Mexican exchange student Cesar Aguilar came to Canada under inconspicuous pretence – he just wanted to learn English. When he opened his mouth however, everyone quickly took notice.
Blessed with a singing voice as melodic and pure as it is unique, the 18-year-old first-year University of Lethbridge music student will highlight the ethnic entertainment at the 17th Annual International Dinner, Feb. 12 in the U of L Atrium.
Aguilar has been in Canada since September 2006, turning what was a planned six-month stay into a now burgeoning career as a classical vocalist. He initially shuffled between Sundre and Olds, Alta. as a foreign exchange student who was supposed to spend one semester learning English and Canadian customs. It turned out he liked the Alberta way and decided to stay. He also let us in on a secret – his voice.
"I used to sing a lot and I would sing traditional Mexican music, what they call ranchera," Aguilar says of his childhood in Cuernavaca, Morelos, a city of approximately 400,000 people just 45 minutes south of Mexico City. "I would be all dressed up like this charro with a big sombrero, and I just loved it."
His vocal styling at that time was in a low pitch he used to imitate other popular singers, but under the tutelage of a Mexican teacher, he was encouraged to sing in his natural pitch, which was considerably higher. His sound would mature over time, but as he went through a natural voice change, he somehow maintained a high pitch in his singing. Now he trains as a counter-tenor, an exceedingly rare gift.
"At the beginning, you can see people's reaction when I perform, the looks on their faces," Aguilar says. "I talk low, but then when I start singing high, people aren't sure what they are listening to."
U of L music professor Blaine Hendsbee knew what he was hearing when he adjudicated Aguilar in a 2007 Kiwanis Music Festival. The two struck a chord and it eventually led to Aguilar coming to the U of L.
"I loved how he adjudicated me," says Aguilar. "I asked him at the end, are there universities here in Canada where you would suggest to pursue my singing?
"He told me of several that are good and have very good music programs but I found they are also very expensive. I had heard the U of L was very good and the only person I really knew was Blaine and the cost of the university was so much better I decided to try and go here."
Having completed his first semester, Aguilar is making the most of his U of L experience. He sang with Vox Musica prior to Christmas and is currently performing with the U of L Singers. All the while he continues to train in opera, knowing full well there are few parts written for counter-tenors.
"For tenors and baritones there is a lot of chances to get into the classic operas," he says. "For counter-tenors it's really hard because you are reduced to a certain narrow repertoire, from the Baroque mainly."
Still, it does not dissuade him from his goal, to be a performance artist.
"I want to go as far as I can in performance," Aguilar says. "I do not need to be rich, it's mainly about enjoying what I do. If you are going to pay me enough to live, then that's fine. I want to travel around and sing."
GET THE FACTS
• Aguilar has already recorded three CDs, including an English recording last summer of Canadian gospel songs he learned while living in Olds
• His mother arranges international student exchanges and has been to Canada to visit Aguilar
• Aguilar distinctly remembers seeing snow for the first time, Sept. 15, 2006, while he was living in Sundre
• Other performances at the International Dinner include belly dancing by Ammena Dance Company, the U of L Global Drums and Japan's Makoto Sakurada