Franciska Kay: The Orthodox Jewish Musician Who Studied at Juilliard
She may have grown up religious, but that never stopped Franciska Kay from pursuing her passion for music. Hailing from Moscow Kay explains that “[Russia’s] truly rich arts culture” combined with her mother’s creative personality, who constantly enrolled her in various music lessons, led her to love the arts.
At the age of six, Kay learned to play piano, and by ten was taking lessons in guitar and began composing. After finishing school at fifteen, Kay continued on to attend a seminary in Israel, Michlalah, and then to study at Touro College while taking additional classes at Juilliard. Although juggling two vigorous programs was difficult, both universities were very accommodating of her needs as a religious Jewish woman and of a student with a dual type curriculum. “It was super cool going through those doors…[and] to be in a place filled with so much talent,” noted Kay of her days in Juilliard with fondness, adding that anyone who wants to be involved in the arts should aspire to do so at institutions such as Juilliard, especially since it was such an accepting and understanding culture. She is now on her third solo album, Mi Shebeirach, and works as a music teacher while constantly continuing her own studies. She “loves to sing, teach, and bring joy to others lives” through music, much of which is inspired by Jewish psalms and prayers.
Kay says that “I tell my students and the parents of my students that you don’t have to be into music to actually do it and you have the 10,000 hour professional hour rule” to abide by, although natural talent is an added plus. Admittedly, the “encouragement and support I got from my family and friends and starting to write my own music was really the turning point; it gave me an edge” in such a competitive industry explains Kay. That, along with knowing that “if I don’t create that music no one else is going to create that for me,” Kay says, give her the drive to continue persevering in her difficult line of work.
Kay’s “genuine advice [for people who are interested in pursuing the arts] really is follow [their] dreams…surround [themselves] with people who support it” but that “right now the only way to continue with the arts is to have something else to pay for it…just a realistic approach.” Whether that is through a connected profession such as teaching or producing or exploring a totally different field, it is not so simple to be funded by a music career alone. “Counting on the music to support you…is not a viable option,” advises Kay to aspiring female Jewish music stars.
Being a female Jewish artist is difficult for many reasons, especially due to the Jewish law of kol isha, that a man cannot listen to a woman sing, although there are many who believe that law does not apply to recorded music which would allow for CD’s or radio. Regardless, it’s very difficult to “[make] a career out of the arts and music in general right now [as the] female audience, the Jewish female audience, isn’t strong enough to support female musicians.” As it is, the Jewish community has a difficult time sustaining male musicians, often forcing them to perform at events such as weddings, leading Kay to advise that the Jewish community push for more opportunities for female Jewish artists such as record labels, dance studios, and concerts at all women’s camps and schools.
Being successful in the music industry can be near impossible, but if you’re like Kay, “the music just keeps coming and I need to keep writing and that’s what keeps me going.”