Charyn Harris has already lived an incredible life, and it’s continuing to grow. She started out as a musician, getting to perform with great talents like Barry White, and that would’ve been a cool enough day job for most people. But Charyn evolved into a creative powerhouse. She moved into the production side of the business—she currently serves as the tour manager for Macy Gray—while also becoming a teacher, motivational speaker, and author of the book The Art of War for Creatives. Instead of just furthering her own career, now she’s focusing her incredible energy on making everyone better.
I recently caught up with Charyn to learn more about her personal journey from superstar keyboard player to all-around superstar. Here’s what she had to tell me about how she got here and what continues to excite her about her career.
Brittany Frederick: How did your original love of music begin? What made you so passionate about it that you decided to pursue it as a career?
Charyn Harris: I grew up in Mt. Vernon, New York, so we had a lot of arts. I kind of started experimenting, learning different instruments. My neighbor came home with a flute and I was like, “Ooh, what’s that?” So I got a flute. My mother’s like, “You do everything she does,” but then she quit the flute and I didn’t. And then I found out that they had an orchestra program at my elementary school. I came home with a violin and started playing it. And then in the summer, I took piano at a summer creative arts program in my town…but I was horrible. I was really, really horrible. (laughs) But I kept up with piano and flute. So I went back to [the] summer creative arts center; everyone else had quit, but I kept playing. My parents saw that I enjoyed it, and by sixth grade, they gave me a piano for graduation.
But when it came time to choose a career, I told my mom I wanted to be an attorney. That’s what I wanted to do. And then I went to a concert and I came home and I was like, “I don’t want to be an attorney. I want to study music.” I had friends that were studying music and they just all looked so happy. And they would get together and wasn’t allowed to, because with me being a girl, I couldn’t hang out with the boys who were a little older than me. [I had a] very protective family and they wanted to keep me close by.
I started reading liner notes on albums. I would go into my brother’s albums and read the liner notes. They bought me a stereo and I had albums and I had records, and I would play them and I’d read the liner notes and I’d look up who wrote whatever and who was playing on different records. I got to know who all the musicians were and it was just so much fun. I kind of became a little bit of a savant in my neighborhood. I could name that tune in two seconds, basically because I had no social life.
Back then, there was no internet. There were music magazines. I remember getting Downbeat, and in Downbeat there was an advertisement for Berklee College of Music. You had to fill out the postcard and pop it in the mail, and then about two weeks later, you get all these pamphlets about Berklee because now you’re on their mailing list. So I was like, “That’s where I want to go. I want to go to Berklee College of Music.”
They thought I was crazy. They were just kind of like, “You’re just nuts. No.” Manhattanville was another college that I had applied to, and my mother wanted me to go there because my cousin Mark went there and he played the flute. But I didn’t want to do that. Berklee sounded so much more fascinating. It was in Boston; Boston was a college town. I wanted to have a college experience and my mom tried so hard to talk me out of it. My grandmother said to her, “Sarah, just let her go. She’s going to leave you someday anyway.” So I won my battle and I went to Boston, and I studied hard and it was just a whole new world.