You know how it is when you hear a saying or a catch phrase. The next thing you know, you are using it and melding it into your own vocabulary. Having lovely Twitter friends who are Australian and theatrically inclined, I picked up the phrase Chookas from them. The Urban Dictionary defines Chookas as Theatrical slang used mainly in Australia to wish performer good luck. Synonymous to: break a leg. One day after using the phrase on Twitter, a friend asked me what it meant. Soon after my reply I received a tweet that simply said It’s also my name! This was my personal introduction to an amazing young man named Chooka Parker.
Chooka Parker is a 19 year old musician from Red Lion, Victoria, Australia. Growing up in the beautifully scenic farm land, away from electronics and the diversions of the day, Chooka found time between his homeschool studies and working on the farm to express his creative side by teaching himself piano at the age of 14. And so a prodigy was discovered. Having a penchant for improvising his amazing piano masterpieces in the moment during the time of performing, his talent is beyond what most of us would ever dream possible. After being urged by friends to audition for Australia’s Got Talent (to which he had no idea what the program was since he didn’t watch or own a television), Chooka went on to perform and become a finalist on the program in 2011 at age 16. His talent amazed the judges and brought him admiration and fans across the globe. Since his appearance on the program, Chooka has recorded a CD titled No Worries! as well as a just released EP titled My Jewel, which is the cap to his current tour through Queensland, Australia.
Even though on tour, Chooka took time to chat with me and provide a little insight into his journey and musical process. The videos included here will allow you to see as well as hear this young man in action to receive a true comprehension of his talent! Let’s start it off with his audition appearance for Australia’s Got Talent…
So, hello Chooka! I’m so excited to be publishing this Feature, you are an amazing talent! Can you share a little about your background…when did you realize you were musically inclined and was it something that you thought about pursuing?
I didn’t really have much to do with music growing up, but when I was about 11, I was given a Mozart CD with a booklet. We didn’t own a CD player, so I just read the information about Mozart on the booklet and when we went to the library (we didn’t have the internet either), I would look up things about Mozart. This went on for two years, until we acquired a CD player of our own. I was 13 then and heard this music for the first time. It just connected with some part deep inside when I heard it, and from then on my brother and I would listen to Classic FM on the radio as we did our schooling at home. I then decided I wanted to learn to play an instrument, which started with the clarinet. I did lessons for that over the next 18 months. But after so long of being taught, even though it was amazing and my teacher was extremely guiding and taught me about music, I had this tremendous urge that I wanted to just break free and discover the world of music and learn by myself, so my next instrument that I was hoping would be percussive (me being inclined that way) ended up being piano. So, my brother and I bred some Border Collie pups and sold them, then bought a small Casio keyboard with the money. I just started mucking around on the keyboard, making up my own tunes and writing them down by hand. By now I was 15 and a friend bought me a piano, so for the first time, I had a full set of keys to play on! I tuned the piano and then kept on experimenting, exploring, making more and more music as I felt it. I really liked music by now and at 16 I’d even written a short clarinet quintet for a competition I entered.
I’m taking it that you don’t sight read music, but have you ever had any specific musical training?
That is often assumed as I don’t specify that I can read music, and particularly when I play I like to do it by ear because my over-all aim is to be spontaneous and fresh, which comes from feeling the music as it happens. But no, I can read music fine. I have written a few musical score and learned and played classical pieces from sheet music. In fact, I have even made my own variations on Fur Elise after learning the whole piece by sheet music and then adding my own Chookaness to it.
As far as training goes, the clarinet lessons I began with is the only musical training I’ve had. But I deliberately chose to never be taught with piano because I always said, I don’t want to be infiltrated, and although my love for learning is unquenchable, I never wanted to take the risk of someone training me with their own personal experiences and losing my own creativity (not saying it would happen but it easily could and I understood that from an early age.) I enjoy reading books and books on musical counterpoint and studying my shelf of musical scores, playing Liszt‘s compositions from his sheet music, and learning by ear, that is and was my training.
What about vocals? Any chance we’ll hear you sing at some point?
YEAH SURE I CAN SING!! But you’d probably rather hear a lawnmower! That’s my usual reply as I casually snicker to myself and start my songs. I love making comedy songs and hitting people’s hilarity levels! I have some crazy songs on YouTube, but as far as real songs go as a skill, it’s actually something I’ve dreamed of, and I’m not actually too bad at opera. Singing country is not out of my range, but I’d never be able to sing like Jeff Buckley. My talents with my voice generally lay in comedy, talking, or my own specialized singing that doesn’t in fact sound totally awful!
Aside from keyboard, are there any other instruments you play? Is there any you would like to learn?
I know there are some I can play. Not all on the same skill level as my piano and I don’t concentrate on them as much, but yes for sure I really enjoy it and people like it when they discover what else I can do (maybe one day I’ll play all of them at a concert!) I play clarinet, flute, guitar, harmonica, piano accordion, ukulele, organ, banjo/mandolin, recorder, and some Chinese flute instrument. Even some of my own home-made instruments, which I’ve debated amongst myself as to whether they’re real legitimate instruments or not – but including some percussion instruments it currently stands at about 13. Probably my main focus other from piano is things like bongo, drums, percussion in general. It was my constant drumming on everything that actually got my whole piano career started! And.. I wanna learn everything! Anything with music, I want in.
If you had to describe your personal sound, what would you say? Has the sound of your music changed over time?
My music is like a journey. Whatever I feel around me comes as a direct reflection of my own personal inner self, and the things that happen can temporarily add a burst of excitement or sadness or maybe calm to it, so yeah, my music does change over time – but more developed and improving on my beautiful journey through my magical musical land of discovery than anything.
As far as how my personal sound is, it feels like I’m listening to a deep part of myself that is manifesting into the music you’re hearing, other times it sounds as though I’m listening to my own emotion releasing itself, and sometimes I can create an entire scene with no personal feeling added. If I go into another world and feed off that atmosphere, I make a completely new breakthrough and it becomes something I’m learning. It’s very hard to describe, because sometimes I’m simply playing the feeling of water, mixed with some of my own emotion, blending with discoveries I’m making and integrating with breakthroughs I’m feeling, but my conclusion would be that I always get a very deep feeling of channeling whatever is around me through my own personal energy. So it’s just like watching different movies, you experience all kinds of different things in every one; I’m simply expressing every and any experience I discover in my own personal way. And it’s very exciting.
Are there any specific musicians that have influenced your sound?
Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash and the Classic composers, like Mozart, Beethoven, Chopin etc. Certain film scores, any and all genres unless my brain deems it to be noise. I just love music that makes me stop and feel it.
Anyone you would really like to perform and/or collaborate with?
Bob Dylan is the person I’ve always wanted to collab with, but whoever will work with what I do I guess.
You improvise your music, but what about specific songs that you compose and record. How do you handle those situations as far as remembering what you’ve composed so that you are able to repeat it?
I seem to have a musical memory and generally when I play a song I want to remember, it sticks in my head and I don’t really forget it, but with others, I have to relearn them by listening to my recordings and learning them afresh. It’s like doing the process backwards 🙂 But it doesn’t take long to learn my own music, especially when I’ve played it, just put it on and I’ll play it by ear. I have a whole page of set songs that I repeat because people love rocking on to those familiar songs at shows.
I had decided that I wanted to play music for my career, so I told my parents what I wanted to do…they said that I couldn’t make money from music and that I had to learn a skill. I had finished home schooling by now and so I decided I wanted to become a shearer. I went to Shearing School and after each day’s work, I would pull out my little Casio to play. The fellas there thought I was good enough to go onto Australia’s Got Talent, so after explaining what the show was, I decided to go on it.
Funny thing is, as they were trying to ring some bells in my head as to who the judges were, I kept replying, but who on earth are you talking about? Who is Dannii Minogue and Kyle Sandilands?? As their faces just went blank, I think I finished them off by saying I never had a TV or internet. So with no idea what I was getting into, I headed off to the show after much persuasion.
Can you share a little of your experience of being on AGT? Was it what you imagined? Did you have any stage fright performing before such a large crowd?
Well, because I’d never heard of the show before, let alone seen it, I had very little idea as to what even happens in it. Or even that it was supposed to be a progressive thing. I just went on and did my thing. I didn’t really care about what others thought. The only time I felt any nerves was when I was standing back stage at one point and the judges had just voted off two not-so-great acts in a row and really blasted them with everything and I was there, next up.
When I walked onto stage, I felt like I had been doing this all my life though and wasn’t really nervous at all. I really enjoyed my time there. I got to talk to some of the judges and do the splits for them 🙂 It just felt so natural. I can’t explain it. I had no expectations, so I just loved every minute of it.
In May 2012 you won the People’s Choice Award at the MusicOz Awards in Australia. Were you surprised by how much continued fan support you have received?
Yeah, it was great to have that much support! I guess I never knew about it, my only interpretation of a fan had only ever been the home cooling system. My supporters are very dedicated and I love them all.
How much did your personal world change after AGT?
Well, after the show, I went from nobody knowing me, to everybody stopping me to get my autograph and talk to me. I was even signing heads, handbags, and everything else. 🙂 Kinda weird, but I didn’t change at all. It’s certainly interesting.
You recorded your first album, No Worries, only a month after AGT aired, and you’ve now come out with a follow up EP titled My Jewel. Did you compose My Jewel with the thought of using it specifically for the EP?
My Jewel, like No Worries!, is just something that happened, I had met an amazing .. ya know, girlllllllllllll, just recently, so I wanted My Jewel to be special and I chose that song for the EP. I have the hard copy out now and that has two more songs on it along with the My Jewel single, plus an eight page booklet. It was done for… a gem ❤ I’m so happy with the project because it just came straight from my heart and I can’t wait to have it on my tour in Queensland.
How was the recording process? Anything significant you learned along the way?
My first album was recorded at a studio, but since then recording has been done at home and my brother takes care of all that. We get the songs mastered by Mark Woods, who is a sound engineer. He’s been in the business a long time. You definitely learn a lot along the way. It’s been a good experience.
What is your favorite thing about being involved in the whole music experience, and anything frustrate you?
I just love helping people connect with their emotions and seeing their feedback. Different people see different things in my music…what is sad to one person, is sweet to another. Many say that my music has helped heal them emotionally, so that being my original goal, makes me very satisfied, and the only frustrated times is when I’m feeling not emotionally stable enough to play myself, but that doesn’t happen often generally, so I feel pretty content.
Along with your music, it seems you have also taken up poetry! Although not specifically lyrics, some of what you have written seems to coincide with your music. Can you share a little bit about how this all started and will we be seeing more of it along with your musical compositions?
I actually started writing poetry when I was bout 10, and I wrote a poem for my Grandad when I was 12 called Grandad’s Favourite Breaky. But recently an amazing person came into my life and she inspired my more literal side, and since then I’ve written over 30 poems, but I always had that flare for poetry, comedy and storytelling. I hope to complete my first book of poetry which will also contain short stories, comedy, and ranging poetry to my heart’s content. I’ll get this done in my own time, I have a good feeling it will be soon. Music has inspired a lot, so it comes out when I’m talking quite a bit as well.
You’ve been able to do some touring with your music, where is the most interesting place you’ve traveled to thus far?
I have done a lot of performing around Victoria and also interstate. I’ve played at Festivals, Etihad Stadium before a huge crowd at a Football Final, as Guest Artist on AGT, fundraisers, opening act for other artists, Sydney Opera House and even in a Jazz Club in Japan. I love getting to schools, nursing homes, Shopping Centres, and just where people are, I think they deserve to hear the music in the wide open spaces and I love feeling that atmosphere of freedom.
The most interesting place would have to be at the Jacaranda Festival in Grafton where I was set up near a beautiful river out in the open space where it went off like Fireworks (well fireworks went off after I finished anyway!) About 2,000 odd people, and even though these big grand venues are fun, I thought that was the most interesting, definitely the most memorable, everybody just sank straight into the zone.
Where do you see yourself further down the road? Would you like to continue to pursue music? And what would you see yourself doing otherwise?
I never plan much, I like to let things mold perfectly just how nature does, so without avoiding the question, I see that I will grow into whatever I’m meant to be, and being positive that it’s art and strongly music, I think I’ll just be further developed and accomplished as a musician, and I’d personally like to get into acting, voice acting, poetry, film music, more albums, maybe some different productions, but ultimately wherever my inner self leads me.
Any advice for someone starting out playing music and looking to progress into recording?
As far as music goes, I think as long as it’s just you flowing straight through it and it’s not something you’re doing to oblige, you need to love what you’re doing to the core of it. Just feel it – don’t be afraid to learn, experiment, experience, discover, and never ever worry about trying to be perfect from the word go. Perfection itself is debatable, but it will come in time, as long as you don’t let judgment defeat your creativity, do what you feel is right, and after it all comes together, you won’t ever have trouble strutting your stuff and showing it, because there should be nothing there to prove. Recording just asks for a good atmosphere and people who understand how to get the right sound quality. Try to find a studio you’re comfortable with or do the recording yourself.
On a side note – My advice on destiny and finding your position in life is whatever you feel deep inside, listen to it. What your mind and your whole life leads you to knowing what is right for you to be, will lead you into what you’re meant to become. Don’t worry about it too much. You’ll find it as soon as you stop looking and sit still.
Future gigs or tours in the works we can look forward to?
I am currently touring Queensland…my debut tour! I hope to do other states in the near future, plus overseas.
Tell us something that might surprise us about you!
Just the fact that I’ve always ~without fail~ got something else up my sleeve. People just don’t expect it. Like the front flip I did in me work boots and jacket on TV. I learnt it 2 weeks before but did it just because I felt like it. Something that might surprise you right now is, I’m actually a pretty good gamer! Yes I have a computer now… No, it hasn’t taken over my life, stop worrying Mums.. :p
Fast Five – Questions for Fun
Favorite food indulgence? Avocado
Favorite guilty pleasure? Eating chips and more chips and then going back for more.
Which Superhero would you choose to be? It’s interesting you ask, I’ve created super hero characters but I have none at all I would feel any desire to be, I just want to be myself.
Celebrity Crush? Sorry to be boring, I just don’t have one, I didn’t even know what a celebrity was before I went on telly, in fact the only one I’d heard of was …. Queen Elisabeth! And there’s certainly no crush factor there!!!!!!!!!!!! hahahaha
If you are interested in finding out more about Chooka, he is now internet savvy and is connecting with fans via his website, Facebook and Twitter! You may purchase his music on his website and also through iTunes! THANKS so much for the Feature, Chooka, and for tweeting me to share the fact that it was also your name! Chookas to you, mate!!