As a finalist in Whistler's Got Talent, the resort gave Jenny Lea her start as a singer.
And after a scare involving a cyst on her vocal cords, an operation, and a year off from performing, she is thrilled to perform at the World Ski and Snowboard Festival (WSSF) for her first big return concert.
She performs as part of the festival's Outdoor Concert Series at 2:30 p.m. on Monday, April 14, in Skier's Plaza.
"I came back from two years of travelling and that's when I really started to get involved in the Vancouver music scene. I was getting regular gigs in Whistler as well and I did that full time, but I started to notice a lot of trouble with losing my voice quickly," Lea recalls.
Vocal cord cysts are not unusual, in the last couple of years Sound of Music actress Julie Andrews has been struck down by them, as has Cher and Lionel Ritchie. It can be a career-ending affliction.
"I would play three-hour shows twice a week and it was getting more and more difficult, I lost vocal range. In my last show (before her break) it crapped out on me. There was nothing, just air was coming out," Lea says.
Her doctor confirmed the problem and said it was probably from overuse. The advice was to take six months off to see if it would disappear. It didn't — it got worse and hemorrhaged. Surgery took place about six months ago.
"It was successful, but I didn't talk for two weeks, and now I'm seeing a speech pathologist and taking training very seriously," Lea says.
The silver lining has been that Lea has been playing shorter, "more impactful" shows.
And it turns out she had to lose her voice in order to find her voice.
"I'm playing a lot more of my own material, which at first I was really nervous to do. Generally, I try to do a lot of entertainment covers like indie rock classics, a lot of hip hop, though I would put an original spin on everything," she says.
But now it's her own music, with an alt-folk influence.
"From a singer-songwriter perspective, kind of telling secrets and stuff. It's more pressure," Lea says. "I was writing music when I couldn't sing. I have enough material now for a second EP. I had just started recording my first EP when I lost my voice. That project has been on hiatus.
"Now that I'm back, I will be recording a lot!"
Other changes include more warming up, the need to curtail chats to the audience between songs, which Lea is unhappy about because she loves the interaction, and no whisky between shows, "which was a tough one!"
Her first time back on stage was a recent show in Vancouver, invites only, for 50 friends.
"It was fantastic," she says. "I sang for about an hour and a half, it was a really warm setting to come back to. I don't think it could have gone any better."
Lea is thrilled to be playing at the WSSF.
"It will be an interesting weekend for me because I will be playing two shows that weekend. I'm being flown into Kelowna on the Friday to play at a friend's fundraiser."
Her friend, Bruce Cook, is a professional motorcross racer who recently broke his back.
"I will be running around a bit, but I am happy I will be helping in any way I can with that situation," Lea says.
She is aware that she has restarted her career with relative ease.
"I am feeling really grateful. I wasn't sure how coming back in would be. When you're out of it, people aren't talking about it anymore, it isn't as exciting. It's kind of like starting from scratch, but in a way it's good, because I get to focus on what I want and where I want to go," Lea says.
"I'm so excited to be playing the World Ski and Snowboard Festival. I've been going to it for the past decade and some of my favourite acts have played on that stage. This is huge for me."
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