Quiana Lynell will be counting measures when she fronts the Baton Rouge Symphony Orchestra this weekend, but nerves won’t be the cause of it.
There’s simply a difference between jazz and classical groups, and though Lynell was classically trained at LSU, she’s made a career singing freestyle jazz.
“When I sing jazz, I feel the music,” she says. “But when I’m on stage with the symphony, everything will have to be precise, so I’ll have to count by rests and beats. It’s just something I have to get used to doing again.”
It’s not something the audience will notice as the Baton Rouge Symphony Orchestra performs its annual “Home for the Holidays” concerts on Friday and Sunday, Dec. 4 and 6. The orchestra also will be joined by the Baton Rouge Symphony Chorus, along with other local musicians.
But Lynell will be spotlighted in several key holiday favorites, including “O Holy Night,” “Santa Baby,” selections from Handel’s “Messiah” and a medley of classic Christmas carols. Jim Hanna, the symphony’s director of artistic operations, asked her to solo after a local musician saw her teaching at the West Baton Rouge Museum’s blues-themed children’s summer camp.
The setting came naturally to Lynell, whose day job is teaching music to kindergarten through fifth grade students at G.W. Carver Primary School in Gonzales. Her easy singing style impressed the musician, who recommended her to the symphony.
“I was so excited when they called,” Lynell says. “But the dynamic is different. This will bring me back to my college days, but I’ll get used to it again, and I’m looking forward to it, because it’s going to be a lot of fun.”
Lynell’s local fans are used to seeing her sing with her eight-piece jazz band, Lush Life, in performances grounded in improvisation. Her “Home for the Holidays” appearance is a prelude to the release of her first original EP, “Loving Me,” set for release on New Year’s Day.
The disc is filled with five original songs and one cover documenting Lynell’s journey to happiness after a bad marriage.
“We live in a community of people who don’t talk about bad things and think they have to suffer alone,” Lynell says. “I realized that this was not normal.”
So, she shares her heartache through song, arriving at healing in the end, but her “Home for the Holidays” performance will be completely celebratory. And make no mistake — she’s not complaining about having to count.
“I get to sing songs that will let me do everything that I can do with my voice, and that makes me excited,” Lynell says. “That’s exactly what I want to do.”