Today’s guest is Brenda Earle Stokes.

Today’s guest is Brenda Earle Stokes who has built an extensive and sustainable professional career as an accomplished pianist and vocalist skilled across classical, jazz, pop, rock, R&B and Music Theatre styles. Her curiosity and voracious appetite for music has led her to become an internationally acclaimed performer, composer, and educator. Since 2018, Brenda has been busy creating a suite of online courses which is now called “The Versatile Musician”.

In this episode, Brenda takes us on her extensive music industry journey as she reveals that her sustainable career was built on being resourceful, entrepreneurial, and by simply figuring it out. Brenda believes that versatility is key and the more we learn, the more opportunities we will create not only as performers, but also as teachers because the more tools we have in our toolbox, the more students we will attract and retain. Brenda reveals how her performance career experiences inform and guide her student centric teaching approaches. She explains that in order for our students to acquire the necessary skills that are useful and relevant to them, for whatever it is they want to pursue, we must customise our teaching. Brenda also discusses an existing culture of dumbing down singers in music programs within higher educational institutions, the problems associated with gender bias in the music industry, the importance of being strategic and how to create and seize opportunities for employment. This is such a fun and informative show with Brenda Earle Stokes.


In this episode

1:16 – Introducing Brenda Earle Stokes

7:56 – Brenda’s early love for music

18:53 – Transitioning into the professional world

22:40 – Life performing onboard a cruise ship

31:55 – Brenda’s move to New York City

39:41 – Brenda’s transition to teaching piano and voice

46:30 – Are higher education training programs serving the next generation adequately?

52:12 – Training programs that Brenda has created and how they have evolved

Find Brenda online

www.pianoandvoicewithbrenda.com

SUBSCRIBE TO THE PODCAST

Episode Transcription

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 00:00

Hi it’s Marissa Lee here, and I’m so excited to be sharing today’s interview round episode with you. In these episodes, our brilliant lineup of guests will include healthcare practitioners, voice educators, and other professionals who will share their stories, knowledge and experiences within their specialised fields to empower you to live your best life. Whether you’re a member of the voice, community, or beyond your voice is your unique gift. It’s time now to share your gift with others develop a positive mindset and become the best and most authentic version of yourself to create greater impact. Ultimately, you can take charge, it’s time for you to live your best life. It’s time now for a voice and beyond. So without further ado, let’s go to today’s episode.

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 01:16

This week’s guest is Brenda Earle Stokes, who has built a broad and sustainable professional career as an accomplished pianist and vocalist skilled across classical, jazz, pop, rock, r&b and musical theatre styles. Her curiosity and voracious appetite for music also led her to become an internationally acclaimed performer, composer and educator. Since 2018. Brenda has been busy creating a suite of online courses, which is now called the versatile musician. In this episode, Brenda takes us on her extensive music industry journey, and she reveals that her sustainable career was built on being resourceful, entrepreneurial, and by simply figuring it out. Brenda believes that versatility is key. And the more we learn, the more opportunities we will create not only as performers, but also as teachers. Because the more tools we have in our toolbox, the more students we will attract and retain. Brenda reveals how her performance career experiences, inform and guide her student centric teaching approaches. She explained that in order for our students to acquire the necessary skills that are useful and relevant to them, for whatever it is they want to pursue, we must customise our teaching. In this episode, Brenda also discusses an existing culture of dumbing down singers in music programmes within higher educational institutions, the problems associated with gender bias in the music industry, the importance of being strategic and how to create and seize opportunities for employment. This is such a fun and informative show with Brenda Earl Stokes. So without further ado, let’s go to today’s episode.

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 03:52

Welcome to a voice and beyond Brenda, Earl Stokes. It’s such a pleasure having you.

Brenda Earle Stokes 03:59

Thanks for haing me.

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 04:01

Oh, you’re so welcome. I’ve been stalking you on social for some time now. And I thought I have to have this woman on the show. Your marketing is absolutely brilliant. And before we start going into about Brenda, and your story in live, how had things been for you in New York during COVID?

Brenda Earle Stokes 04:24

Well, things obviously were terrible here for a long, long period of time. And where I live in New York City, we’re right in an area where there are a tonne of major hospitals. So it was pretty harrowing. I had some incredible photos that I took where I’m standing in the middle of Park Avenue, and there are no cars anywhere. I mean, it was It was wild. But now you know, really since the summer things are pretty much back to normal. We’re still masked, there’s a very high percentage of people here who have vaccines. And a lot of kids have the vaccines and so it’s really enabled things to open up and just today As I was telling you before I took my son to see the Nutcracker at the New York City Ballet and it you’d feel like it was just a normal day except we were wearing masks. So yeah.

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 05:10

Did it feel surreal being there?

Brenda Earle Stokes 05:12

It’s been one bit of surreal after another because to be standing on the steps of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and there was nobody there for months and months and months. Like there’s crowds there all the time, like went from nothing. And now they’re back up to regular attendance. It’s been the wildest thing. It’s really been crazy.

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 05:29

I have to share with you that I’ve watched Million Dollar Listing New York, it’s okay, I’m a reality TV person. And you know, when you look back at that time, and they showed those episodes leading up to the COVID, shutting everything down, and people were going, oh, yeah, it’s going to be over soon. And then see New York. Just no cars on the street. Nothing. It was like a ghost town. It was unbelievable. It was some of the most unbelievable,

Brenda Earle Stokes 06:05

it was a lot. It was it was a lot. But you know it things are definitely moving along now. So yeah.

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 06:10

Because people kind of think, well, nothing would ever shut New York down. You know, nothing’s ever going to stop New York from progressing and moving forward and opening up, but COVID clearly did.

Brenda Earle Stokes 06:22

It closed everything everywhere. No one was really exactly. Even in Australia, you know, you had a lot of issues, too. So

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 06:29

we did we do. But it’s

Brenda Earle Stokes 06:31

we’re moving moving along now, which is good.

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 06:33

So good. Now, Brenda, you are an accomplished pianist. vocalist, you’ve had a massive career as a performer, as a recording artists, composer, and educator, we go into all of those things, because I always love to learn about my guests, and what has influenced them and have they’ve come to the point of time they’re at right now. And you started your musical journey at four. And that was playing the piano? Or was it singing what came first?

Brenda Earle Stokes 07:10

It was piano very much piano. I took classical piano lessons from the age of four, you know, just the usual thing that middle class people sign their kids up, you know, nothing terribly competitive. But both of my parents had played piano when they were children growing up, and my mother even played Oregon, when she was in nursing school. She played for church services. And so I think it was just the assumption was that we would just it would be one of the things that we did. And so that’s what we did.

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 07:37

Yeah, I must admit, I did piano when I was little, and I was learning from the nuns at school. And if we got something wrong, they would hit us over the knuckles with a ruler. That was clearly I stopped piano lessons. I didn’t progress with them. Now, at age 15, you heard the music of all escapada son, I believe?

Brenda Earle Stokes 08:03

Yes. And it was a total game changer. So I started playing clarinet. When I was in about fourth grade, I was about nine years old. And then through high school, you know, and when you play piano, that’s a solitary project. And so I started playing clarinet in the in the jazz band. And then they told us that we couldn’t keep playing clarinet in the jazz band, because there technically weren’t any clarinets in the actual music. Yeah. And I was so upset. And, you know, I had heard Oscar Peterson and I went, This is what I want to do. I’m absolutely desperate to do this. And there was already a girl who was playing piano in the jazz band. And she finally like, saw how desperate I was to be in it. And she said, you obviously need this more than I do. So she stepped down from the jazz band so that I could be in it because she could see I was absolutely desperate to be in it. And so that was it. For me. I was like, this was the right, the right thing. The issue for me with classical planning is that I really wanted to like colour outside the lines a lot. And there just wasn’t a place for that. And so when I heard what Oscar was doing, I went that’s the thing I’ve been looking to do. So it was really a life altering thing. As I’m sitting here talking to you. I am looking at a huge framed picture and signed photo of Oscar Peterson. It’s always right here in front of me at all the time.

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 09:26

Well, so you have your inspiration in front of you. Absolutely. When you were telling us the story about the other girl playing in the jazz band. I just had this image of you hovering around this pole. Like totally stalking her. It’s like, get off that piano stool.

Brenda Earle Stokes 09:48

or anything. I was driving her but I was definitely like, just outside like going Can I have a turn I really want to play and she was nice. She was like just take it just do it. Just do.

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 09:58

I can’t do with you and nice. Okay, and then you went into formal training for piano as well.

Brenda Earle Stokes 10:09

Yeah. So I, you know, I had taken all those classical piano lessons. And then my high school band director was a was a pretty accomplished jazz saxophone player. So he said, Well, I took a couple of semesters of jazz piano, you know, the mandatory required jazz piano classes. And he said, so I started going to his house on Saturdays, and taking lessons with him. And he taught me everything he knew about jazz piano and a couple of months. And then he said, I can’t teach you anymore. And so I started driving. I’m from Southwestern Ontario in Canada, and I started driving on the weekends an hour away, or an hour and a half to London, Ontario, where there was a professional jazz piano teacher there who people had recommended. And then after I studied with him for a while, I started to take the four hour train to Toronto to take lessons with a jazz pianist named Mark Eisenman, who ended up being you know, a pretty integral part of my musical journey. So I was really, really committed to it. And there was a lot of information that I wanted to know. And I just kept going to seek it.

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 11:07

Yes. And when did you start some studying at York University.

Brenda Earle Stokes 11:13

So when I graduated from high school, when I was, you know, 17, I immediately went to York and went for jazz piano and the teacher, I mark eyes, and I knew I was studying within Toronto was on faculty there. And so I did get to spend a lot of time with him, which was really great. And now when I look back at that time, it really was the most incredible programme and I got so much out of it. And there were so many wonderful musicians that were there at that time. So it was just a real place of incubation of ideas and learning. And we spent a lot of time in the pub together, like drinking pictures of beer and me grilling the bass player in the band, like what are the chord changes in the bridge, like really, really deep into that. And of course, at that time, Oscar Peterson was the Chancellor of the University. Really, we got to spend time with him, wow. Now with us a couple of times each semester, and he came to our concerts. So there was a time where he came in was doing a workshop and I was the piano player in the group. And at one point, he came and sat down on the piano bench next to me, and we played together. I think the craziest thing, it was the craziest thing. Yeah, yeah. And he’s Yeah, at that point, had been living in very near the University in Toronto for many, many years. And you know, he would just come and hang out, and he was such a generous person. And, and it was really a great, you know, to meet your hero can be a mixed bag, because your hero could be a huge jerk, right? Yes. But he was so gentle and so kind and so generous. And he was just the epitome of all the magic things he was he was amazing. Well,

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 12:47

so you let him sit on the piano stool next to you, unlike that other girl at high school.

Brenda Earle Stokes 12:54

Believe it, I just couldn’t believe it. He’s like, hang on, I want to show you something. And he like he came over and he said, scooch over a bit. And we sat on the piano bench together. And we played a standard and he showed me some beautiful things and said some things to me that I still talk about to my students today. You know, all these years later,

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 13:11

that is a true inspiration when you can hold those ideas and those pearls of wisdom. So close to your heart. That’s really incredible. Okay, so up to this point, had you done any singing?

Brenda Earle Stokes 13:25

So I had done some singing, you know, I sang the church choir a little bit. I used to sing Oh, holy night on Christmas Eve just because they were nice. And they asked me to do it. I had sung in my school’s Concert Choir, which was tiny and was not like a huge group of people. Then I was the accompanist of the choir. And then they cut some funding for our school. And so the vocal music teacher had to leave. And so the high school band director said, We need someone to conduct the choir will you conduct the choir? And so I was conducting the choir when I was like 16. I knew nothing about what I was doing. But it was it was a great experience. But when I got to York, I really turned the singing thing off because at that time, it was the, you know, the mid 90s. And Diana Krall was the big brouhaha. And so everywhere I went, people were like, Oh, you’re just like Diana Krall. You’re just like a singer who plays a little bit of piano and I really wanted to be taken seriously, as a pianist. I didn’t want anyone to say, Oh, you just the singer that plays it really irritated me a lot. And there was a lot of there was a lot of sexism still is in the jazz industry. And I was sick of people kind of treating me like I wasn’t. So I decided right off the bat that I was going to be taken seriously and I was not going to sing. However, I was singing in private. And I always tell the story. I was the music librarian for the jazz programme and I had this like huge kind of walk in closet with a record player and all these books of transcriptions. And I would go in there and put records on the record player and I would sing along with Carmen McRae. And I was literally like I joke. I was a closeted singer because I was literally in a closet closet singing. And one night. I mean, this is after ours was a big closet. It was like a walk in closet. But I mean it, you know, and I was in there and I’m singing I’m you know, I’m just going to town. I’m Carmen. Okay. And all of a sudden there’s a knock at the door. And I went, Oh, no. And I opened the door. And it was one of my friends who was a jazz saxophone player. And he’s like, hi, who’s singing in there? And I’m like, nobody. And he’s like, are you singing and it was like, the weirdest thing. I felt like I’d been caught. And so I didn’t sing a note in front of anybody the whole time I was there. And then this summer after I graduated, I went to the Bamp Centre for fine arts for they had this incredible three week jazz intensive. And while I was there, somebody said, you know, I heard you singing, and somebody else heard me singing and said, you know, have you ever thought about doing it? And so I just stood up and sang one song and it felt so right to me, and I got great feedback. And it just felt, I felt like oh, yeah, maybe this is what I can do. So when I got back to Toronto, I started my first trio. And I sang and play piano.

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 16:07

Well, so lucky. You had a big closet. It was

Brenda Earle Stokes 16:11

a big closet. Yeah. My studio space here in New York City like similar size.

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 16:17

Yes, yes. Now you have had a massive performance Korea. So you have performed across the US, Canada, New Zealand and Australia. You’ve played at venues such as the Kennedy centre, Carnegie Hall, the Toronto Jazz Festival, just to mention a few amazing venues. But when I was doing my background stalk on you, I discovered a little piece of information that I went, Yes. And that that you performed with Duran Duran. Now I have to tell you, I loved the 80s I actually thought I was the 80s I was happening in the 80s. I love that music still do. And Duran Duran was one of my favourite bands. So how was that experience? And they haven’t that come about?

Brenda Earle Stokes 17:11

I didn’t play with them. We opened for them. Well, I still well, it was it was very cool. I started playing with this kind of Breakthrough Act in Toronto, this guy called Johnny favourite. And he had it was sort of at the time that the big swing thing was kicking up in the 90s. And he was had kind of ridden the wave of that. And then it had produced an album with a pretty major label. And I guess they were floating people around to open for Duran Duran at the Molson Amphitheatre, which is a huge, I don’t know, 10,000 15,000 seat amphitheatre outside Oh, and we ended up there. And it was, again, a totally bizarre thing. Because, you know, like, who am I?

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 17:53

And syndrome, it’s just

Brenda Earle Stokes 17:55

like, what, what am I doing? Yes, very, you know, and it was fun to play. And I got to meet the guys in the band. And it was a totally different scene than I’d ever been used to, because I had only done really jazz or classical music at that point. So I was used to a very different venue, but it was super fun and great. And I was asked to tour with the same band that I opened for Duran Duran with but at that point, I was leaving Toronto, so I was like, Okay, I’m going so I’m out of decision. Yeah, I was like, ready to take a change, you know?

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 18:25

Yes. You know, Duran Duran was on morning TV here on a breakfast show a few weeks ago, and they’re making a comeback. Oh,

Brenda Earle Stokes 18:34

it doesn’t surprise me at all. A lot of those the ad groups and a lot of 90s groups are coming back or sort of that opening for it again, you know,

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 18:41

yes. Yes. Spandau Ballet is another one that’s kept going. But I love all that music. Absolutely love it. And I’m very jealous that you open for them. So how did you make your transition from the studio then into the professional world? Because there’s a lot of people that don’t know where to start. How did it happen for you?

Brenda Earle Stokes 19:03

Well, I started playing for money when I was in high school because I had been a ballet dancer off from the time I was young. And I mean, not terribly good one, not a terribly great ballet dancer, but I was dancing three times a week, you know, high school. And then at some point, you know, they needed an accompanist. And it seemed like an opportunity. And so I started making $5 An hour accompanying little kids ballet classes. And so when I got into university, I had that experience, even though it was a very small time kind of experience. But people started recommending me for some interesting things so that the head of the jazz programme at York heard that they needed a pianist and a composer to write. They were doing like a Rocky Horror Picture Show of Escalus Agamemnon, you know, the Greek play. They had this South African director from Cape Town who was coming and so I was like, I would love to do something like that, you know, because I just seemed like I was into doing things and then I Started accompanying ballet classes at the university I was at it. So when I was zeroing in on, it’s time to graduate, I realised that I was going to have to figure something out. And I, four months before I graduated, this is, again in the 90s, I got the phone book out, I made a list of all of the ballet studios in Toronto. And I sent all of them my resume and business card and cover letter just mailed them all out. And I had three job offers right away like to start whenever I graduated. And so for me, the way that I started was by saying, What is something that I can do now that I’m good enough at that I successful at it? Yes. And so because if I had tried to get a big teaching job, it wouldn’t have worked. And I knew that I was not at a place where I was going to be playing gigs that were going to pay much more than $50. Yeah, I thought a little bit. This kind of goes back to, you know, planning and thinking through is like, well, I know that there are a tonne of valet schools. And I know that they all work in the after school hours. And so that was a great place to start. And then I had as much work as I wanted. I worked between 20 and 30 hours a week. You know, I was making enough to pay my own rent, all of my own bills and everything and have a little bit money leftover. And I had my own apartment. I wasn’t living with 10 roommates. So for me, it was really like it was the mother of necessity. It was like sort of the mother of invention, you know, is I had to figure it out.

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 21:28

Yes. I’m not surprised at all, though, because you are very entrepreneurial. And we will get to that.

Brenda Earle Stokes 21:36

Yeah, it’s very high. I don’t think I thought I was thinking of it that way. I know. Like, I have to figure something out because I am not moving back into my dad’s house and Sarnia.

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 21:46

Yeah, I know. I consider myself to be entrepreneurial. But when I started, I didn’t think of myself as that way either. But then when you start to look back and reflect on you your career, a lot of it is being entrepreneurial. It doesn’t matter how good you are, no one’s going to come knocking on your door unless you put yourself out there. So

Brenda Earle Stokes 22:09

at that time, I knew so many of my friends were teaching little kids piano, and I knew for a fact, I did not want to do that, that I wanted to do something where I could be playing the piano all day. And in the ballet classes, you’re playing the entire time and you’re playing a tonne of different music and you’re improvising and you’re going through a lot of rap. So I was like this is perfect, because they’re paying me to play the piano all day. So that was a big win.

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 22:33

Yeah. eautiful then you headed to the cruise ships? Mm hmm. Yes. What cruise ship company were you working for?

Brenda Earle Stokes 22:42

I did one contract with Norwegian Cruise Lines. And then I did six contracts for Royal Caribbean. Wow. And it was sort of a similar thing. There were a whole lot of things happening. It was the year 2000. And I’d been graduated for a couple of years. And you know, my ballet accompanying work had really been picking up and I started getting called by like some ballet companies to do things. And I had been doing a bunch of gigs around. But if things were feeling a little stagnant, and I kind of felt like if I don’t get out of here, I don’t think I’ll ever get out of here. And so again, thinking of like, well, what could I do and a lot of my friends played in the show band, you know, playing in the band that does the stage shows that plays for the UFC, Landsat and all that kind of stuff. And, you know, they were making like, $400 a week or something. And I thought why sing and I play piano. I wonder if I could do single on Kanbar. And somebody was telling me yeah, they pay like double what you make in the show van. Yes, you get your own cabin and your passenger status. And I’m like, I want that. So just as I did with a ballet school, I looked up all the cruise lines and sent out my stuff. I recorded a little CD of me and I got headshots done. And they all rejected me except for Norwegian. And the booking agent said, Do you know a lot of songs and I’m like, I know tonnes of songs. I could do this all day. And they’re like, Okay, you’re hired you even like three weeks. And I was like, oh my god, I got on the cruise ship. And I knew a tonne of songs, but they were all just

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 24:03

he didn’t tell them that. Well,

Brenda Earle Stokes 24:07

I mean, they didn’t ask but

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 24:10

not lying. Well, I

Brenda Earle Stokes 24:12

mean, I got the good, you know, I got it. And I realised that if I was going to last I was going to have to figure it out. And this is my thing. I’m it’s all about figuring it out. I’m going to figure it out. I can Oh, I brought a couple fake books with me. And I brought an enormous book of CDs like I burned CDs, I had tonnes and tonnes of CDs. My father cleared out his whole whole collection of CDs and we had these two huge books, you know, those big books, we put the CDs in them, and I just hunker down and somebody would say would make requests I would write their request down. I would say come back tomorrow night I’m gonna play that for you. And I would sit in my in my bed with me

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 24:53

say entrepreneurial,

Brenda Earle Stokes 24:55

I’ll come back tomorrow night I got not got it. And so I would sit in my bed because I didn’t have a keyboard in my room, my room was tiny. And I would sit in my bed I had a pitch pipe, so I could guess what key I was in. And then I would use like I would hmm, I would try to guess what the chords were I would write down by hand the lyrics because that’s

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 25:17

not what we used to do

Brenda Earle Stokes 25:19

back down, I add notebook after notebook, I learned in 11 weeks, I learned over 700 songs, my goodness, and most of them by the end of it were memorised because I was playing like four or five or six hours a night. And so I was playing them on rotation if no one was in the lounge I practice. So it was a really incredible experience for me. And then when I switched over to Royal Caribbean and I really knew what I was doing, then I could really start to invest in like getting to know people and getting a sense of if people came in, I could guess kind of their age group and no, but these are gonna like Carole King, or these people are going to want a backstreet boys song or someone would come in and I’d hear them speaking Italian and I would sing like buenos Serra or something like that, or they’d be speaking French. So I started to really tune into, like, how do you connect with an audience? And how do you make people have a really, really good time?

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 26:14

Yes. In other words, have you entertained and as singers, that is our job to entertain, that is what we’re paid to do. And a lot of that learning happens on the job.

Brenda Earle Stokes 26:26

Absolutely. And I learned that night, any night after night, and I had to connect and I had bar staff that were running around and connecting with them and having si jokes and having them dance around. It was it was like the whole experience. And as someone who was really the ultimate sort of jazz snob before I got into it, it gave me a very different appreciation. I mean, jazz musicians can be Miles Davis famously would face his back to the audience. Because it but you know, it was a great learning experience for me to start to discover my strength. And I feel like it was there. I really became a singer because I was singing all the time and had to really figure out like, what does that even look like?

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 27:07

Yeah, a couple of questions. Yeah. Firstly, though, I do have to ask this question before we get serious. What was the song that was the most requested Piano Man? You know what? I had that written down, down. I had piano men, the other one American Pie.

Brenda Earle Stokes 27:28

I did American Pie a lot. Some of the Jimmy Buffet songs which I absolutely makes my skin crawl. I hate it so much. Margaritaville was like a very big one American Pie a bit. I used to do a spoof on American Pie where I would sing because you know, it’s like seven minutes long. Yeah, I would do the two minute version of it.

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 27:45

Yes. Madonna released a version that was actually pretty cool. Oh, was it? I yeah, I used to sing that one.

Brenda Earle Stokes 27:52

So I would sing the verses at warp speed, almost like an auctioneer. And then when it came to the Sing along part, I’d slow down so we could all sing together. And then I’d swoop through. So that was kind of how I got through it. But yeah, Piano Man, I played 1000s of times. I joke that when I went to graduate school, I was on the Billy Joel scholarship programme.

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 28:12

Oh, my gosh. So how did you sustain working all those nights a week as a solo vocalist?

Brenda Earle Stokes 28:23

Well, I was first of all, I was 23. So that was half of it. Because you just get you can get away with murder. I was very, very careful with I had an exercise routine that I did every day. So I tried not to drink alcohol. If I was singing the next night, I didn’t always maintain that. Because again, I was 23. But ngoi on a cruise ship. Yeah. And it doesn’t have dollar beers in the crew mass. It was just it was a thing. But I had about an hour exercise routine. And then I would go in the Steam Room for you know, 20 minutes. And then I would do half a warm up and have my dinner and bring my tea back to my cabin. And I would do the other half of my warm up. And then I would go up and sing. And so it was in some ways, sort of the easiest time of my life because I was playing five hours a night some nights, but I was doing nothing else the rest of the day. You know, I was like, laying by the pool and reading a book or we were in port and I was in Mexico wandering around like eating tacos or something. So it was in some ways, it was an easy way to do it. But yeah, I definitely got into some vocal trouble a couple of times, but I negotiated through it.

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 29:28

It’s interesting. The reason why I asked what cruise ship companies you worked for is because I know there are some that treat their entertainers better than others. And I know royal very well because my daughter works for celebrity cruise lines, which is the sister company to Royal In fact, I think royal now owns celebrity. Yeah. And they’re entertainers don’t have any extra onboard duties. But I had a student that was working for another company. And she came back broken after her contract, because she was performing at nighttime. And during the day, she was on childminding duties. And she was now using her voice a lot and having to speak really loudly to a lot of children during the day, and she came back and she was really messed up. So these experiences that we have on cruise ships can be either positive or negative one based on the company that you work for the other. Also, what you said that was fantastic was that you took care of yourself. And a lot of singers run into problems on those ships, because there is so much social activity going on. So you finish your gig, you then have to if you’re in the production shows his meet and greet. So you’re talking to guests in between after shows, and then they all go down to the crew mess, and is all the drinking and all that more talking. And it’s not it can be a very unhealthy lifestyle. But sounds like you were very clever and very intuitive. And it ended up being positive for you.

Brenda Earle Stokes 31:15

It wasn’t and I think the biggest thing was, I mean, my first contract, I didn’t really know what I was doing. Like I had a picture of New York City like a postcard from New York City that I had hanging on my mirror. And I didn’t quite know what it was doing there. But when I by the time I finished my first contract, I was like, Okay, this is what I’m going to do is I’m going to take take all this money, and I’m going to go move to New York for six months. And I’m going to take all the lessons in here all the so I really had my eyes on a bigger thing. Yes, after amazing, especially I really had my eyes on the next thing I was going to do. So it was easier to be focused.

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 31:49

Yes. Okay, so what happened from there? What happened career wise from there,

Brenda Earle Stokes 31:54

though, you know, I came back to Toronto I recorded, I guess that was my first full length album, kind of by accident, I sort of forgot about it. Then I moved to New York City. And I spent six months here and where I live now, and took every lesson I ever wanted to take her to every group went out every night to hear music practice, like eight hours a day, learned a million songs like did all over the place. And then by the time the six months were rolling, you know, we’re running out and the money was like, dangerously low. And I was going set it scheduled to go back to a cruise ship. My voice teacher, my piano teacher who both taught at Manhattan School Music said, well, like, have you thought about coming to MSM to do your master’s degree, it was sort of the perfect thing because it gave me something that I could legitimately be doing so that I would meet people easier and kind of be involved in something and it also solve the immigration issue. Because Canadians can’t You can’t just move to the US like you have to have. So it bought me some time. So I auditioned I got in, and I did a few more cruise ship gigs back to back to pay for it. And then in September 2002, I moved to New York, which turned out to be permanent because I’m still here.

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 33:02

You are you never went back home.

Brenda Earle Stokes 33:04

I mean, I feel that is it. No, I’ve been living here for it’s almost 20 years. So said, Yeah,

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 33:10

let’s talk about your original music. Because you have released six albums. From what I know, you have your own music label. When did you start recording? And was it all original music? And was it jazz. So the first

Brenda Earle Stokes 33:28

time I wrote I recorded a five song EP right around the time that I graduated from my undergrad because we were all supposed to do a recording project. And I decided I was going to like really take it seriously. And it was a combination of a couple of original songs. And then a couple of like my deeply arranged covers of other people’s songs and like a standard. So that was my official first release that I did when I was still in Toronto. But I did an album of some vocals, some instrumental music was the first one I did and I don’t know when that was 2002. And again, kind of forgot about it until I came back from the cruise ship gig and the producer called me and said like, are you going to do anything with this? And I was like, oh, yeah, I should do something like that. So I have a very wide range of things that I’m interested in. And I would say that the cruise ship was also a real tipping point for the songwriting process, because I always considered songs to be 32 Bar standards, or to be original compositions like Kenny Wheeler songs or songs by Miles Davis, or Wayne Shorter or something. And so doing all the pop music really influenced me into that harmony. And I started doing a lot of like, sort of contemporary jazz arrangements of pop songs. And my writing kind of expanded out of fat. Very cool. There’s sort of a flavour of Brazilian music in it there. Wow, that’s more jazz influenced. And then there is some definitely like from a lyric point of view from a melodic point of view is there’s definitely a pop influence there.

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 34:58

Yes. And okay, so what about the lyrics are you like an Adele so we can listen to your music and we can learn everything about you through your music. What inspires you, when you’re writing?

Brenda Earle Stokes 35:13

In? It depends on what I’m doing. I feel like Adele is it’s like really in your face, I think I’m a little more nuanced about it. And you know, I did an album called Songs for new day.

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 35:23

Where is 2009?

Brenda Earle Stokes 35:25

Yes, I was gonna say, I don’t know when it was. But I know. It was from a time in my period of my life where things were really changing for me in a very, very, very profound way. And I had written a lot of stuff during that period of time, that we’re all leaning kind of in that direction. And so it’s about half original music and some covers, and a couple of other things, a couple of standards. But all of it, I felt like we’re painting a picture of where I was kind of living at that time, but are also not so specific that other people can’t relate to it. Yeah, I have a new project that I was on an artist residency back in November of 2019. I was planning to record the album in 2020. But you know how that ended. But it’s called the motherhood project. And it’s a collection of songs about the experience of like, contemporary motherhood. And so some of the there Look at my beautiful baby, what a wonderful thing like, you know, everybody long, yeah, then there’s also a lot of songs about identity and what it means when you’re getting lost in your identity, or the rage of that, you know, I read that book fed up, you know, where the emotional burden on Mothers and the judgement and body image issues. So it’s a wide range of subjects about that. And I would say, that was probably the biggest amount of writing that I’ve done. I wrote 10 songs in nine days. And it’s like, almost, almost completely finished all this music, I just have to, at some point, figure out when I’m going to record it. Yes. And I

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 36:55

bet you would be best selling album, because everything that you just spoke about in terms of motherhood, every mother on this planet will absolutely relate to it. And especially young mothers, when you talked about judgement, because I think that’s one of the biggest issues, new mothers experience these days. Is that judgement? And absolutely, you know, and we have social media and Google to thank for that. Because in my day, we didn’t have books. You know, I was just turned 21 When I had my first child, and I’d never been around a baby, and my child, my child survived. And this ended up being a beautiful person. So we can do it without all that judgement, without everyone’s input. And the shaming. Yeah, yeah. And there was another album that I wanted to ask you about. And there was a solo session

Brenda Earle Stokes 37:51

that I released that when in 2019, I went to I was getting ready to go back to Sarnia. And out of the blue, an old friend of mine from high school, reached out to me and said, like, you know, the public library, they had like a concert space with his beautiful Steinway. He says, I’ve been doing some recording there, the piano is in really good shape. They just did some renovation on this space is really great. And I’ve been recording, they’re like, if you’re ever in town, would you like to record and I’m like, Well, I’m going to be in town in like three weeks. And we did, we recorded the entire album in four hours, completely live off the floor, no edits, no, nothing. Like I came in into two takes of everything. And it was something that I’d been wanting to do. Because obviously I have done a lot of solo, I mean, all the cruise ship stuff and all the gigs I’ve done and I play at home all by myself all the time. And I had never recorded a solo thing before. So you know, we just did it, and I released it, and I put, you know, the whole wazoo. And you know, we got a review in downbeat magazine. I was like completely gobsmacked by it. She feel vulnerable,

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 38:52

recording in that way without the band and without all the bells and whistles or did it really manageable thing.

Brenda Earle Stokes 39:01

I was home, I was literally in my hometown where I spent, you know, half of my life on the piano, where I had done all of my piano recitals, all of my piano exams, like I did my ballet recitals at this place. It was like, I knew the place like the back of my hand. So and I was with an old high school friend and everyone had Canadian accents. Even the piano tuner came and I was like, Oh my God, I know, this is Brandon, like we know each other. So from that point of view, it was great. And since I didn’t put a lot of pressure, I had three weeks to prepare. I picked some songs, I put it together and I did it. So it felt like a lot lower. You know?

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 39:38

So let’s go into your teaching now. Did you plan to teach or did it happen to like most of us? Most of us fell into teaching. That wasn’t something that we actually planned. Did that happen to you with both the piano teaching and the voice teaching? Yeah,

Brenda Earle Stokes 39:58

I went right from ballet. company met in Toronto, I did not teach at anyone, I think I may be taught like one or two people who asked, but when I moved to New York again, it was sort of a sustainability thing of, I’ve got to figure it out because I need to stay here because I have to learn how to stay here. And so there were a lot of positions for teaching artists like an inner city school, there were these like foundations where they bring. And so I got placed in a couple of elementary schools, like in Central Harlem and Middle School in the Bronx. And I was like teaching kids and I was using some of the stuff that I had learned from different, like, accompanying things I’ve done, and I had so much fun doing it. And then right around the time that I was graduating from Manhattan School with my master’s degree, they asked me if I wanted to teach at this summer music festival. And I ended up teaching there for eight summers, and it was six weeks, and I was teaching voice and piano, I was the only instrument. And at that point, I had studied some, you know, I had had some voice training, and I had kind of, and I was teaching the Jazz Choir at this camp. And I really learned especially over the first couple of summers, I really learned how to do it. I was teaching like 40 or 45 hours a week of Voice Lessons. While I was there, I was running a jazz combo, I was running the jazz while I was teaching like 10 hours a day, it was crazy. And what I was able to do in a very low key way was figure out, first of all, that I really enjoy doing it and that I had kind of a natural talent for speaking to people and for figuring things out. And I really started to love it. And I started to kind of build my studio after that.

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 41:31

So did you go and have any more formal pedagogy training from that

Brenda Earle Stokes 41:37

I started spending a lot of time doing somatic voice work. I was really busy in that world. So I took like level one. And then one summer, I went into level two and level three. And I took a tonne of Voice Lessons and went to like teacher support groups and started to get a lot more active in the voice community. Because again, I was curious about it. I wanted to be a better teacher. And then again, I realised that I went into it and had a knack. So I’ve taught somatic voice work a bunch of times I’ve taught it in Australia, we came into Toowoomba, USQ. Yes. And you know, taught it a couple of times. And I also taught my own course there one summer. So I’ve studied classical choral conducting, I’ve done co die stuff. I’m somebody that likes to go out and find some stuff and get into stuff for a couple of years. And then it forms the rest of what I do. Yes.

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 42:23

Not talking about informing, because you had that extensive performance career. Does that influence your voice teaching? Or let’s say even your piano teaching in any way?

Brenda Earle Stokes 42:37

Yeah, it informs it in every way. And it’s funny, because the more time that I’ve actually sat in thought, because a lot of what I’m trying to do is figure out how can I get someone to from point A to point B in the most efficient way possible? Yes. Because like, it’s one thing to say, Oh, you’ve got to hit every stop along the way. But I didn’t hit every stop along the way. I skipped a lot of steps. And I went back and filled a bunch of holes up as I went. And so I’ve always really been about like, How can I break this down in a way to decide what is really necessary and what isn’t necessary? And what things are worth spending some time on from a foundational point of view? And what are some things that we can kind of skip over because they’re not going to affect? So especially because I work with so many people always send me the students who are like, I don’t know what to do with this person. I’m the person I like Senator Brenda, Senator Runner, you know. And so a lot of times I can listen to somebody and really kind of get a sense for what we’re Who are they what are they trying to do? And then I can kind of stop and say, Well, what would they actually need to know for this? And what are some things that I would like for them to know. So that’s really helped a lot. It’s also helped to that I can avoid some of the toxic stuff that can happen in lessons when you feel threatened by your students, or you know, all that stuff where people have big opinions, and they don’t want their students doing this or that, because I don’t feel that way. Like when someone comes in, I really want to see them succeed. And I want them to do better than I’ve ever done before. Because I feel confidence insecure with my own career, and it’s still going on. I feel like some of that petty stuff that we all know shows up in lessons sometimes with some people that I don’t have to come to that and I can skip all that stuff. And just we can make music together.

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 44:21

Yes. And I know that my performance background absolutely informs the way that I teach and also tune. It’s not only skipping over the petty stuff, but in order to make our students employable. It’s knowing what they need to know. Yes, exactly. Yeah. And and also,

Brenda Earle Stokes 44:40

having been in a lot of different industries, because as I said, I was a classical conductor for a couple of years, like at a university, I was conducting their women’s ensemble and you know, I’ve done a lot of different things. And so a lot of times someone will come in and I also know a million songs and have sung a million songs so a lot of times someone will come in, they’re a songwriter And they’re doing something and I’m like, You know what you need to listen to? And I go through the card catalogue of the million songs I know. And I’m like, You really need to be listening to blah, or I do. Yeah. Here’s the kind of thing like, if you like Billy Eilish, then you will love Tori Amos, you know, it’s that

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 45:16

I do that. Yes, sir. And hearing a certain sound in someone’s voice and you go, Wow, you need to listen to this artist and really having a good grip of all the repertoire.

Brenda Earle Stokes 45:29

Yes, that makes a huge difference. Because I’ve done a lot of different gigs. And I’ve worked as a side person with a lot of people, I can say to somebody, when you do X, it’s going to really be problematic for the people in your band. So let me help you to fix x. x is always rhythm, let’s just be clear. It’s always rhythm, its rhythm. Whenever you’re having that issue. It’s like, I’m going to troubleshoot this because not only have I been on the front side of the band, I’m often in the back. So I can tell you what you need to be doing up there so that you can match with what we’re doing back here. Definitely.

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 46:03

Yes. And also talking about that it’s all the performance demands, isn’t it? Unless you’ve lived that life, and you’ve walked the walk and talk the talk is very hard to guide students in terms of what they’re going to experience on stage, touring on a cruise ship, etc. Do you believe now this may be a very controversial question, and your opinion is valid here? It’s your opinion. Do you believe that in higher education, that the voice training programmes are serving our students adequately at the present time?

Brenda Earle Stokes 46:41

No, I don’t. I do. And why is that, and I can’t say all of them are not because there are I can name a several programmes that I think are really nailing it. But where I see a lot of issues with what comes down the pike is that there’s still some of the old guard system that is in place. And I think at this point, unless you are an organist, you do not need to be learning figured bass, there is all of this emphasis on you know, you have to do a classical song in order to get into the contemporary music theatre programme, or you have to play a classical piece on piano to get into the jazz programme. It’s like wanting to have it both ways. Either you’re a conservatory, that is training artists, or a you’re a university who has to cover certain things. And so that’s where I start to take issues. And again, I can’t speak to other places other than, you know, what I know, in the United States and Canada. Sure, there is a real dumbing down of things for singers, which I take personal issue with, that the singers are in a separate theory class, that the singers are in their own improv class in the jazz programme, that the singers are learning piano skills that are not useful for them. And so what I really see as being a crucial thing is how well is the programme, equipping the students to be able to walk out the door and actually be able to function in some capacity and get it right in in something and it doesn’t remember my first job, I was accompanying little kids ballet classes, it’s something I had something to do. But if all you can do is sing the 10 songs that you sang at your recital, and you can’t play any piano, and you can’t conduct anything, and you can’t sing in a choir, and you can barely read music, because your music theory class was counterpoint. And you can’t read chords on the piano. I take issue with that, because then you’ve spent all this money, which over here is a lot of money is expensive in Australia, it is criminally insane in this country, what stuff?

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 48:44

Yes, it is. It’s

Brenda Earle Stokes 48:45

not as if we’re talking Yeah, hundreds of 1000s of dollars, yes, $200,000 to get graduate US dollars. And I take a real issue with that. And I’ve seen how it’s failed so many people. So that’s really what my concern is, is being able to train people in a way where they’re learning all of the things that are useful for them to know to have those conversations to learn that repertoire to dig into theory in a real way, but then to also walk out with a functional amount of skills that makes sense for what you’re doing. And so there’s no reason that you’re being forced to sing in a second language if you’re a jazz singer, you know, there’s you know, there’s no reason to be singing arias. If that’s not unless you’re interested in doing that. So anyways, I could go on about it all day

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 49:32

know that I

Brenda Earle Stokes 49:33

am Yes, I am troubled about it. And another thing that I think about it, too, because I think of because you know this is the segue into what I do, which is a lot of time teaching singers how to play piano. I consider this to be a feminist issue, because so the huge majority, especially in jazz programmes of the women in the programme are our singers. And so when the singers are walking around and they can’t play piano and they don’t know how to count in the band, and no one has taught them to do those Things are their classes are being taught by a male faculty member who knows nothing about singing, I really look at that as an issue of like gender equality. Because if the singers, if the women singers, or the singers in general aren’t being taught those skills, then they’re always going to be ridiculed. And they’re never going to feel like they’re part of the group. So I take issue with that big time.

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 50:21

Yes, I know in Australia, that as a female and I fronted a band, numerous bands over the years were referred to as the check singers. And there’s always so many jokes about how can you tell there’s a chick singer at the door when made a mockery of and there is definitely a gender bias in our industry, as the news has now come out that it’s really across all industries. And it’s only women are starting to speak up now. Absolutely. So we are going to segue into your online teaching programme. And this is how I learned about you is through social media, and you do an amazing job of marketing, you truly do.

Brenda Earle Stokes 51:08

Thank you still working on it. It’s a work in progress.

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 51:12

But life is really, you know, we’re always perfecting if we wait for the perfect opportunity in the perfect time and the perfect product, and none of us would be doing anything you have your brand is the versatile musician. Mm hmm. And I’m very intrigued by it. I actually went and bought I’ve been working using with a terrible keyboard, the last couple of months, because I don’t do a lot of teaching from home. And most of my teaching is in institutions where there is a piano already, right. And when my piano died, I didn’t bother replacing it. But I’ve actually gone and bought another piano because I want to go back and revisit the piano. I use backing tracks. Mm hmm. You know, I’ll own that many of us in CCM, we use backing tracks, because we’re all so busy, and it’s time consuming to learn to do anything else. So what is unique about your programme? And what is it about your programme that can fast track our learning to what we need to know.

Brenda Earle Stokes 52:21

So the way this all started is that I started as I got more involved in vocal pedagogy. I had so many singer friends, and people I was meeting at conferences who were coming up to me going, Okay, I saw you play the piano. I’m really embarrassed about my piano skills. Can I study with you and I had at one point like 10 singers that were studying with me all kinds of in secret, because they didn’t want to announce to everybody that they didn’t. And you know, I was a pianist first. So I didn’t really understand what the problem was because I hadn’t seen it. And I realised that so many of them were going through the same thing. They had had class piano in college, it was totally useless. They didn’t think they needed Yes.

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 52:59

And I didn’t follow piano, Riley. And so

Brenda Earle Stokes 53:03

those things aren’t aren’t necessarily those skills aren’t helpful. And if you’ve only got two semesters or four semesters of it, you know, what are you going to do? And so I started to really see where the problem was that a lot of these piano courses were created by pianists don’t understand the skills that singers need. So after teaching like dozens and dozens of people, I thought, I wonder if I could make an online course that would teach what I teach in the first 12 lessons, and then offer it to people so that they could buy it. And so I created my first online course called piano skills for singers, and I just kind of figured it out. I’d never used video I’d never edited I never done anything like that. And I had like, several 100 people sign up for it, and I couldn’t, I couldn’t believe it. And then people were like, You got to do a level two. And I was like, okay, so I made level two, you know, it was like, huge, it had dozens of videos in it. And then people were like, What about a jazz class. And so before I knew it, I had seven full courses. And I had all these students and all this stuff was going on. I had like a solfege class ever classes and solfege all of the skills that are helping primarily singers, but also pianists and general music teachers to get the broad range of skills. So this past summer, I decided that I was going to take all of this material and put it in one place. And so that’s where it became the versatile musician. And so the concept here is that it’s a single place where you can go to kind of self educate or educate whatever it is that you need. So if you are a jazz singer, you can do the couple of basic piano skills courses and then you can go right into the jazz one. And if you’re somebody who is embarrassed because you have some issues with your rhythm, you can go in and go through all of that and then I subsequently have been putting up tonnes and tonnes of videos. I have a YouTube channel I have like 100 and 50 videos up there.

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 55:00

So I took all of I’ve noticed,

Brenda Earle Stokes 55:03

I’ve got a lot of. So I took all of those, I re edited them, and I made printables for all of them and put all of that up on the membership. So now I have members in there who are saying to me, I can direct them in into what they need. So someone comes in and they say, I can do this, this and this, I need to do this, this and this, and I give them a prescription saying do this, do this much, then do this, and then come back to me when you finish those. And so it’s been really great. And of course, the members are also saying, so I did this, but I also need this. And so when they tell me what they need, I can make that for the members. So it’s a real customise environment of whoever comes in. So there’s 380 videos up there. Wow, unique videos, and I think I’m at 550 pages, of course, printables. It’s a lot.

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 55:53

That’s a lot of work and a lot of effort and time gone into that. Okay, and

Brenda Earle Stokes 55:59

I’m in touch with, you know, people email me they have questions like it’s a really interactive environment.

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 56:05

Okay, so let’s use me as your case study. Right? I can play any chord, if you asked me to play a chord, I can play it in root position. And I can go doing doing on beat. I don’t know what to do with this hand. So I can do that in a root position. And I would love to be able to just accompany I can read notes. I can note bash, if I have to, it takes me a little bit of time. So do you have a programme then for teachers like me, CCM teachers, because I know a lot of the songs are written, they’re basically three or four chord structures. So do you have a programme that will teach us how to move around in different inversions to move around a lot quicker? And also what to do with this hand at the same time?

Brenda Earle Stokes 57:00

Yes, so some of that is covered in piano skills for singers level two, level two, I call it the singers toolkit, because it teaches how to play every chord quality three and four note chord qualities, it teaches you how to play all of the basic voice exercises and 12 keys. So it’s really the place where people can get all that stuff so they could sit down. And then I think it’s section four, Section five, I take people through, I think seven accompaniment strategies. So if you have an old fashioned music, theatre song, this is something you can play if it’s a wall, so you can play this, if it’s a rock song, you can play this or this, you know, so that’s one great place to soil. The Jazz Piano course has a lot of like accompaniment strategies for like walking baselines and bossa nova, if that’s where you’re going. And then the newest thing that I’m doing, I just had a live workshop, which is now filmed and up on the site called Crash Course and pop piano accompaniment. And that sounds like me, it was really, really cool. Because this is again, the next frontier. So what I do is I teach all of the pop major pop chord strategies. And then I have I think it’s seven or eight different rhythm strategies between the two hands. And then I show how to build an arrangement, like what do you do with all of this information to build an arrangement? So if I’m playing clocks by Coldplay, what’s the bare minimum, I can play so that people are satisfied? Yes. So that’s really you know, I’m running it again, live in January back course. But it already lives on the site for members. So whenever I do a workshop, the members get access to all of that for free, and they get first dibs to the videos and all the print resources. So you know, I’ve also just finished filming a batch of how to play song. So I’m doing a cross section of a whole bunch, probably by the end of January, there will be a dozen or more of them up there of like, how do you play this style of song? How do you play this style of song? What do you play for this? And so again, as the members are telling me what they’re playing, there’s one fellow and Australian guy who’s playing in a classic rock band, I kind of need to know. So I’m now making a bunch of how do you play this style of old song? And how do you you know, yeah, so that’s really where I get into that. And then a lot of times what shows up with people is that there are rhythm issues, or that they need to really work out. Once they get to a certain place, they need to really dig into that there’s a whole course on rhythm. And I have a tonne of one off tutorials that are just addressing things, how to play a song by ear, how to count the jazz band in how to practice your chords and 12 keys in four different ways. It’s like tonnes and tonnes and tonnes oh my gosh, you can go you can pick and choose what you want. So you could say I want something different to practice. I have a whole course just called piano improvisation for everyone. Where if you want to just get a little bit more mobility on the piano. It’s a whole course. just as easy. And

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 1:00:02

so if people join your programme, so I have access to everything, or do you have three different tiers,

Brenda Earle Stokes 1:00:09

I have one tier, it’s you’re in, it’s two tiers you’re in or you’re out,

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 1:00:13

okay? I don’t want to be on the outs.

Brenda Earle Stokes 1:00:18

You get, you get everything. And there’s a monthly zoom call where I get on the phone, and I either give a workshop or people ask questions, and we do like a kind of a practice thing. And every month, there’s a theme. So January is going to be like getting back to practising. So how to establish those kinds of routines. And, you know, as I said, people will shoot me an email and say, I’m stuck on something. And I’m usually responding within 24 hours, you know, there’s not 10,000 people in there. It’s like a relatively reasonable sized group. So yes,

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 1:00:46

because I wanted to do that one that you just did. But due to the time, sometimes the time difference can be so tricky for us in Australia. And we have to rely on replays to access any of the tutorials or things that are going on, it’s a bit sad, our timezone here, we feel like we’re in a different planet, that doesn’t even feel like we’re in the same world. That is so cool. And we’re going to share all your links in our show notes. If people want to find out anything about your training programme, with the versatile musician, absolutely 100% endorsed what you’re doing, I’ve seen bits and pieces of it. As I said, I follow you on social on Insta, there’s a lot of information that you put out even on Instagram. And it’s also brilliant, and you do a great job of it. And you are an inspiration to everyone. Because I know for a fact that you’ve learned to do all of this yourself. You don’t have anyone helping you with any of your tech requirements, your social media, any of that you’re just doing this all on your own, and it’s a credit to you, we can ruin you, we can all aspire to do what you’re doing. I don’t enjoy social media, I do it because I have to. But I do have someone helped me with that. And even with the YouTube stuff, I’ve never looked at one YouTube video, because I think I couldn’t bear looking at it, my read all my little idiosyncrasies. So in wrapping this up your biggest projects I think you’ve shared with us, is there other any other projects you’re working on right now? No, I

Brenda Earle Stokes 1:02:39

mean, the biggest thing is that I’m trying to get the word out about the membership, I am constantly working on improving my communication about it, you should see the list of videos that I have planned for this year. It is like bonkers, but okay, part of what really inspired me to do it was not that I could be necessarily just be of service to other people. But I have so much material that I’ve gathered over the years, and I’ve developed from all these random things that I’ve done that I wanted to really document all of it and make it available to people because in this way, you know, you just you just said like, oh, you you know, you figured all this stuff out. It’s like, well, I self studied all of this stuff by using YouTube videos, and I took some online courses and different things. And so I really believe that this is a very viable way you do not have to go to college or take an expensive programme. There’s a lot of things that you can really do on your own in a kind of DIY way. And this is meant to be that kind of resource.

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 1:03:37

Yes. So you’re kind of bridging the gap, because there are a lot of piano teachers, people, pianists who have high level classical training the counter company,

Brenda Earle Stokes 1:03:50

right? Or have a student that comes in and is in there, like their worship band at their church or gets in the jazz band. And they can’t retain students or somebody wants to write songs. And so this is really that’s why I’m saying it’s the versatile musician. The idea is the more tricks that you have in your toolbox, the more you’ll be able to attract and retain students and also be available for gigs that other people are getting. And you’re not because there’s certain gaps in your capacity. So yes, no. Yes. Last question.

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 1:04:21

So what is the one piece of advice that you would offer to our singing voice community? Based on all your experiences, your knowledge, what’s the one thing you would like to share with us?

Brenda Earle Stokes 1:04:36

I would say it would be to stay open to what the possibilities could be. Because I think for anyone who has had a long career, I mean, obviously a demon Zell might look at that differently because she’s just a Broadway star all the way through but then there’s the rest of us, who we change, we grow we more interested in other things. We take detours, we have babies and take breaks. It’s like really being open to a range of options and not being so stuck into saying, but I’m just a jazz singer, or all I do is music theatre or I’m only in a rock band. It’s like, I think that that is the place where a lot of people get hung up. And so I think keeping yourself open to the idea that there’s a lot of things out there that you could be doing is probably my best advice.

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 1:05:24

I love that. And basically, that’s been my my life. That’s how I’ve sustained a career over 45 years is to do exactly that is to keep evolving, reinventing. That’s what you have to do. If you want to stay in this industry. You know, you may you may start out for me, I started out as a singer first. Now teach in a university programme. Now I have a podcast and there’s a book coming out. I mean, you have to keep evolving and growing. And through all those experiences, it does make you a better professional, too. And it’s

Brenda Earle Stokes 1:06:02

fun. The best part of it for me is that if all I was doing for the rest of my life was playing in a jazz club. I mean, it doesn’t sound terrible, but no, I would have missed out on some of the most fun that I’ve ever had playing music and so for Yes, staying in the process, thinking of being a process oriented person and staying in the process has been the thing that is made me excited to hop out of bed every morning, you know, even if it’s I’m doing social media posts today. It’s like having the the excitement of like, I’m making something, I’m doing something. Hopefully I’m reaching someone, hopefully this is gonna, you know, change someone or help them in some way. It’s like that’s what is fine, you know? Yes. And the people

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 1:06:41

you meet along the way? Oh, yes. Like our friend Ruben.

Brenda Earle Stokes 1:06:46

I know. Bradley, we name on the cruise ship, you know of all

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 1:06:54

and I met at work we actually teach at the same two institutions. Right, right. have weird and brand we have to do one more thing before we say goodbye to our listeners. We both have to stand up and show what’s wearing, we have to do this. Okay, on the count of three. Okay, you get ready 123. Shorts.

Brenda Earle Stokes 1:07:28

I don’t like all dressy on the top. But I am wearing my pyjamas on the bottom.

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 1:07:33

And I’m wearing my shorts and bare feet on the bottom. Very different weather, obviously, the brands are, we’re going to wrap it up here. And you have been amazing and beautiful and kind and generous with your time. And I really appreciate you and the work that you’re doing. Please keep it up. We need brand up right now.

Brenda Earle Stokes 1:07:56

So you I need to worry about you. Thank you.

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 1:07:59

And I’ll look forward to taking some of those online piano tutorials. And I’m going to show everybody what I’ve learned. I’ll do a before and after. Now, and this is what I can do. Brenda wishing you all the very best in 2022 with all your ventures and I’m sure we’re going to catch up very soon. Take care. We thank you. Bye bye. Thank you so much for listening to this episode of a voice and beyond. I hope you enjoyed it as now is an important time for you to invest in your own self care, personal growth and education. Use every day as an opportunity to learn and to grow so you can show up feeling empowered and ready to live your best life. If you know someone who will also be inspired by this episode, please be sure to copy and paste the link and share it with them. Or share it on social media and use the hashtag a voice and beyond. I promise you I am committed to bringing you more inspiration and conversations just like this one every week. And if you would like to help me please rate and review this podcast and cheer me on by clicking the subscribe button on Apple podcast right now. I would also love to know what it is that you most enjoyed about this episode and what was your biggest takeaway? Please take care and I look forward to your company next time on the next episode have a voice and beyond

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