By Edward Henderson

Many of us have made promises to God in moments of inconvenience or trauma. Prayers beginning with the popular phrase ‘Lord, if you get me out of this I …’ followed by praise worthy pacts that would make your grandmother proud during a church testimony. Unfortunately, many of these are broken the moment a silver lining appears from what’s ailing us. When Candace Leigh Anya Bogan was faced with one of the toughest trials of her young life, however, her conversation with God turned into a lifelong passion she never thought she’d have.

Bogan moved to San Diego when she was in middle school. A product of a military family, one of the only pastimes that kept her grounded was singing. An active member of gospel choirs and school groups, her lack of formal training caused her to develop Temporomandibular Jaw Disorder. The disorder is common amongst singers and prevented Bogan from exercising her passion. TMJ doesn’t always heal doctors let her know there was a chance that the symptoms would be chronic, preventing her from singing long term.

“I was depressed and got really desperate,” said Bogan. “I prayed and said ‘God if you heal me, I will sing anything’. I don’t care if it’s Mariachi, country, polka music, I just need music in my life. Six months later, I woke up and I was completely healed.”

Now it was time for Bogan to live up to her promise. In a moment of excitement and meditation asking what she should do next, she clearly heard the word ‘Opera’. Before her revelation, Bogan had never been a fan of the genre, but she knew someone who could help her begin the journey.

Ilene Moss was the director of a group called the San Diego Youth Master Chorale and had taken interest in Bogan’s talent in middle school. Moss recruited Bogan to sing in the group, but the closed minded young singer wasn’t a fan of the type of music and style the group sang.

“It was different, really former and trained,” said Bogan. “Because I didn’t understand it and I didn’t like it. I was one of her worst students.”

Moss happened to be a retired opera singer and when Bogan reached back out to her for training, she laughed thinking it was a joke. Inspired by her second chance at pursuing her passion, however, Bogan let Moss know she was serious this go round and even signed a contract stating she would stick with the demanding craft. The training consisted of daily hour long practice sessions, working with lyrics in multiple languages and memorizing long scores and scripts of music.

“It was the most challenging yet rewarding music I had ever preformed in my life. I recognized it for that and I can see the beauty in all music from now on.”

Bogan went on to achieve her Bachelor’s of Arts degree from San Diego Christian College and a Masters of Music degree in Vocal Performance from San Diego State University. In 2014, she earned a Doctorate of Musical Arts degree in Vocal Arts from Claremont Graduate University where she continues to pursue professional goals as a performing artist and teacher.

Even for a well versed and educated singer like Bogan, navigating the performance landscape as an African American opera singer comes with its challenges.

“For people of color it can be an extremely different experience. We might not be the first type of person people think of when they think of opera. We have to be excellent, we can’t just be ok. Even though I run into that a lot, I believe the gift I’ve been given will make room for me. That’s what keeps me going and lets me know doors will be opened and that I can make them too.”

Bogan’s persistence and talent have paid off. Some of her most memorable performances include the role of Mimi from “La Boheme” with the San Bernardino Symphony, Domna Saburova from “The Tsar’s Bride” with Independent Opera Los Angeles, Nedda with the Central Florida Lyric Opera from Leoncavallo’s “I Pagliacci,” and Anna Maurrant in Kurt Weil’s “Street Scene” with San Diego State University Opera Theatre.

When Bogan isn’t performing, she teaches youth music classes for kindergarten to eighth graders at Otay Ranch Academy for the Arts and offers vocal coaching classes for choirs and individual performers. Bogan is currently learning the role of Aida, an Ethiopian woman who falls in love with an Egyptian prince who is currently at war with her people. She will star in the role for Redlands Symphony this summer. You can also see her perform at the Voice and Viewpoint Gala this Friday, February 3rd at the Jacobs Center.

While her faithful promise to God has paid off, Bogan wants more people of color to become interested in Opera as an art form as well.

“We have a special gift when it comes to the arts in general. I believe we have a very special sound that comes with our experiences. That is expressed in opera in a very different way that other types of music. It’s a different sound that someone who is not of color can’t duplicate. I want people to know you don’t have to be stuck in one genre, you can be a master of many.”

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