We had the good fortune of connecting with Connor Chee and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Connor, how do you think about risk?
I think about risk constantly! There are two main ways I think about it. First, I think of the risks I take (or don’t take) that will affect my career path and life in a broad sense. I consider the risks of accepting or rejecting new projects, new performance opportunities, or new collaborations, among other things. I’ve been in situations where declining an opportunity risks losing future collaborations with that person or organization. At the same time, if I accept it, I might risk spreading myself too thin with jobs I’ve already accepted, and the quality of my music or performance might suffer on all fronts. I always weigh the pros and cons, but my intuition plays a huge role in how I approach the risks.
The second way I think about risk is on a much smaller scale, usually in my artistic choices. I might have a particularly difficult approach to a certain passage I’m performing, as opposed to a “safer” but less compelling artistic choice. When composing music for commissions or for films, I might risk pursuing a musical idea that runs counter to what the director or collaborator asked for. They might end up loving it, and come back to me for future projects. Or, they might hate it, and I’ll have to redo everything! Either way, risks can dramatically alter your future. Some risks might seem like they come with a small reward at the time, but the rippling effects can bring you to new successes you might have otherwise missed.
Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
Well I started playing piano when I was 6 years old. I started my career as a performer, but eventually found myself also composing and recording original music. It has certainly been a difficult path to where I am today, and it wouldn’t have been possible without the support and guidance of my family, friends, and teachers.
I started composing somewhat by accident. I am Native American (Navajo) and after finishing my master’s degree, I planned to go home and write down some of the traditional songs that my grandfather would sing to help preserve it. These songs are traditionally passed down orally and not written, so I had hoped to approach it as a preservation project. However, as I listened to my grandfather sing, I realized that this music did not fit neatly into the standard music notation. Instead, I started composing piano pieces based on elements of the music he sang–using fragments of melodies, structures, and rhythms to breathe life into these original compositions. Eventually, I recorded these pieces and released it as an album. Since then, composing has become a big part of my career!
In addition to performing and composing music, I hope to inspire Indigenous youth that might want to pursue a career in music. When I was growing up wanting to learn piano, I didn’t know of any Native American pianists that I could look up to. I often doubted that I could ever succeed in a career as a pianist, and there were those that told me I couldn’t simply because of where I came from. Indigenous youth face many challenges today, and I hope to show them that these challenges can be overcome, and they can achieve anything they set their mind to!
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
Here in the greater Phoenix area, there are a ton of places I love to go. I definitely always recommend checking out the Musical Instrument Museum–whether or not you are a musician! The first time I went, it surpassed all of my expectations. I also love spending time on the Salt River. Whenever friends visit during the summer, I take them tubing down the river. The landscape is absolutely stunning, and if you’re lucky, you can see the wild horses and plenty of other wildlife. There are also tons of beautiful places to hike around here–just make sure to stay hydrated and bring PLENTY of water.
Downtown Phoenix has a great nightlife. Plenty of places to get good food and drinks. One of my favorite spots is Cobra Arcade Bar. You can grab drinks with friends and play their huge variety of old-school arcade games!
And although its a few hours drive from Phoenix, you definitely have to see the Grand Canyon while you’re in Arizona. I mean, it’s the Grand Canyon. Gotta see it at least once in your lifetime.
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
I want to shoutout my best friend Mary Beth Crandall! She is by my side through everything, both in my career and my personal life. She lifts me up when I feel defeated, and takes care of so much behind the scenes to make sure my performances run smoothly. I couldn’t do it without her! I also want to shoutout my good friend Mikey Junior. His help with my music videos and promotion has been invaluable. He is a super talented filmmaker and has been a great friend since we took piano lessons together as kids! And last but not least, I want to shoutout my parents, Tex and Mary, for giving me every opportunity to pursue my dreams. I owe them everything!