Why Singers Need Body Positivity

“Short and stubby, very chubby…”

As we enter 2021 and feel the routine pull towards new year’s resolutions of diet and exercise, I can’t help but remember the taunts of my grade 3 classmates. As a child, I was bullied pretty relentlessly for my weight. Looking back on how I grew up, I cannot think of any aspect of my life that was not shaped by the shame I felt about my body, especially my dreams of becoming a performer. 

As a teenage girl, I accepted the narrative that I was too fat to be attractive, in a world where beauty seemed to be an all-important measure of a girl’s worth and potential in life. Resigned to the fact of my own ugliness, I accepted a lot of messages about what I would and would not be able to get out of life. Certainly, I would never get a boyfriend. Dressing well would be pointless when I should be focusing on hiding my body. And above all, I would never be taken seriously as a performer in the entertainment industry as long as I was fat. 

Looking back, I really have to hand it to teenage Laura for how well she handled all that. Yes, she cried a lot. Yes, she went on many awful and unsustainable diets. But in ruling out romance entirely, she focused almost all of her energy on music. While her friends were preoccupied with the dramas of dating, she was in her room at night teaching herself to play guitar, listening to Beatles records, and writing sad songs about her unrequited crushes. She poured herself into choir and orchestra (she played violin at her mother’s insistence), and the friendships she formed with her fellow music nerds. She worked on the musical and social skills that have proven to be completely invaluable to me now. I am so proud of her.

When it came to professional opportunities, however—like going to auditions, finding an agent, or even posting to YouTube—teenage Laura just didn’t have the confidence to put herself out there like that. She thought she was too fat to land any professional gigs, so she didn’t even try.

Today, I have a much better self-image because the biggest lesson of my adult life has been discovering just how many of these messages I absorbed were nothing but lies. I have accomplished almost everything I was told I would never be able to do, including modelling for major Instagram accounts without losing weight. However, the value placed on women’s looks—the patriarchal contaminant in our society underscoring everything that happened to me—is still very much a reality. I am so grateful for the body positivity movement and the activists who have worked for years, not only to help women find self-acceptance and self-love in their bodies, but to actively change mainstream beauty standards to include people like me. Their work is something I have benefited from greatly. 

That being said, the pressure on women in the entertainment industry to lose weight and fit the mould—even the world’s most accomplished opera singers—remains ever-constant. There is no question that the entertainment industry is superficial, that it judges performers based on their looks, and it probably always will. Therefore, it matters that women of all shapes and sizes are considered beautiful. Because when it comes to being a singer, body positivity could be the difference between someone believing she can, or thinking she can’t. 

Of course, when teaching young girls I always focus on ability, work ethic, and the instrument. Additionally, I consider it a great privilege and a great responsibility to be an adult with a recurring role in a young person’s life. Even if body image is never discussed, I try my best to pass on to young students the true source of my confidence: not my looks, but rather my work ethic, my sense of humour, and the pride of my accomplishments. May they remember their “chubby” music teacher who did it all, and go after whatever they want in life. May they never take themselves out of the race over something as silly as their size.

My Top 5 Thanksgiving Tunes

Are there any Thanksgiving songs, you ask? If you’re looking to put together a Thanksgiving playlist, here are my top 5 recommendations.

  1. Thanksgiving Day by Guy Davis is a fun toe-tapping guitar tune that you can imagine being played in a barn while turkeys run around wildly for their lives.
  2. A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving by George Winston will help set the mood with classic jazz piano vibes that are uplifting and wistful.
  3. Thanksgiving Song by Mary Chapin Carpenter is a beautiful pop ballad you could totally bust out with the guitar or piano for your guests.
  4. The Turkey Dance by The Learning Station is a very funky kids song that will turn your little one into a perky disco turkey.
  5. I’ve Got Plenty to be Thankful For by Bing Crosby may not specifically mention thanksgiving, but it’s a fun jazzy addition to your Thanksgiving playlist that will fit right in.

Check out Spotify for some great Thanksgiving playlists this weekend.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

Sukkot Livestream Tonight!

Today marks the beginning of Sukkot, the Jewish Feast of Tabernacles. Sukkot is a festival of the harvest, where Jewish people have dinner together in a fun tent called a sukkah. Sukkot celebrates the ways in which G-d protected and provided for the Jewish people as they walked through the harsh conditions of the desert to the Promised Land. The festival runs from tonight, October 2, to October 9 this year.

Tonight I will be live-streaming a short performance from our own Sukkot Shabbat dinner at 6:30 PM EST. Tune in to my Facebook page to see my back porch transformed into a beautiful sukkah. I will be singing the Yom Kippur songs that you were unable to hear on Monday due to technical difficulties and stormy weather. See you then!

Yom Kippur prayer services live-streamed this Monday

Your High Holidays Dynamic Duo!

This coming Monday September 28, Kohenet Lauren Stein and I will be reuniting (did we ever part?) to bring you another live-streamed high holiday prayer service for Yom Kippur. Tune into my Facebook page at 6:30 PM to watch from home.

For those who are interested in coming to the event in Guelph, here are the details.

Time and Place

Mid-Afternoon on Monday, September 28, 2020
AKA 10 Tishrei, 5781
Me & Lauren’s backyard (location available upon confirmation)

Yizkor (commemorating our beloved who have passed) at 3:30 PM

Discussion at 5:00 PM

Ne’ilah (closing services) and Havdalláh (separating holy time from the rest of time) starting at 6:30 PM

Breaking the fast dinner (we will likely order Thai) at 7:45 PM

Things to bring

🤲 Your own hanitizer and wipes

😷 Your own mask and gloves if you want

👲 Kippah if you wear one during religious rituals

☂️ Weather: The forecast is a high of 21˚C and a low of 13˚C, with possible showers, so dress accordingly and bring an umbrella


Travel mug/reusable bottle, filled with water*

☕️ A thermal travel mug with a hot beverage also an idea*
🍷 Wine and grape juice will be served as part of the ritual. You’re welcome to bring a wine glass or simply use the travel receptacle you already have.*
 🍽 Yom Kippur is a day of fasting. Lauren will be fasting, and you’re welcome to join her. If you do not wish to fast or have a medical need, please take care of yourself away from plain view so as to respect those who are fasting.
💌 Costs for us are $36 per person. Please come regardless of contribution, as we want you there. If you are able to contribute, that would be greatly appreciated.

Shannah Tovah! Live-streamed Rosh HaShannah Service this Saturday

I’m very excited to announce that I will be singing as the Cantor at High Holiday services for the new congregation Kabbalat Leitzaneet, led by my friend, Kohenet (Hebrew Priestess) Lauren Stein. The High Holidays Rosh HaShannah and Yom Kippur make up the Jewish New Year, and represent a time of reflection on the past year, as well as looking ahead to our hopes and dreams for the year to come. With this new congregation, Kabbalat Leitzaneet seeks to create an alternative Jewish experience in Guelph.

Rosh HaShannah – Saturday, September 20, 2020
(Shabbat, 1 Tishrei, 5781)

If you are able to join us at the event in Guelph, we’ll be meeting in Royal City Park at the Bandshell Gazebo at 12:30 PM. The prayer service beings at 2:15 PM, and will be live-streamed to my Facebook page. Afterwards, Lauren will lead a contemplation discussion at 4 PM with apples and honey. Please bring a travel mug or reusable bottle with water, a thermal travel mug with a hot beverage, your own hand sanitizer and wipes, a mask and gloves if you wish, and a kippah if you wear one. Dress appropriately for fall weather. Wine and grape juice will be served as part of the ritual, so feel free to bring a wine glass as well. Contributions are appreciated but not required, and the catered artisanal vegan lunch is available for an additional cost.

Of course, if you cannot make it to the service in person, I would love to see you tune in on Facebook. The livestream will begin at 2 PM, and the service will start at about 2:15 PM. I will be singing a selection of Hebrew songs, both liturgical and popular.

Yom Kippur – Monday, September 28, 2020

This prayer service will also be live-streamed to my Facebook page, with me singing as cantor. Check back next week for more details!

Shannah Tovah!

5 Ways to Protect Your Voice

Be a vocal health diva!

Your vocal folds are two delicate little flaps of skin, mere millimetres in width, beating together at thousands of beats per second every time you sing or speak. Unlike other instruments, we carry our voice around with us 24/7 and use it every day, all the time. You may be unaware of the common bad habits that cause vocal damage. With a little awareness, you can avoid these pitfalls to keep your voice healthy and beautiful.

  1. Watch your vocal loading. Vocal loading is the concept of how much work we make our voices do every day, or rather how much stress we put on our vocal folds. Your voice has a certain workload it can handle each day, and beyond that it begins to get strained. Additionally, different vocal activities have different stress impacts on your voice. For example, maybe your vocal capacity is 6 hours of talking per day before becoming strained, but only 3 hours of singing. Activities like yelling or whispering can cause vocal strain almost immediately. If you find that vocal strain is a regular problem for you, try writing down how much you use your voice each day, and for what.
  2. Breath. Many North Americans in particular speak very quickly and don’t pause to breath enough when talking. When we speak at the end of our breath, we tend to end up in vocal fry territory, which is very hard on the voice. Make sure you pause to breath, and try speaking a little more slowly to take a more relaxed approach to talking in general.
  3. Speak higher. A lot of us tend to speak in the lowest part of our voice, the chest voice. Unfortunately, this means that when we inflect downwards as we are speaking, we end up in vocal fry once again. By pitching your voice a little bit higher, we can speak in our head voice and stay out of the back of the throat.
  4. Avoid loud parties and bars. This can be a tough one for singers, particularly those who lead bar bands. But when we are trying to speak to others in a loud environment, we naturally raise our voices to a shouting level without even being aware of it. A few hours of that can really wreck your voice for at least a day or two. Ask your buddy if they wouldn’t mind taking the conversation to a quieter place. Most people appreciate it!
  5. Cut down on glottal stops. Glottal stops are a type of vocal onset that crunches the vocal folds together much like vocal fry, but only for a quick moment. With normal speaking habits, they are not that harmful, but if you are the type of person who speaks or sings for several hours a day, this habit can slowly wear away at your vocal folds. There are lots of onset exercises you can do to smooth out the flow of your voice and avoid unnecessary stops.

Remember that one of the best ways to take care of your singing voice is to practice good habits in your speaking voice. You only get one voice, so protect it well!

So you blew out your voice. Now what?

At some point, every singer has to deal with the horrors of vocal fatigue. Sometimes it’s a little grit in the throat after a late night, but sometimes it’s full-blown ghost voice, a.k.a. laryngitis. So what should you do if that happens? In most cases, the voice will heal on its own with time. However, regular performers might not have that much time before their next gig. Here are my S.O.S. tips for getting over severe hoarseness as quickly as possible.

Vocal Rest. As Ursula the Sea Witch once said, “No talking, singing, zip.” Get a notepad and use it shamelessly to communicate. Get a good night’s sleep. Whispering is particularly hard on your vocal folds, so none of that.

Drink tea. Hot liquids will help soothe your throat, and many herbal teas also have throat-healing advantages. Throw in some lemon and honey, and voila. A favourite among singers is this Throat Coat tea.

No caffeine, alcohol, or smoking. All of these will further dry out or damage your precious vocal folds. Stay off the sauce!

Slippery Elm. This powerful bark is a favourite of many singers for its ability to speed the repair of damaged throats. It’s also a digestive aid, so be sure to take it as a powder mixed in water, or as a lozenge.

Chocolate. Break off a square of dark chocolate and let it dissolve in your mouth. The chocolate should coat your throat just enough to lubricate the vocal folds. I know singers who use this trick before a show if their voice is feeling a little rough. Can’t hurt if your voice is kaput.

Of course, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. If you’re not sick, then your laryngitis is likely the result of vocal trauma, i.e. overuse. In my next post, I’ll talk about vocal loading and how you can protect your voice from wear and tear.

Hot or Not? 5 Famous Dead Romantic Composers

I think it’s fair to say that COVID has made all us single people a little thirsty. Some of us have been preparing for a music history exam at the same time. Which leads me to the following investigation. Of the most famous dead composers, who was hot and who was not?

For the purposes of this post, we will look at hot dead Romantic-era composers.

  1. Felix Mendelssohn

PROS: A brilliant pianist and composer, he also spoke several languages and was a master chess player. He dropped out of law school to pursue music, but was one of those guys who was so smart he could have done anything. He was also from a rich Jewish family 🙂

CONS: Prone to fits of rage.

VERDICT: HOT – I would totally swoon for this guy and need lots of therapy.

2. Fanny Mendelssohn

PROS: Fanny was not only a musical prodigy, she was also a badass babe who eventually was one of the first female composers to publish her own works under her own name, against the wishes of her family. Previously she had been publishing under her brother Felix’s name, and many of her works are falsely attributed to him. She also helped him out, like A LOT with his composing.

CONS: Constantly pressured to commit herself to family and marriage over composing, and probably would have had a much greater output had it not been for sexist BS.

VERDICT: HOT HOT HOT!!! This gene pool is brilliant, gorgeous, and dead by 40!

3. Richard Wagner

PROS: A brooding, passionate Romantic visionary, this guy would pay attention to the little details as well as the big picture. His innovative “Ring Cycle,” Der Ring des Nibelungen is a series of four three-hour operas, meant to be performed back-to-back over four nights, for which he created an entire festival and built a specially designed theatre, over 20 years. The guy had patience and stamina. But his Gesamtkunstwerk approach to opera placed the music on equal footing with the staging, costumes, set design, and every other element of the show. He definitely thought big.

CONS: Constantly in debt, cheated on his partners, and pretty anti-semitic.

VERDICT: NOT HOT. How are you going to tell your mom that you’re dating Hitler’s favourite composer?

4. Clara Schumann, née Wieck

PROS: Besides being drop-dead gorgeous, she was a piano prodigy who definitely marched to the beat of her own drummer. When daddy disapproved of her marriage to composer and his live-in pupil Robert Schumann, they got a court order allowing her to marry him the night before her 21st birthday—the day she would have been legally allowed to do so without her father’s permission anyway. Up yours, dad! She also famously ran across a Dresden battlefield to save her children during the 1849 uprising.

CONS: Having stood by Robert through his mental and physical deterioration, raising their children almost single-handedly, and advocating for his work well after he died—and she never remarried—this woman was definitely taken.


5. Franz Liszt

PROS: Franz Liszt was the Slash of his time. He was tall, brilliantly talented, and had very, very long fingers. He was a generous teacher, often taking on pupils or giving master classes for free. He helped his friends out when they were in a bind, including helping Wagner escape to Switzerland because of his controversial political activism. As a conductor, he promoted many forward-thinking composers including Hector Berlioz and Frédéric Chopin.

CONS: Bit of a player. The rock star of his age, he was a ladies man who had numerous affairs. He fathered children by a few different woman, one of whom was married to someone else.

VERDCIT: HOT for a good time, not a long time.

Tone Deaf? Probably Not.

Over the course of my career, I have worked with many people who considered themselves “tone deaf.” The condition amusia in which pitch and musical memory is impaired, either congenitally or as a result of brain damage, affects about 4% of the population. That means that 96% of all people everywhere are not tone deaf!

I have worked with a fair number of folks who have trouble matching pitches or singing in tune. If a new student presents intonation issues, that is the first thing we will work on. There are a number of reasons why someone might have trouble singing in tune.

Confidence. Most people who consider themselves “bad singers” were told that they were bad singers as a child. I have seen it over and over again. It is a childhood trauma that most people remember vividly. And I only see the folks who are willing to face their fear and come to singing lessons. It saddens me to think of the many people who don’t. Without musical encouragement, children cut themselves off from their musical potential and don’t develop the skills they otherwise could have.

Hearing Issues. Anecdotally speaking, many students who have come to study with me presenting significant pitch issues usually admitted that they had some kind of hearing issue. If that hasn’t been ruled out, I do recommend students get their hearing checked for the full range of sound frequencies.

Imitative Deficit. A study out of Montreal suggests that, independent of other factors, some people’s brains are wired to produce the wrong pitch. They can accurately match pitches using a computer program, but when it comes to reproducing a given pitch with their own voice, the brain gives the voice incorrect information. Many of these people can be successful musicians as instrumentalists. With hard work, patience, and a good voice teacher, the brain can be remapped to produce correct pitches.

Fortunately, I have had great success with “rehabilitating” students who struggle with pitch. While everyone’s “treatment” is a little bit different, it usually involves a combination of ear training exercises, piano work, and a good set of head phones.

And, of course, a great deal of practice and determination.

MY TOP 5 Insane German Musical Words

Gustav Mahler says “Gesundheit.”

I’m so pleased to tell you that I completed the ARCT History exam over the weekend. As I’m now in the home stretch of my ARCT diploma program with the Royal Conservatory of Music, this was the toughest music history exam I have yet written. If the sheer amount of material wasn’t challenging enough, there was no lack of completely ridiculous German words I had to remember. Not only did I have to know how to spell them, I had to be able to define the unfathomable things that they meant.


  1. Gesamtkunstwerk

Let that roll off your tongue a few times. It sounds like you’re burping pure garlic. In fact, Gesamtkunstwerk is German for “total art work,” and refers to an approach in Romantic opera where all the elements—music, staging, acting, choreography, set design, costumes, everything—is treated with equal importance. That’s why Wagner operas are A LOT.

2. Sprechstimme

Now that you’ve wiped the spit off your screen, get a load of this. Sprechstimme was a style of talk-singing—or was it sing-y talking?—invented by Arnold Schoenberg to make his weird music sound even weirder. Check out Pierrot Lunaire if you ever feel like listening to about 35 minutes of this.

3. Klangfarbenmelodie

Perhaps my favourite crazy German word, it sounds like pretty much what it is. Used by the twelve-tone atonal composers like Schoenberg, Alban Berg, and Anton Webern, klangfarbenmelodie is what happens when a melody is played one note at a time by every instrument. And it sounds like Klang Klang Klang! Fart fart fart! Check out Webern’s Symphony, op. 21 and you’ll see what I mean!

4. Weltschmerz

This word kinda feels like when my grandmother would give me a real sloppy kiss right on my ear canal. But my grandmother was Greek, and this word is German, so not nearly as affectionate or messy. Weltschmerz is the very artsy German idea of world-weariness and melancholy. Keep in mind these were Romantic composers who loved to be sad. 19th century German Lieder was the original emo music, after all.

5. Durchkomponiert

While my instincts translated this to “dirt compost,” it actually means “through-composed,” which is a fancy way of saying that no sections of the song are repeated. Whereas a normal song would have verses, choruses—you know, stuff that comes back—this is just one long meander into the musical abyss, with no recognizable tunes or any indication of where we are, until finally this floundering nightmare comes to an end.

Honorable mentions to go: Sehnsucht (longing for the unattainable), Sturm und Drang (“Storm and Stress,” very Beethoven), and Liedenschaft (passion).

What are your favourite German words?