Modern Artist - Mississauga's Cat Bernardi

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What inspired you to become an artist?

I come from an artistic family so that definitely helped. My paternal grandfather is a sculptor, my maternal grandmother is a painter and I'm surrounded by wonderful singers, especially my dad. I grew up in a household where the arts were valued, and one of my favourite pastimes is listening to music in the car and singing along with my family as we drove around from place to place. I can't remember a time in my life when I wasn't creating. Whether it was writing poems, telling stories or making music--creating is something that has always come naturally to me. 

What do you associate with more: Singer or songwriter/composer?

I view myself as a vocalist and composer. I don't identify with the term 'singer' because one of my first music teachers told me that singers were birds: they sound beautiful but they don't know what they're singing. I definitely think that's a bit harsh and I don't believe that to be true of all singers but I can't help but think that every time someone calls me a singer. I am musically literate and everything I sing is intentional. I treat my voice as an instrument and take great pride in my improvisational skills. I also identify with the title of composer because I write a lot more than songs for myself to sing. I have arranged lots of music from my own quartet pieces, to big band arrangements to choral arrangements and I also write music for musical theatre and film. 

Name three of your key influences:

Ella Fitzgerald, Natalie Cole and Esperanza Spalding. (I also love Meaghan Trainor and think she's highly underrated.)

Do you write lyrics or music first?

Every song comes to me a little bit differently but typically I write the melody first. For me, the melody is the heart and soul of a song, and it's what an audience connects to first. Sometimes the lyrics come with the melody simultaneously and sometimes I write them afterwards. Usually the harmony (chords), bass line and feel of the song come after both the melody and lyrics are complete.   


Which of the many musicians you've studied under has left the strongest impression?

Leander Mendoza (from Mississauga) was my first voice teacher and he definitely solidified my vocal roots, for which I will always be grateful.
When it comes to really shaping the vocalist that I am today, the one teacher who really sticks out to me most is Sacha Williamson. I studied with her for two years at York University taking Jazz Vocal lessons. She really helped me to believe in myself and to consider music as a career. She taught me so much about phrasing and vocal colouring and gave me the confidence I needed to start gigging. 

What's been the most significant obstacle to overcome in your career?

I feel like I'm still overcoming obstacles every day to be honest. Firstly, the music world is definitely still a bit of a boys club so being a young female vocalist calls my credibility and knowledge into question constantly, especially when I'm leading in a leadership role. I always feel like I'm proving myself, which can be daunting, but I also know that proving myself as a musician will be a life-long endeavour and I'm up for the challenge! Secondly, I still find auditions terrifying. I perform regularly, usually several times a month, so you would think that I've gotten over stage-fright. But when it comes to auditions, I'm still working on it.

Are you more comfortable writing on piano or guitar?

Definitely on piano. I'm much better at isolating melodies and creating more complex chords and harmonies on the piano because it's such a visual instrument. I can play simple covers on guitar but when I'm writing my originals, I'll always start on the piano.

Are you more comfortable performing with piano or guitar or neither?

I have become very comfortable leading a band and fronting it as the vocalist--that is definitely my comfort zone and it feels like home to me. When I play solo gigs however, it really depends what I'm playing. If I'm playing covers, I prefer to play the guitar because I can get a lot more rhythmic and I feel like audiences connect with it more. If I'm playing my originals however, or jazz in general, I definitely prefer to play the piano. I can play more complex chords on the piano and feel that I have more freedom to explore what I'm playing.

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How do you give back to others in the music community?

My main musical contributions to the community through music has always been through teaching. I taught private music lessons for many years, and even had my own private voice studio until about a year ago. I have taught music workshops through outreach programs like Sistema (in Parkdale), the We Are One Jazz Project (in Scarborough) and the Rainbow Songs Foundation (Etobicoke) and now I teach music 2-3 days a week at a school in Brampton. I love being able to share my joy and passion for music with youth and I love that I can help foster musical knowledge in young people.

How has Mississauga's music scene evolved over the past 5 years?

In the last five years, I have definitely seen that there is direct action being taken to foster the musical--and artistic community in general--in Mississauga. The Mississauga Arts Council has been around for years doing great work but they are certainly starting to provide stronger support for artists than ever.
There is also a new organization called Mississauga Music that is promoting and rewarding the musical achievements of Mississauga artists--I find that really exciting and promising. There are also so many great opportunities for young performers like the Wonderfest Series and many open mics. My hope for the future is to continue to see an increase in opportunities for professional working musicians in this city. 

What does 2019 look like for you?

2019 is very exciting for me because I will be releasing my first full-length album. I'm doing a live album recording concert on November 30, 2018 and everything performed that night will be recorded and become my new album. I love playing live and I can't wait to capture the spirit of a live performance in a recording. I also plan to do a Canadian tour of my new album throughout the summer of 2019.


Is there a sophomore album on the horizon?

Yes! There is! I plan to release a live Christmas EP in December of 2019. It has been in the works for a few years so I can't wait to get that out.

What's your favourite song from your debut album and why?

My debut EP, Minor Ballad/Major Romance was an experiment and a learning experience in many ways. There are many songs on it that I love. There are a few of my original arrangements of jazz standards, as well as an ode to my Italian heritage in the tune "Estate."
My favourite song however, is 'Love is a Broom.' It's an original song and most people who hear my EP single that out as their favourite piece. I also had the opportunity to perform that song on Rogers TV (it's on YouTube if you want to check it out!) which was a wonderful experience.

What one song could you listen to on repeat for 60 minutes?

Just one? There are so many! In fact, when I really love a song I do tend to replay it over and over again. One that I've really been loving lately is "Be Good" by Gregory Porter--which I will be performing on November 30 by the way--but a classic song that I've played on repeat over the years is "Precious" by Esperanza Spalding; it's gotten me through some very difficult times in my life.

What are you most proud of in your career?

My determination. There are way too many things that could have prevented me from being where I am today but I always see things through. When I set a goal, I set out to achieve it.

What advice do you have for other artists?

Those who try to dim your light are worried that you will outshine them. Shine on. Always, shine on.