The Chatham Arts Council is investing in artists through our Meet This Artist series, introducing you to 12 Chatham County artists each year in a big way. The fine folks at Hobbs Architects in downtown Pittsboro are powering our Meet This Artist series this year. Architecture is art, and the Hobbs crew values art in our community.
Take a look. Meet your very inspiring neighbors. Meet This Artist.
It’s 3:15 p.m. The last bells have rung at Jordan Matthews High School, and students are making their way home, to work, to sports practice, or–like Sanaiya Cheek–heading to Golden Tones rehearsal. The Golden Tones are the a cappella singing club at JMHS.
Music teacher Mr. Peterson leads the club in a brief vocal warm-up before starting rehearsal with one of the more complex and upbeat songs in their set, an a cappella cover of George Michael’s Freedom!‘90. Sanaiya’s rich and confident voice leads the chorus in the opening solo of the song. Front and center, she holds steady focus and intensity, even when the spotlight is on one of her peers. Sanaiya has been described as a student leader in the arts–even when she’s not specifically in a leadership position. After watching the Golden Tones fine tune their songs, I sat down with Sanaiya to get her thoughts on leadership, the arts, and life as a young person in 2023.
You’ve been described as a leader in the arts. Tell me a bit about what you do.
I’ve been into vocal music since my seventh grade year at school and all throughout high school. That’s basically how I’ve come into leadership here, through music. Right now, I’m president of the a cappella club, which you just saw, and I’ve also been in two musicals. I was in “Shrek” this year, and I was in “Oklahoma” last year, which got me started with musicals and was a really fun experience.
You sing alto?
Yeah, I sing alto!
That requires some leadership.
For sure! I feel like a lot of times the altos have a hard time singing out, especially because it’s that middle note in the chord, which is always really hard to find. You’ve got these two other notes working together, and then you’ve got the middle note. You really have to be there for support, honestly. I love it!
You seem like a very supportive individual. How do you support the arts?
I feel like what I bring to the arts is my confident spirit. I don’t want to be in a place where the vibes are off or it’s negative, so I try to bring positivity to the room. I believe if you’re into the arts, you’re in it for a reason. I mean, yes, sometimes people take an arts class just because they have to take it, but those that stick with it deep down really need it. There’s something that sticks with you.
People don’t appreciate how important the arts are, especially to kids my age. The arts programs sometimes get overlooked because people think, “Oh, they’re just singing a couple of songs” or “They’re just putting on a little play,” but they don’t realize the amount of work it took to get us to where we are. And the practice. We don’t just practice when we’re here, we practice outside of school. Every free minute that we have to give, we practice. Always looking over lines, or listening to the music in our heads, in our hearts. We put in so much dedication. So, when the arts get downgraded, it makes us feel small. It’s more than just music.
How have the arts supported you?
The arts give me a lot. It gives me motivation, because we all just have hard days sometimes. I’ve had a hard bringing up. I’ve had to grow up fast, and so, the arts just gave me that safe place where I could vibe. And then seeing other people coming in feeling like I feel, everybody throwing away everything that they’ve carried that day or from their past–it just kind of goes away. We all just vibe, and we have fun!
During the pandemic, I lost a lot of motivation. Having vocal music class online, we couldn’t really do anything. And even coming back, we had lost our vocal music teacher, and that was pretty hard. We had a long-term sub for the rest of the year. I didn’t have the arts. I didn’t have anything really to keep me busy.
When I came back my junior year, we had a new teacher, Mr. P. I feel like he brought our arts program to the next level. See, for instance, I used to sing soprano, and it just did not fit my voice at all. Now I sing alto, which fits MY voice. Mr. P has helped us see things in ourselves that we didn’t even know were there. He gives us the motivation, and the pep talks, and everything we need to be like, “You can do this!” A lot of the stuff we were doing back then, we were doing just to get through it. We didn’t have that refuge. Covid took a lot of that refuge away. Mr. P coming here brought it right back to us, and I feel like that made it even better in a way.
Your generation has had such a unique experience. What do you feel like young people are bringing with them to music, art, and performance? What’s in the sauce?
I feel like we’re bringing realness to it. I’m not into songs with no feeling behind it, some people putting words together they think people will like or pay to see. Now we’re bringing the realness and real life stories to it. The kind of stories I want to see being told are ‘What have you been through?’, ‘What brought you here to this moment now?’, and definitely crediting the people that helped bring you to this moment. I want the raw realness. I don’t want to see you try to cover it up. I want to see the real you.
Who inspires you as an artist?
It has to be my grandpa. He has been sick a lot, and there were a couple of times the doctors told him he wouldn’t make it through. He just persevered. He was fighting all the way through. He is the wisest person. I don’t even have to say anything, and he just KNOWS what to say, the right words that I need. He always comes out for my performances, too.
You’re a senior. What are your plans for after high school?
I want to go into pre-med and then into pediatrics. I really just want to work with children and be their refuge and their safe place. But since I’ve gotten into theater, I’m thinking of keeping the music stuff going on and looking into clubs at colleges. I sing in my church choir outside of school, and I want to always keep that in my life, too.
C u r t I s Cheek says
Sanaiya is my Grand D !!!!! She is a very unique person very sharp very smart quick to help any way she can I am very proud of her she was like a nurse to me she looked after me day after day not just looking in she really really touch me watching her work with her hands as well as she does her head she was very dependable Love You continue to stay focus !!!! Good Job
Aunt Neriah says
Sanaiya is my great niece. I don’t see her often but I know that she is academically gifted and a gifted artist. I wish her well in her senior year and all her future endeavors. I love you Sanaiya. Dare to dream. Reach for the stars.