Hello all, welcome to November! We are delighted to bring you the musician of the month once again. This month, our musician of the month is no other but the beautiful US based African American singer Chantal Braziel.
Let’s meet you. Your name and background (education, family, and career).
My name is Chantal Braziel. I live in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, United States, and I am pursuing a career in Classical singing/Opera.
What genre of music do you do and why?
I pursue Opera. I’v been singing way before I could talk, and growing up I sang in my home church where my parents are both pastors. I have taken voice and piano lessons when I was younger and throughout my high school years. I never knew anything about opera until I pursued it in my undergrad at Saint Vincent College. My former voice teacher introduced me to opera. She also introduced me to Black Classical Singers, such as Leontyne Price, to inspire me to take this route. From that point, I knew this was what I was called to do; so I embarked on this tough, but rewarding journey.
What’s the biggest problem you’ve had to overcome so far?
I would say the biggest problem I have is loving my voice and doubting myself. As a singer, I spend so much time honing my craft to sound better, causing me to be very hard on myself. I often need to remind myself how far I have come. I also need to love my voice more in order to feel confident with furthering my career.
What do you enjoy most about being a musician? What do you hate most?
I love to sing onstage, no matter what form of singing I do. From singing in operas to recitals, I am completely different character onstage. My presence is known there, and from the moment I open my mouth to sing a tune in whatever language I am in; I use what I have been trained to do, and become whole with God on that stage. I hate that this field can be brutal and highly competitive
If you could change anything about the industry, what would it be?
If I could change anything in this industry, it would be to break barriers and open more opportunities for African Americans, or just people of color (POC). Although they are emerging, you rarely see POC Classical singers on the greatest stages. Often, we do not always have the same opportunities that our non POC colleagues have. As an African American, or just as a POC period, I learned that I have to work twice as hard in this field in order to succeed. I pray that my journey will someday open doors for other POC opera singers the same as others did for me. I also think that this field can be limited when it puts our voices into different voice categories, called a “fach”. A “fach” determines the rep that fits well with your voice, but I have a problem with staying in that one, exact “fach”. To me, it says that your voice has limits of what it can and can’t do. I think that limits not only comes with your “fach”, but with time and training. I hope my training will one day show that my voice can sing whatever it wants to.
What drew you to the music industry? Your motivation.
First, it was just my love for singing and my respect for the art form. It was my strive and determination that with the right tools; working with the right people (my voice teacher/coaches); researching/honing my craft that I will make it far. I think what motivated me the most was when I started to research other Black Classical Singers that we don’t hear about today (Sissieretta Jones, Marian Anderson, Elizabeth Taylor Greenfield, etc.). It was their stories about how they pursued opera that led me to this field, and to start to share their stories with others.
Who are you inspired by?
Every day, forever and always, my role model will be Leontyne Price. She was the very first Black singer I learned about; her legacy holds a very special place in my heart. She broke down barriers that was not always open for Blacks due to her determination, not to mention her Golden Voice. She is the epitomy of greatness, and the example of “Black Girl Magic” before the term ever existed. Whenever I learn a new piece, I always listen to her recordings, because her voice and artistry inspire me to create my own.
What’s an average day like for you?
I’m currently between performances of Porgy and Bess, so I am continuing my studies in pursuing my Master’s Degree in Vocal Performance at Carnegie Mellon University. My daily schedule involves taking daily courses required for my degree, including my music classes (weekly voice lessons, coaching, seminar, opera workshop, electives, rehearsals, etc.) I usually work in the afternoons or early evenings to still make income, and I practice on campus in between classes, or at my home.
What is your biggest achievement so far and what do you hope to achieve in the nearest future?
I think my biggest achievement so far was choosing to go back to school to pursue my Masters, because it opened up so many doors for me as an artist. I’m very thankful for the performance experiences I have done thus far, which recently led me to sing at the Metropolitan Opera. I pray that I continue to go far in my career, and that doors will open up more.
Please discuss how you interact with and respond to fans.
I am on social media quite often, and I talk about the highs and lows; all of my achievements of all that I have done so far. I never once thought that my experiences would have such a huge impact on people. I am very thankful and appreciative with people that I meet in person, and those following me on social media.
What is your favorite part about this line of work? Your least favorite? Why?
I think it’s when I learn and sing repertoire that I enjoy. It’s always important that whenever you feel down about this career, you think about why you started in the first place. That way, singing your favorite rep (for me it’s different arias, art songs, sacred music/spirituals) makes it more fun. I think the down part, but most important for singing any rep, is working on it not just vocally, but studying it, especially when singing a role. It is very helpful, and yet difficult to focus on technique, the diction, the rhythm, and language of the piece. It can be daunting, but it is very important to understand specific details about the piece.
Have you ever dealt with performance anxiety?
Absolutely! I feel every singer does, but you find ways to control it. I get nervous every time I sing. I’ve learnt it’s perfectly normal to be nervous; if you’re never nervous, that is a problem! But I learn ways to not show it; I’m, but I do it anyway; that is part of putting yourself out there as an artist. I try not to let it hold me back; instead, I use being nervous to help me stay alert.
Have you ever had to deal with failure?
I would say I deal with the “fear” of failure. The fear that I’m not doing a good job, or I’ll never go far in my career if I do something wrong. Also, the fear of not getting a high note or rhythm right, or any piece or performance. The fear of not doing my best, or the fear that my best is not enough. Everyone has to deal with their version of failure, but it’s more so the way you look at it. It is what you “choose” to do when you fail. I have had failures due to a few rejections in my career path. But my choice of dealing with it is up to me. Am I going to give into that failure, or am I going to pick myself up, and use that failure to be better next time? I choose to never let failure define who I am as a person and an artist. We’ll never know how to succeed if we don’t have failures.
Tell us about your journey to the Metropolitan Opera (MET), and Porgy and Bess.
Where do I even begin? Singing in the chorus of Porgy and Bess at the Metropolitan Opera is truly a dream come true. A friend on social media who is in the Met chorus reached out to me, and encouraged me to audition for the chorus. I submitted the required materials and received an invitation to audition. I traveled to New York, and auditioned in front of the Maestro of the chorus. Although he was very impressed, I was told that all the parts had been filled. However, what God had for me was for me. A month later, I received an email and a call that I received the position. The entire experience has been amazing. From the rehearsals on the Met stage to opening night; the people I’ve worked with; the people I’ve met and all the experience in between. I am in my glory!
Tell me about your favorite performance venues.
Thus far, my favorite performance venue is the Metropolitan Opera. I will always remember the way I felt the first time I stepped on that glorious stage. We started rehearsals onstage after the first few weeks of rehearsing. I looked out at the hall right in front of me, staring into that marvelous space. I couldn’t keep my eyes off it. Just to be standing in that same space where some of the greatest opera legends once stood was mind-blowing. The acoustics are second to none amazing. At that moment, I felt like I was right where I belonged.
What advice would you have for someone wanting to follow in your footsteps?
From another singer I admire, I repeat this phrase: “Embrace your journey. Enjoy your journey. Learn what you can, simply because you can. Love your gift before anyone else does. Trust the process, and know that the plans God has for you will never pass you by. His dreams for us are better than on our own. Keep the faith to pursue that dream.”
How do you balance ministry and career as a gospel musician and minister?
I use ministry in my career. First, I acknowledge who gave me this gift, and then decide how I’m going to use my gift. You never know who you are ministering to just by going onstage to sing. That’s what we as singers are called to do. Someone somewhere is depending on you to do what God has called you to do. When you sing, you are giving your voice back to God by letting someone else hear what He has created. Our hope is that someone knows who God is when we sing.
Hope you enjoyed the interview with our musician of he month Chantel Braziel. Drop your comment below.