With passion and pride, the Manila Concert Choir (MCC) staged Sabihin Mo Ikaw ay Pilipino concert to celebrate its 62 years of choral singing, as well as to commemorate 150 years of the revolutionary Andres Bonifacio. The outstanding musical event was held on November 23 at the Claire Isabel McGill Luce Auditorium in Silliman University (SU), Dumaguete City, in Negros Oriental.
In a one-night-only concert at the “City of Gentle People,” the 28-member community choir performed a collection of Filipino songs from different eras, dialects, events and inspirations of daily life that tell the culturally modest story of the Filipino people.
The MCC worked diligently for the past three months to come up with a repertoire that traces the evolution of Philippine music, and at the same time, captures the nation’s cultural identity.
Spearheaded by no less than former National Treasurer of the Philippines, MCC president, and SU Board of Trustees Chairman, Professor Emeritus Leonor “Liling” Magtolis-Briones, the accomplished—and musically talented lady—thought of staging a nationalistic concert.
“It was after one of our rehearsals about three months ago that Professor Briones said we should think of a concept for our 62nd anniversary. And since Bonifacio is celebrating 150 years, we thought of doing a Bonifacio musical that is significant at this time,” shared Dr. Romulo Pizaña, MCC’s current conductor who earned his PhD in Mathematics at the University of the Philippines (UP).
The concert was strategically divided into revolutionary, ethnic, folk, and popular songs. As the concert’s program booklet stated, the MCC performance expressed “[from]crucial moments in history, [to]the simplicity of provincial love.”
“We have sung our memories, our experiences and our aspirations, at those moments too poignant that words do not suffice,” the write-up continued.
And it is through the choir members’ God-given talent of voice and music that they were able to convey those moments of instability, nationalism, love, and the simple joys of play that is ever-present in the human experience.
The Luce Auditorium was packed with students, faculty and local music and arts enthusiasts all eager to watch the all-Filipino repertoire of Sabihin Mo Ikaw ay Pilipino.
The 8 p.m. gala started off with “Revolutionary Songs,” beginning with “Kayumangging Malaya” composed in 1983 by National Artist for Music Lucio San Pedro and arranged by Amado Trivino.
What became the show’s highlight came in the next four songs composed and written by Jerry Dadap from the Andres Bonifacio musical. Although these songs spoke about freedom from oppression and colonization, the third composition titled “Ikaw Lang” spoke about love in the time of war, stirringly sung by real-life husband and wife soloists Segundo Espina (Bass) and Annie May Espina (First leading soprano).
“Sa Dalampasigan” depicted how Filipinos covertly spread news and gossip during the colonial period, right under the watch of Spanish authorities. Disguised as a happy melody, the song unexpectedly speaks of Filipinos who were killed after suspected of inciting the revolution.
The other songs adapted from the Jerry Dadap musical were “Katipunan” and “Tayo’y Magkaisa Lahat.” All powerfully sung by the MCC, the choir interpreted the music with elements of theater and drama, heightening the emotion of nationalism among the audience.
Andres Bonifacio by Jerry Dadap in the 1980s is perhaps the most beautiful musical about the national hero,” Briones said in an interview with The Manila Times in November.
The “Revolutionary Songs” ended with “Sa Mahal Kong Bayan” composed again by Lucio San Pedro, who dedicated the song to the Philippines as it spoke of adoration and devotion to the country and its people.
The second part of the concert marked the change of costumes—kamisa chino and baro’t saya—to a uniform sarong. The “Ethnic Songs” were taken from three tribes: “Kayu Mungay Daun” from the B’laan of Mindanao; “Iddem-dem Mallida” from the Itneg of the Cordilleras; and “Mamayog Akun,” a love song from the Maranao of Mindanao.
Admittedly, the MCC found it challenging to sing ethnic and folk songs, which they had to learn in such a short time. For a choir that is used to American and European classical interpretations, the group had difficulty memorizing the lyrics and familiarizing themselves with each song’s meaning.
The “Ethnic Songs” were accompanied by a single kamagong and an ethnic dance number by Mariane Jane Raterta, who is also one of the youngest second soprano of MCC.
Another break constituted yet another costume change, this time to a more formal, blue and black Maria Clara for the ladies, and a yellow Barong Tagalog for the men. These were their attires for the “Folk Songs” and “Popular Songs” segments of the concert.
Two Ilocano folk songs came to life, “Ti Ayat Ti Maysa nga Ubig” and “Pong Pong Guinapong,” which were fun and upbeat, depicting a simple time and place.
Chosen to complete the set were “Sa Daplin Sa Baybayon,” “Laylay Agolaylay,” and the less popular “Lulay.”
The last part of the concert comprised of songs written or arranged in the late 1980s, the most notable of which was “Tirindingding” by Eliseo Pajaro; and “Damgo Man Lang” (winner of the grand prize at the 3rd Cebu Popular Music Festival in 1983). The latter was accompanied with a performance of the SU Dance Troupe, depicting the story of an American who wanted to be a priest but later fell in love.
At the end of the program, “Kahapon, Bukas, Ngayon” integrated four songs, namely “Lupa” and “May Bukas Pa” by Charo Unite and Ernie dela Pena; “Magsimula Ka” by Gines Tan; and “Ngayon” by George Canseco.
The two-hour show was supposed to end with the performance of “Sabihin Mo Ikaw ay Pilipino” by Ryan Cayabyab, but instead, the MCC decided to include the audience in their last performance of “Bayan Ko.” The entire auditorium stood up and proudly sang the song of freedom.
A common bond
Despite originally coming together to sing songs of praise, the diversity of the MCC group is apparent, with members from different professions and backgrounds, whose ages range from 17 to 70 years old.
Husband and wife Segundo and Annie May Espina who sang the stirring duet, for example, is a pastor and a school administrator, respectively. They were both members of Jerry Dadap’s Bonifacio Choir, while Segundo is also a choir director in his own right.
The MCC lead pianist, Agape Manigsaca-Labuntog, finished her Bachelor’s Degree in
Music, Major in Piano in SU, then later took her Masters at UP Diliman’s College of Music.
She has performed with various groups in the Philippines, Thailand and Canada, and currently music director at Pilgrim Christian College in Cagayan de Oro City. She is accompanied by her schoolmate, Mark Oliver Abaloyan Olivares, also a Piano Major.
Soloist Phoebe Cabrera, who also serves as treasurer of MCC, is an alto who works at an insurance company. Another soloist, Aljerico Alcala, is a geodetic engineer by profession and regional adviser in various local governments. His projects include geophysical mapping in provinces around the Philippines used for regional and local planning.
MCC’s communications officer, Hope Abella, an alto, is a teacher at De La Salle University and also the Gender Officer of Social Watch Philippines.
Lilibeth Salcedo, second soprano, is a business executive in a house ware department store. Lolali Cabrera, on the other hand, an alto, is a businesswoman who manages a jewellery and accessories boutique.
Also in alto, Jemimah Poculan professionally works as an English language tutor for Japanese students. First tenor Renato Leyva, meanwhile, who is married to soprano Eunumia Leyva, and is a painter by profession.
Another young MCC member, Erick Crisologo is a second tenor, and currently finishing his degree in BS Tourism in UP Diliman. He is also a researcher and writer for Social Watch Philippines.
“We are bound by two things: Food and music!” Pastor Segundo Espina quipped, while indulging in a feast prepared by Professor Briones right after the Sunday morning mass on November 24 at the SU Church. It was a Thanksgiving Sunday, and the MCC once again showcased their talents in the presence of God and the local community.
“We want to raise awareness that Filipinos should be in the service of God and of the country. We are all beautiful and part of God’s creation, and in this time, there is a deterioration of cultural values,” Espina said.
Ongtangco similarly believes that the MCC is a group united by God “to send a message to the people to love their country. We want to honor the Giver; to change the mindset of Filipinos that tribal folks are looked down on, which shouldn’t be the case because we are all created by one God equally.”
He added that the MCC does not join any competitions because their music is for “God and the people,” and they don’t want to be driven by fame and popularity.
SU President Ben Sobong Malayang 3rd lauded the MCC for their performance, and proudly cited that most of the choir’s members share a deep bond with the university.
“Through events such as the MCC concert, students are able to acquire a higher sense of appreciation in arts and music,” Malalang said.
“Music in SU is part of the curriculum—it is part of our cultural arts program which is well-funded and focused in the university. In our budgetary items, included is the invitation of at least 10 groups to come to Silliman to perform so that students can have a ‘total person education.’ The MCC is our regular guest here because they are proof of what Silliman education is all about,” he concluded.
With love for God, country and music, the Manila Concert Choir continues to sing praises and hope since it was founded in 1951 by Dr. Lois Florendo Bello. The MCC continues to give performances for audiences from the urban and rural poor, to church members, and to high officials in the country.