Keep your legs together, the pines are painful! Check out my latest video singing the Spanish folk stylings of Manuel de Falla.

These two short pieces are taken from the famous Spanish song cycle Siete canciones populares españolas (Seven Spanish Folksongs) by Manuel de Falla. Published in 1914, this evocative setting of traditional folksongs from various regions of Spain is one of the most widely interpreted song cycles in Spanish classical repertoire. Throughout the song cycle, de Falla’s piano accompaniment imitates the arpeggiated strums of traditional Spanish guitar work, for an effect that gentrifies the regional sounds of Spain into contemporary classical music. 

My first performance is the first song of the cycle, “El paño moruno” (“The Moorish Cloth”). Referring to the Moorish region of southern Spain, the lyric seems to tell the very mundane story of a cloth in a store that has been discounted due to a stain. However, simmering under the surface here is a stern warning to young ladies to maintain their virginity until marriage, less their value be sullied. As an occasional sex-positive superhero, it’s always fun for me to play a villain!

Lyrics: 

Al paño fino, en la tienda,

una mancha le cayó;

Por menos precio se vende,

Porque perdió su valor.

Ay!

Translation:

The fine cloth in the shop

got stained;

It will be sold at a cheaper price

Because it has lost its value.

Ah!

My second performance is the third song of the cycle, “Asturiana,” a folk song from the Asturias in northern Spain. The lyrics hazily evoke a scene between the singer and a green pine tree reaching to each other for consolation from their shared pain. The Asturias are known for their greenery and plentiful pine trees, so I interpreted this as a song about homesickness. The singer has encountered an Asturian pine somewhere else in the world, and neither are able to return home. They comfort each other, they understand one another’s pain deeply, but they cannot relieve the suffering that their encounter has triggered in one another. For me, this song contains some of the most beautiful and heart wrenching moments of my entire program. 

Lyrics:

Por ver si me consolaba,

Arrime a un pino verde.

Por verme llorar, lloraba,

Y el pino como era verde!

Translation: 

To see if it consoled me

I leaned against a green pine. 

Upon seeing me cry, it cried

and how green was that pine!

Is there a song lyric you’re stumped on? I love helping singers find meaningful lyric interpretations to supercharge their performances. Contact me for a free consultation. 

Enjoy a not-so-Silent Noon with me at 12 PM EST Today

“Silent Noon” is an art song by British composer Ralph Vaughan Williams, published in 1903 as part of The House of Life song cycle. The second piece in the song cycle, “Silent Noon” quickly became the most popular song of the work, and was published separately the following year. In The House of Life, Vaughan Williams sets the poetry of the eponymous collection by English poet Dante Gabriel Rossetti. Written as Petrarchan sonnets, the poems deal with themes of love, loss, and beauty. 

This song was definitely one of my favourites to sing. The cascading melodies and evocative lyrics give a singer lots to sink her teeth into. Centring around themes of the beauty of nature, I felt the song moving through three different scenes in the lifespan of a couple. In the first verse, I imagined two lovers languidly lying in the grass, staring at the sky through blossoming trees as storm clouds begins to gather, with endless time and not a care in the world. The second verse I interpreted as a more established, “nested” couple taking in the beauty and quiet of their life together. In the third verse, I imagined an older couple appreciating every hour they have left together. The last verse brings back the opening melody, reinforcing the immortality of love in the face of death. 

The intermittent tempo changes, mid-song recitative, and dramatic pauses definitely made “Silent Noon” one of the tougher songs to sing to a backing track. However, I think it speaks to the strength of Vaughan Williams’ lyrical composing that these moments felt so intuitive in their timing. And of course to the talent of my accompanist, Mark McDowell!

Is there a song you long to sing? Contact me today for a free consultation. 

Love is a rebellious bird, and so am I! Watch me sing the Habañera from Bizet’s Carmen

“L’Amour est un oiseau rebelle,” popularly known as the Habañera, is the entrance aria sung by the titular character in French composer George Bizet’s Carmen. The opera was first performed in Paris in 1875 to mixed reviews. Bizet was known for frequently rewriting the work leading up to the premiere. He died unexpectedly after the 33rd performance, after which many different modifications were made. To this day there is no definitive version Bizet’s original score. 

Carmen’s libretto was written by Henri Meilhac and Ludovic Halévy, based on the novella of the same name by Prosper Mérimée. However, the lyrics of the Habañera were written by Bizet himself. In fact, he inadvertently plagiarized the music of the Spanish habañera “El Arreglito ou la Promesse de mariage” of 1863 by Sebastián Iradier, thinking it was a folk tune. Nevertheless, it remains one of the most recognizable arias in the history of opera, and a right of passage for many mezzo-sopranos. 

To play a character like Carmen is to chase a moving target. Carmen is by her nature mysterious yet aggressive, passionate yet aloof, stubborn yet fickle. She represents the kind of magical feminine ideal that men want to have, and women want to be. In this scene, Carmen and the other “cigarette girls” emerge from the factory for their break, surrounded by male soldiers who ogle them. Cool and unfazed, Carmen basks in the attention and flirts with the one soldier who pays no mind to her—José. The lyrics speak of the paradox of love: the more we want it or try to control it, the more it flies away; the less we pursue love or even care about it, the more it grows toward us. Though these words prove to be a tragic foreshadowing of the opera’s final act, Carmen’s Habańera is essentially a lesson in seduction from a sexy, seasoned master. 

Let me know how I did 😉 Of course, I didn’t have a chorus behind me to sing the back-up vocals, but you get the idea!

Is there a great musical role you long to play? Contact me today for a free consultation. 

Immortal, alone, and looking for love – Watch my selections from Robert Schumann’s Liederkreis

Watch the premiere of my Liederkreis selections on Monday, April 19 at 12 noon EST.

Liederkreis is a song cycle by the famous German composer Robert Schumann, setting the poetry of Joseph von Eichendorff’s Intermezzo collection. Composed in 1840—Schumann’s prolific “year of song”—Liederkreis is one of the most enduring song cycles of the 19th century. Artists of the Romantic period were captivated by dark themes such as death and its implications, as well as the ominous power of the natural world. These ideas run through the entire song cycle, made up of 12 short art songs. In this video, I interpret the first two pieces: “In der Fremde” and “Intermezzo.”

“In der Fremde” tells the story of a person who, either by way of immortality or mortal resurrection, finds herself a stranger in her own home town. She stands in her homeland in a time well beyond the lifetime of her peers, and apart from the stormy weather, nothing here feels familiar. Her parents are dead, and so is everyone else she knows. But where else can she go? Alone and without any sense of home on earth, she longs for death in the foliate cover of the nearby forest, where she can decay and be forgotten just like everyone else. The poem is ultimately a cautionary tale about the wish for eternal life. While humans fear and try to avoid or cheat death, the absence of an end to our life cycle would ultimately render our existence meaningless and incredibly lonely. 

“Intermezzo” is a sweet, romantic interlude in the Liederkreis song cycle. Following the doom and gloom of “In der Fremde,” this piece is a doting love song referencing another “old, beautiful song” that inspires affection in a nostalgic way. The themes of time shift and idealization of the past seem to permeate this song cycle. “Intermezzo” represents a shift in energy toward lightness before Schumann takes us into the cold disappointment and heartbreak of the next song, “Waldesgespräch.”

For me, these were among the most challenging pieces of my exam to sing. The climax of “In der Fremde” requires the right mix of vocal strength and freedom, while the more serene “Intermezzo” has a dastardly rhythmic syncopation pattern between singer and piano. The pieces themselves are very fun to get into, and I would love the opportunity to sing the rest of the Liederkreis someday. 

Is there a song that you are excited about digging into, but don’t know where to start? Contact me for a free consultation. 

In questa tomba oscura – When Beethoven’s ghost guilt-trips you from a dark tomb

Watch me sing Beethoven’s In questa tomba oscura as part of my graduating classical recital.

In questa tomba oscura is an art song by Ludwig van Beethoven. Published in 1807, it was Beethoven’s submission in a composition challenge issued that year to set this poem by Guiseppe Carpani. Although sixty-three settings were composed, only Beethoven’s remained memorable. Because he only wrote a handful of vocal works, I was excited for the opportunity to tackle the music of this seminal composer. 

The heart-wrenching lyrics exemplify not only the Romantic-era penchant towards tragedy and melodrama, but also the period’s characteristic fascination with death and the supernatural. The song tells a story from the perspective of the deceased, who feels taken for granted and forgotten by her surviving lover. As for me, I channeled the spite and ire of a dead Italian grandmother forgotten by her adult children, and that’s how I sang it! The excruciatingly slow tempo allows for the anger and sadness to be deep-dug and drawn out, while the middle section builds to an outburst that totally drains this transmuted, wailing ghost. This was definitely one of my favourite pieces of the recital. 

Getting a Handle on Handel! Watch me sing O Thou Tellest Good Tidings to Zion from Messiah

Watch me sing O Thou Tellest Good Tidings to Zion from Handel’s Messiah.

Handel’s Messiah holds a special place in my heart, considering it was a work that I routinely sang at Christmas time as a child with the Bach Children’s Chorus. At the last few rehearsals before the big performance, we would be joined by the orchestra and the soloists. I remember being a child and watching the vocal soloists in awe, wondering how they spun their magic. They seemed to have such incredible control over their instruments, and were able to achieve a sweetness and purity in their sound that I didn’t hear on the radio. It obviously had an effect on me! While I hope to be able to sing with others again in the near future, just being on this side of the music feels like a wonderful accomplishment that little Laura never knew she would reach. Hallelujah!

Watch my YouTube Premiere of J.S. Bach’s “Esurientes implevit bonis”

Join me on Monday, March 29 at 12 noon EST for the premiere of my latest recital video.

Watch as I take you on a trip through music history, from Baroque masterpieces to 20th century musical theatre. This series features songs I studied for my final singing exam from the Royal Conservatory of Music in Canada. A new video will be released each week, and compiled into one convenient playlist. 

The ARCT diploma in Voice Performance is the culmination of years of study in the many styles and traditions of classical singing—opera, art song, oratorio, jazz, cabaret, musical theatre—as well as its prominent languages—French, German, Italian, Spanish, and Latin. Additionally, the diploma requires extensive study in sight-reading, ear training, music history, harmony and music analysis, as well as piano proficiency. 

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“Esurientes implevit bonis” is an aria from the famous Magnificat in D Major oratorio by Johann Sebastian Bach composed in 1723. One of Bach’s most popular vocal works, it is written for five vocalists and Baroque orchestra. The Magnificat is Bach’s first major liturgical composition in Latin. Whereas regular Sunday services would have been conducted in German, music sung in Latin was reserved for the high holidays, i.e. Christmas, Easter, and Pentecost. 

Singing Bach is always a nostalgic experience for me, reminding me of my first real “gig” as a chorister in the Bach Children’s Chorus at 6 years old. God bless my parents, they knew I loved to sing, but I don’t think they really understood what they were signing me up for. The weekly three-hour rehearsals involved rigorous study of solfège, sight-reading, and singing the seemingly endless contrapuntal lines of Bach himself. We were also sent home with booklets of music theory homework, which was like a foreign language to me. 

I am forever grateful for this early exposure to Bach and Baroque music. Not only did I learn invaluable musical skills—like how to read music and sing long melismatic lines on a single breath—but it also set me up for the amazing experiences I had in the Mendelssohn Youth Choir in high school, and the MacMillan Singers in University, singing at Roy Thompson Hall with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra under Peter Oundjian. And as I study harmony and music analysis for my final exam of the ARCT diploma, my understanding of counterpoint is firmly rooted in Bach’s vocal music. 

Thanks Bach!

Lyrics (Luke 1:53):

Esurientes implevit bonis

Et divites dimisit inanes 

Translation:

He has filled the hungry with good things

And the rich he has sent empty away

My Classical Graduating Recital Premieres with the Tale of Mad Bess

Join me on YouTube for the premiere of this series on Monday, March 22 at 12 noon Eastern Standard Time.

Watch as I take you on a trip through music history, from Baroque masterpieces to 20th century musical theatre. This series features songs I studied for my final singing exam from the Royal Conservatory of Music in Canada. A new video will be released each week, and compiled into one convenient playlist. 

The ARCT diploma in Voice Performance is the culmination of years of study in the many styles and traditions of classical singing—opera, art song, oratorio, jazz, cabaret, musical theatre—as well as its prominent languages—French, German, Italian, Spanish, and Latin. Additionally, the diploma requires extensive study in sight-reading, ear training, music history, harmony and music analysis, as well as piano proficiency. 

🎶🎵

Bess of Bedlam is a Baroque-era art song by English composer Henry Purcell. Published in 1683, it tells the tale of “Mad Bess,” a woeful resident of the Bethlem Royal Hospital, a.k.a. the Bedlam insane asylum in London. To this day, Bedlam’s name is associated with mayhem, confusion, and chaos, and points to the sordid history of how mental illness has been treated in Western society. The song’s lyrics alternate between the storytelling of a troubadour-style narrator, and the rantings of Bess herself. 

This song harkens back to a time when singers were not only the night’s entertainment, but also often travelling storytellers who told the tales of people and places near and far. These stories become part of a society’s mythology and folklore, in which social values can be tested and reflect the conscience of the times. Indeed, many mythological characters are mentioned in the lyrics of Bess’ rantings, including Oberon, Mab the Fairy Queen, and the Roman gods Mars and Venus. 

By Purcell’s account, Bess is a woman driven to a complete mental breakdown from grief and heartbreak. It ends with the sobering reminder that none of us is immune to the ensnarements and emotional turmoil of love. The narrator even suggests that, perhaps by living in her delusions, Bess has freed herself of the burdens and sorrows she would otherwise have to face in reality—and who could blame her? 

For me, not only does Purcell’s text demonstrate a compassion for the mentally ill, but also a real empathy for the plight of women in this age. The importance placed on a woman’s purity and marriageability was so severe that, if a woman were “sullied” by an errant lover, it would cause serious damage to her reputation and significantly limit her prospects in life. Heartbreak compounded with an existential crisis seems like a pretty compelling set of reasons to go mad, and Purcell asks us to understand and even relate to Bess in a way that is not often extended to female characters of unsound mind, even to this day. 

As someone who knows all too well the madness of living up to the competing expectations of women in our world today, Bess is both a tragic and fun character to play. She lead me to ask questions like, What is on the other side of not measuring up? Is delusion really madness, or simply a rejection of an unjust or unbearable reality? Is rejecting our prescribed role in this world a thing to be feared, or the path to real freedom? Or perhaps both? 

Happy Retirement to My Voice Teacher

This my voice teacher, Tannis Sprott, and I at our last singing lesson together, right before I performed my final exam and she finally got to retire! 

For the last four years, Tannis has been guiding me on my journey into classical singing. Her combination of humour, expertise, and compassion made our time together uplifting and grounding, even as I was going through some tough times. She’s a pretty tough lady herself! 

Her passion for classical music and teaching the art of vocal technique inspired me as a coach, and so much of what I do I learned from her. I know I’m not the only voice teacher working today who will say that. Her legacy will be not only people who found the joy of singing, but a generation of singers and coaches who can help others overcome their vocal challenges. I have students who are doing things with their voices they never thought possible, and a great deal of that knowledge I learned from Tannis. 

When the pandemic hit last year, Tannis made the wise decision to finally retire, as she had been intending to do for some time… except for me. Her dedication to helping me complete my ARCT singing exam went above and beyond the call of duty, even sewing special singing masks for me so that we could rehearse in her home. And during the lockdown, she continued coaching me online, despite the technical challenges (and there were many). 

My heart is overflowing with gratitude for this wonderful woman. My life is richer for having mentors like her in it, and it’s an unlimited wealth that now flows to others. 

Thank you Tannis!

How I Transitioned my Vocal Coaching Business in a Pandemic

When I started my vocal coaching business in 2018, after four years teaching private lessons at a music school, my dream was always to create a learning environment for my students that felt more comfortable, flexible, and personal. In the beginning of 2020, I was coaching singing lessons out of a beautiful rental studio in downtown Guelph, in the space of a wonderful local non-profit called Art Not Shame. When we got word in March that a global pandemic was spreading to Canada, I remember the early response from small businesses voluntarily shutting their doors to protect the public. As of March 15, I stopped all in-person lessons and started teaching online. 

The transition to online lessons was not easy. There were lots of technical glitches, and I definitely had to upgrade my internet plan. I tried every platform from Skype, to FaceTime, to Zoom. I was living with a room mate at the time in a very small house, so coaching at the piano in the living room was always a delicate scheduling dance.

Of course, some students only wanted to be seen in person because, understandably, the experience is very different. But when I heard horror stories about COVID-19 outbreaks at choir rehearsals, and saw the evidence that singing was a high-risk activity for COVID transmission, I knew that transitioning my business model to online coaching was the right thing to do. 

To accommodate the students who were already committed to in-person lessons, over the summer I coached outside in my backyard, 10 feet apart. At the end of the summer, I held an outdoor student open mic with my neighbours in our laneway and live-streamed it to my Facebook page. Each student got their own coloured wind sock for the microphone! No one got sick. 

Moving my entire business model online meant investing in my online presence. I beefed up my website, and doubled down on my social media engagement. Today I have almost 7 thousand followers on Instagram and Facebook, and all transactions are completed online. 

I am now teaching entirely over Zoom, and both my students and I are really enjoying it. There is no commute time, no parking fees, and best of all, there is no risk of catching any illness from one another. Students can record the lessons and watch them later when they practice. We can also share screens to review sheet music and make notes specific to their needs. But most importantly, students are still making progress. I have been quite pleased to find that the sound quality of most built-in device microphones still allows me to hear the tone of a singer’s voice quite well. From beginners to professionals, I have had no problem coaching singers of all levels with the technology that is commonly available. 

While I hope to return to in-person lessons someday, I can definitely see the value of incorporating online lessons into my services after the pandemic has subsided. I have had the pleasure of connecting with students from all over the world, including the US and Germany, but also Canadians from other regions of our vast country. Even for those I will see in person, I would love to be able to offer students the option of doing their lesson online if they feel that they might be coming down with a cold. My students will tell you that I have always offered a hearty supply of masks, hand sanitizer, and anti-viral Kleenex at my lessons during cold and flu season, because catching a cold can be so disruptive to a singer’s progress or livelihood. While I am glad that mask-wearing has become more socially normalized, the online lesson environment surely offers a more comfortable singing experience for both singer and teacher.

Ultimately, I feel very fortunate to have been able to make the transition to online lessons. In a time of such incredible stress for so many, it’s a privilege to be able to offer people a little slice of risk-free “me time” that they can feel good about. And while the online experience may be a bit different, the learning environment of trust, personal attention, and a love for music-making still permeates every lesson.