Soprano Lilac Caña: Every creature and nature glorify our Creator

Community News & Features Jul 14, 2017 at 3:52 pm
oprano Lilac Caña delivers a powerful performance. Dr. Raul Sunico on the piano

oprano Lilac Caña delivers a powerful performance. Dr. Raul Sunico on the piano

By Michelle Chermaine Ramos

With a voice that warms the heart with her rendition of Somewhere Over the Rainbow and stirs the soul with national pride whenever she performs our Filipino kundimans, Toronto-based soprano Lilac Caña never fails to leave her audience spellbound as she did most recently at her concert with acclaimed pianist Dr. Raul Sunico. The Philippine Consulate hosted An Evening with Philippine Classical Artists at the Royal Conservatory of Music in Downtown Toronto on June 23, 2017 in celebration of the 119th anniversary of the declaration of Philippine independence.

Lilac Cana is an award-winning vocalist, producer and recording artist who masterfully sings in different genres including opera, musical theatre, contemporary and jazz. She graduated with honours from the University of Toronto’s Opera Performance Program, won a scholarship with the American Institute of Musical Studies in Graz, Austria, and studied at the Glenn Gould Professional School at Toronto’s Royal Conservatory of Music. Aside from numerous lead roles in opera and musical theatre and concert soloist engagements in the U.S., Canada, Europe and the Philippines, she also had the privilege of singing for not only one, but two popes. She sang as a soloist for Pope John Paul II on World Youth Day in 2002 in Toronto, and for Pope Benedict XVI for the canonization of St. Pedro Calungsod in 2012 in Rome. She is also a generous benefactor lending her voice to many causes for which she was recognized with awards including the 2010 Philippine Presidential Pamana Ng Pilipinas Award conferred by Philippine President Benigno S. Aquino III and the 2009 National Ethnic Press and Media Council of Canada Performing Arts/Humanities Award presented by Lieutenant-Governor of Ontario, David C. Onley.

There is a kind of magic that happens when two very talented musicians share the stage. In a previous interview with Dr. Sunico the night of the concert, he shared his philosophy on life and success, which somewhat mirrors Lilac’s thoughtful approach in her creative process. Beyond their God-given talents and numerous accolades, what is most inspiring are their thoughts on art and life and belief in a higher power guiding their work. Here, Lilac shares her thoughts on how indigenous Filipino spirituality inspired the theme of her upcoming album.

MICHELLE: Tell us about how you first started working with Dr. Sunico.

LILAC: This is a very special moment for me right here, right now in the conservatory, because it was in 1998 that we were first introduced through family friends for the centennial of Philippine independence. Then came my album, Labing Dalawa, for which Dr. Raul flew to Toronto and we recorded it. He’s the one who plays on my album and we also had a launch of that album here in 2002. So that’s how long we’ve known each other and over the years I’ve gone back to the Philippines and said “hello” to him. He allowed me to teach when he was the dean at UST and ongoing and he came here so it’s been a musical friendship for several years.

MICHELLE: Last time we talked, you were working on an album inspired by shamans in the Philippines. How’s that coming along?

Lilac Caña with her parents and guests after the show (Photos: MC Ramos)

Lilac Caña with her parents and guests after the show
(Photos: MC Ramos)

LILAC: Well, I’m letting the Spirit guide me and using the voice and the technique I’ve been trained in. I grew up in Toronto, firmly established in a way in Western classical music so I’m not about to give that up. I love this repertoire. This is what I’m most comfortable in so I may not need to do something drastic. It’s in the spirit of our ancestors. I want to give a voice to what our great grandfathers and great grandmothers may not have had a chance to sing. At this point, I’m still singing the things that I learned like the European masters. Even some of our kundimans are inspired by them. But beyond that, I’m still open to learning. So, it’s ongoing. I’m following the truth of my path, of my voice. But in terms of my desire to know more about our indigenous spirituality, that is ongoing as well with different groups of friends here, in Vancouver, in the States and in the Philippines.

MICHELLE: When it comes to producing this album, will you be using traditional indigenous musical instruments? How are you going to relay that influence in your music because these are all original songs, right?

LILAC: Some of them will be retellings of some songs. Not everything will be a hundred percent original but it’s going to be my version of things so it’s a work in progress.

MICHELLE: What inspired you to focus on the theme of delving into indigenous Filipino spirituality and how did that influence your music?

LILAC: I found that it infused a new life even into the Mozart song I sang tonight which is a spiritual song. ”Exultate, jubilate, o vos animae,” meaning every creature, every living thing on earth give voice and rejoice and give thanks to our Creator. So, there’s something kind of indigenous in that, right? The earth and the animals and the air, the sea and elements all should glorify our Creator so I just put that kind of spin on it even though I’m singing seventeenth century German music.

So, no matter what language you’re singing in, no matter what the music is, there’s this common thread?

LILAC: Yes. And there are times when I will want to sing, of course, in our native languages. The ones that I’m more familiar with are the major ones – Tagalog, Bisaya, Ilocano and Bicolano. I just know a few songs but I do speak Bisaya and Tagalog so with that in mind, I’m still open to learning. There’s no end date here. I’m still in the exploration and development stage.

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