An exceptional talent on two very different “instruments,” Cheryl Wilson is a very unique member of the Chicago Philharmonic. You’ve heard her as a violist in our symphonic concerts, but we’ve also had the pleasure of presenting her as a singer in our Chicago Philharmonic Chamber Players performances at City Winery. An accomplished, versatile vocalist, Cheryl is on the music faculties at both Roosevelt University and UIC and has performed with all sorts of internationally celebrated artists, including Michael Jackson, Mavis Staples, and Celine Dion. She took time out of her busy schedule, hopping between rehearsals and studio sessions, to answer a few questions about her life and career.
Q: How long have you been performing with The Chicago Philharmonic Society?
A: I started with the Ravinia Festival Orchestra and the folders said “Symphony II” on them [the previous name of the Chicago Philharmonic]. That long…
Q: What inspired you to become a musician?
A: I have never been or known anything else.
Q: What has the relationship been like between your life as a singer and your life as a violist?
A: This relationship has been an interesting evolution; typically they have never intertwined, nor collided. Some musicians knew me as a violist, some as a singer; most times it did not occur to anyone that it was the same person and it has never been necessary for me to speak of it. Presently in my musical education, these two disciplines feed and inform each other to an extent that would not facilitate continual growth if not each for the other. I mean this both professionally and personally. Collision is inevitable!
Q: If you could play any other instrument, what would it be?
A: If I could exercise another musical muscle it would be as a composer; to have the discipline and fortitude to sit still and write all that is possible. If I had to choose an instrument? As powerful as it would be to master the piano, it’s all about that bass!
Q: What music are you listening to these days?
A: I am doing Andy McKee, Alessia Cara, Tove Lo, Miles, and Philippe Quint this week.
Q: You’ve performed with all sorts of acts. Do you have any favorite performers or performances that stick out in your memory?
A: This question makes me smile! Yes, many, many stories and many favorites… alas, the golden rule of making music and life with artists: Never. Ever. Tell.
Q: What practice tips would you give to an aspiring jazz singer?
A: Know chord changes completely for all songs in your repertoire, practice vocal techniques with uncompromising intent, and exercise emotionally focused abandon.
Q: If you could live a day in the life of any past or present musician, who would it be?
A: Herbie Hancock and Daniel Barenboim, the former, to sense how his brain processes improvisation, and the latter to, in part, experience thought process as a polyglot.
Q: What was your most interesting class in music school?
A: Tie between piano accompanying for opera singers and music composition.
Q: What might someone be surprised to learn about you?
A: The things that are surprising are unspeakable; that’s one of the reasons we make music, yes? Many things are, or become, unspeakable.
Q: What is your favorite book?
A: Too many favorites! And all dependent upon what part of any journey you are on; your present understanding, your evolution as a state of being. Wouldn’t it be awesome to go back and read all the books you devoured twenty years ago? Wouldn’t your absorption and conception be different? So interesting to me.