InspiHERed By spotlights phenomenal women in the Black queer community—everyone from artists to activists. Each week ELIXHER features someone whose personal journey and individual craft inspire us to dream bigger, laugh harder, and love deeper. This week we caught up with Chanell Crichlow, a 24-year-old musician and native New Yorker.
ELIXHER: When did you begin playing the tuba and what drew you to it?
CHANELL: I began playing the tuba in the 6th grade with my middle school band, when I was eleven years old. I’m not sure I even knew what a tuba was before then. I really wanted to play the steel pan while going to school in Trinidad but I didn’t end up playing anything there, not even the recorder.
On my first day of school back in the US, my teacher, Mr. Pitt, pulled out this huge metal thing from the back room and said it was a tuba. He played it for the class and the sound was huge and the whole room vibrated! Mr. Pitt told us that not many girls played the tuba and so female tuba players could sometimes even get scholarships for college. I took it home and showed it to my mom—she couldn’t believe how big this instrument was. She supported me in my tuba playing from the start and signed me up for private lessons a year later.
That year thanks to Mr. Pitt’s encouragement, we had four girls in the tuba section. And Mr. Pitt had been right: later in life I ended up getting scholarships for college.
ELIXHER: When and why did you create PitchBlak Brass Band? What’s it like being a part of the band?
CHANELL: I formed PitchBlak Brass Band in September 2010. Starting a band was on my list of creative projects to do to keep my creative energies flowing after getting my Masters. I emailed and called a bunch of people I thought would be down for being part of an ensemble of dope musicians and people with diverse musical backgrounds. So now I make noise with extremely talented people that are all about the music and are able to chill and have a good time. It’s musician heaven.
Being a bandleader is no joke! It’s a lot of hard work and it takes a certain kind of drive. You have to be okay with being in a vulnerable position and finding ways of getting out of it as fast as possible. Anything can happen on stage- tripping, stage fright, memory slips, this is really when you learn the most about being part of a band. You have to be able to play that situation as part of the show or else things can get awkward. It’s a real good thing having amazing bandmates; we are becoming real tight with each other as time goes on. Most of us now have “work share” where we give each member a job to do, hippie style, so it’s a lot easier now to get things done. Sometimes though, I want to bang my head against the wall because one, or two, or three of them didn’t reply to my emails.
ELIXHER: Who or what inspires you?
CHANELL: My besties are the people who inspire me the most. Having friends that have similar musical and life goals propels you forward. My mom is also someone who inspires me; she is a strong woman, and I’ve admired strong women throughout my life.
ELIXHER: Describe yourself in three words.
CHANELL: Creative. Driven. Chill.
ELIXHER: What’s the biggest misconception people have of you?
CHANELL: I might come across as scary or angry. I tend to smile when I really feel like it…I like being honest in my actions. But people who know me know that I’m a big lovable teddy bear.
ELIXHER: What’s the biggest challenge you’ve had to face and how did you overcome it?
CHANELL: We all know mother-daughter relationships can get tricky sometimes…(or a lot of times), especially if you are gay. This has definitely been the most challenging part of my life; more so because the same tensions keep recurring. I constantly have to push myself to stand my ground, even when I’m balancing on one foot. Sometimes I fall but I always brush off my shoulders and keep it steppin’. And usually I walk away a bit stronger than before.
ELIXHER: What makes you proud to be a part of the Black queer community?
CHANELL: It makes me proud to know that we are all looking out for each other. Collaborating on each other’s projects, spreading the word. More and more of us are connecting to each other through similar passions and stories. I feel like this will only grow and get bigger, and I’m looking forward to it.
ELIXHER: What changes would you like to see in the Black queer community?
CHANELL: It would be great to break through the boundaries that stop us from coming together. I think there are a few organizations and groups that are really trying to confront this and I think they are doing great work, like bkyln boihood, Brown Boi Project, interseqtion.com. It’s important to realize that creating change politically, creatively etc, is about getting help from one another and reaching out.
ELIXHER: What’s next for Chanell?
CHANELL: PitchBlak Brass Band is about to record our EP in the summer! We’re totally pumped and excited about it. Watch out for it! We are hoping to throw a party to celebrate and all y’alls are invited!