The Highlands Opera Studio is partnering with accomplished local vocalists to provide pay-what-you-can singing lessons over Zoom.

Whether an aspiring pop singer or a practiced choir member looking to try out a new style, the half-hour lessons are open to any, at whatever rate they can pay.

“I think that singing is something that should be for everyone – it shouldn’t just be for people that can afford exorbitant prices,” said Lauren Margison, a singer who’ll be teaching with the studio.

The project was made possible through a Local Initiative Project (LIP) Grant distributed by the Haliburton County Development Corporation (HCDC).

Margison is an award-winning soprano who tours internationally and has shared the stage with Gordon Lightfoot and Rufus Wainright. She studied with Elaine Overholt, a vocal instructor who worked on Broadway blockbusters such as Chicago and Hairspray.

Each one-on-one lesson will begin with general introductions.

“It would be starting off with a Zoom consultation,” Margison said. “[I’ll] figure out what sort of genre and what their goals would be.”

Then, from her Zoom screen she’ll sing alongside her students, whether beginners or seasoned crooners, and offer pointers from her career.

“I’ve picked up these vocal tidbits,” Margison said.

But what if the thought of singing in front of a professional seems intimidating?

“I would say, give it a chance,” Margison said. “I am possibly one of the least judgemental people in the world. I make it a very, very welcoming experience.”

Valerie Kuinka, general & co-artistic director of Highlands Opera Studio, said she hopes the lessons can also alleviate the lingering mental health effects of COVID19.

“The ability to have fun together or alone by expressing oneself through the act of making music is a celebration of the human spirit and can be essential to mental health,” wrote Kuinka in a press release.

And the project comes as the musical world is emerging from a difficult past 14 months.

“It’s been really hard,” Margison said. While she hasn’t been able to tour or do shows, she said she’s enjoyed spending more time with her parents and becoming rooted in her surroundings – she splits her time between Minden and Stouffville.

During that time, she said she’s been finding some of her own inspiration in Canadian classics.

“I seem to be listening a lot to Canadian folk singers – the golden age of Canadian folk singers,” said Margison. “Because we are here in Canada, I’ve been lucky enough to look at the pandemic more philosophically. I’ve really kind of gravitated to loving where I am and loving the natural world.”

Now, she’s excited to share her love of singing with new and experienced singers alike over Zoom.

Pay-what-you-can lessons will be available until March 2022. People also have the option to sponsor lessons for others.

Those interested can email lauren@ highlandsoperastudio.com

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