WATERBURY – Sometimes when she is driving her school bus in Waterbury, Ilia Galarza breaks into song, and the special needs students she is transporting react in a most unusual way – they calm down and listen.
“It changes the atmosphere of the bus,” she says.
Galarza’s voice is a special gift, and she knows it. She shares her gift with anyone willing to listen and that has led her to Spain, the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico and cities across the U.S. where she performs at local churches. And the songs she sings are not ordinary, they are songs that she has written.
“I started singing when I was seven,” says Galarza, adding that her mother also sings and that her father plays the guitar and sings.
This spring, she released her first CD, En tú presencia (In Your Presence), a collection of eight gospel songs she wrote and which she sings in Spanish. She arranged all the music and self-produced the CD along with her husband, Luis. The CD is now on sale for purchase or download at CDBaby.
Galarza is very involved with her church, Shekinah Christian Church in Waterbury, where she sings in the choir. When people visit the church and hear her perform, they often invite her to sing at their church, resulting in the many trips she has taken. She says that through her singing she is beginning to understand her role in the ministry she serves.
Galarza’s start as a singer began quite innocently. When she was a child, her father would sit on the front porch of their house in Puerto Rico after work each day, and as the sun set he would play his guitar and sing. One day, Galarza joined in, surprising her father with her beautiful voice. Soon, he was entering her in talent shows where she would sing traditional Puerto Rican songs. At age 19, Galarza became involved in the church and committed to singing only gospel songs.
Galarza, who lives in Waterbury, began working for All-Star Transportation 22 years ago as a monitor. She began driving a bus one year ago. While work took up much of her time, Galarza never stopped singing and dreaming. Every year, she set aside a small portion of her paycheck until she had saved enough to fund the recording of her own CD.
“It took years, living from check to check,” she says. “Now, work is helping to pay for my next CD.”
That next CD is already in the works. All the songs have been written and arranged by Galarza, and she has hired musicians to work with her. The new songs, like the others on her new CD, seem divinely inspired. She says she could be doing anything and suddenly a song will pop into her head. She credits a prayer she offered in 2005 for making it possible.
“I didn’t want to keep playing music from others and paying for songs, so I asked God for inspiration,” she explains. “Now, I have a constant concert in my head. I could be doing dishes and a melody comes into my head. Everything comes at once. All of a sudden, I hear the melody, the choir, the instruments and the words. It just happens. I can’t explain it. I love it.”
She says it’s important for her to sing her own songs, because through them “you can reach deeper into someone else’s soul.” And connecting with others, helping others, is what motivates her.
Through her church she is involved in a variety of missionary efforts. For instance, every February, members of her church spend two weeks in Haiti, building houses, distributing clothes and food to the poor. Galarza participates in the effort when she can while trying not to miss too much work. Her church is also very active in the Waterbury community and is planning to establish a new school in the city.
“We are doing a lot of good work,” she says.
As for the future, Galarza has no plans to change a thing. She plans to keep singing, composing and performing. She also intends to keep driving for All-Star Transportation.
“I love my job,” she says. “I might take time off from time to time, but it’s not my plan to leave.”