5 Questions with Anya Menk on her debut album Inner Voice

We are pleased to introduce Anya Menk, an emerging jazz musician. She’s a recent grad with an amazing voice. You can see her perform live at the Coffee Hag in Mankato on February 12 and Next Chapter Winery on March 12.

Please tell us about you.

I am a 22-year-old vocalist, pianist and educator from Le Center, Minnesota. I grew up classically trained and took part in many piano lessons, competitions and festivals throughout my childhood under the direction of Dr. Helen Baumgartner, professor emerita of Gustavus Adolphus College. The thoughtful and impactful guidance I have received from numerous music instructors has been the driving force behind my passion for education. Currently, I am serving as a student teacher for Ms. Katie McKnight at Jordan Public Schools to work with her choir students. Last fall, I worked with Mr. Erik Hermanson in Cleveland, Minnesota as a student teacher for his band program. After I finish student teaching, I will receive my degrees for Instrumental and Vocal Music Education with Honors in Composition. This coming fall, I plan to attend the University of Northern Colorado to work toward a master’s degree in Jazz Studies.

Your voice is well suited to the smoothness of Jazz or maybe even a Broadway production; it’s a perfect match. How did you get into Jazz?

Thank you so much! I appreciate that. I began studying jazz music during my time at Gustavus. Growing up, I always loved jazz music and aspired to play and sing jazz, but I was also aware that it requires a completely different approach than classical music. When I got to Gustavus, I was fortunate to work under such knowledgeable and thoughtful professors: Dr. Dave Stamps. Dr. Masayoshi Ishikawa and Dr. Patricia Snapp. Their thoughtful instruction kindled my passion for jazz music, and I am so excited to keep learning about the artform.

I’m a big fan of Joy Spring, which is one of the many songs on the album that you wrote. The juxtaposition of lyrics that seem mainstream and then suddenly slip into climate change is clever. What was the inspiration to use your music in that way?

When I was in the beginning stages of conceptualizing the album, I knew I wanted it to be a reflection of who I am as a person, hence the title Inner Voice. Each song on the album has a backstory and dedication to someone or something important in my life. “Joy Spring” is dedicated to the earth. Climate change is daunting, not only because of the deteriorating state of the climate, but the divisiveness within our population surrounding the issue. “Joy Spring” is a commentary on the political and social factors that surround climate change. Although the melody is upbeat and joyful, the lyrics that my dad, Carl, and I wrote are just the opposite. I hope to convey the irony of the situation we are dealing with: the longer we disagree on how to solve the issue of climate change, the faster the world deteriorates. The ending lyrics clearly state “We have less than no time to fix this issue of unthinkable size/So get together/We really have to fix the weather/Let’s make the earth our sole endeavor/The joy of spring will be forever.”

Just putting it out there in case we can help make a connection, who would you like to collaborate with or where would you like to be playing in Minnesota?

I would love to play just about anywhere and with just about anyone! I enjoy collaborating with new musicians in the jazz world, because I have so much to learn and so many people to learn from. I am excited to see where my journeys in jazz take me while I continue to work hard within the craft. I am comfortable working in solo, duo, trio, and big band settings and look forward to any opportunities that may arise.

I have to ask about the CoVid Concerts and what it’s like to grow up in such a musically-focused family.  

Throughout the pandemic, my family and I recorded 110 virtual concerts in our home on “Melody Acres.” During this period of isolation, many musicians were unable to play with others. I was fortunate to be able to continue to make music with people throughout the entirety of the pandemic, and we were able to share this experience with those whom we could not be with in person. It was a wonderful way to stay connected with the community and continue to refine our own skills as musicians. The tangible record of progress throughout these 110 videos encouraged my family to support each others’ musical growth when we weren’t able to be physically present in school.

To answer the second part of your question, I would not be who I am without the support of my family. Thinking back to when my siblings, Austyn, and Arya and I, were just starting to read out of the Music for Little Mozarts piano series, we were so fortunate to not only be loved and supported, but to be given the resources and materials to set us up for success. The amount of hours that my parents have spent driving us to lessons, going to concerts, and helping us practice is quite literally incalculable, and my siblings and I are so grateful. The environment that we grew up in was the perfect balance of rigor and support. When I’m asked about my musical family, a story immediately comes to mind. When we were both at Gustavus, Austyn and I gave a jazz concert on tour at a random, small church in Iowa. I remember looking out into the crowd and seeing the rest of our family there who had driven to another state to surprise us and support us! My director, Dave, then turned to me and said “You have the most incredible and supportive family ever.” I couldn’t agree more; they are truly amazing, and I am so fortunate!

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