Your typical singer-songwriter can be found in bars and intimate concert halls. But Chantal Kreviazuk will tell you she feels right at home hopping stages backed by symphony orchestras across the country.
The division between genres fades when you’re immersed in the creative process, according to the songstress.
“On paper, one does not really embrace the other. But on a creative level, anything goes,” she said on the phone from Los Angeles, where she had just dropped off her children — with husband Raine Maida of Our Lady Peace — at school.
Kreviazuk, who became known in the 1990s with songs like Believer, Surrounded and Before You, has been crossing genres in a few ways more recently. She performed on hip-hop artist Drake’s 2011 track Over My Dead Body. And this spring, she lent her songwriting abilities to Faith Hill’s latest country album.
“It’s helpful creatively to try and touch on new genres. Now I’m writing music and making records, I feel the jazz in them and I feel the classical music in them and I feel country music in them and pop and rock and so many different genres,” she said. “And we are all of those things. We’re multi-layered beings.”
Part of Kreviazuk’s comfort at the symphony lies in her own classical background. She never completed her Royal Conservatory of Music training, but she studied both piano and voice from about age seven to 17, achieving Grade 8 standing, as well as competing regularly at youth festivals in Manitoba.
“I was a staple in them and I was usually a contender, or the winner,” she said.
When she stopped winning, it became less interesting to her. But she says she’s grateful that her parents pushed her to continue — a lesson about work ethic that she now offers others.
“I had an airline attendant ask the other day, ‘Can you write my daughter a note about what it takes?’ Something I always try to explain to people, young and old, is that it’s not enough to have desire and it’s not enough to have talent. It’s just not. I was so, so ahead of it on that level — desire and talent — for sure, I know that, as a kid,” she said. “[But] if you don’t have the technical skills to back up your vision and back up your talent and back up your passion, it doesn’t mean as much to have those things.”
In the same way that she learned classical music through repetition, she will play a new riff over and over until it sounds just right, she said.
“As I grow older and older and wiser and wiser, I realize the benefit of practice,” she said. It’s something she applies beyond music. “If you do something a certain amount of times, you become great at it and those muscles become strong and reflective of that practice.”
Her musical aptitude didn’t only come from formal training, however. Kreviazuk absorbed it from her musical family. “Both my grandparents,” she said, “they just played by ear.” She remembers sitting on their laps while they played.
On her mother’s side, her grandfather played the violin and her grandmother, the harmonica.
“In the Prohibition era, they would have played together in the hall. And people would have come and brought their own liquor and my grandparents would have played.”
Her paternal grandmother died before Kreviazuk was born, but left an antique upright piano in the farmhouse to play. Every Sunday, the family would gather around it and take turns playing.
“When dinner was over, I’d be back at the piano again.”
In the course of her career, Kreviazuk has had the opportunity to perform with symphony orchestras on many occasions. But having all of her most popular songs arranged, under the direction of multi-instrumentalist Kevin Fox, for a series of symphony concerts is something more unusual. “It’s happened enough that it wasn’t totally weird, but what was overwhelming was that there was an entire show’s worth of my songs,” she said.
She enjoys the varied audience it brings — mixing symphony subscribers with her usual fans. Despite never completing her conservatory training, she says she’s never received flak from an orchestra musician.
“I don’t have my Grade 10. But I’m a very confident piano player,” she said. “If there’s a lot of things that aren’t great, one thing that I’m really confident about is sitting at a piano and playing and singing.”
© Copyright 2013