Loyola University, New Orleans – Bachelor’s Degree, Music Therapy
Cristina Perez Edmunds almost makes us wish we’d stuck with those piano lessons mom signed us up for. Almost.
A singer, actress, songwriter and classically trained pianist, Cristina finds herself pretty much living the career she envisioned as a high-schooler who unexpectedly fell into playing the viola. That teacher-created twist of fate was the catalyst for a fulfilling career that’s anything but standard. Oh, did we mention Cristina is a certified Pilates trainer, too? That’s just one more way she has managed to turn passion to profession.
Teaching Pilates in the morning, acting and singing in musical theater in the afternoons and performing solo gigs in the evenings Cristina’s days require serious balance. It’s no wonder that balance is one of the rules she lives by.
“To me,” Cristina explains “balance doesn’t always mean an equal amount of separate parts. It just means finding the right balance for me.” Whether your life lands you on stage, in the gym, or that corner office, that’s some pretty solid advice.
I’ve learned that everyone has a story, and everyone’s story has value and importance.
When you were a little girl, what was your dream job?
I went through a few different phases. First, I wanted to be the female version of Indiana Jones, then a storm chaser and then a professional volleyball player! I began playing music at the age of 7, but it wasn’t until high school that I realized I wanted to create music for a living.
What inspired you to pursue a career in music?
Music is one of my first loves. The first time I ever touched a piano was when I was 6 years old visiting a friend. I saw the piano in her house and immediately started plunking on the keys. I asked my mom for lessons that night and have played ever since!
During high school I joined a music class thinking I would be playing the piano. Instead, my teacher made me learn viola. It was my first experience playing music in a group setting, and I absolutely loved it. Playing in the orchestra pit was one of my favorite memories of high school. I was surrounded by so much beautiful sound, and better yet, I was a part of it. It was then that I decided to pursue a career in music.
I studied classical piano in college, although I don’t play piano while I perform these days. If I do play an instrument, I’ll play guitar. As a music therapy major, I had to take guitar class. Our teacher played a song called Tears by Django Reindhart. I was obsessed, and at that moment I knew I needed to learn guitar.
How did you then get involved in acting?
I sort of stumbled upon my acting career. I participated in a few acting summer camps as a kid, but I didn’t study it in school. I was told about an audition for the part of Keely Smith in a show about Louis Prima, who happens to be one of my favorite artists. I already was familiar with his music and loved watching the videos of Louis and Keely performing together. I couldn’t make the audition date because I was working as a piano teacher at the time, but the director allowed me to audition later. I got the part and was thrilled! I had no idea what I was getting myself into.
At the first rehearsal we got our script. I couldn’t believe that I had to memorize dialogue. Under amazing direction and invaluable assistance from Louis Prima’s wife, daughter and former manager, we pulled the show together and had a 2-month sold out run with a standing ovation every night. The show even won a Big Easy Award for Best Original Work that year. Three years later, we are still performing the show at the Stage Door Canteen in the WWII Museum and at various local festivals.
Being in that show catapulted my acting career and I was soon cast to perform as a lead in other Stage Door Canteen shows including a Frank Sinatra tribute and a Bob Hope tribute show. I also joined the talented group of performers known as the Victory Belles and traveled around the states performing 1940s hits and patriotic material. I have joined the Belles in a few Christmas shows and Matinees, including our current show, America’s Wartime Sweethearts, A Tribute to the Andrews Sisters. Working on stage has definitely helped me be a better performer in other settings as well.
With acting and music a part of your regular schedule, what then inspired you to begin teaching Pilates?
I started taking Pilates about 5 years ago because of the aches and pains I was experiencing due to teaching piano and performing for long hours. Getting back into a workout routine with Pilates changed my life and my body. When I was younger, my dad taught me to work out using very purposeful, controlled movements, and Pilates uses the same concept, which I immediately connected with. It’s about gaining complete mind-body connection and is an investment in your overall health. I’ve been injured several times in the past few years, but I have bounced back because of the strength, stamina and flexibility I’ve gained through Pilates.
It’s also part of the Pilates philosophy to work the 99% of the body that is healthy, so I was able to workout even while injured, just in a different way. My goal in my workouts is to be the strongest and healthiest I can be so that I can live a long, relatively pain-free life. I believe in the method of Pilates so much that I finally decided to become certified to teach it. After a year and a half, and at least 600 hours of workshops, tests, teaching and observing, I am now a Power Pilates certified trainer, and I absolutely love it!
What does a day in your life entail?
I wake up around 7 or 7:30 a.m. and get ready to teach Pilates. Most of my clients are in the morning because I perform the majority of my shows in the evening. My sweet husband promised to make me coffee every morning in our wedding vows, and he actually does! I grab my coffee and something to eat and head out to the studio. Once I’m done teaching, I make sure to take advantage of my time there and get in a workout. I alternate between doing mat and equipment workouts. Sometimes I’ll jump into a yoga class.
During the middle of the day I usually have time to run errands, answer emails, eat lunch and make phone calls. I have about two-to-three evening gigs a week on average. On nights when I don’t have gigs, I love to cook or go out to dinner with my husband. We have opposite schedules right now, so we try to take advantage of the time we do have together.
Every Wednesday I have a matinee performance with the Victory Belles at the National WWII Museum. On those days, once I’m up and have had some coffee, I put my hair in curlers. We do all of our own hair and makeup as Victory Belles. I arrive for an 11 a.m. sound check, and we spend the next hour doing our makeup, setting the stage, getting our props in order and checking our costumes. The performance lasts an hour followed by a meet and greet with the audience. We are so fortunate to meet WWII veterans every week. They truly are the greatest generation. I love getting to take them back in time through music and dance. Most of the veterans leave with big red kisses all over their faces. We love to treat them like VIPs.
After the show, I head out to the Pilates studio to teach private and group classes, and then I either head home for the night or get ready for a gig. Wednesdays are the most hectic day of my week, but I have to say I’m really happy with the balance of work I have right now. It’s been hard to find the right balance of theatre shows, club gigs with my own band and teaching Pilates. I love to do them all, so it’s a juggling act.
What inspired your CD and your love letter video to New Orleans, aka your song, Nola Sweetest Thing?
It took me about 3 years to put together all of the material on my CD, The Sweetest Thing. I wrote all of these songs at a time in my life where I was experiencing a lot of adjusting. By the time I was 23, I had purchased my first house, started my own company and formed my own band. The next couple of years I was juggling all of these things while my family was in turmoil. It was an emotional roller coaster for me, but writing music was my way of coping. I had newfound perceptions of life and interpersonal relationships.
To me, songwriting isn’t always about writing about your own experiences. You have to listen to others around you and be able to put yourself in another’s shoes. The songs on this album definitely draw on my own experiences but also include putting myself in another’s world. For example, Deep Dark Ocean was my way of trying to understand a loved one’s depression and suicide attempt. In contrast, my husband, who simply brightens my day by his cheery voice picking up the phone, inspired my song The Simplest Things.
This album is very dear to me, and I wanted to do something special when it was time to debut it. I wanted to spark a movement through positive reflection, so I dedicated the title track to my hometown of New Orleans through a cinematic love letter that features locals and tourists sharing the sweetest thing about New Orleans. In the spirit of giving back to the community, I also collaborated with local businesses Fleurty Girl and Lionheart Prints to create a Sweetest Thing T-shirt, and the proceeds of the T-shirt go directly to The Roots of Music, a foundation that brings music to New Orleans youth. Together, we started a conversation and my music did what I always hoped it would do – it brought people together in a positive way.
What impact do you hope to have on the world?
I’ve always been intrigued by the idea of having a voice in the world. As a female artist, I hope to be a positive role model for other girls and women. I strive to be – and to portray – a woman who is comfortable in her own skin, who is kind to others and hard-working. I aim to be the type of woman who knows who she is, what she stands for and then gets what she wants with elbow grease and integrity. I strive to be a woman who tries to perfect her craft and gain recognition in an effort to play an active role in my community and give back to others.
During college, my field work and internships in music therapy were mostly in behavioral health. My experiences in these facilities were so eye-opening and humbling. I quickly developed a passion for speaking out for those with mental illness. On a global scale, I would love to see the world discussing mental illness without stigma or negativity. I truly believe having a safe and open environment to discuss one’s emotional challenges would eliminate the hesitation people encounter in pursuing help.
What career challenges are on your radar?
I would absolutely love to have my music in film or television. This is my next big goal, so I’m steadily working on building awareness and getting my foot in the door in other capacities aside from live performances. My husband and I also would like to start a family, so I can see having to balance babies and a performance career being a challenge in the near future. I am surrounded by so many strong and inspiring women every day that I know I’ll figure it out when the time comes.
What are some of the rules you live by?
My biggest rule is balance. This is the one idea I always bring myself back to, whether it’s balancing my schedule, the types of musical projects I take on, or my meals and workouts. To me, balance doesn’t always mean an equal amount of separate parts. It just means finding the right balance for me in work, family, free time and even dessert!
I’ve really had to work on saying no when my plate is too full (literally and metaphorically). When I was younger, I think I was too competitive with myself and would take on things I really didn’t have time for. No one wins in that situation. You end up burned out, your project isn’t as great as it could be, and other people have to pick up your slack. Now I’m aware of what I can take on and ask myself if the end result is something I’d like to have my name on. If I can’t be proud of the final product, then I’d rather not do it at all.
Where do you find inspiration?
I find inspiration in people, whether loved ones, acquaintances or strangers. I’ve heard some of the best love stories from the WWII veterans I’ve met as a performer in the WWII museum. I’ve learned that everyone has a story, and everyone’s story has value and importance. We can find meaning in anything if we are open to truly listening.