Freeman Cebu Entertainment

How Cebuana singer-songwriter Niña Arny links psychology to music

Januar Junior Aguja - The Freeman

Niña Arny was building a name for herself in Cebu. She was part of the theater community via Cebuano productions of "Flower Drum Song" and "Siddhartha the Musical." She is also a recording artist under Viva Records, having released songs “Botbot” and “M.M.K.” in 2017 and 2019, respectively.

Things changed in 2018 when she moved to Canada to join her family, a decision that didn’t come lightly for her.

“I was actually hesitant to go at first because I built a life and career here in Cebu after graduating. But I felt like it’s a nice chance to have a fresh start and catch up on time I lost with my family,” the 27-year-old singer-songwriter told The FREEMAN when she was recently in Cebu six years after she left for the Great White North.

“It was a family plan to go to Canada together, but my mom and dad went first. We thought we would follow them after six months, but it turned out to be five years, and my sister joined them finally. I stayed for one more year,” said the Calgary resident.

The one thing she found hardest to say goodbye to was her music career.

“I built my opportunities here and there was a momentum going on. But I had to leave. It was hard saying goodbye.”

Ella Enchanted

After adjusting to her new environment which included adapting to the cold weather, and immersing herself in the Filipino community and the multicultural society of Canada, her theater spirit came back to life when earlier this year she starred in StoryBook Theatre’s production of "Ella Enchanted" where she played the titular role.

It’s been five years since she last acted on stage, but her Siddhartha workshops helped her hit her stride.

“It was just easy. The theater girl in me was on hold for a bit, but it awakened when I started rehearsals," said Arny, who auditioned for the role in 2019, a day before the COVID-19 lockdowns were implemented.

Out of the characters she's played, she considers Ella her favorite because of the play’s timely themes and messages.

“Obedience was a gift given to Ella from her fairy grandmother, but it turned out to be a curse. I feel like it’s a metaphorical story for people whose voices are silenced because of intimidation. We have the power to talk and fight for what we want because we don’t have to bow down all the time just because others tell us, even though we know it’s wrong. I feel like many people will be inspired by the story.”

She added, “I feel exposed to the character of Ella for so many months, the same way that all of my theater characters were instilled in me because I was involved in their stories that at some point, they became a part of me.”

Representing the Filipino community in the Canadian theater scene made Arny nervous. But she didn't take the opportunity for granted.

“I felt really happy that I got the role and I had the chance to represent Filipinos because there’s not many of us in the theater community so it was an honor.”

Psychology in music

When not performing on stage, Arny is focused on her Masters in Psychology at Mount Royal University, continuing her path in this field after graduating from the University of San Carlos.

Compared to her undergraduate years where she studied theories, her master’s journey is a self-reflective one.

“What I learned there was that before we become healers, we need to heal ourselves first. There is a lot of unpacking of our personal concerns, traumas, and issues so that we can be aware of our unresolved emotions. We would know how to deal with these emotions better if that comes with a session with a client and we know how to manage. This is not our time to bring out our traumas, this is our clients’ time to shine,” she remarked.

Studying Psychology helped her as a songwriter and as a performer -- it allowed her to understand her emotions better and translate them into song.

“I discovered some of my emotions that I never really tapped into because of my fast-paced life. Because I never got to tap into those emotions, I got to sit and entertain them. It inspires me to make that emotion into art, knowing there are also others who share that experience,” she said.

“You know how the power of music is very binding, and that’s how I really push myself to use that medium to inspire and have that shared sense with everyone else.”

There was a “crossroads” moment for her whether she wanted to pursue music full-time or work as a psychologist. However, she found a middle ground in balancing the two.

“I realized that I could put music as my sideline, and then have Psychology to be my main job. I see that’s needed in our society and there’s a huge demand for mental health workers in Canada,” she said.

“Music is like a pastime for me as an avenue for me to express my emotions and inspire others. Considering I am into Psychology, it was a way for me to inspire others, especially regarding mental health concerns. In that sense, I am marrying both and expressing all through music,” she added.


Arny cites Taylor Swift and Lea Salonga for shaping the kind of artist she wants to be.

“It’s the same reason for every other songwriter. Swift was able to pour her heart out and it’s very metaphorical. She’s very creative and she is able to connect with the masses through her music. That’s something that I really aspire to do,” she explained.

As for Salonga, she admires how “she handles herself professionally onstage and her vocal techniques.”

After our interview, Arny performed in front of an intimate crowd at her homecoming concert at Bintana Coffee House. In attendance were friends, family, and other supporters.

“I missed my friends and family here in Cebu so I am overjoyed seeing them again after six years,” she said.

For now, Arny is planning to take a break from theater to focus on her capstone research project. But she is working on new music with a producer who has previously worked for Disney and Universal.

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