Listen Here! Artist Profile Leah Salomaa
Illustration: Erin McPhee
In the lead-up to our spring music issue, we reached out to a few young emerging musicians to learn about how they got into their craft and what tips they have for artists just starting out.
“Use your voice,” says Leah Salomaa, sitting at the piano on a wintry evening in west Toronto. She is leading the February Gaia Voice workshop, and the night’s songs are focused on the return of light, waking up from hibernation, and coming together at the opening of a new season. Seated in a circle around the piano are twenty women who have come from all over Toronto and beyond to sing with Salomaa.
Salomaa is a singer-songwriter and music teacher, who has recently moved from Toronto to London, Ontario. Since childhood, she has been immersed in the arts. “As a kid, I was acting, I was dancing, I was singing, I was playing instruments,” she says. “Later, I did the folk scene for a while, and children’s music.” She now tours regularly with Jean ’n Classics, a singing group that works with orchestras across North America.
Gaia Voice was born in the summer of 2009 as a learn-to-sing class and has since evolved to become something more than just vocal education. “I came up with the concept and the name and offered it as a workshop in my home,” recalls Salomaa. “On the underbelly of it would be the nurturing of the divine feminine energy, whatever that means to you. I believe, whether you’re a card-carrying atheist or a straight-up pagan, people seem to need sacredness in their life. There are plenty of community circles where men and women can go and do that soul-based singing, but they’re not learning about their voice and how to utilize it. Then, there are plenty of choirs you can join, but it’s very technique-oriented. I feel like there’s a need for some-thing that is balancing both of those worlds.”
Now, six years on, Gaia Voice has grown too large for Salomaa’s living room, and takes place in St Anne’s Anglican Church. The attendees are all women, most aged somewhere be-tween 35 and 65. For some, it is their first class. Others haven’t missed a class in six years. Many who come are there because they love to sing but lack the opportunity to do so, Salomaa says. What they take away from the two-hour class varies depending on what they need from it.
“Many students use the class to tune into their own voice more,” says Salomaa. “They tell me it has helped them awaken their intuition a bit more, because they have to listen to their voice in class. It comes through in how they feel about themselves and also how they speak.”
Salomaa thrives in a teaching role. “I’ve learned a lot by being a teacher, as opposed to being a student,” she says. “I’m not an avid reader because I’ll read three pages of a novel and I’ll get so inspired I’ll want to write a song. This circle class also influenced my personal art.”
Salomaa is currently working on completing an album inspired by the kind of music she uses at Gaia Voice. “I wrote two songs for the album, and the rest is very much the Gaia Voice vibe. There’s the goddess-y stuff, there’s the Celtic, and there’s the Taizé (prayer chants). It’s exciting because the Gaia Voice is really growing.”
Leah Salomaa. Morgan I. P. Fics, directed by Geneviève Appleton
For Salomaa, success in music has been very much shaped by her own choices. “I’ve al-ways had a slow, steady career in the arts. I’ve had a few peaks where I’m noticed, but I’ve never had that severe rise and I’ve never been famous. I’m lucky that I didn’t get too big in a way, be-cause it always gave me ownership of my art and where I can take it. There is a fear that once you step in you can be swept away by other people’s agendas. But, then that fear can get in the way of you putting yourself out there in the first place.”
She speaks reflectively on finding her path over the last twenty years, and not compro-mising when it comes to placing value on her work. “Making money at what I’m gifted at is im-portant to me, and it’s hard,” she says. “It’s hard because of the messages that society gives you, and that fellow artists give you, and just making it work. My advice in the early days of going into this business is to cast the net really wide. I sang in lots of bands, I sang in bars, I taught mu-sic classes to kids, wrote songs. I tried all different avenues. The older I get, I believe my success is going to continue to grow because I realized from casting the net so wide where I’m special when I’m in that crowd of talented people.”
Back in the Gaia Voice class, Salomaa plays the piano and twenty students of music raise their voices into the night: The goddess is good and her fire is pure: / Tending her fire women shall endure, / Tending her fire woman shall endure.
We asked Leah to list some of her favourites songs, here’s her top 5!