Speaking with Paula Wickberg Helped Me Overcome Stage Fright 

I think a lot of musicians would agree with me, that early on in our lessons and as we build our musicianship, the idea of perfection becomes ingrained in us and we begin to feel that we must be perfect, not only in our music, but also in everything else we achieve in life.   I am no exception to this, and can identify as having been a perfectionist since I was in College for an Interior Design Diploma.  Design too, demands perfection; accuracy in measurement and a keen eye for balance.   During my University years, in which I took Music later in life, I found it very hard to be critiqued for my singing even though I had attended many lessons and masterclasses in the past ~ this was different, because a mark depended on it.   I was also subject to at least one ‘professor’ who made everyone feel as though they were substandard in everything they did.   This is where the cesspool of self-doubt begins, when we have abusive teachers. 

Now 5 years into my pursuit of a singing career,  and half way through my Degree, I suddenly felt more stage fright than I had ever noticed before.  More doubt in my ability, and in particular, whether I could really memorize the way I used to. My brainbox was full!

At this time in my life, I also began to notice the effects of peri-menopause, and was working to find out how best to address uncomfortable symptoms with hormone replacement therapy, or natural solutions, or, nothing at all.   At the same time, I was taking seven classes in University and also prepping for my debut appearance at Roy Thomson Hall in Toronto. 

My headaches were brutal ~ a mix of stress, tiredness, and hormone imbalance, paired with lack of exercise as I was constantly in a chair and bent over a book.   I mediated this with massage but wasn’t looking after myself.   My confidence began to spiral. 

I was not depressed, but I was anxious!  Anxious before a test, anxious when I had to face anyone or anything that I thought would bring me a face to face challenge.   I began taking Ativan whenever I felt the pressure in my chest building up.   The Doctor had also prescribed Topiramate, for my headaches.   For two weeks, the very nasty side effect of diarrhea and lack of hunger beleaguered me.    I attended a rehearsal and took an Ativan just beforehand...and I felt that I didn’t sing well that day, as a result. 

I reached out to Paula because I wanted to figure out how best to overcome these feelings of stage fright, paired with my anxiety in general, and she, the Godsend, helped me through the fog and into clarity. 

My need for perfectionism in music, not only because of music itself requiring it, is also founded on what my last name is.  How will I live up to it?   Do I deserve to even use the name, as a singer?   You see, my family are all singers and musicians, some are world famous.   I discussed this with Paula, and she firmly established that I deserve to take up the space, and to use the name because it is MINE and not because of anyone else. After all, I had gotten the gig because of who I am and how I sounded, and not because of anyone that I am related to.  I have gotten this far on my own merit, never being given a leg up or a favour. 

I spoke with her about how it pained me so much to receive a B+ in class instead of an A or A+ which I had gotten consistently in my first and second years.    We could have spoken for hours about where this need comes from, who we think we need approval from, and more.  We spoke about past relationships, parental relationships, and even about relationships with the rest of my family.  Paula brings a great amount of expertise in discussing these matters, exploring reasons for our feelings, and then working through them with solutions that allow us to accept, and then to move on with our lives.  There were tears as I bared my soul to her, and she was quiet and gave me time to collect myself, before offering her words of support. 

Paula worked with me on mindfulness, and helped me to establish good habits for relaxation and connecting with my breath, not for singing, but just for living.  We take our breath for granted and sometimes we forget how much it can ground us and calm us down when we focus on it.    Paula led me through meditations with expert ability, a soft voice, and much patience.   We did it over the phone! 

Most of all, Paula reinforced for me the whole reason that I wanted to be a performer, and a soloist.  It is because of the amount of joy that the music brings me.   And that joy, is what the audience is there to see and hear.   Why then, can we not get a grip on ourselves and get out there and exude that joy?   That is exactly what we spoke about, and once I let go of the feeling to be perfect in every way, and embraced the fact that I wanted to share my gift and bring people joy, I suddenly found myself full of confidence, and excited to perform instead of nervous. 

As a singer herself, Paula knows the techniques that are needed.   We discussed that too ~ did my toolbox have all the technique already in it?  Yes!   Did I need someone to tell me that these things don’t automatically disappear when we step on stage, but rather, that because they are part of us, they will be there for us when we need them?  Yes!  You see, if we doubt that our technique is even in place, then we have nothing to fall back on, but if that technique is firmly entrenched, it will be there.   We just have to focus, and tap into it.   The strategy of finding my feet and planting myself on that stage, to connect and ground myself, was a very good one. 

We even discussed my approach to practising, and I applied every suggestion Paula gave me, during the two weeks prior to my performance.  Once exams were done, I could focus 100% on this.   I had so much fun just preparing for the show! 

I brought my ‘Paula tools’ into the dressing room with me.  Yoga mat, affirmations to stick on the wall, letters of encouragement from friends and people that I have moved with my singing.    I used all of the strategies that she reinforced for me ~ I knew them all to start with, but sometimes we forget, and we need a reminder, a nudge. 

I know now, that I had allowed myself to spiral into a frenzy of studying, marks, and self-imposed pressure, and had completely neglected my health, both physical and mental.   I got worn down and that made my confidence sag.   It can be a vicious circle if left unchecked!   I am so glad that I reached out to Paula, because her demeanour and understanding was exactly what I needed, to pull myself up and out of where I was, mentally.   Who we are as performers can be a very complicated thing. 

I stood on that stage, and I nailed it.   I didn’t need any Ativan that day.   And it was the best feeling in the world, to know that I had overcome all of the fears I had, and made my debut a success.  I am well into my next Semester at school now, with a reduced workload and am stretching out my graduation until Spring of 2021, and that’s okay.  There is no one with a stop watch on me.   There is no one measuring me, and even I myself have relaxed... I can accept a B+.   Maybe even a B!   And I pledge to look after myself, to listen to my body, to allow myself to rest and to take time to replenish myself.   


How confident do I look here?  :D

Poetry about Anne Frank 

Prinsengracht 263

What will our widened eyes see

At Prinsengracht 263

Will they skim past

Careful memories left

Or will they notice 

Every detail of the weft

In the building’s painful tale

Told by the beams that hold it now

Will the floorboards whisper to me

The words of a young girl

When I pass behind the bookcase

Will my senses whirl

Weaving an eternity

Of lives lost, faces staring back at me

Or will I hear the beat

Of a child’s curious heart

And suddenly know what it’s like

For dreams to come apart


A Voice from the Other Side

A forbidden exchange late one night,
Taken at great risk

A voice whispers
Not knowing if anyone would respond

Were she to be caught,
Certain punishment would fall

And yet, a voice answered
Unseen person through barbed wire and straw

An impassable barrier
Through which voices could carry

Where is my friend?
I heard she is here...

Minutes pass, an eternity of hope ~
Another voice quietly speaks

And through the squalor and pain
A reunion with no touch or sight

Only a voice...
And then she was gone.


What Will You Do With Your Heart Today (Annelies Marie)

She skipped home from school that day,
Not a care in the world,
Except that boy who’d caught her eye there, 

She liked to dance with the other kids,
Run in the yard, laugh out loud,
Sunlight catching in her hair...

She loved the fresh air and the dancing leaves
And tales of far away lands, 
Of ships and sailors and shifting sands,

She knew laughter and song
Friendship, and walking quietly along,
She knew the butterfly’s wing was strong;

And on that fateful day, she had to hide away
Because the world suddenly wasn’t safe
For her to be an innocent child at play

Don’t breathe, no light, don’t speak,
Stay out of sight
No friends can visit now ~

Somehow she still found a way
To express herself each day,
And from a tiny little nook, she wrote a mighty, thoughtful book.

Overnight, her world was torn apart;
She became a woman, wise and caring, 
Gentle and funny, real, and smart

She had a lovely, giving heart;
Even though hidden, it still grew large ~
She understood much more than we ourselves could ever impart.

Her heartfelt words, thoughts and deeds,
Penned in a dusty, simple corner
Speak volumes, yet not of her own needs,

You see, she wrote what we all know
But are afraid to say;
We’re all the same, and we can’t be perfect, every day.

To think it could have been you, or me,
Our childhood stopped,
A painful end, for no earthly good, 

She endured it, she withstood,
The hate no world should ever see,
She paid an awful price...But we... 

...We are lucky to be free


Spring Newsletter 


 Spring 2018 Newsletter 

Hello Friends! I hope this quick note finds you well!  Many of you have expressed an interest in my musical aspirations so I hope you will choose to follow along!  Here are a few updates which I'm excited to share with you!

I am thrilled to have recently sung my debut in Koerner Hall, as a soloist in Opera for All's Spring Concert, led by Maestro Alvaro Lozano Gutierrez.  I hope you'll take a few minutes to listen to "Piangero, la Sorte Mia".  

Some exciting things are in store for Spring/Summer 2018! 

Pianist Peter Krochak and I are working on our 6th CD ~ it will be entitled DAMASK ROSES and we are aiming for release in the Fall.  We'll be hitting the Studio in July!  Check us out on Reverbnation!

I will be collaboration with Guitarist Sol Younan to produce a Video series of 4 of Reynaldo Hahn's "Venezia" songs.  They will sound wonderful with guitar!

Another exciting collaboration coming up, will be with Soprano Melissa-Marie Shriner.  She is an accomplished performer with a beautiful voice and a smile as big as her heart!   I hope you will plan to join us in early July for our concert of duets and a few solos.


 Further into the future, a very exciting musical dream is becoming a reality.  An ensemble is being curated, to perform and record Oskar Morawetz's "From the Diary of Anne Frank", a haunting excerpt from her book, The Diary of a Young Girl.  This important music is near and dear to me, as I knew Mr. Morawetz when I was small, and am still friends with his daughter, Claudia, who gave me the music 2 years ago.  Our aim is to be ready to perform and to release our CD with Centaur Records by 2020, which will be the 75th Anniversary of WWII, and the liberation of the concentration camps.  In today's world, we must do what we can to ensure that we never forget, and that these atrocities will never happen again.  

We will be reaching out to engage the community as our plans solidify!  If you'd like to support our initiative, please let me know.

Thank you for your interest! 




Unapologetically Me 


Unapologetically Me:  A blog about Emotion and the Larynx

The other day I went for a laryngeal massage.   I have been twice before, when I could not explain the feeling of a lump in my throat and then again when a scratchy feeling just always seemed to be present.  Aaron Low is a Speech Pathologist and he checks for tension in the neck and jaw and larynx; something that many singers struggle with but perhaps don’t pay a lot of attention to.   He massaged my larynx for about an hour, pausing every ten minutes or so ~ our conversation was very interesting!

I’m now more aware that there are things that genuinely DO affect a voice, such as caffeine ~ an excess of this can result in acid reflux, which manifests itself much like the feeling of a lump in your throat.   Stress was an obvious thing to me too, but I hadn’t really connected external stressors to my own internal emotion and how THAT affected me and what I could produce.

Over the past couple of weeks, I have had some excruciating neck pain, to the point I could not turn my head to one side.  It lasted for more than 17 days, shooting pain and numbness up into my jaw and cheek.   It finally went away but I booked an appointment with Aaron as I knew what the benefits of his massage could be.  We talked about how all of the neck musculature is connected to and affects the larynx.


At one point, I commented that it seemed that my ‘throat’ was the place of most vulnerability to me.   If I were to get sick, it would always be a sore throat.  I worry constantly about what I eat and how it could affect my singing.  When I am stressed out or worried about things, the tension seems to settle right there in my neck or throat.   I guess that because I wish to sing so much, and it is really important to me, I have allowed this place in my body to become my most vulnerable part.   It shouldn’t be that way!

Aaron’s answer was that the Vagus Nerve is directly connected to the larynx.   It is the longest nerve in the body and extends from the brainstem to the abdomen by way of multiple organs including the heart, esophagus, and lungs. Also known as cranial nerve X, the vagus forms part of the involuntary nervous system and commands unconscious body procedures, such as keeping the heart rate constant and controlling food digestion.

Think about how our throats feel when we cry.  The Vagus nerve is controlling this and tightening up your larynx.  It is impossible to sing while really crying.

On top of everyday stress and worry that we carry around, when we worry about our performance, all of these things can come bubbling to the surface in our voices.   When this happens, we can often revert to bad habits, such as singing on our cords instead of finding our air and letting it do the work for us.   Then, we are heading down a road of falling into patterns of singing that can lead us to damage, and even more stress.   Here’s a great quote about this topic:

“It is well-recognized that many singers manifest their stress in their voices. This is similar to how other professionals may develop knots in their shoulders or ulcers in their stomach with stress. Anxiety in the singer often causes muscle tension around the larynx, in a group of muscles called extrinsic laryngeal muscles. These muscles are not the primary movers of the vocal folds, but they are connected to laryngeal cartilages and can therefore affect the voice. Singers develop extrinsic muscular tension from emotional stressors such as a breakup, work difficulties, or even an argument with a loved one.”
Source:  http://www.ohniww.org/stress-affect-voice/

A very insightful series of Masterclasses I’ve attended over the last few weeks opened my eyes again to the way I was feeling about my voice ~ the Maestro said to me, “Stop listening to your own voice ~ your air is intelligent, let it do the work.”   After only having met me a couple of weeks ago, he was able to tell that I was carrying tension around and was uncomfortable in where my sound was coming from.  Sure enough, as soon as I cast these fears aside, I was able to reach my high notes and unlock a relaxed, vibrating and shimmery sound once again.  

I have often felt throughout my life that I couldn’t ‘find my voice’ when I needed to fully speak out on something to defend myself, or that I ‘didn’t have a voice’ when it came to important decisions or debatable topics.   I allowed these feelings to take over many other parts of the way I carried myself and without realizing it, it directly affected my sound production.  This can make any singer feel as though they are headed down a scary road.    There is a huge dichotomy here:  We are mostly all emotional people and that’s good and important.   Singers are often very highly sensitive people, and this is the reason they sing!   We NEED to tap into our emotion to deliver the messages of our song.   But we CANNOT let our inner emotions affect our production, that is different, and separate.  When we allow this to happen, it will affect everything else.   At the same time, singing can be a huge emotional outlet or pastime that takes us away from our daily stress.   It’s all connected, and when we figure it out, and how to control it, we can open up and sing more freely than ever before.  I need to stop letting my voice be the thing that controls everything I do or don’t do, and just let my voice be.

I’ve realized that I’ve not been taking the best care of myself for the last little while and after the Maestro’s comments, and the conversation at my massage, I decided to do something about it finally.   I need to get back to a place of relaxation and also to work my body back into its strength and alignment.  Everything seemed/felt out of whack.   I attended a hot yoga class, for the first time in two years.   I know a lot of singers who religiously do yoga and now I know why.

When I finished the class (which was enormously difficult, as I’m again a raw beginner!) I lay on the floor in the corpse position (Shavasana), drenched in a pool of sweat, and I was able to relax every single muscle and part of my body.   I felt my eyes relax into my head, I let my jaw unlock, my hands and feet and legs and back and shoulders sank into the floor, I tucked my chin in a bit, releasing the back of my neck, and I felt my breath going in and out without labour.   I tucked my shoulder blades in underneath me and opened my chest to the sky.  Yoga is all about breath.  Singing is all about breath.  The instructor’s closing comments reminded us to accept ourselves and to be unapologetic in our presence in the world.   And as I lay there, I felt a single tear slip out of each eye, past the sweat ~ and I knew I was doing the right thing for me, for my soul and for my voice.