I am writing to announce that Finerty Studios has released their first short film, “13 Days”, which I had the pleasure of scoring! I am so excited about this project because film composing has always been a dream of mine.  Dustin Finerty (owner of Finerty Studios) and his crew were so amazing and supportive to work with.
The first time I realized that being a film composer even existed as a career was when I saw the Christmas film “The Holiday”, where Jack Black plays a film composer. I was immediately drawn in by the whimsical scene of Black playing a romantic piano passage on a beautiful sunny day in his impressive L.A. mansion.
the holiday
…My reality was naturally much less glamorous. Working late nights on my midi keyboard, dealing with frustrating computer glitches (Why? Oh Why would you freeze?!), and desperately hoping that I was creating something that might actually elicit a desired response in someone (in this case fear). When faced with struggle it is usually best to embrace it and remember the feeling of satisfaction that eventually comes with learning something new.
Me Scoring
It was so important to talk to Dustin Finerty, as he was both the writer and director. We talked a lot about his vision and preferences and then I did my best to facilitate it. Horror is not a genre I am not well versed in but I listened to a lot of different composers (including my scoring heroes, Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross), which helped greatly.
The short “13 Days”, was shown at a local Film Night presented by the VI Film and Entertainment Cooperative.  I was so curious to see how the audience would react, and whenever I heard a gasp of surprise at a scary scene I couldn’t help but break into a big smile. It reminded me of why I choose this career in music and the arts, which was, and still is, to share emotion with people.
Thanks to Dustin for giving me first job as a film composer, I hope to continue to do more!
If any of you feel so inclined you can check out the trailer, which I’ve shared below:


Also, be sure to check out Dustin and his company on their website:


Thanks for reading!



Like a lot of songwriters, I like to write about personal experiences. Love and loss are two themes I explored in my self-titled EP release. A listener has requested that I write a post about my relationship with love and how to move on.
I’ve had a hard time trying to write this article because the topic of love is personal and complex. We question it when we have it, desire it when we don’t and allow it to dictate our perception of ourselves.
My song, “Last” dealt with a tumultuous relationship I experienced and my fight to leave it. Recognizing that you are in a bad relationship is the first step. I realized that this person should have made our relationship a priority but was instead choosing to disregard my feelings. Writing the song helped me express the pain I was feeling but also helped affirm my own self-worth. The relationship I was addressing wasn’t a romantic one but the difficult relationship I had with my mother. However, I think the sentiment applies to romantic love as well. Sometimes the people we wish we could depend on are unable to provide us what we need. This may force us to rely solely on ourselves, or else look to others for support.

Whether or not the relationship works out it is important to not let the success or the failure of it define you. Be realistic about the expectations you have of yourself and the people in your life. In my case, my mother was mentally ill, made damaging choices to our relationship, and did not apologize. I do not harbour ill wishes towards her but I have no desire to allow her back into my life. Some people do not change and it can be best to leave the past where it is.

“Forget Me” was a song that dealt with multiple relationships in my life. It was originally based off a poem I had written in high school about my father’s battle with cancer. When I started to re-work the idea it became more of a letter style song to my father.

In the song I wrote,

You never met my first love // Never saw me turn him away

I let him go and rightly so he found a girl worth remembering, and he forgot me

This lyric is regarding my first serious relationship, which I was incredibly fickle with. I was never happy when we were together but would be desperate for it back when we were apart. Eventually though, everyone gets tired of someone who can’t make up their mind… especially when love is involved. My life was chaotic growing up, which exasperated the situation. I regretted my actions and was hung up on this guy for a really long time (hindsight is always 20/20). This was less than ideal of course because he ended up dating my best friend for many years.

Relationships can be messy. I relied on this guy for too much support and then became dependent. Looking back I wish I had found a way to let the whole thing go sooner. I took everything way too personally, thought I wasn’t good enough, and that I had missed my chance at ‘one true love’. This was not true. People make mistakes; sometimes you let a great guy go and keep a shitty one around. Try to cut yourself some slack when you let the good one go and embrace that people move on. You can too (to even bigger and better outcomes)!

The conventional wisdom is that moving on from heart ache takes time. I believe this is true. If you use some of that time to reflect on your relationships and find positive outlets to express what you discover you will probably find the transition is easier. You will also end up learning more about what you want in future relationships. I sincerely hope that some of what I’ve experienced helps you.

– Ilsa


I graduated from Humber College’s Bachelor of Music Program in April of this year, and during this week in October I fully paid off my student loan! I posted my success on my personal Facebook account and received a lot of positive responses. Quite a few of my friends messaged me personally asking how I did it and if I could offer them some advice on dealing with their own debt.

Please note my earlier comment that I went to school for music; I am no business major, going to the bank used to make me cry, and the word ‘math’ automatically hits the off button in my brain. Therefore, I will not be offering mind-blowing secrets worthy of TED talks and viral BuzzFeed articles, but I am happy to share with you my experience. That being said here is the honest truth about how I (yes, even I) managed to do it!

#1 Luck

First and foremost, I need to address that the most significant reason for my success is that I have been incredibly lucky. Firstly, my father saved enough money for my post-secondary education that I only had to take out a loan for one school year. Not only did I have a small loan but I was also receiving a monthly $200.00 orphan’s benefit from the government. The majority of students are facing much greater financial struggles than I have had to deal with but I hope I can still offer some relevant information.

Notes on Scholarships

There are a lot of scholarships, grants and bursaries that are funded by every level of government as well private foundations. When I applied for my loan I was awarded a $2,000 scholarship because of a personal letter I attached with my application. Some good resources to check out are: Scholarships Canada, Yconic, and CanLearn.ca.

Furthermore, take advantage of College resources. I am always surprised how few people do this. There are financial advisors, co-op advisors, counsellors, professors, writing tutors etc. who are paid to help you succeed.

Think about it this way: You got a loan to pay for your tuition, now your school is spending a part of your tuition on financial aid resources for you! Ironically, there is also a lot of money spent trying to find incentives to get you to simply use them. Crazy, right?

Finding these people can be done using the internet, those ‘College Services’ pamphlets that are printed throughout the school year, or asking the person who works under the sign conveniently labelled “Information”. From there you can a) send them an email b) give them a call on their work line or c) book a meeting during office hours.

Take into account that these people are servicing a large community and that you may not get an appointment with them during the first week of September. Calling once and saying, “They were busy” does not constitute truly making an effort. Set yourself up for success by being conscientious of the schedules of the people you want to help you get ‘free’ money.

#2 Work

These same people can help you get those coveted work study jobs within the college. This is something I did for the last two years of my degree. I also worked in the summers and throughout the school year sometimes multiple jobs. Work Study jobs are great for multiple reasons: They are flexible of your school schedule, do not require you to endure commuting if you live on campus (or close by), potentially provide you significant work experience in your field, allow you to connect with an amazing community of people, and typically pay above minimum wage. Most colleges require that students who receive these jobs demonstrate financial need in order to make it easier for you to be hired.

In my college experience, it was these people who made all the difference. My phenomenal work study bosses, my inspiring teachers, and our program’s amazing office staff gave me so many opportunities that helped me financially, emotionally, and intellectually. Make sure that you always thank them and recognize the work they do for you.

# 3 Budget

The last thing I want to talk about is budgeting. As previously stated, I don’t do numbers but I do do a lot of thinking and this is what I’ve found has helped me.

How you spend your money and how you spend your time will greatly determine your level of success. Time and money are totally connected with both making and losing money. For me being aware of that helped me make some more responsible financial decisions.

While I was at college I didn’t go out a lot. That helped me quite a bit financially and I found other ways to socialize through work, school and hanging out with friends who didn’t need to go out in order to have a good time.

However, sometimes it is a good use of our time and money to do something fun because it fills an emotional need. Other times it is irresponsible to eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner at the local bakery because it does not save as much time as the financial cost it is taking (guilty). Needs and wants can be flexible and it is up to you to be accountable for recognizing what is appropriate.

Be careful that you do not fall into the bad habit of treating long-term products (i.e. laptop) like short term products (i.e. gum). I would also argue that you should question your need vs. want for some of the short-term products in your life (i.e. coffee at the bakery everyday).

At the beginning of this article I attributed luck as the greatest factor in my success. This remains true from a financial standpoint because had I required a larger loan I would not have been able to pay it off as quickly as I did. That being said, I would still do everything the same. I have learned that having a positive attitude, an incredible work ethic, and practicing conscientious thought will serve you well in your budget, your education, and ultimately your life.

I’ve always enjoyed writing because it was encouraged to me by my father. I was an only child, which could be lonely and a bit boring so writing gave me something to do. It also allowed me to be creative, and satisfy my father’s high expectations. I enjoyed writing at night and was even given my parent’s old computer to write on in my room. I fondly remember enjoying the process of writing stories. The ritual of getting tea, sitting by the window, imagining new fantasies and bringing what I had come up with to my father via floppy disk gave me pure joy and also a dream; to go to Oxford and become a writer.

In school, I was awful at mathematics, which was the subject my father taught and adored. I became insecure and so anxious about numbers that I would entirely shut off in class or when attempting to my homework. Writing became my saving grace for my own intelligence and inner confidence.

As I grew up it became apparent I was a strong creative writer but my academic writing was weak. I had learned poetic devices that distracted me and held no practical merit when it came to expressing certain ideas clearly. ‘Less art, more matter’ was my remedy, and I was given many opportunities to work my practical writing muscle after my father passed away.

My father was diagnosed with oesophageal cancer when I was thirteen. No one told me that the illness was terminal until about 3 months before his death. Innately, I knew, but the hardest part was reconciling the reality that in the year of sickness my father shut me out of his life. It is hard to know how anyone would handle being faced with their own morality, given an expiration date and told to get their affairs in order. I cannot blame him, but I do recognize that my father was a scared man who did not die well.

That year was the loneliest of my life. I had a journal which I would write in each night to try and express my feelings. I would make lists of things I could do for my father but all attempts lead to no avail; no smile, no words, no hugs just the vast and empty sighs of depression.

Once my father died, my relationship with my mother, which had always been strained began to crack under the pressure of us being alone together. My fears of my mother and her mental illness continued to be substantiated by her behaviour and unresolved by her words. I left home to stay with family friends, intending for us to work on our relationship from an even playing field but instead was attacked by my mother and the community I lived in.

The next five years of my life involved writing affidavits, testifying on the stand, and countless interviews with counsellors, police sergeants, social workers and biological family that had become more foe than friend. Whenever I was given the opportunity to write it was either in attempts to justify my position, explain my circumstance or privately provide me some inner reflection on the goings-on.  To be forced to live defensively means constant thought and analysis on how to approach every word and each action. Anyone who has been to family court will attest to the nearly impossible task of remaining calm as highly personal information is recited to an audience of well paid strangers.

I was already predisposed as an incredibly sensitive person. As a child I resented my sensitive nature because it alienated me from other children and exhausted me when dealing with my own parents and each of their mental issues. Now amongst the chaos of court, private investigators and attempted kidnappings my sensitivity and over-thinking nature was kicked into overdrive.

Especially as a teenager, separating what you have to present and what you truly feel can be next to impossible. I don’t mean lying or manipulating your emotions, what I refer to is finding a way to speak your truth, (however painful) in a way that an outsider will understand. Often emotions are misread and judged as weakness, confusion, and immaturity. Again, the written word saved me and helped me articulate what I could not always say.

Eventually, all this too did pass. I still rely on writing for strength, creativity and expression. Currently I am focusing on songwriting but my ultimate goal as a writer is to write a book. This is my childhood dream that became my adolescent reality. I am often told my ‘story’ would make an excellent book.

Hi all!

If you follow me on Instagram or Twitter you will know that I had a sudden surge of social media activity this Saturday… suspicious (stretching the alliteration ;)! The deal was that I was asked by JazzFM91 to be a social media ambassador for their 2015 Music Business Seminar. During the day they brought in a number of industry professionals to offer their insights on the Music Business focussing on the perspective of the independent artist.

I wanted to share with you guys a few take-away points I got from the first guest speaker, Jeff Levenson.

I arrived quite early on the day off because, quite honestly, despite living in Toronto for 4 years now I still remain a transit newbie.  However, being early gave me the opportunity to meet and help Mark Micklethwaite of JazzFM91 do some initial set up. This included meeting label executive Jeff Levenson and getting him his morning coffee.  When I asked him if he would like a medium or large coffee, he looked at me and laughed, “Ilsa, Ilsa… a large please”.  Lesson learned. New York folks take their coffees in large. 🙂

Jeff started his lecture by asking some questions to the audience about who they were (artists, producers, publicists) and what they like and who their influences were. The first question was easy — “Who are you?”. The majority were musicians and of them most were vocalists. The next, not quite as simple. Nobody could answer who their favourite singer or instrumentalist was. A lot of people may have been scared that their tastes would be judged by others, some may have just felt genuine confusion (as nowadays there is so much music out there), or a few may have never really thought about it before. Whatever the case, I believe Jeff brought it up because it is so important for musicians to know what they like and who they aspire to be musically.

Later on, someone in the audience asked Jeff what inspired him to dedicate his life to music. He paused, thought about it and then recalled a specific moment as a kid listening to a song on a beach in New York. He knew how old he was, the name of the song, the group, the name of the beach itself, and as he was speaking I felt the whole audience recalling their own memory of a moment when music impacted them. It made me think that innately people must know their influences and impactful musical experiences but that recognizing them can be an entirely different thing. One of the first pieces of advice Jeff gave the group was to “pay attention”. Again, sounds simple but I think observation is an increasingly rare skill.  Now more than ever, this is what artists need to do in order learn to “fulfill the potential of the moment” (Another Jeff tidbit of wisdom).

Until next time,

~ Ilsa

“Music is not an album, the same way words are not a book. An album is an album.” — Jeff Levenson

With the man himself.  Left to right: Me, Jeff Levenson, Chelsea Mcbride and Natasha Roldan.
With the man himself.
Left to right: Me, Jeff Levenson, Chelsea Mcbride and Natasha Roldan.

Hi all,

I wanted to share a track from my upcoming EP!

This tune is an original of mine called, “The Judge” (Lyrics provided below). I wrote this song about my experiences in court when I was a teenager. I drew inspiration from a specific instance in court with a judge actually named Judge Challenger, I kid you not! During this time in my life I felt so frustrated that my voice was never heard, and this song was a chance for me to finally express some of what I went through.

I’m so excited to share the finished product and would love to know what you think of the track by commenting below!

The musicians:

Myself – lead vocals, backup vocals

Julian Selody – alto saxophone, flute

Chris Rennie – tenor saxophone, clarinet

John Kennelly – electric guitar

Julian Anderson-Bowes – upright bass

Eric West – drums

Producer: Thomas Powell

Recording & Mix Engineer: (the one, the only) Phil Spencer

Mastering Engineer: Reuben Ghose

I am awaiting the album art design and in the process of booking a venue for the release concert so stay tuned for updates!

The Judge ~ Ilsa Gurtins:

It’s been awhile since I’ve been online but ain’t no time like the new year to re-vamp and update!

I was back on the West Coast for the holidays and during my visit set up a photo shoot with Samantha Hart Photography and Alisha Slater makeup (I will link them at the end!) to snap some shots for my E.P. release this spring.  The photos have been released via FB and I got a great response so I thought I would share some behind the scenes info on how we shot and who was involved!

After some FB messages Alisha, Sam and I settled on Dec. 29th (my birthday!) to do the shoot.  I have the fortune of knowing Alisha since high school and while she was attending makeup school in Vancouver I was able to model for her as well as for some smaller projects.

In the morning I met up with Alisha (who did my look with all MAC products) and then met up with Sam and her assistant Iva to start snapping!  We went downtown and decided the top floor of a parkade would be a great set for our shoot.  Sam brought a black sheet to use as a backdrop which we hung over a wall and professionally secured with our oversized purses. It was a beautiful albeit cold day with strong winds and a blinding sun. I actually named this post for the cue Sam would give me so I could open my eyes and get the shot without squinting from the sun! Sam set up the two cameras she had brought and Iva improvised using a large plastic bag as a bounce sheet.

I originally know Sam from when we took dance together so this made it really easy to follow her direction.  Another great thing about shooting with Sam is that she uses film rather than digital. While there is no immediate feedback, and a limited number of frames, I felt that we all worked more efficiently, and had a stronger vision for the shoot.

I compare it in musical terms to performing live versus recording in the studio. In the studio we have the opportunity to re-try and command Z, whereas on the stage you have to deliver in the moment. While it can be more intimidating, there can also be greater results.

I cannot thank Sam and Alisha enough, check them out on Facebook @http://www.facebook.com/samanthahartphotography & @http://www.facebook.com/AlishaSlaterMakeupDesign

If you want to check out ALL the photos from this shoot click here –> https://www.facebook.com/ilsamusic



Thanks for reading,

~ Ilsa

Modeling is really silent acting.

Frog in Hand + Ilsa Music

Hello everyone!
While music is my passion, dance is a close second; that is why I am so excited to be a part of the Jam @ the Cafe Project happening this Thursday! Put on by the Frog In Hand team, as a part of National Youth Arts Week musicians and dancers will be sharing their skills and collaborating. 
So come on down this Thursday, May 1st @ 6:15pm at 300 City Centre Drive. 
Attached is a link to a promo vid Frog In Hand has made, check it out!

Thank you,

~ Ilsa

“Great dancers are not great because of their technique, they are great because of their passion.”

Martha Graham

Hi friends!
I can be known to be a little indecisive… and that is why I need your help!
This summer, I am applying to participate in a music conference in L.A. and I need to submit one video to the committee of judges.
Between the two videos below please comment your favourite.

1) Last – Ilsa Gurtins: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1Z8kTsn9ZBg

2) Home Is the Road – Ilsa Gurtins: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hQ-fMOczW7I

I will tally the votes on Wednesday, April 30th and send in the winning video.
Thank you for your feedback!

~ Ilsa

“I used to be indecisive but now I am not quite sure.” 
Tommy Cooper

Hi there!

As promised, here is a link to a video from my Final Recital:

On my YouTube channel you will also find more videos from the concert. Thanks to Tim O’Reilly and his “Soundstill Productions” crew for filming, mixing, and editing the footage!
If you were not able to make it, here’s the next best thing!

I hope you like what you see 🙂

~ Ilsa