Interview – Tonia Evans Cianciulli

Many people attribute possessing exceptional talent as a God-given gift, and celebrated Canadian singer Tonia Evans Cianciulli is acknowledging hers with high praise in return on this, her new, original hymn, “My Voice Belongs to Him”.

“My Voice Belongs to Him” is the first single and sole original song from Cianciulli’s upcoming album of classic spirituals, Hymns of the Heart — due out on October 1, 2021. The new album is a personally significant and very meaningful collection for the Toronto-based, Newfoundland-born vocalist.

A collaboration between Cianciulli and Canadian poet Vaughn Harbin, “My Voice Belongs to Him” came together during a time when the global pandemic had largely been keeping loved ones apart; the lingering periods of grieving over cancelled concerts, live events, and ‘what once was’ had Cianciulli feeling the need to reconnect with the spiritual music of her past: hymns.

“One day last summer, I received an email from my dear friend and poet, Vaughn,” Cianciulli recalls. “He was inspired to write lyrics for me on what it means to sing hymns.”

That He spoke beauty into life,
And love from deepest space,
Anoints the voice of one who sings
Sweet hymns with heaven’s grace

“Vaughn’s lyrics were so meaningful, I was worried I wouldn’t come up with a melody to do it justice.”

It turns out Cianciulli had to look no further than Divine providence to find the music she was afraid she might not. “I’m a believer that I am always being divinely guided,” she says. “As God would have it, I was brushing my teeth one morning before I went into the recording studio and found myself humming a sweet new melody.

“I immediately spit the toothpaste out of my mouth, grabbed my phone in a hurry, and recorded what was being downloaded to me from above.”

Cianciulli wasted no time getting what had been Divinely downloaded into permanent form.

“Later that day, I recorded the guide vocals while my producer, Dima Graziani, composed a celestial sounding accompaniment,” she recounts. “As my grandfather always says, ‘Tonia, everything is always unfolding for you as it ought.’”  

Check out “My Voice Belongs to Him” below, and find out more about Tonia via our mini-interview.

Care to introduce yourself to our readers?

Firstly, I’m incredibly grateful for this opportunity to connect with you, thank you Canadian Beats! 

I was born in Newfoundland and I credit that for being born with a huge heart, a love for the ocean and for storytelling. 

I was originally a classically trained soprano, singing and performing opera professionally. Over the years I’ve explored other genres of music which has allowed me to display all of the colours of my voice and personality. 

I love writing and recording music. I love touching people with the power of music. And I love to make people cry, in a good way!

I’m a coauthor of the book, ‘The Heart’s Obsession – An Intimate Biography of Newfoundland Songstress Georgina Stirling’. 

I’ve got two incredible kids who I’ve homeschooled for over 7 years now. They literally come everywhere with me. 

I have a thirst for learning and helping other artists and so for years now I’ve been coaching and creating artist courses called, An Artist’s Journey. I’ve also been interviewing other artists since 2012 as a way to help inspire and encourage other artistic soulmates. 

Oh, and I LOVE looking for heart-shaped rocks! I find them everywhere. 

Tell us about the recording process behind “My Voice Belongs to Him”?

One day last summer I received an email from my dear friend, and poet, Vaughn Harbin. He was inspired to write the lyrics of, My Voice Belongs to Him, for me on what it means to sing hymns. Vaughn’s lyrics were so meaningful, he truly captivated what was in my heart. 

I was worried I wouldn’t come up with a melody to do it justice. I’m a believer that I am always being divinely guided. As God would have it, I was brushing my teeth one morning before I went into the recording studio and found myself humming a sweet new melody. I immediately spit the toothpaste out of my mouth, grabbed my phone in a hurry and recorded what was being downloaded to me from above. As my grandfather often says, ‘Tonia, everything is always unfolding for you as it ought.’

Later that day, I recorded the guide vocals while my producer, Dima Graziani, composed a celestial sounding accompaniment. I love the inspired ebb and flow of collaborating with other like-minded artists who I deeply trust. 

I knew this majestic track needed very special visuals that would allow you to experience the fullness of the sentiments put forth in these lyrics. I have such a love for singing in beautiful churches with high soaring ceilings and stained glass windows. This stunning video was filmed at Grace Church on the Hill, in Toronto by Videographer, Arunas Remeza. The beautiful photos were taken by my photographer, Maria Mikhailova. 

What’s it like being a musician during the pandemic?

I believe that as artists we are alchemists. We were born to create, transform, inspire, and interpret the plethora of feelings and life events, in a way that others cannot. With being an artist comes great responsibility, burden, also great joy. We are gifted a unique awareness and the ability to interpret in a way that helps others heal or laugh or cry or to help them be present for their own ‘Ah ha’ moments. 

I know for myself, and other artistic colleagues, we create our best work when we’re out of our comfort zone. Our insides are forced to be oozed out onto a canvas or in the lyrics of a poignant song because, if we keep it inside of us we’ll die a slow death of internal torture, like when you know you’re holding a secret and you can’t tell anyone, it’ll eat you alive. 

Many artists during the pandemic, including myself, have been going through rolling periods of grieving due to cancelled concerts, live events, and our life as we once knew it.  There’s a lingering sadness in the air because we aren’t sure when we’ll see that light at the end of the tunnel…and will it ever be as it once was. 

I just knew I needed to create. Luckily, I also have a love (and hopefully a knack) for songwriting. 

Over the summer of 2020, when the world was in locked down, I was able to unlock my voice in a whole new way, the key was a global pandemic (seriously?!). 

I couldn’t plan and perform concerts or continue my book signings so, I wrote and recorded music from May until October. I remember telling my producer, Dima Graziani, ‘being able to record at your studio has saved my life and has brought me so much healing.’

What was birthed out of that summer were two completely different albums. My current album, arriving in October, Hymns of the Heart, featuring the new original hymn, My Voice Belongs to Him, is a very meditative, introspective and ethereal experience. My prayer is that people will sit back and listen to it with open hearts and closed eyes, allowing the music and messages to wash over them in a healing manner. 

What’s on the horizon for 2022 is an album of completely original music, much of which deals with matters of the heart and some themes of my Newfoundland home. 

What also came from the pandemic is a new interview series on Instagram Live I started called, HEART to H-ART – Artists Discussing Matter of the Heart and of Our Art. So far, I’ve featured over 25 artists ranging from musician, Bif Naked to author, Jeff Brown to opera singer, Miriam Khalil. The purpose for these live artistic meetups was born out of the need to authentically connect, encourage each other and share what’s been helping us cope and thrive though a global pandemic. 

What have you learned about yourself throughout the last year or so?

I’ve learned that my heart can continue to be pummelled by the waves that life throws at it but that it can also continue to be shaped and mended back each and every time, so much stronger and more loving than I thought possible. 

I’ve learned that I love the creative process and that I will continue to create something, anything until the day I die, it’s what gives me life. 

I’ve learned that I LOVE learning.

I’ve learned that I genuinely love consoling or bringing peace to others with my music or just with a real and heartfelt conversation. 

I’ve learned that no matter how hard I try to control the direction or pace of my life, God has it all under control and everything is in His perfect timing. 

And as an artist who is constantly her own worst critic, I’ve learned to love my own voice, unconditionally, as it finds it’s own way on this uncertain path of life. 

You’ve got a special relationship with the east coast in Canada – how did that begin, and what’s it like now?

Indeed, I am a very proud Newfoundlander! I was born in St. John’s, Newfoundland. My entire family is from the ‘rock’. We always went back home annually to visit family but in the last five years our trips have doubled. 

Out of a desire to explore my Newfoundland musical roots came many concerts, my book with Flanker Press and two albums with the Newfoundland label Citadel House. 

Right up until the end of 2019, I was hopping around Newfoundland, Ontario, Vancouver and even Miami promoting this beloved East Coast music and historical material. It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to coauthor a research heavy book with my grandfather, Calvin Evans (90 years old and still sharp as a tack!). As fate would have it the book we wrote was on Newfoundland’s first international opera singer from the 19th century, Georgina Stirling (1867-1935). ‘The Heart’s Obsession – An Intimate Biography of Newfoundland Songstress Georgina Stirling.’ Her legacy has been haunting me (in a good way) ever since. Next summer (2022) I’ll return for the release of my upcoming original album which has a delicious East Coast flavour. No matter where I go, my heart will always be in Newfoundland.

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