what Hamilton would be. We knew people would react well. We just didn’t know it would be this juggernaut success.”

They play eight shows a week, but the union contract allows the orchestra musicians to take off four days a week and still maintain their contract. Wood says, “The brilliance of that is we can go and play another gig, and a friend and colleague whom we trust and love can come and play the show for us, and is happy to have the work. It’s a great system for musicians in New York.”

In a different role, a world away from New York City and Broadway, Wood serves as president of the Lelt Foundation, a nonprofit organization that helps severely impoverished Ethiopian orphans and families. It began in 2009, when she and her husband began the adoption process for their second daughter from Ethiopia. Amid agency-wide and embassy delays, Wood says that their daughter, who should have already been in the States, was still in Ethiopia five months after she was legally theirs.

Taking a leave from work, she traveled to Addis Ababa to take custody. In Ethiopia, they stayed with her friend, the late Carrie Neel-Parker, who also adopted a daughter from Ethiopia. While visiting state-run orphanages, many in grave disrepair, they realized that some basic, inexpensive upgrades could vastly improve living conditions for the children. With the help of friends back in the US, who chipped in about $30 each, they were able to provide 250 girls in Kechene Orphanage with mattresses and linens, plus repair the crumbling outer compound security wall.

Wood initiated a music program at the Kolfe Boys Orphanage, where an instructor comes in twice a week to teach students electric piano, bass, and electric guitar. She felt confident that the efforts made in just a couple of months would give way to more initiatives. “Our daughters gave us this gift of having Ethiopian families and we wanted to continue to give back to those we now consider our family,” she says.

Back home she filed for nonprofit status, formed a board of directors together with Neel-Parker, and the Lelt Foundation was born. Its focus: nutrition, education, and job creation programs for very impoverished neighborhoods. “Our whole mission is to help people so they won’t need us in a few years,” Wood says. “People graduate from the program with assistance we give them—it’s a hand-up, not a handout.”

A partnership with the Ethiopian government helps the organization identify the most impoverished families in the region. Lelt pays the fee for their children’s public school education, about $2.50 a year, and gives them a daily nutritious lunch and after-school tutoring. Families are provided counseling and job creation services, monthly food rations, and household necessities.   

In just six years, Lelt has built a community center, and homes for girls and boys, which are refuges for children who are abandoned or severely abused. A dedicated staff in Ethiopia, managed by a husband and wife team (called Mommy and Poppy by the children) live on site, in the compound. “This team is deeply committed to the community. This is their mission. It’s what they want to die doing,” Wood says.

Lelt conducts seminars on money and business management skills, providing micro loans to families to launch their businesses—a “jumpstart to financial independence,” says Wood. “The kids are in school, moms have just started a small business, like vegetable wholesale at the local market or bread baking. Once they get started, we usually see graduation from the program about three years later.”

Investing in music education is a natural component of Lelt’s mission. In addition to Western instruments—keyboards and guitars—students learn to play the traditional instruments of Ethiopia, including the masinko (an ancient violin), the krar (a lyre-shaped guitar), and traditional drums. Traditional folk music is important to Ethiopians, Wood explains. It is what folk music might be to people who grew up in the Blue Ridge Mountains. “Everybody has a grandparent, an aunt, or uncle who plays an instrument, and the children want to learn, too.”

In the music community Wood has found many on-and-off Broadway friends and donors who support her work. “In fact, 20% of the people who sponsor children in the organization are musician colleagues,” she says. “They are by no means wealthy, but loyal and compassionate humans who want to contribute in some way.”

Now, a busy mother, managing daily operations and directing the foundation’s fundraising efforts, Wood says, “Playing a show is the easiest part of my day. I get to go off and be my adult self and who I’m trained to be. I have a few hours of easy peace and artistic expression.”

Working with fellow pit musicians in Hamilton, Wood says, “I love knowing this group really well. I love coming in and knowing exactly where I’m going to put my F# in ‘Right Hand Man’ because my quartet is sitting right next to me. I know exactly where the first violinist is going to use less vibrato for emphasis and I’m going to match him. I know where we’ll sit behind the beat on ‘Room Where It Happens’ because I’ve learned this band so well—and that to me is exciting. We’re making this music as perfect as possible.”

For more information on the Lelt Foundation and to make a donation, visit www.leltfoundation.org.

grace kelly

Grace Kelly: Jazz Prodigy Comes of Age

Grace kelly

At 24, but already 10 years into her career, saxophonist, vocalist, composer, and Local 802 (New York City) member Grace Kelly is moving past the label “prodigy” and defining her voice as a jazz musician.

Growing up in Brookline, Massachusetts, Kelly displayed an affinity for creativity and a talent for music from an early age. Formal piano lessons began at age six. When she was bored with the repertoire, she improvised, writing her first song at age seven. In fourth grade, inspired by the music of Stan Getz, she picked up the saxophone. Six weeks later she was learning the standards.

Kelly began touring soon after recording her first album at 12. “At age 14 I traveled to Norway to play my first international show, and then I came back to being an 8th grader,” she says, explaining the surreal teenage life she led.

That same year she had one of her most memorable performances when she was asked to play with the Boston Pops Orchestra in a concert opening for Dianne Reeves. Already an incredible invitation, Kelly is not sure what inspired her to ask Conductor Keith Lockhart of Local 9-535 (Boston, MA) if she could write a score for the occasion.

He asked, “Have you done that before?” She hadn’t. “I was out of my mind, but I wrote a 40-page score for the Pops and I was the soloist in the middle of it. It was such an incredible moment; I felt like I was floating on a cloud,” she says.

Career already in full swing, it made sense to leave high school early with her GED. Though she considered forgoing college, at age 16, Kelly was accepted with a full scholarship to the only college she applied to: Berklee College of Music. At Berklee she adapted her studies to accommodate touring while working toward a degree in professional music.

“The most important thing that I got from music school was connections to my peers,” says Kelly who describes college as a playground that offered her the chance to explore courses in things like string arranging and percussion. She found mentors among the faculty. Associate Professor Alain Mallet took her under his wing, while another associate professor, Darren Barrett, used a “tough love” approach to push Kelly to improve her technical skills.

But on saxophone, most of Kelly’s mentoring came outside of college. Saxophonists Lee Konitz, Phil Woods, and Frank Morgan each, in his own way, helped her develop as a young player. At age 13, she began studying with Konitz. “He gave me the incredible gift of explaining what improvisation is. I’ve never met an individual as spontaneous and who really practices improvisation in his life as much as Lee does. He taught me how to improvise on stage and in the moment, reacting to other musicians. I still live and play today by that idea,” she explains.

grace kellyShe treasures the opportunity she had to tour and record an album with the late Phil Woods. “It was an osmosis thing being on stage with him. I wrote a song for him called ‘Man with the Hat’ that we’d play together. I would catch onto musical things that he was doing just by being next to him and that helped me grow as a saxophonist,” she says.

“Frank Morgan—a direct prodigy of Charlie Parker and one my favorite saxophonists in the whole world—taught me about the power of moving people with a ballad and playing beautiful music,” says Kelly. “He told me that, in his set, if he could make one person cry, if he could touch the audience, he could go home feeling satisfied. Nobody played ballads the way Frank did. He was an incredibly virtuosic saxophonist, but to him, the way he measured how he played was not through all the notes. That really sticks with me.”

Other mentors include Dave Brubeck, Harry Connick, Jr., and Wynton Marsalis of Local 802—each of them impressed by the young musician’s talents. “The first time I played with Dave Brubeck it was one of those extreme ‘pinch me’ moments. I grew up listening to his music and [his saxophonist] Paul Desmond was one of my favorite saxophonists. I used to fall asleep to Dave Brubeck’s albums every night,” she says. “He was so kind when he had me sit in.”

grace kelly

Kelly recalls how she met Marsalis at a steakhouse during a gig with pianist Antonio Ciacca, also a member of Local 802. She was just 16 and Ciacca mentioned that a trumpeter would be joining them in the second set. “Wynton Marsalis walks in with his son and he takes out his trumpet and plays the whole second set with us. Meanwhile, I’m like, is this really happening?” recalls Kelly. “A week later, I got a call from his people at Jazz at Lincoln Center saying, ‘Wynton would love it if Grace would be a special guest with his orchestra at Rose Hall for three nights.”

Kelly looks back on these “pinch me” moments, and is inspired by the kindness musicians showed her. Though the thought of playing with such big names was at first intimidating, she says, “I realize all these people are musicians and they are human beings. As soon as the music starts, I’m not so nervous because that’s my most comfortable place to be—in the music, on stage.”

As she matures, Kelly has begun to teach through Skype, and at educational workshops and master classes. And like her mentors, she doesn’t hesitate to bring talented students on stage. “I’ve grown up with this incredible generosity from musicians. I would never think twice but to continue that,” she says.

Kelly describes teaching as extremely rewarding. “It’s been great to see how the climate for women in jazz is changing in a really positive way. I’ll see a sax section of all young girls and that is so exciting for me! It wasn’t like that 10 years ago. We are headed in the right direction,” she says.

When she started playing professionally, Kelly says that every time she got on stage someone would mention her age. As she gets older and matures as a musician, that’s changing. “When you start at a really young age, a lot of it revolves around the story of that,” she says. “Certainly people [still] ask how young I am, but now it’s a lot more about my artistry and music.”

grace kellyKelly says it took her until her most recent album to start to develop her own sound. “I didn’t get into the music industry with a strong musical identity. It’s a big transition because, for most of my life, I’ve been identified as ‘the young girl,’ but for me it’s always a growing experience.”

So what is it that Kelly wants to say musically? “Why I got into music from the very beginning was because I think music is an extremely powerful medium of healing people and of bringing joy and sunshine. That’s the type of person that I am. I love it at the end of the show when people say I’ve lifted them up,” she continues. “I think that’s how my show differs from a lot of jazz shows. We integrate jazz, pop, and blues, but always with a positive sunshine, fun demeanor under it. My music comes from a very emotional place.”

Kelly has spent the last few years learning, trying new things, and dipping her toes into different types of performances, including television. She did a six-month stint on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert in the Stay Human band. Last December, bandleader Jon Batiste invited her to do a two-week appearance, which ended up being six months. “That gig was an incredible experience,” she says. “We were the house band for a lot of great artists, and then just learning the ins and outs of how a show like that works too. It was very surreal.”

Last summer she was in the house band for the television variety show Maya and Marty and she also made a cameo appearance as herself on season two of the Amazon series Bosch, for which she wrote the tune “Blues for Harry Bosch.” On the composing side, Kelly recently was executive producer and wrote the music for a 20-minute short The Bird Who Could Fly directed by Raphael Sbarge, which is making its rounds at film festivals.

grace kelly

Kelly says that the AFM has been incredibly helpful in navigating all the different types of work. “I’m extremely grateful for how the union takes care of musicians. Every time I have a question, I can go there. It’s extremely helpful in the TV world how they take care of someone like me,” she says. “It is a huge thing to know there is an infrastructure in place.”

Kelly also enjoys the networking aspect of her union, noting that she recently took part in a Local 802 panel discussion about women in jazz. “They put on all these great discussions and it was wonderful. It is a place for everyone, especially young musicians, to get together and network. I very much appreciate that and I have been very happy to be a part of the family,” she says.

While she says performing live is her first love, Kelly continues to experiment in other art forms. “I’ve recently been dipping toes much more into the production of videos and I’m starting a couple new web series that will be up on social media,” she says. “Grace Kelly Pop-Up is basically me, with my saxophone, in places you wouldn’t expect to see me, whether it’s an amusement park or on top of a car.” Launching this month, Go! With Grace Kelly has her interviewing all types of artists about the creative process, but always with a musical element. Plus, her Sunny Sunday Sessions are broadcast from her living room to Facebook Live.

“I think that the climate for musicians today is so much about social media and being on the web,” she says. “We are able to connect with people around the world, which is fantastic.”

And, of course, Kelly has big plans for this coming summer. She will be touring with her band in the US and Europe, and also working on her next album. “The cool thing about music is we never know who we are going to meet, what opportunities might come up. And I really love that,” she concludes.

Jane Suberry

Northern Star: Jane Siberry on a New Musical Journey

Jane Suberry

Canadian musician Jane Siberry of Local 149 (Toronto, ON) has a goal to live more authentically, and lets her heart and music decide where she will travel next.

At 60 years old, Canadian singer-songwriter Jane Siberry says she’s inching toward her prime. “Maybe there are several primes,” she muses. “My goal—maybe a lot of people’s goal—is to live more authentically. Don’t make a move until it pushes you from inside.” Planning is not typical for Siberry, but other projects she thinks about include a TV talk show with musical guests, and a detective TV series for which she’d enlist her musician friends—a light-hearted show covering complex issues, she explains. 

Siberry’s new CD, Angels Bend Closer—her first in five years—is garnering the kind of praise that secured her cult-like status 35 years ago. Here, she confronts hopelessness and doubt, but true to form, Siberry inevitably provides solace, a way of feeling whole again. She says, “It was time to do songs that were safe, direct, familiar, not too weird or outside.” The album is listed In NPR’s Best Music of 2016. 

It took her five years to complete Angels working intermittently in different stages. “People might ask why it’s been so long,” she jokes, “Who knows? Maybe they thought I was working at a Whole Foods or something.”

“I went through my whole catalog and I was surprised to find there’s a through line: trustworthy, consistent. I’m much more direct now. I don’t use he and she, I use ‘you.’ I try not to be too cryptic.” She says candidly, “We don’t have that much time, let’s dive in. I’m sort of like that in person, too. It’s a good feeling when you’re not tentative. You’re operating from a whole different foundation.” 

Siberry of Local 149 (Toronto, ON) is largely self-taught, having learned to play piano by ear at a young age. Later on, she would draw on classical and operatic works to create her distinctively lush, ethereal sound. As a teenager, she learned to play the guitar by working through the repertory of fellow Canadian Leonard Cohen.

Already a union member at 18, Siberry began recording in the 1970s. In the 1980s, when she moved into electronic art pop,  she became internationally recognized.

Siberry’s second album, No Borders Here (1984), yielded her first single, the hit “Mimi on the Beach.” With her breakthrough album, The Speckless Sky (1985), she earned awards and the attention of artists like Brian Eno, who collaborated on a later album, When I Was a Boy. Her duet with Local 145 (Vancouver, BC) member k.d. lang, “Calling All Angels,” from the same album, has been featured in two films: Wim Wenders’ Until the End of the World (1991) and Pay It Forward (2000).

In 2006, Siberry adopted the name, Issa, and shed most of her possessions, keeping only one guitar. And then six years ago, she made the switch from performing in larger clubs to smaller venues—home concerts in a salon-type setting.

“I move around a lot and that was part of changing my name—to be more at the behest of the universe,” she says. These days, her only home is a cabin in Northern Ontario, where she retreats when not touring. Her traveling companion is her beloved border collie, Gwyllym.

Siberry credits executive producer Dellamarie Parrilli for adding energy to the arrangements on Angels. “She took what she loves about my music and tried to exaggerate it, making things more poignant, more soaring, elevating my voice,” explains Siberry.

“Part of our jobs as musicians is to be a barometer—it’s a natural thing,” Siberry says. I write about things I wish I had heard people talk about when I was 16. “There weren’t very many people [talking about them], except maybe Leonard Cohen and Joni Mitchell [of Local 47 (Los Angeles, CA)]. I felt like that was a party I wanted to join.”

It was through jazz that Siberry became more interested in formal writing. She says she has always “trusted” jazz musicians. “I understand their kind of musical poetry. I’m being spoken to respectfully. They’re connected enough to themselves. I’m hearing how someone else is living their life,” she explains. Jazz players are also better suited to her music and performances, which involve a lot of on-stage improvising.

“I sometimes think the true role of the musician should be unterritorial, more like shaping than writing a song,” she says, adding that she wouldn’t mind if someone decided to change some of her lyrics. “We’re all different musical beings.”

Every now and then Siberry performs with k.d. lang and says she looks forward to the day when they do “Living Statue” together on stage. In the meantime, Siberry will tour wherever the new CD events and celebrations take her—as long as Gwyllym can go, too.

She may play Carnegie Hall, or head to the mountains in Wales, she explains. Some shepherding friends have invited her to help take the sheep up the mountain when they’ve got their lambs—one event where Gwyllym will be the star. After the sheep are up the mountain, Siberry will tour the UK, walking from town to town and gig to gig.

katrina yaukey

Taking the Stage with Actor-Musician Katrina Yaukey

katrina yaukey

Actor-musician Katrina Yaukey of Local 802 (New York City) plays accordion on stage in the musical Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812.

One of the radically innovative trends in theatre music has been the emergence of the actor-musician. These multi-talented artists serve not only as musicians in the show—often playing several instruments in one evening—they are also singing, dancing, acting, and delivering dialogue. And while these shows are not the norm, they also cannot be dismissed as mere outliers anymore. Shows such as the Tony Award-winning Once and Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812—which debuts on Broadway this month—were originally conceived for actor-musicians. Others are radically reinvented revivals, from Sweeney Todd to Company, and two currently-touring union revivals, Cabaret and Into the Woods.

Actor-musician Katrina Yaukey of Local 802 (New York City) naturally fits the cross-discipline niche required for Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812. A double major in musical theatre and musical performance (she is a classically trained oboist), her dual-discipline preparation uniquely positioned her to seize the actor-musician moment. But she admits that her Penn State professors were left scratching their heads at her decision to pursue two very demanding disciplines at the same time.

“I had the musical theatre department saying, ‘What are you doing? Oboe is a distraction!’” notes Yaukey. “And the music department was like, ‘You’re a good oboist—why are you doing this theatre thing?’” While this mix may still seem unnatural to many in the US and Canada, Yaukey notes that in England, universities already offer majors for “actor-musos,” as they call them.

Yaukey credits her parents for stoking her early musical passion and curiosity. “From the time I could stand, I was in front of the piano,” states Yaukey, who also pursued dance at an early age. “My parents had a band, Dean’s Duo—which got renamed to The Main Event, when my brothers and sisters and I were old enough to join.” While Yaukey was initially drawn to the violin, her public school music program lacked a string department. This led her to the oboe, and an eventual music scholarship to Penn State.

While still an undergraduate at Penn State, Yaukey took an audition on a whim, during a vacation to New York City. Much to her surprise, she landed the job touring as a dancer with the first national tour of Victor/Victoria. Noting her offstage skills as an oboist, a fellow touring actor encouraged Yaukey to audition for an actor-musician role in an upcoming revival of Cabaret on Broadway.

“On a break from tour, I went home and pulled out a tape recorder. I got out my oboe … and my brother’s flute, and my sister’s sax, and I played a little piano too,” she says. She eventually landed a role in the production, playing alto sax, tenor sax, clarinet, and keyboards during a four-year stint. And by the way, she also understudied the lead role of Sally Bowles. “Cabaret was the dream—the perfect mix of the two things I loved—music and acting,” she says. “I couldn’t believe I was getting to do all these things at once.”

Her next big role came in a reinvention of Stephen Sondheim’s Company, where she covered several roles playing flute, alto sax, trumpet, tuba, oboe, and piano. “I’ve always wanted to play everything—I think I got that from my parents!” she notes. With the money she was earning—working under the joint jurisdictions of Local 802 and Actors Equity—she was finally able to buy a violin and take lessons.

From here, she went on to play the role of Pirelli in the tour of Sweeney Todd, where she also played accordion, flute, and piano. Her varied career then took her to the play Warhorse and the national tour of Billy Elliot. In between gigs, she discovered a program at the Berklee College of Music that allowed her finally to finish—at the age of 40—her undergraduate degree in Music Production and Technology.

While her role in Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812 has her playing only one instrument, the accordion, it still poses challenges. “Comet is like Cabaret taken to a whole new level,” she says. “It is very physical, like Once, requiring us to run, kick, play, and sing—often at the same time.” Comet creator Dave Malloy, a member of Local 802 and himself an actor-musician, was interested in an intimate exchange between performer and audience, with roving musicians intermingling with patrons. He created the show with many of his actor-musician friends in mind.

For Yaukey, curiosity and diversity have always been the core of her artistic passion. “It was never about being ‘the best’ for me. I didn’t want to be the best oboist, or pianist. It was more that I love all these instruments, and I love music.” Yaukey’s musical interest seems to have no limit. “I have 33 instruments underneath my piano right now, and I recently got an upright bass.”

Though she chose not to pursue the single-minded perfection of a career in oboe performance, Yaukey has no regrets. She is proof that you can do many things well in order to play—and sing, and dance, and act—your way to success.

Ann Ourada Strubler

Violinist Ann Ourada Strubler Discovers Her Musical Heritage

Ann Ourada Strubler of Local 5 (Detroit, MI) was born a musician. Barely four years old, she was already playing piano, but switched to violin, when it was discovered she had perfect pitch. 

In high school Strubler attended Interlochen Arts Academy, in Michigan, from 1969-1971, which changed her life. She says, “I had hoped to be in a major orchestra and Interlochen gave me the confidence I needed.” She entered the New England Conservatory and went on to Boston University for a master’s in violin performance, studying with Joseph Silverstein, in her view, the “king of the concert masters.”

Ann Ourada Strubler

The documentary Tapestry: A Musician’s Journey tells the adoption story of Local 5 (Detroit, MI) member Ann Ourada Strubler. Its soundtrack features Detroit Symphony Orchestra musicians.

But it was only when she was well into her career that she realized musical talent is, in fact, in her genes. Strubler, who retired from the Detroit Symphony Orchestra after 30 years as a violinist, was adopted when she was 10 days old so she never knew musical lineage.

Her three sons, all natural musicians, found their various niches in music and composing. Strubler’s son, Michael, was inspired to write a film about his mother’s adoption and subsequent search for her birth parents. For years he had observed his parents’ advocacy work in the community in support of adoption. Michael says, “When she told her story, I saw how it affected everyone in the audience. They were very moved by it. I started talking with my parents about more details, what really happened. I’m just amazed that this is part of my own history.”

The Tapestry: A Musician’s Journey, by Michael Strubler, who also wrote the score, will premiere in November on Detroit Public Television. Woven into the tale of Ann, her family, including her father, mother, and birth parents, is a narrative of how adoption changes lives—the sad, authentic, and ultimately joyful way it became a story of rescuing the past. Along the way, you meet her birth mother, a girl from the Midwest just starting out and the handsome Bostonian she met in Miami who played in jazz ensembles and composed big-band pieces, who vowed to marry her. In between, various relatives are introduced, from an uncle who studied at Berklee (like Ann’s eldest son, Mark) to a grandfather who played in the Chicago Symphony and the popular Sousa Band. In the end, for the Strublers, it all adds up to a rather remarkable musical legacy.

Thanks to the way her parents embraced it—five out of six siblings were adopted—Strubler was always very proud of being adopted. She says, “I felt chosen, special. I had a very close relationship with my mom, until her death at 59 of ovarian cancer. I had just gotten into the Detroit Symphony, and she died less than a year later, in 1981.” She says, “I always had a fervent desire to share in a positive way being adopted. I was grateful. Nobody has a perfect life, but I knew this was where I was supposed to be.”

She began speaking publicly about her experiences. At a fundraiser for a local crisis pregnancy center a young woman approached her. “After my talk, she came up to me and said, ‘I gave up my baby daughter when I was 17, but I always worried that she would hate or resent me for the decision I made.’ I was stunned. I never had feelings like that for my own birth mother. So that’s when I started contemplating these things in my own life. Who wouldn’t want to know about their background? But you don’t go there as an adopted person. I didn’t,” Strubler says.

Strubler’s husband, David, an educator, approaches it from a “nature or nurture” perspective.” He explains, “Adoption nurtures the nature. That’s exactly what happened to Ann. She was born with perfect pitch, musical talent, just like our sons. But had it not been nurtured, from the age of three by her parents, she might not have pursued music.”

She felt compelled to convey a positive message to her birth mother. First, Strubler had to be at peace with the decision, no matter what emerged. She says, “I wasn’t looking for medical records, I wasn’t looking for an identity, and I wasn’t looking for a mother.” She imagined every possible scenario, and asked her father how he would feel. “I tell people not to have expectations and know that you could continue on in life with your head held high.”

In 1986, she made contact with her birth mother in California through the adoption agency, and over the years they developed a relationship. It was not until 2006 that she tracked down her birth father in Boston. He, too, became part of the extended family. A few years later, he attended his grandson Mark’s graduation from Berklee. “We have his upright bass he gave our sons,” Strubler says. From her birth mother, she has her grandfather’s violin.      

When Strubler joined the DSO in 1980, she was one of 13 women in the orchestra. She felt lucky to have secured a position—and luckier to be part of the AFM. Strubler says, “It’s made symphony orchestras what they are today. Before laws, there was no protection, no help, and no advocacy. There weren’t clear lines of delineation to protect the orchestra. Once you’re in a symphony orchestra, they’re your advocate,” she says.

A November 20 presentation of the film at Detroit’s Orchestra Hall will feature a prelude by the Detroit Symphony Youth Orchestra.

The 30-minute documentary will be followed by Matthew Strubler’s, “The Tapestry: A Symphonic Poem,” featuring an ensemble of DSO musicians. The concert is presented in partnership with Spaulding for Children, an adoption agency for placement of children with special needs.

Both the documentary and symphonic poem, featuring members of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra and Detroit Symphony Youth Orchestra, will be webcast by Detroit Public Television at 3 p.m., November 20, in celebration of National Adoption Month. The Strublers view this concert as a way to integrate the arts into the community to support a cause.

David Strubler says, “We hope orchestras and other musical groups across the country find similar ways to engage and collaborate in
the community.”

Serena Ryder

Serena Ryder Discovers Utopia Through Her World of Contrasts

Canadian singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Serena Ryder is known for her vocal range and full voice. A natural talent, the six-time Juno winner has opened shows for Aerosmith and One Republic, and traveled with Melissa Etheridge on her 2011 tour across Canada.

Through hard work, networking, and creativity, she’s built a steady following in Canada with her catchy, genre-blending songs. Ryder relocated to Petersborough, Ontario, from the small town of Millbrook at age 18 to launch her career. Roughly nine years later she had her first hit “Weak in the Knees” (2007) and then won her first Juno Award: Best New Artist of the Year (2008).

Though people stateside might not yet know her name, they may have already heard her music. The catchy tune “Stompa” from her fifth album (Harmony, 2012) was featured on both Grey’s Anatomy and Hawaii Five-O. In 2013 Ryder performed the platinum recording on the Tonight Show.

serena-ryder-handNow a six-time Juno winner, she has sold more than one million singles from her releases. All the while, she has been a member of Local 149 (Toronto, ON). “Now, as an adult I’m seeing the importance of being a part of a larger community and learning from that community,” says the singer songwriter who will release her sixth album, Utopia, in early 2017 and launch an international tour.

As a child, Ryder’s mother would write out the lyrics to songs she wanted to learn. At age seven, her mother found Ryder a private music teacher who ended up becoming more of a collaborator. “I already knew a bunch of songs—Linda Ronstadt, Buddy Holly, Roger Miller. He would play them on piano and I would sing. I did my first gig when I was eight years old at the Legion hall in Millbrook.”

“I just knew I always wanted a life in music,” says Ryder, who began writing her own songs at age 11, after her step-father gave her a guitar.

“My biggest influence was definitely Roger Miller,” she recalls. “He was a quirky, amazing songwriter who kind of blurred the lines, but always made it fun and kind of silly. He didn’t take himself too seriously, which I loved,” she says.

She was further influenced by her parents’ record collection. “When I was about 13, I went into my basement and just started unearthing all this vinyl,” she says. There she discovered diverse artists—from Leonard Cohen to The Beatles. Their sounds now resonate in the music she creates.

Ryder says that the Canadian weather inspires her. “It’s the changing seasons that really make Canadian music and gives artists diverse emotional perspectives. The weather affects how you feel. When it’s freezing cold—minus 30 degrees Celsius—you don’t want to even walk to the corner store. Music becomes more insular—about your close friends and family. In the summertime it gets as hot as Los Angeles and you’re [music is] inspired by spring fever.”

At just 33, Serena Ryder says she has seen huge changes in the way technology helps her create music. She says that, with the past two albums, she’s had more creative freedom. Beginning with her fifth album, Harmony, she completely changed her writing process.

“It shocked me that I could go into a studio, write a song, and have the track finished in four hours. I used to write for a year or two, get all my songs compiled, find a producer, hire a band, and then we would get into the studio to learn the songs. Then, that would take a couple weeks,” she explains.

She also finds her new process more instantly gratifying. “I feel more free to write whatever I want because it doesn’t feel so painstaking and it doesn’t cost as much in terms of money and time,” she says.

“I made my last record mostly in my garage studio,” she explains. “My producer stayed in my basement. In the morning he went to the studio and got all the tracks ready and the sound running. I’d go out with my guitar and start riffing and write for a couple hours; then he’d produce it. By the end of a day, we had one song done, sometimes two. The main recording of the whole album took a couple weeks.”

Among the innovations it allows, is the ability to experiment with different instruments. She recorded some of her own harmonica and drum tracks. She also plays these instruments at her concerts. “Sometimes for an encore I’ll play drums and guitar and sing, all at the same time,” she says.

Ryder says the process of creating her sixth album, was even more unrestrained. “For Utopia I recorded stuff all over the world,” she says.

With all her success, Ryder is the first to admit she’s had struggles with depression and self-doubt along the way. She advises struggling musicians to look within themselves for answers. “The more you think about what you should be doing or how you should be doing it, the more complicated it gets.” She says that one of the best pieces of advice Ryder received came from veteran AFM Local 47 (Los Angeles, CA) musician Melissa Etheridge who told her simply, “Do what you love.”

The two met through Ryder’s manager, Sandy Pandya, and developed a friendship. When Etheridge was looking for a Canadian musician to pair up with for her Canadian tour, she turned to Ryder.

serena-ryder-sitting“Melissa Etheridge was an amazing person to be on tour with; she’s one of the coolest people I’ve met and she kind of took me under her wing,” says Ryder who was just 29 at the time. “She heard one of my songs, ‘Broken Heart Sun,’ which I’d written with one of her producers and she loved it.” Etheridge recorded the song as a duet with Ryder and released it in Canada before the tour began.” The pair also performed the song for the 2011 Juno Awards.

Of late, Ryder has been particularly prolific. She’s written about 80 tunes in the past three years. “I really love them all,” she adds, explaining how she followed her own advice. “I think it’s because I haven’t been taking myself so seriously, and I know that not everything I do matters as much as I think it does.”

She says that being true to yourself is important in songwriting. “Write from the place where you feel, even if you think it’s a bunch of shit!” she advises. “A year later you will look back at the songs you wrote and think they are amazing. I may not always be present with myself in some sort of happy state that we all want to be in, but I am honest.”

Coming to terms with her inner struggles is at the heart of the new album’s title, Utopia. The idea came from a First Nations story about two wolves. “There is a white wolf inside of you that is love and peace, happiness and joy, and it’s starving; there’s also a dark wolf inside you that is anger, jealousy, resentment, pain, and it’s starving too. They are battling each other. The wolf that wins is the one you feed.”

“Utopia, for me, is about marrying the light and the dark, and making a gray area—a balanced area. It’s about finding your own balance in life. Utopia is a place of absolute light and perfection,” she says.

This balancing act brings Ryder’s typical diversity to the album. “There are a lot of dark songs about dark feelings and dark places, like the song ‘Killing Time’—one of my favorites. It’s about wasting time and getting caught up in your head. Then there’s ‘Got Your Number,’ which is a single I wrote while jamming on the drums in my apartment. I was thinking about New Orleans, which I love, and people dancing in the street.”

“Then, there’s a song called ‘The First Time’; it’s about treating your relationships like you are meeting the people in your life for the first time. We all have history and we think we know our mom, sister, brother, but in actuality, we are always changing and every second is a new opportunity to see things differently.”

Serena Ryder is pre-releasing a few singles from Utopia over the next few months, with an album launch planned for early 2017. “We are doing a lot of intimate shows to test out some of the new stuff live to see what the industry thinks,” she explains.

Leah Zeger

Violinist Leah Zeger Masters Unconventional Repertoire

Leah ZegerViolinist Leah Zeger of Local 47 (Los Angeles, CA) was 15 years old when she was sidelined by injury, essentially losing the use of her arm. It was a crucial time, preparing for conservatory auditions. Doctors were mystified as to the root of her pain, but Zeger’s mother didn’t give up and took her all over the world to find an answer. When she was finally diagnosed with thoracic outlet syndrome (TOS), they discovered she had a congenital abnormality that was causing nerve compression in her upper limbs.   

Zeger opted out of the risky surgery recommended for acute cases, but it would take another four years for her to fully recover. Her parents, Ruth and David Zeger, both orchestra musicians and members of Local 65-699 (Houston, TX), had nurtured her career. Her mother, especially, was disheartened. But it was during this hiatus—a break from the rigor of practicing classical music several hours a day—that she discovered other musical forms and recaptured teenage years usually lost to serious musicians. Zeger says, “She had given this identity to me, and I lost it. But I was having a great time living life. I was impressionable. I was able to explore music outside the classical world. Jazz friends were teaching me stuff. I was listening to rock music.”

At 19, when Zeger was a sophomore in college, she again picked up the violin and her mother worked with her to prepare for an audition with Austin Symphony Orchestra. She secured a seat in the first violin section, beating out Juilliard grads. She credits her mother’s expert teaching, saying, “She’s fantastic. She motivated me.”

During her time at a performing arts high school, Zeger studied with mezzo soprano Katherine Ciesinski and she continued studies in opera performance and violin at the University of Texas at Austin. After graduating, Zeger went on to become associate concertmaster of the San Bernardino Symphony and first violinist in Redlands Symphony.

Outside her classical pursuits, though, Zeger’s musical tastes are more akin to a rock star than a classically trained musician. Jazz and blues factor into her performances, but hip-hop and rock are staples on her playlist, which includes Nine Inch Nails. What’s more, the 33-year-old has a passion for the music of guitarist Django Reinhardt to which she was first introduced as a young girl. She’s a featured soloist with the gypsy jazz band New Hot Club of America. 

Her extreme versatility means Zeger is in high demand. She’s played alongside Willie Nelson of Local 433 (Austin, TX), Charlie Daniels of Local 257 (Nashville, TN), and Eddie Vedder of Local 76-493 (Seattle, WA). As a member of the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra, she played with Steely Dan—for Zeger, a dream come true.

Zeger is a musical chameleon. In a video she produced and directed she gives a thoroughly artistic performance of the “The Man I Love,” alternating from ingénue to cabaret singer. In another, a leather-clad Zeger dazzles on an electric violin. Bands take advantage of her violin virtuosity and her ability to simultaneously sing in long legato tones. Zeger downplays her talent. “It’s easy for me because I’ve always loved harmony singing. I had an ear for harmony already,” she says. “If you do anything slow you can do it fast or up to speed.”

In between symphony projects; jazz festivals, including Montreal, Buenos Aires, SXSW, and the Olympia in Paris; touring Europe; and working on recordings, Zeger is also a sought after film and TV session player who has worked with Annie Lennox, Stevie Wonder of Local 5 (Detroit, MI), and ELO’s Jeff Lynne of Local 47.

Zeger’s debut album, Leah and the Moonlighters (2010), is a collection of original works. In 2013, on Pour Moi, she gives spirited renderings of jazz selections, including compositions by Django Reinhardt. She lends her haunting vocals to jazz standards, and classical and folk melodies. More obscure arrangements are further recreated with Zeger’s characteristic panache. Her third album, a combination of jazz/rock fusion, with string arranger Stevie Black, is expected to come out next year.

With such an eclectic and multi-faceted résumé, it’s hard to know exactly what her dream job might look like. But with Zeger’s artistry and flair for performance, and given her knack for mastering all things music—at the moment, she’s learning the bass guitar—Broadway is not unachievable. For now, she says, “I’d love to be a headliner at jazz festivals.”