Story by Kim Willis
Some people are born with music in their bones. For Canadian singer-songwriter Leah Harris, aged 29, she thinks it started in the womb.
For the last three decades music, singing and songwriting have played a prominent role in Leah’s life. Growing up she was part of a musical family, her dad was a songwriter and her mother was a music teacher.
“I remember when I was younger that for every three songs I wrote my dad would book 15 minutes in a recording studio for me. That was really special, and it prepared me for the music industry in ways that I didn’t understand until much later.” says Harris.
Today Leah has recorded two albums and has travelled the world developing her music. Her home bases are Windsor and Dublin, Ireland where she is delighted to immerse herself in her Irish roots. However, she continues to spend much of her time travelling.
After graduating from high school, Leah enrolled in bio- sciences at the University of Windsor with plans to be a doctor. However, she quickly realized that the pull of music was more powerful.
“You can’t compete with someone who loves what they do,” states Harris, “and that goes for both musicians and doctors.”
She applied to the Berklee College of Music in Boston and made a deal with her herself. If she was accepted to Berklee she would attend and if not she would continue her studies in Windsor. Needless to say, Berklee accepted her and within months Harris was living in Boston.
Harris’ style brings a new level of intimacy to pop music. She credits the Windsor music scene and Detroit for shaping her as an artist. Her musical inspirations include Ray Charles, Whitney Houston, Jeff Buckley and Fiona Apple, not to mention the incredible Motown influence of Detroit. Harris combines dark song writing with old-school soul vocals and bluesy piano licks.
“My music was definitely nurtured by my experiences playing in Windsor and Detroit. I was lucky to meet people like Rosario Montaleone, Katie Robinson and Gary Rau, who all believed in me from an early age and welcomed me to play gigs at their restaurants. This gave me the experience I needed to later join the Detroit music scene.”
While in Boston, Harris met her producer, Adam Rhodes. Together they worked on her first album, “I Don’t Believe in Love” that was recorded in New York’s renowned Systems Two Studios and released in 2014. This past summer, Harris worked with Rhodes again on her newest album, also recorded in New York. The first single, “Don’t Blame Me” will be released in October.
In 2013 Harris moved to Sweden to join the European music scene. She also worked as a teacher while there teaching science and music. Late one night she was on Facebook when an advertisement called to her. The company was looking for a new kind of piano teacher. On a whim she applied. A few weeks later a phone interview took place with a tech startup company called Yousician. The owners then flew her to Finland for a weekend to give her a better sense of the company.
Within weeks Harris started on a new career path working as an E-Learning designer for this software development startup, and the first woman at the company. Her role was to develop a new gamified piano learning app from scratch, and Harris thrived in this environment where everyone put so much energy into creating something so impactful.
“It was a very positive environment and changed everything for me,” states Harris. “The job was meant to be and really opened my eyes to how powerful a force technology and music can be. The company’s mission is to make music as common as literacy, and this tied in perfectly with the passion I’ve always had to create more forward-thinking music education.”
Yousician Piano went on to be the world’s most successful piano learning app, used by over one million students. It was featured by Apple during its first launch, and Yousician continues to be the world’s fastest growing music education company.
In February 2017, Harris made the difficult decision to become a “digital nomad” and leave the company. It wasn’t an easy choice, but she continues to work for them remotely as a freelancer.
“The things that I am most proud of in my life are the things that I have had the courage to change or leave behind, because those are often the hardest calls to make.” After leaving Finland, Harris moved to Dublin where she turned her focus to the development of remote work skills and experiences. This came from her passion to create a new kind of path for professional musicians.
“Artists should be able to have a happy, healthy life like people in other professions. People prioritize music in their lives, and they should do the same for the musicians who create it.”
By all accounts, the music industry is in a period of transition. Record labels used to run everything. Today musicians are able to develop a path for themselves.
In Harris’s case all of her work is self-funded. She is responsible for her own booking, recording, branding and marketing. Her plans for the next year include the release of her new single and album and a European tour next summer.
“I’m always trying to see how far an independent musician can go. I’m planning an indie tour for myself next year. It can be great to work with the right label, but it’s also important for a DIY musician to understand how powerful they can be on their own. We are entrepreneurs, and the opportunities are endless.”
The elements that Harris continues to enjoy the most however, are live performance and songwriting.
“A specific feeling comes over me when it comes to songwriting. I just know that I have a song in me that needs to come out. It happens in one sitting, because I know I’m documenting a moment that will never come again. If I don’t finish it all at once, I will never go back,” laughs Harris.
As a digital nomad, Harris is able to stay connected to projects from wherever she is living. This includes her work as Business Development Manager with Montessori Mozarts, a company founded by her mother Maureen Harris. Since 2005 Montessori Mozarts has been offering music lessons to children and youth. They have now expanded to four locations in Windsor-Essex.
For several years, Harris was an instructor who focused on contemporary music education. She ran programs teaching students to jam, perform and record their own albums. Leah fondly recalls working with several talented students. She continues to stay in touch with many students and take pride in their accomplishments. This includes Carson Reaume from LaSalle who has been featured in movies including “The Shack” and Kat Moscone who participated in “The Next Star,” a Canadian-esque version of American Idol.
“I remember Carson just had this incredible talent at such a young age, he could improvise a song at the drop of a hat, it was part of his soul. Same with Kat. It was so rewarding to watch them grow, and all I did was create new outlets and opportunities for those already-existing talents.” says Harris.
This has led Leah to launch a brand new program in Windsor called “JamBeat.” It will provide young artists with the opportunity to use technology and performance to create new musical experiences. Students will also use Leah’s own Yousician to learn instruments through gamification. The program will kick off at Lakeview Montessori School.
“JamBeat allows me to bring some of the things that I have learned to Windsor - my experiences from three different worlds: the music industry, the startup scene, and the field of education. I am so excited to share this with young people.”
To learn more about JamBeat visit montessorimozarts.com. To keep up to date with all of Leah Harris’ music she can be followed on: