The musical ties that bind

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Professor Leonor Briones, Manila Concert Choir president and Siliman University Board of Trustees chairperson

Professor Leonor Briones, Manila Concert Choir president and Siliman University Board of Trustees chairperson

Manila Concert Choir stages anniversary show and Bonifacio tribute at Siliman University
To commemorate the 150th birth anniversary of national hero Andres Bonifacio, the Manila Concert Choir is set to stage an original production at the country’s oldest university, the Siliman University (SU) in Dumaguete City, Negros Oriental.

To be held at the Luce Auditorium on November 22, the concert will also mark the MCC’s 62nd anniversary, making the choice of venue significant, since the chorale has kept a very close relationship with the university since it was founded in 1951.

Entitled Sabihin Mong Ikaw Ay Pilipino, the show is aptly comprised of an all-Filipino repertoire. At its helm is Professor Leonor Magtolis Briones, MCC president and SU Board of Trustees chairperson, who is also best known for her post as National Treasurer of the Philippines from 1998 to 2001.

Briones, former National Treasurer of the Philippines, still actively sings as First Soprano of the choral group

Briones, former National Treasurer of the Philippines, still actively sings as First Soprano of the choral group

In an exclusive interview with The Manila Times, Briones shared the story behind the staging of this momentous concert by the MCC.


“Choirs in general usually feature European and American classics in concert. They would sings spirituals, [pieces]from Broadway, and then a few Filipino classics and popular hits. That’s the standard for choirs all the time, even for the MCC,” Briones began.

However, in 2012, the group decided to perform an all-Filipino concert at Cole-gio de San Juan de Letran and was overwhelmed by the public’s response.

“The audience was very enthusiastic, with some even crying at memorable Filipino songs, or even pieces they’ve only heard from the first time. We had to do numerous repeats for that concert, which is why for our 62nd anniversary, which coincides with the 150th birth anniversary of Andres Bonifacio, it was only fitting that we go all-Filipino again.”

The Manila Concert Choir’s upcoming anniversary show and tribute to Andres Bonifacio, Sabihin Mong Ikaw Ay Pilipino, will go onstage at Siliman University’s Luce Auditorium

The Manila Concert Choir’s upcoming anniversary show and tribute to Andres Bonifacio, Sabihin Mong Ikaw Ay Pilipino, will go onstage at Siliman University’s Luce Auditorium

Segments of nationalism
In the lead up to the sesquicentennial year of Andres Bonifacio Day on November 30, many cultural and artistic groups have held different events and productions to honor the Philippines’ beloved icon of revolution. And the MCC, with Sabihin Mong Ikaw Ay Pilipino, will not be left behind in paying tribute to Bonifacio whose love for country is legendary.

To begin with, the MCC has chosen to reprise songs from a famous Andres Bonifacio musical of the 1980s.

“Andres Bonifacio by Jerry Dadap in the 1980s is perhaps the most beautiful musical about the national hero,” related Briones. “We are singing four songs from the production, the most notable of which are ‘Kayumangging Malaya’ for the opening, to be followed by ‘Damgo Man Lang’ (Only In My Dreams), a Visayan song composed by Eutaquio Solis. Both songs are part of the concert’s first segment, which we have titled, ‘Revolutionary’.”

MCC-Poster20131121The second segment, meanwhile, will feature a medley of ethnic and folk songs, which the MCC will be performing for the very first time.

“The ethnic songs in our line-up are ‘Iddem-dem Mallida,’ an Itneg war chant; ‘Kayu Mungay Daun,’ a B’Laan song; and then Mamayug Akun, from the Maranaos. That makes up two songs from the South and one from the North,” continued Briones.

She added that the more difficult pieces are the folk songs, namely “Two Ilocano Folk Songs” by Fabian Opisbo and MCC’s Agape Manigsaca-Labuntog’s modern arrangement of “Sa Daplin sa Baybayon.”

She explained, “[When] we had to learn the Andres Bonifacio songs, it was quite easy, and it took us just one week. This is because the melody is very familiar and Filipino. On the other hand, the ethnic and folk songs are very rhythmic and we had to learn the meaning of the words in order to sing them properly. And that was the hardest part.”

“Ethnic songs in modern compositions tend to be standard fare for musical competitions. Kapag nakakanta ka ng [if you can sing]ethnic songs beautifully, talagang you’re already at the top,” the MCC leader who is also First Soprano, further related.

The final part of the concert is “Popular,” and is comprised of Filipino hits, whose grand finale is the powerful Ryan Cayabyab composition, “Sabihin Mong Ikaw ay Pilipino.”

“Whenever we sing this, naninindig ang balahibo ng mga tao [people get goose bumps]. The words tell that you have to be proud of our country; that we have to be united. It becomes very moving because our soloists are also very powerful singers, Pastor Don Espina and Paul Torres,” Briones indicated.

To enliven the show even more, the MCC will incorporate theatrical aspects to the production, including dance and drama, which are all first time approaches by the group.

Briones explained, “We thought that we should act out the songs as a way of moving forward because the usual format we have is just to stand and sing. It will certainly make for a more entertaining performance.”

The concert will be conducted by Dr. Romulo Pizaña and accompanied by Agape Manigsaca-Labuntog and Mark Oliver Olivares.

Bound by musical love
The connection between MCC and SU goes beyond Briones, who currently holds executive positions for both organizations. As earlier noted, the very close ties between these two institutions began from the very start of the MMC.

According to Briones, Siliman University has always had a very strong musical tradition that many students often join church choirs. Briones, who completed her degree in Business Administration from the university was one such student.

She recounted, “When I first came here [to Manila]as a Siliman graduate, my first thought was to join a choir. So I became part of the choir of Ellinwood Church. Meanwhile, membership to the Manila Concert Choir is by invitation only. Fortunately, the original founder of the MCC [the late Dr. Lois Florendo Bello]was also the conductor of the Ellinwood Choir so I got my invitation.”

At the age of 21, Briones was accepted to the MCC as a Second Alto, the lowest range for female singers, and was later trained to sing the highest range of First Soprano. By 1998, she was appointed as MCC president, and now, at 73 years old, Briones is both active in singing and leading the MCC.

Through the years, aside from Briones, the MCC has welcomed more and more Silimanians. Among the current SU alumni members are Agape Manigsaca-Labuntog, a celebrated pianists who finished Music; and tenor Boyet Dipaling, who completed Business Administration.

For Briones, the interest of Silimanians in the MCC is “natural” because the university itself is very musically inclined.

“The Siliman University is very well-known for its cultural tradition which includes choral music. So it’s only natural that a good number of our members are from Siliman, like me,” she said. “Interestingly as well, if a member is not an alumnus, you can be sure that member has a family member from Siliman— parents, children or grandchildren. In our family, we now have fourth generation Silimanians completing their degrees.”

The MCC members who are in one way or another connected to the university include conductor Dr. Romulo Pizaña, whose father is a Siliman alumnus; soprano Shirley Nerecina whose three daughters all studied there; alto Phoebe Ruth Cabrera whose so is also a Silimanian; married couple Segundo Espina and Annie May Espina, powerful singers and soloists, have several relatives who studied in SU; and newest soprano Mariane Jane Raterta, whose sisters and mother are also Silimanians.

“Our love for music is what binds the Manila Concert Choir and Siliman University,” Briones concluded.

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