Most of the time, I arrange my interviews by contacting an author or band through Twitter. Sometimes, through Twitter and the interview process, I make a new friend. Occasionally, I get to use this forum to promote life-long friends and advertise the creative work they are doing. This week’s interview is one of those.
After I graduated from high school and had a particularly bad first semester of college at SUNY New Paltz, I took five years off from education. I held down a full-time desk job, I worked with an acting coach in NYC (Peter Sklar, by name), and I started directing plays at Mahopac High School. During those years, I became friends with Chrissy Sica. Then we ended up at Elmira College together. Chrissy was in the plays I directed, and then we were in plays and the education program at Elmira together. I always knew she had a wonderful singing voice. As things go, we lost track of each other for a few years. We’re back in touch, and Chrissy, now Christina Lenway, has just released a cd of religious/spiritual music that highlights her voice. So we chatted via email about how the cd came to be.
ANTHONY: You recently recorded a cd of Christian music. What can listeners expect? How did you go about choosing the songs for the cd? Do any have particularly strong personal connections for you?
CHRISTINA: I recorded classic church hymns and a few Christian contemporary pieces. I picked hymns and songs that spoke to me, whether they were personally fulfilling or they touched someone important to me. Each one reminds me of someone, or of a particular time in my life, so yes, each one does have a personal connection for me, particularly the last one, which is quite secular. It is The Story from Brandi Carlisle. I considered it my anthem for years, as I think many people who know the song do.
ANTHONY: The first thing that struck me when I listened to the cd is how simple and straightforward the recording is: solo voice and piano. Did you make a conscious choice to keep things scaled down versus bringing other musicians in or using software to create backing vocals?
CHRISTINA: Wow…you’ve asked a question that opens up a much larger dialog about conscious choice. I really had no inkling to record anything, nor would I ever have guessed that IF I recorded it would be religious in nature. I had been singing at my local parish for a few years, received some accolades and invitations to sing at weddings and even funerals, but honestly didn’t think I had the chops. One summer day, I sat in the church when my friend, Doug, walked up to me and handed me a piece of paper with the phone number of a local recording studio on it. He had been after me to do something for years with my “gift” as he called it, and in some ways, I took that as a sign. I told my friend that I wouldn’t know where to start and he held up the book I had used for all of those weddings and funerals and said, “Start here.” The next day I called up the recording studio, thinking that this would be nothing more than a great distraction and within a month, it was done. But I remember the day after we recorded it; the engineer called to say that he had a demo done, it was unedited, but if I wanted to listen to it, he had a copy. I rushed over, popped it into the cd player in my car and cried, tears that came from a place I didn’t even recognize. The voice I heard was beautiful; how could it be mine? So, I had little intention to do anything with it initially, and barely went back to edit it, concerned that I would not be able to ever sound as good. In fact, Gary Wehrkamp, the owner of New Horizons Recording Studio in Stroudsburg, PA, at one point offered backing vocals and other instruments, but then we we decided to keep it pure. I wanted it to be a remembrance of where I was at that point. Piano and vocals, that’s all I needed.
ANTHONY: The second thing that struck me is that your voice is as clear and emotional as it was in high school and college. You’ve been busy being a teacher, wife and mother … what have you done to maintain your voice over the years, and what specifically did you do to prepare for recording?
CHRISTINA: Another question that takes on a life of its own. I did NOT maintain my vocals at all. In fact, all of this came to a head this past summer. I had my vocal cords scoped to see if there were polyps or lesions, because I was having some difficulty and even minor pain. I saw a vocal therapist for a few weeks, and ended up at a chiropractor, who determined my vocal cords were impeded by subluxated vertabrae. I have learned a lot about how and where I carry stress, namely in my neck and shoulders and how that was causing the strain and tension in my vocal cords. Now I use meditation and relaxation strategies, take voice lessons to get back in shape, and am sure to warm up before I sing anything, and keep the pipes hydrated.
ANTHONY: How long did it take to record the cd, and who did you work with to produce it?
CHRISTINA: I was fortunate to have a wonderful friend, Lindsey, who agreed to accompany me on the piano. She is the music director at the church that I sing at, so the hymns were familiar and comfortable for both of us. Most were done on the first take, and as I said before, I was very worried that I wouldn’t be able to re-create the sound, so we didn’t go back and re-record them again and again and again. We recorded it all in less than 5 hours and edited it for a little bit. I recorded at New Horizons Music Studio in Stroudsburg, PA under the direction of owner Gary Wehrkamp; he and his wife Ginger run a professional studio. Within a month, the recording process was complete, and DiscMakers produced copies. I did not have the vision for me that others had; I intended to send it to close friends and family only. Instead I made a few extra copies and give it freely to whomever would like one. When asked how much they cost, I simply ask the recipient to donate to St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital, and for no other reason than this: they do amazing things and I have 3 healthy children.
ANTHONY: Do you perform anywhere locally?
CHRISTINA: I don’t have any regular gigs, if that’s what you mean. I monopolized the 8:00AM mass for awhile, but that hardly constitutes a performance. I have been contracted to sing at Stroudsmoor Country Inn in April, and am looking into some other opportunities, including open mic nights at some local restaurants, and maybe even a tour of some friends’ churches in the Mid-West this summer. The possibilities are endless!
ANTHONY: Indeed they are! Now that you’ve recorded one cd, any plans to do another?
CHRISTINA: Heck yeah! When I stood up to that microphone, headphones on my ears, it was like a whole new world opened up for me, one I always knew I belonged in. I have spent the last month or so writing songs…lyrics, music, the whole thing. I am collaborating with some friends to add strings and percussion to it, and perhaps record this summer or fall. I don’t want to rush it, as I did the last cd, and especially since this one is all my own, I want to get each cadence, each bridge, each piece just the way I want it. It may take longer than I’d like, but I am quickly learning, all good things usually do.
ANTHONY: I’ll be looking forward to that. When it’s ready, we’ll have to chat again! Now for my usual closing question: What is your favorite book, and what would you say to someone who hasn’t read it to convince them that they should?
CHRISTINA: To steal a quote from Jorge Louis Borges, “I have always imagined that paradise will be some sort of library.” With this in mind, choosing one that stands out is difficult, but perhaps one that has stood the test of time will do. I have read and re-read The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran for about 20 years now, and the wisdom contained within it is timeless, organic, and beautiful. A rare treasure. Is it fair to mention a close second? The Alchemist by Paolo Coehlo or anything by Jodi Piccoult, Gilead by Marilynne Robinson…geez, I could go on and on.