Vocalist, songwriter, teacher and storyteller Quiana Lynell‘s career is a testament to her belief in the positive and unifying power of music, combined with a hearty dose of diligence and preparation. The LSU School of Music graduate operates with the tagline “I trained for this” and whether she’s referring to her role as founder of the health and wellness group Musicians Run or her ability to leverage her classically trained voice to perform in multiple genres, Quiana demonstrates exactly that. Quiana arranges, performs and composes a variety of musical styles including jazz, soul, blues and funk. She can be found throughout the region and nationally collaborating on cross-genre performances. The former band director currently finds time between collaborations to teach prospective vocalists at Loyola University, cultivating students’ understanding of process and technical components to more effectively serve the potential of their art and instrument.
We recently had the opportunity to chat with Quiana, one of the speakers at TEDxLSU 2017, about her research and other interests.
What inspired you to pursue a career as a vocalist?
Singing has been a gift that I have always had and found joy in. I didn’t always have the faith that I could achieve the goals I had in mind. I also thought that someone would somehow find me but I soon discovered that wasn’t how this industry works. You have to be doing what you are supposed to be doing in order for someone to find you and help you do it better. Realizing that I was worthy of my dreams that were in my mind, I kind of catapulted myself into pursuing music full time.
In your performance and teaching you have emphasized the importance of self-worth and respect. How do those ideas figure into your music?
My first original work that I released this January was a transition into learning that I had to start loving myself. As I realized in my early and mid 20s, that I wasn’t putting myself first in life and that for anything positive to come my way I had to know that I was worth all of that. So those first few songs that I wrote were about realizing when you are not receiving romantic love or love from people around you that isn’t authentic and isn’t what you deserve, you have to be open enough to let that go. If you are giving somebody more than what they are giving back to you, you have to reevaluate that relationship.
What’s a music genre that you love that people might not see you perform?
I love tight harmonies like the Dixie Cups or those women’s groups of the 50s and 60s that would just sing so harmoniously those three- or four-part quartet-type singing. I don’t get to sing with other vocalists very often and it’s something that I love to do. I grew up harmonizing in church and those tight harmonies are just familiar to me. I grew up singing choir as well. Choral harmonies are the best.
What’s your most memorable moment performing on stage?
Wow, so there are so many. If I had to say it would be interacting with an audience member recently in New Orleans. I had been singing and this lady came and saw me. She was sitting there crying throughout my whole set. I kept changing my songs and I was wondering if she had something that was going on for her. I wondered if this current song reminded her of her mother or something. So I decided to sing a different song with a more upbeat feeling and she was still crying. Then I sang a ballad and she was still crying. Her husband was holding her hand and then at the break I went and talked to her. She said, “I have been here for over a week in New Orleans. I came to New Orleans as a child with my dad and we would come and hear women singing traditional jazz. I’ve been here for a week and I’ve gone up and down Bourbon street and all around the city and I’ve heard nothing that reminded of the traditional jazz that my dad and I went to see. But I came here tonight and I found it, I wasn’t supposed to be here and my friends were saying let’s go out to eat and my husband and I decided to stay in the hotel. I’m so grateful that you are here doing what we came here to find, which was traditional jazz.” She was just overwhelmed with emotion that she had finally found it. That was an amazing experience for me.
If you had the chance to perform anywhere on earth, where would you perform and why?
So, there’s a bucket list of places that I would like to perform at. I want to perform at the White House, in Lincoln Center; all of the great contemporaries performed there. I would also like to perform at the Umbria Jazz Fest. To me, Umbria means you made it. If you perform at the Umbria Jazz Fest you are pretty official. The audiences of those places are people who not just want to be entertained, but they are lovers of music as a craft.
You founded a local running club for musicians that meets regularly downtown. What role does fitness play in your life?
Fitness helped me transition when I learned how to love myself. I realized that everything we do is a choice. We can choose to put ourselves first, and that determines what we put in our bodies, the time we spend, whether we practice or not, whether we read or not. Or we can choose to ignore that. When I first started running, it made me realize that I could do whatever I wanted to do. My mind was stronger than my body. The first time I ran five miles I was spellbound, because I’m not the stereotypical runner. I put those first five in, and then I moved on to do eight and then a half-marathon. That just proved to me that anything that I want to do in life is all in my brain.
You’ve been teaching prospective vocalists at Loyola University. What is the first thing you tell new students in your class?
The first thing I tell them is that this is not an easy business, that having faith in what you do is important and also having a sense of self is important. As singers we always want to compare and listen to other people and think about what we can’t do. We have to focus on what we can do; hone your skill and your gift. Being able to develop your talent to the best that it can is what your focus should be.
To learn more about Quiana or about TEDxLSU 2017, follow TEDxLSU on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Reserve your seat now to experience Quiana’s talk, as well as the talks of all of the other TEDxLSU 2017 speakers.