Talks about the power of vulnerability in her new song "Did" and in the creative process
Juno award-winning vocalist, pianist, songwriter, and educator Jacqueline Teh is widely recognized for her captivating vocal jazz arrangements and limitless songwriting. Her unique sound combines elements of jazz with R&B inflections and rich choral harmonies. Her songwriting can be found on Sammy Jackson’s Juno award-winning album, “With You”. Her innovative writing style with Moodset, a jazz and R&B collaborative ensemble, has earned her an award through TD Jazz Festival’s Discovery Series (February 2019). Jacqueline’s songwriting has even caught the attention of Grammy award-winning artist Anderson Paak, who expressed an interest in producing one of her songs. Along with her personal music endeavours, Jacqueline is an alumna of the University of Toronto’s Master of Jazz Voice Performance program and directs the Small Vocal Jazz Ensemble at UofT. She is very active in the choral music scene and has composed and arranged music for the Cantabile Chamber Singers and has served as the music director for Necessary Angel Theatre Company’s 2020 production of The Events, a play that involved choirs from across Ontario. Jacqueline has performed at Waveland’s Everbloom Festival, Joy Ruckus Club 3 & 4, TD’s Night It Up, and the Burdock Piano Festival. She is currently the executive director and choral conductor for St. James Town Community Arts, a non-profit organization based in Toronto that provides free arts education for children and youth. With a passion for choral singing, a background in jazz, and a distinctive R&B flair, Jacqueline has won the hearts of all her listeners with her soulful songwriting and her ability to find deeper meaning and connection through music. Jacqueline is currently based in Markham and Toronto, Ontario.
It’s obvious from your body of work that you’re a talented musician, songwriter, and performer. How has your journey in music been like? How did you get started in music and what have been some of your highlights and/or lessons?
I am super lucky to have been born into a musical family. My dad started teaching me how to play the piano when I was just 3 and I grew up singing in children’s choirs. Throughout my childhood, I can recall so many impromptu performances at home where I would sing for family and friends while my dad would accompany me on the piano. I remember learning songs by the Beatles, jazz standards, and musical theatre pieces from my dad. These early beginnings in my musical journey truly set the tone for my inclination towards songwriting.
In high school, I was accepted into an arts program, which changed my life. My teachers were so encouraging and challenged me to new creative heights. I started taking singing lessons for the first time, began composing my own music, and learned how to improvise on jazz standards, which later led me to pursue my undergraduate and masters degrees in jazz performance.
I am so grateful to have met so many incredible teachers and role models on my journey in music. From my dad, to my high school teachers, and all my friends and peers who so generously shared their knowledge and wisdom with me - I owe all my success to them.
The songwriting and vocal arrangements really shine in the new track "Did". What inspired the song and what was the process of writing and recording this song like?
“Did” was inspired by a romantic relationship that deeply affected me. I was in love and heartbroken all at once and could barely find the words to express myself until I wrote this song. I was speaking straight from the heart when the first line, “I’m sorry that I stopped loving you when I did”, came out. From there, the words seemed to flow out of me uncontrollably until I reached the end. I actually wrote this song in 2019 but decided to revisit it this past year when I began putting together an album of songs that fit under the theme of break-ups. When I recorded it, I layered several different vocal parts to emulate the many voices in my head - the ones that I’d refuse to listen to, but would continue to remind me to move on. Emotionally, I felt like a wreck throughout the entire creative process. I still find it difficult to sing the entire song without crying a little bit, but I think that’s what makes this song so precious. It is a heart-wrenching moment of vulnerability, captured in a single song.
Who do you feel have been the greatest influences on your music and themes?
There are so many artists that have shaped me and the way that I write. To name a few, Daniel Caesar, Jacob Collier, Labrinth, and Lizzy McAlpine are some of the artists that have heavily influenced my sound. In terms of theme, I’ve always loved the way that Frank Ocean tells a story with his albums and takes you on an emotional journey in every song. The feelings tend to linger after hearing his music and I aspire to write music that also leaves lingering feelings that you can’t quite shake.
You are an award-winning songwriter! So we have to ask, what is your creative process like when approaching songwriting? And what advice would you give to aspiring songwriters?
I like to start with a feeling. Songwriting has always been an outlet for me to express my deepest emotions. When I sit at the piano to write, there is usually a particular emotion, feeling or experience that I am trying to explore and uncover. The advice I would give to aspiring songwriters is to allow yourself to be vulnerable. Of all the songs I’ve written, the ones that I love the most tend to be the ones where I am open and unapologetically honest. Your experiences and perspectives are important and valuable, even if it doesn’t always feel that way. Give yourself more credit and share your story.
As a female Asian artist in the music industry, have there been any unique challenges and how do you navigate the industry?
Being a female Asian artist in the music industry, I think one of the greatest challenges was not having enough representation growing up. There weren’t many female Asian artists for me to look up to, especially not in the genres that I wanted to write in or in the areas that I wanted to specialize in. This made it hard for me to see myself actually becoming a professional songwriter. Even now, in some creative settings, I sometimes find myself being the only Asian artist or only woman of colour in the room. Experiencing this on a regular basis can be exhausting and overwhelming. No matter how close I am to my peers and colleagues, I still sometimes feel like the odd one out, knowing that my cultural upbringing is vastly different. My solution to this is to work to uplift my fellow female artists of colour. I’m lucky to have met other women of colour who have gone out of their way to support me and encourage me to pursue a career in music. My hope is that I pass this kindness forward and in doing so, continue to uplift aspiring artists who share my struggle.
What developments, or projects can we look forward to from you in 2023?
I am working on an EP - my very first solo project! It will be released in 2023 and “Did” is actually one of the tracks on the album. The EP follows the progression of a relationship from start to finish. It begins with the innocence of falling in love, then explores the sadness and turmoil of falling out of love. It concludes with finding closure as the relationship comes to an end. It’s a beautiful project that I hold very close to my heart and I hope that others will be able to relate to its themes and storyline.
As a magazine with a strong focus on music and food, we are curious: if your music could be represented by a drink or food item, what would it be and why?
This is such a great question but so difficult to answer! I think if my music were a food/drink, it would be a Chinese tofu pudding dessert with brown sugar and ginger syrup. I’ve always thought of the texture of my music as being smooth and silky with a mild sweetest, and this dessert is what comes to mind when I think of the word “silky”. I think my music is also warm and understated with a gentle amount of spice, so I feel that this food is a good representation of the overall aesthetic that I am aiming for.
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Other favorite tracks from Jacqueline Teh