“I Can Cook Too” is a song from the 1944 musical On The Town. Composed by Leonard Bernstein, with book and lyrics by Betty Comden and Adolph Green, the musical is based on the Jerome Robbins ballet Fancy Free of the same year. In addition to the music, Bernstein wrote most of the lyrics for this particular song, too.
On the Town was adapted into a Hollywood film in 1949, but much of the score was re-written for the screen. While the iconic image of Frank Sinatra, Gene Kelly, and Jules Munshin singing “New York, New York” dressed as sailors is perhaps On the Town’s best-known number, only four songs from the original musical made it into the Hollywood film. This caused Bernstein to boycott the movie. Imagine my disappointment when watching the film, only to have this charming song never appear!
On The Town follows the adventure of three sailors on a 24-hour shore leave in New York City. While Chip (Sinatra) wants to see the sites, Gabey (Kelly) and Ozzie (Munshin) are far more interested in meeting women. Chip is soon pursued by the sexually aggressive taxi driver Hildy, who manages to lure the oblivious sailor to her apartment. In the stage musical, it is here that Hildy sings “I Can Cook Too,” a braggadocios ode to her own fabulousness, in an attempt to seduce the young sailor.
As you can probably tell, I really like Hildy. She’s smart, funny, sex-positive, and goes after what she wants. That was a big deal for a female character in 1949! Of course, in the 1940s it was expected that a woman’s place was in the kitchen, but as you’ll see from the lyrics, Hildy’s self-confidence isn’t derived from her cooking abilities alone. She’s covergirl beautiful, a great singer, a frugal homemaker, an excellent dancer, a fantastic career taxi driver, and a “wonderful lover.” And her cooking sounds delicious. What a package! It’s too bad her dimwitted beau doesn’t really get it until almost the end of the show. Hildy is too good for Chip, anyway! I’m glad he got on that boat the next day.
This is the final song from my graduating recital, so thank you to everyone who watched this video series and tuned in each week. If you missed any of the premieres, feel free to watch my playlist “Laura’s Graduating Classical Recital” to see the whole program from start to finish.
Completing the Royal Conservatory’s ARCT Voice Performance exam was a huge accomplishment for me. If there’s anything I can do to help you with your singing goals, don’t hesitate to contact me at email@example.com.
“Don’t make me not a role model because you’re turned on by me.”
This month, 19-year-old singer-songwriter-pop star Billie Eilish was featured in British Vogue magazine with an internet-breaking photo series, and a stark interview covering body shame, her abuse as a minor, and the virgin-whore paradox thrust on girls from an alarmingly young age. While I find myself completely blown away by the boldness, courage, and wisdom of this inspiring woman, I am also hopeful that her adroit feminist insight at such a young age is a sign of a seismic cultural shift.
In Valentino corsets and sultry blonde curls—a notable departure from her usual baggy clothes and eccentric style—Eilish does far more than simply titillate the viewer with her obvious beauty. She is challenging us to unpack our own baggage on how our opinions of women change when we perceive them as publicly inviting sexual desire.
“Showing your body and showing your skin – or not – should not take any respect away from you.”
While Eilish’s perspective stems from experiences of childhood abuse, her statements intentionally have broad implications about the way women are sexualized in society at every turn. As a sex-positive vocal coach and teacher of teenagers, her words resonated with me deeply.
Unfortunately, I encounter a lot of confusion about my work as a sex-positive, body-positive vocal coach. In fact, there is no shortage of people offering me unsolicited advice on any given day about how I should be marketing myself. The general reaction seems to be that sexuality and vocal coaching don’t mix. I should create a separate Instagram account for my modelling. I should drop CLITORIA if I ever want to work at an institution of higher learning, i.e. be taken seriously. After all, what kind of “attention” am I inviting with all this sexy stuff, anyway?
To that I ask, why do I have your attention in the first place?
Why are we so quick to demonize the very things that fascinate us?
Even if you found me by web search for a vocal coach, the popularity of my musical CLITORIA: A Sex-Positive Superhero! may be why my website came up earlier in the search results.
Don’t make me not a vocal coach because you’re turned on by me! (I’m kidding… sort of.)
“Everybody’s like, ‘You can’t make a wife out of a hoe’ – and it’s like, you’re attracted to that person, though. You created that person.”
Of course, the sad truth is that this dichotomy between “sexy” and “respectable” only exists for women, and only because of misogyny. If a man is seen as sexy, it only adds to his status and respectability. If he produces work of quality, we somehow have endless patience for his transgressions. But if a woman or girl demonstrates anything less than sage-like wisdom and propriety—even in handling predatory grooming at 16 years old—she needs to “learn her lesson.”
Folks, it’s time to flip the script.
In the interview, Eilish tries to make the point that there are no “two sides” to a woman in the sense that sometimes she’s “respectable” and sometimes she’s “sexual,” as if those two things don’t exist in the same moment. In my own work, this is an ethos I have always tried to emulate. I am a classically trained singer and conservatory-educated musician, and I am also a sexual being who likes to be adored and wants to normalize sex-positivity, and I also support causes like racial justice and LGBTQIA+ rights, and I also support local businesses, and I also love mentoring young students, and I also struggle with anxiety, and also I call my mother at least twice a week for help with adulting.
That’s why I don’t separate these things: I want you to see all of it together. I don’t want to be objectified for my looks, I want to project appreciation and respect for everything I am and all I have to offer. When you work with a vocal coach, you’re letting someone into your life who affects how you think and feel about yourself. So I want to be very clear about who I am, and what confidence in your own skin can do for you. I work my magic with many wands—talent, hard work, humour, sex-positivity—but only one of them appears to be a lightning rod, and that’s not on me. Some people will get it, and some won’t. Some will continue to objectify me or judge me and other women. The only important question is, will you?
But what about the children?! I agree that children should have a right to enjoy their innocence. But, I’ll tell you something: I wrote CLITORIA because a lot of young students asked me a lot of questions in lessons over the years that had nothing to do with music. I’ve shared many laughs, tears, and tirades with some incredible young people who felt powerless under social forces they had no idea how to deal with. At some point, your child will want to talk to an adult they can trust who is not you. It has been one of the greatest honours of my career and my life to help these kids in their times of confusion, distress, or worse. My musical was an appeal to adults to do better for them.
“‘You’re going to complain about being taken advantage of as a minor, but then you’re going to show your boobs?’” She tilts her head and widens her eyes in a slow charade of contemplation. Then she swivels back, points straight at me and laughs. “Yes I am, motherf**ker! I’m going to because there’s no excuse.”
Billie Eilish in British Vogue, June 2021
I adore these images of Eilish figuratively rubbing her cleavage in our faces, as if to say, “I dare you to objectify me.” She is arguably the most important songwriter of her generation. Dismiss her at your own peril. However she chooses to present herself, I’m so happy that teenage girls have a pop star like Billie Eilish to empower them, and I’m so excited for the future these amazing young people will usher in.
“Amor” is a selection from the first book of American composer William Bolcom’s four-volume series Cabaret Songs. Written for mezzo-soprano Joan Morris, the first volume (including this song) was published in 1978, the second in 1983, and the final two in 1997. Cabaret Songs is Bolcom’s musical setting of the poetry of American writer Arnold Weinstein.
This was a fun one for me. It’s not often in a Royal Conservatory exam that you get to do a comedic piece, and of course this is where I feel the most at home. I imagined our protagonist as equal parts fancy, pretentious, and clueless. Like Princess Jasmine leaving the castle walls for the first time, our uptown girl takes a rare jaunt through the city and seems to immediate seduce everyone she meets. The flattery begins with an amorous policeman—can you blame him?—eventually becoming unbearable, then gets her out of a misdemeanour, and finally sends her off on her way with a church choir of adoring fans. “The poor stopped taking less, the rich stopped needing more.” In a world marred by war, famine, greed, and more, it’s comforting to know that one woman’s mere existence could solve the world’s problems.
In a way, I think this song is a send-up of classical singing and singers in general. The work of developing a classical sound is very challenging and takes years of hard work. As a result, classical singers tend to take their craft and themselves very seriously. I think a lot of classical singers get the reputation for being “divas” who live for little more than the adoration of an audience. With this piece, I think Bolcom is having a bit of a laugh at putting a singer in the position of having to satirize themselves.
With over 10 years experience in writing and performing comedy, I can help you put together a funny performance. Contact me today for a free consultation.
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!
Al paño fino, en la tienda,
una mancha le cayó;
Por menos precio se vende,
Porque perdió su valor.
The fine cloth in the shop
It will be sold at a cheaper price
Because it has lost its value.
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.
Por ver si me consolaba,
Arrime a un pino verde.
Por verme llorar, lloraba,
Y el pino como era verde!
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.
“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.
“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!
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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 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.
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 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.
“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.