The WiMN’s Front and Center is a weekly column that showcases accomplished women who work in the music and audio industries. We spotlight successful female performers, manufacturers, retailers, educators, managers, publicists, and everyone else in between. Want to be featured? Learn how here.
Front and Center: Charyn Harris, Conductor of Music Programs for A Place Called Home
By Lina Bhambhani
Charyn Harris started her career touring as a keyboardist for R&B legend Barry White. She’s also performed with a variety of artist including Malcolm Jamal Warner, MC Hammer, The Cranberries, Jonathan Butler, Al B. Sure!, Doc Powell, Lord Nelson, Malcolm Jamal Warner, Luciano Pavarotti and more.
Harris is a graduate of Berklee College of Music and earned an MBA from The University of Phoenix. She also serves as a Conductor of Music Programs for A Place Called Home (APCH), a popular community youth center located in South Los Angeles.
In 2004, Charyn founded Project MuszEd, a nonprofit agency providing arts education, performance and programming. She facilitated and manages the thriving partnerships between APCH and Project MuszEd with Berklee College of Music’s Berklee City Music Network. Over thirty-five students under Harris’ tutelage have attended Berklee’s summer programs on scholarship, while over a dozen students have received full four-year scholarships to Berklee.
Harris is noted for training a roster of highly sought after young musicians. Some of them can be found onstage with artists like Smokey Robinson and Aloe Blacc. Her students have also opened for the Black Eyed Peas, Diana Ross, performed with The Isley Brothers, Macy Gray and more.
Harris has been recognized both locally and nationally for designing and directing vibrant arts programming and developing stellar resources to support youth through the arts. We are excited to honor her at the 2017 She Rocks Awards!
To find out more, visit www.apch.org.
The WiMN: What influenced you to pursue a career in the music industry?
CH: I loved listening to music as a child. I’d read every liner note and I knew the names of the songwriters, musicians and producers. I loved listening to arrangements and hearing complex musical textures. I played a bunch of instruments growing up out of fascination, but excelled in my piano lessons and decided to go to Berklee College of Music.
After graduating, I moved back to my hometown of Mt. Vernon, NY. I met fellow aspiring musicians and began attending music industry events in NY and LA. Eventually several kids from my hometown (Al B. Sure!, Heavy D & The Boyz) exploded onto the music scene and would ask me about music theory.
Al’s record was probably my first professional job. I also started writing dance music for a few independent labels and producers. I kind of didn’t know what I was doing in a sense, but I guess I was doing something instinctively correct. I wasn’t really sure where I would end up but decided to follow my passion. It was definitely the right choice.
The WiMN: Can you tell us about some of your biggest influences?
CH: I had so many because I was always around so much music and developed an appetite to explore. I grew up listening to my dad’s jazz records. I would check out my brother’s records which included rock, funk and fusion. I had my own collection of R&B and soul, and I grew up playing classical piano and singing in a gospel choir. My mom exposed me to musical theater. I would say my favorites were Chaka Khan and Herbie Hancock. I also used to listen to a lot of Barry White, so it was ironic when I was asked to tour with him. I felt I had come full circle.
The WiMN: How did you become part of APCH? What do you enjoy most about working the organization?
CH: I came to APCH as a part time choral instructor. I was still touring on and off at that time. I had also just launched Project MuszEd which I modeled as a nonprofit agency providing consultation in building music education programs. After about a year, I was asked to restructure the music department to include an increased focus on instrumental instruction. It was important to me to provide a unique experience for the youth that I worked with. I thought of what I didn’t have access to as a kid and sought to provide those resources. One of the most important aspects was providing professional-level training in musicianship and a pathway to higher learning. I had an opportunity to become a part of the Berklee City Music Network which is a national initiative through Berklee College of Music to support high school age aspiring musicians.
What I enjoy most about APCH is working with young musicians. I love teaching them about performing and musicianship and introducing them to my colleagues and associates in the music industry. I also love seeing youth that I have worked with grow into adulthood and come back to visit me. I have former students come back as musicians, attorneys, accountants, doctors, nonprofit professionals….I love seeing who they develop into.
The WiMN: What are some of the projects you have with coming up with APCH and Project MuszEd?
CH: My APCH students are constantly booked on performances. We will perform at the New Year’s Race in Grand Park (Downtown Los Angeles) on January 8th and have performance requests well into the spring. With Project MuszEd, we have ongoing low cost instruction for youth in South Los Angeles and an exciting new project that is launching in January called SoundWorks L.A. SoundWorks L.A. is a workforce development and social enterprise program for youth ages 18-24 providing training for positions in live and studio sound engineering, touring and lighting techs. I’m excited to have designed the framework for the SoundWorks and am looking forward to placing the students we train in the music industry.
The WiMN: Do you still perform?
CH: Right now I perform almost every month and public and private events with my students, which is a lot of fun because they are incredible musicians. I am considering playing in a small piano bar once my time opens up.
The WiMN: Can you share some advice for up and coming musicians?
CH: I often tell aspiring musicians to know who is who in their world and who came before them. Know who the decision makers are. Figure out your point of entry and develop your roadmap so you will know where you are going. Develop good habits and be realistic about your strengths and weaknesses. I also think it’s important to scan the environment and stay on top of trends. Get out and meet people. Develop deep friendships. Never be afraid. Fear is one of the biggest factors that will halt success. Don’t be afraid to do the work and don’t procrastinate. Admit when you are not on point and do something about it.
Also, don’t think that you have to be a ‘starving’ artist. Step outside your comfort zone and consider your survival first. When you are able to live a comfortable lifestyle, you have the luxury to make choices because you want to, not because you have to. Don’t get caught up in instant gratification. Always remember that there is no such thing as luck. When preparedness meets opportunity, you have the winning combination of success. Always be grateful and never burn bridges. Become a master of relationships and interpersonal skills. I would also suggest that one understand business in general. Be a self-starter, understand sustainability and know when you need to make adjustments in order to meet your goals.