When you sit in an espresso bar like Coffee Slingers, the spot you choose determines how you can then divide your attention. Sit by the window? Watch life pass by on the sidewalk or streets outside, or perhaps carry your gaze across the shop interior and watch the scene inside.
Sit behind a laptop? You’ve just planned to fade the espresso bar and exterior buzz, and crank up your “inner brain buzz” for a bit.
Sit across from Sherree Chamberlain? Be prepared to take the metaphorical hand she reaches out to you, walk by her side, and hear what she’s been up to for the last nine years. At least this process was my own experience a few weeks ago when I met with her. Armed with our drinks (she had tea, I drank an iced latte) and carrot muffins, we settled in for some catching up. The last I had seen of Sherree in person was while I was working with her as her secondary schools Drama Coach during our production of “Oklahoma!” I learned at least two things that year: 1) Never test the fullest load shotgun blanks by firing them inside a university auditorium for the first time; and, 2) Sherree Jane Chamberlain could sing. That was in Spring of the year 2000. Remember the talking point? “Building the Bridge to the 21st Century.” Well, Sherree hasn’t so much been crossing bridges as she has been taking paths. Take for instance her 8th grade birthday celebration. Her parents bought her a guitar; she had wanted clothes. A few weeks later, however, she was strumming, learning, and had begun to develop what had already started as some savvy writing skills. Rather than take the path more traveled and put her energies into building her junior high wardrobe, she took the path of creativity her parents had offered her in her guitar and began finding her way along her musical journey. She still has that guitar, by the way, and smiles very big when asked about it.
Her musical travels continued, but how? During her high school years her mother would check her out of school, drive to the edge of Midtown, Oklahoma City, and she would play at the Grateful Bean for their lunch rush. She readily admitted that her parents were both emotional and financial resources for her along the way. She talked a little bit about their earlier days, how they might have had a bit of hippie mojo in their blood, and how their flexibility and support was key to continuing along her way.
Sherree’s next steps took her to Oklahoma State University. Beginning in a creative “Fashion Merchandising and Design” area, she later switched to English, opting instead to not only become a teacher by trade, but to immerse herself in honing the literary craft within. The music scene in Stillwater quickly embraced Sherree and she began playing locally, making more contacts and expanding her musical presence while finishing her degree.
Guitar, small lunch gigs, then nighttime music scene gigs. The journey doesn’t stop there. After she graduated, she was able to begin substitute teaching while she began committing more time and energy into becoming a local draw in the Oklahoma City metro and Norman areas. Those who follow her music, attend her shows and say “hello” on the street are growing in numbers.
This growth has been coupled, however, with her most recent year of being a contracted teacher in a metro-area high school struggling with the normal first-year challenges, becoming attached to her students, and trying to understand the Oklahoma teachers retirement system. She taught English as a Second language this past year, as well as a couple higher level English courses. No middle ground in that schedule, eh?
A month or two ago, she came to the realization after a few more tears shed for situations arising at school that this wasn’t what she was really committed to do. She spoke with her administrators, resigned her contract for the 2011-2012 school year, and now only has a few weeks left in this year. She is, on a certain level, at another fork in her path. She tossed out the phrase of being in her “quarter-life crisis” at the beginning of our interview in a good-natured manner. A crisis, however, is also opportunity – right? And she’s thinking about that. As her footsteps continue, she’s taking phone calls, recording back-up vocals, writing new music and considering a decision to soon begin recording again. Will that be her summer journey? It’s probable, but one never knows what will show up along a pathway.
There’s been a turn of events just today. Sherree had planned to perform at the Norman Music Festival, going on today through Saturday. However, at the time we talked one of her musicians was going to be out of the country, and she just sent an “official announcement” out that she won’t be performing. Rather, she WILL be singing with The Pretty Black Chains on Friday and Denver Duncan on Saturday.
Sherree is a pretty cool chick; she’s kind and her lyrics are honest and vulnerable. They speak to the nuances of life around her. But who knows if THIS life will be around her for long. A change in her journey could be a phone call, a concert, or an opportunity away. Junior high, high school local, university city-wide, metro-savvy and well recognized…could the national scene be next? I have no idea. Sherree certainly doesn’t. But she’s open to it.
She’s open to taking a breath, a few more steps, and singing and writing her way through her quarter-life crisis and into the next place for her in this world. I, for one, will be greatly looking forward to where exactly that might be. I hope you do too.
Or…watch her sing “Eyes Like Diamonds”…