“It truly exceeded my expectations”’ was the first thought Niagara Falls native Christina Custode expressed to me about her memorable weekend in La La Land, surrounded by musical peers from all around the world, all genres, all different instrumentalists, vocalists, and songwriters. All had been connected together by the 58th annual Grammy Awards. In late October, Christina learned that her music had been selected for nomination in 5 categories.
“Someone found the music online, and submitted it to the academy, and we were off to the races,” says the 27 year old pianist. That someone was Kevin Stratton, who found the music online, and the two have carried on a collaboration with her work.
For Christina, the love of music started at 6 years old. She asked for a toy piano and recalls, “I loved it – it was my favorite thing. I remember the sound it made, I remember how it smelled.”
When she was 8 she asked for a bigger one. Her dad, a trumpet player and musician himself said to her, “If we get you a real one, you’ll have to take lessons,” and she did.
Growing up, music was always in the house. It was something she loved, and thought it was normal and everybody did it. “Singing West Side Story, Wizard Of Oz, in the car, from beginning to end, my friends thought it was kind of odd,” she remembers. It just reinforced her love of music.
Christina was doing community theater in middle and high school. Singing was a part of the theater, and dad thought it would be great for her to learn to play and sing. So he offered a proposition. “Learn to sing and play, and I’ll buy you a keyboard,” he offered. But she resisted, and fought him on it until she finally agreed. So she had her first gig at a local coffee shop, with her new board at the age of 15. At that time, she also understood the concept of paying your dues. Putting in the work, setting up gear, tearing it down, then doing it again at the next gig.
One of her traits I sensed during our conversation was a strong work ethic, “We are a city of fighters, we want to get heard,” she told me, and it showed throughout our chat. She would go on to become a classically trained pianist at Eastman School of Music, earning her bachelors in 2010, and in 2014 a masters degree.
What many of us see on the television or through the media is a sanitized version of what the Grammys are. Some love it, others hate it, but to those who commit their life’s passion and work, there is much more than just an over the top celebration of pretentious rock stars, in crazy outfits who appear to be in it just for the after party, etc. Christina’s thoughts about her experience:
“At the core of this huge event is a group of awesome musicians, and we were there to celebrate all the music that we worked so hard to create. The most surprising thing was there were no boundaries. Conversations with new age guys, talking about music, life. No nastiness, just genuine support. You’re terrified at first, thinking who am I to walk in, next to James Bay? But then I think, we all carry gear in the snow, we put in the work. It’s unexplainable… the amount of support. It didn’t matter who won the award, I was genuinely happy for the winner. We all know what we do on a day to day basis. The whole weekend, from the pre-parties, after parties, having facetime with record executives. There was an admiration for what we do, it was awesome to be a part of that community.”
We are a city of fighters, we want to get heard.
Christina and her single “Fire” were considered for the following awards – Best New Artist, Song of the Year, Best Pop Solo Performance, Record of the Year, and Best Arrangement Instrumental and Vocals (with Stuart Epps). Though she returned without any hardware, she shared, “We all felt like winners.”
Next up for Christina is a circuit tour planned for March. Ohio, Tennessee, Kentucky, and then Arizona after. You can catch Christina at her next local show, Pints for Progress, April 7, at the Niagara Arts Cultural Center. This event is about building up communities in Niagara Falls.
Follow her career at christinacustode.com.
Photos: Grammy1 – CustodeMusic | Christina Custode and Mandy Albritton (CEO of Imagine Peace Records) – CustodeMusic | HardRock4BW – Nathan MacFarlane