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January 17, 2018 | ‎א׳ בשבט ה׳תשע״ח‎

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I’m an Orthodox Jewish Female Singer Despite All the Challenges

franciska kay

Growing up, I always thought that I’d be a businesswoman. I imagined myself as some sort of high-flying entrepreneur.

When I was a little girl in Moscow, I sold things like school supplies, accessories, and snacks to my peers. By the time I was in high school, I had already started teaching guitar to younger kids.

This helped when it came to studying; if I just translated a math problem into a business or money question, I could solve anything.

I was educated in the arts. I started learning to play the piano at the age of six, and then I added guitar to my portfolio by the time I was 12. I danced, sang, and acted in the children’s ensemble “Ilanit,” a dance, vocal, and drama group where we represented our school in Moscow. We had practice several times a week and traveled nationally and internationally to perform.

Music, culture, and the arts were a significant part of my upbringing and environment, but it was like this for every child in Russia.

I was raised in a religious home. My parents moved to Moscow to help rebuild Russian Jewry after the Communist regime fell to the ground. As a child, I performed for mixed audiences of both men and women, but once I turned bat mitzvah age, 12, my audience shrunk to just the female population.

At the time, I never realized that I would later put my musical education to good use and become a recording artist exclusively for women.

I started to compose tunes to the pesukim of the megilot and Torah portions we learned in school. Soon, requests came in to write music for Jewish texts that others connected to, and I was encouraged by the positive response I received.

When I was 20 years old, I put out my first album. I got married and had the support and enthusiasm of my new husband to spend some of our wedding money on this project.

I really liked how the album came out and decided that I wanted to keep making music. It’s five years later and I’ve produced five albums. During this time, I also fell in love with making inspiring music videos, and have released 12 so far.

Six months ago, in the middle of all my musical endeavors, I gave birth to my first child, a daughter. 

These days, I perform at women-only Jewish events and DJ at bas mitzvahs. I still love to teach as well, so I am starting a mentorship program. I‘m going to coach girls on how to record songs and make music videos. This opportunity is available to anyone in the world.

My main desire is to help girls cope with the hardships of youth. I want them to grow up with a developmental and unique experience in the arts.

I am currently preparing to release my debut live show, an experimental one-hour piece titled “Reinvention,” which will take the audience on a journey through my songs and how they became a part my life. As I assess this project, a bit of the businesswoman persona creeps back in and I start to think about the issues with the industry I’m in.

The hours are long, and quite often I have to stay up through the night, working on various projects and brainstorming ideas. There’s also very little stability, which makes my life stressful.

Being an Orthodox Jewish woman who only sings for women adds another layer of difficulty. The market is so limited, under budgeted, and divided. It makes work an uphill battle, but my life revolves around composing, recording, producing, and performing. I am determined to find a way to make it work.

Sometimes, it’s easy to want to give in: I was raised to do things professionally and reach for a higher standard. It seems like the more I try, and the more I spend, the less return I see. It’s driving me a little mad, but I will never give up on my dream.

I have a mentor, Rifka Harris, who is a dear friend and mother of Abby Harris, a 12- year-old pianist who played and harmonized on one of my recent releases. Rifka has been invaluable in helping me navigate this challenging and frustrating lifestyle. She gave me an idea of how to connect my audience in a way that I am comfortable with. I’m shining a light onto others and focusing less on myself.

Thanks to Rifka, I have started a podcast, which is available on iTunes any podcast app, and my website. It’s called “The Franciska Show,” and on it, I interview women in the Jewish music business and the entertainment world. My purpose is to give exposure to these incredibly talented women and help transform and advance the market for music sung by observant Jewish women.

I release an interview once a week, and so far, I’m up to seven. It’s really interesting to hear stories from these amazing women. I learn about their backgrounds, struggles, and dreams, as well as the things that keep them going when life is hard. We also talk about the challenges that hold them back. I hope that this will be a powerful tool to drive change and provide opportunities in the world of arts for Orthodox Jewish women.

Despite all the drawbacks these women and I face, there is something so powerful, magical even, about music, especially Jewish music. I always find the strength to carry on no matter how difficult it is. When a fan reaches out and reminds me of how I have inspired her, I suddenly realize that it was worthwhile. It’s a beautiful moment when I remember my potential to inspire and transform with my original melodies to the ancient sacred texts.

As I look to the future, I find myself feeling slightly daunted by the projects that lie ahead of me. They won’t be simple, but I can say without a doubt that my hard work will pay off and at the end of the day it will be worth it.

I hope I can inspire others to follow their dreams, despite the challenges.

Franciska’s albums are available for download on iTunes.

Subscribe to her podcast “The Franciska Show”

Subscribe to her Youtube Channel here. 

Subscribe to her newsletter for updates and like Franciska on Facebook. 

Article co-written by Lily Smythe, video co-released with the Layers Project.*

Author: Franciska Kay

Franciska Kay is a composer, singer, and performer. She creates her masterpieces by weaving eternal words of prayer into soulful guitar melodies. Raised in religious school and in musical academy, Franciska’s compositions reflect her commitment to bridging both worlds.