Not everyone can say they’ve represented the country in an international competition and won. Fortunately for me, I had this experience last month as member of a choir. When you see your country’s flag hoisted as your national anthem plays throughout the stadium, it’s hard not to be emotional.
I joined the Ateneo Chamber Singers (ACS) in 2008. The last time the group competed and won was in 2006. When our conductor Jonathan Velasco brought up the idea of competing again, like most of us in the choir, I was a bit apprehensive about it. Aside from traveling costs, it would mean hard work, pressure and stress. When you join a contest, you’re in it to win it. What if you don’t win? In a country where it seems almost every choir that competes abroad brings some award home, there is that pressure to not return empty-handed.
In spite of my apprehensions for ACS, ultimately it was easy for me to go along with the idea. The selfish part of me started thinking only of myself, of my personal reputation. I had nothing to lose. This would have no bearing on my career. I would sing my best and if it wasn’t good enough, so what? I’d get to travel with friends and have a good time. It wasn’t going to be my name out there but the choir’s. And that of our conductor.
I felt more nervous for Jojo. He’s known to many as the President of the Philippine Choral Directors Association (PCDA). He’s an expert in the field of choral music, he gets invited to judge in the most prestigious international choral contests, gives workshops on conducting and choral music all over the world. He’s one person who could very well just rest on his laurels. Instead, he’d be putting himself in a position where his colleagues and people he’s lectured to can say, “okay, let’s see you walk your talk. Let’s see what you can make YOUR choir do.”
It’s either this reputation thing meant nothing to him, or he was that confident about our choir’s abilities. Through most of our rehearsals though, it was hard to believe the latter, because he was critical about everything – our diction, intonation, harmony and so on – as of course, he had to be.
We had a running joke in the months leading up to our tour. He told us a story of a choir that competed and everything seemed okay until the last part of the song where they messed up, and one of the judges gave them a score of 50/100. From then on, every time he didn’t like how we sounded, he’d tell us “hay naku, cinquanta, cinquanta!” And when things got really bad, he’d “give” us a score of 40. We’d all just laugh about it, but sometimes we also felt we were still so far off the mark we were aiming for.
Although he’d rarely show he was very pleased with our sound, Jojo wasn’t panicking over our progress either, so we wondered what was really going through his mind about us. Several days before our departure, we asked him how he felt. Was he nervous about the competitions? Any message for us as we prepared for the trip?
What he said came as a heartwarming surprise, and probably the best thing I’ve ever heard him say to us. He said that what he felt was excitement. He was excited to let the European audience hear us because he has been bragging to them about us for a long time, and finally we were going on this trip. He was rounding up his friends in Europe, telling them to make sure to catch our performances.
I teared up. And I’m sure I wasn’t the only one who did. It was like you have this very strict parent whose approval you so badly sought, and you find out he’s been proud of you all along. I guess it didn’t matter much to him whether we won in the competitions or not. He believed in us more than we did ourselves, and wanted to share what we could do with the rest of the world. Winning would be a bonus.
I, on the other hand, wanted for us to win. I wanted it more than I dared to admit to myself for fear of disappointment. I’m not sure how my other choir mates felt. There would be prayers during rehearsals where some of us would say, “Lord, we want to glorify You through this competition.” I’d always have a hard time meaning those words because my idea of glorifying God was through other means that didn’t involve my own selfish desire to achieve something.
But was I really being selfish if this wasn’t something I was doing for personal glory? What was I doing this for?
A bit of introspection led me to, perhaps quite disappointingly, not a very profound reason but at least I knew it wasn’t selfish either: I wanted our choir to win for Jojo to earn the recognition I thought he deserved. I wanted victory for him.
And hey, it wasn’t a bad thing to want. After all, there was a bit of glorifying God in it, too, because I know Jojo to be a spiritual person, one who gives of his time to his parish church even if it means having to wake up very early to accompany the choir in a simbanggabi mass. Someone told me he’s also very devoted to Mama Mary.
So secretly, that was my prayer. “God, I want the ACS to win for Jojo,” I said. “He believes in You, he makes time to serve You. He’s shared his talent and knowledge with us and with the rest of the world. It would make me very happy for Jojo to win.”
In Latvia, when our choir was declared Category Champion for Musica Sacra and we all ran to the stage jumping, screaming, hugging one another, I caught a glimpse of Jojo on the wide screen, and saw him crying as he was being handed our trophy and gold medal. It was like God had tapped me on the shoulder to look up, and His voice could not be any clearer. An answered prayer, without a doubt. That’s when I lost it and started crying, too.
We also won in Spain. No "ugly cry" on Jojo’s part this time. He stood among the conductors of other winning choirs, smiling as he held the biggest trophy. Standing alongside my choir mates in the audience section, I beamed with pride for him.
Our tour ended with a stop in Puig Reig, a little town in Catalonia that Jojo first visited as a member of Saringhimig Singers. He was just a teenage chorister back then. This time, he was returning as a conductor, bringing with him his own choir to meet the same people who had hosted his stay 35 years ago. He came full circle.
The competition victories were just the icing on the cake. One of our basses, Pastor Rainier, led us a number of times in prayer saying we looked forward to the ways in which God would reveal Himself to us through this tour. And He most certainly has, for the tour and all the preparations for it has fed our souls in so many ways. A month after we've come home, our hearts are still overflowing.
One of the ways we are hoping to give back is through our Thanksgiving Concert this Saturday, August 30 at the Ateneo High School Chapel. The concert is for free. We really hope a lot of people make it and share in our joy.
I'm so glad Jojo convinced us all to do this. What a ride it has been. For him and for all of us. Thank you, Sir Jojo, for taking us on this journey with you.
Even before the show started, I already knew she had lost her voice earlier today. Got the news from one of my friends also performing in the show asking for prayers for her, plus I ran into my choirmate Melf, who was Reg's doctor. Apparently things were pretty bad. They seriously considered calling off the show in the morning, but decided otherwise as Regine got her voice back - or at least some of it - later in the day. With some medication, she still managed to perform and give her all.
She opened the show with an uptempo version of my song "Shine" - which, oo nga naman, was the perfect opener for a show called "Silver" - and she still managed to sing and hit the high notes, but the audience could immediately tell something was wrong. After that, her opening spiel was an unscripted and sincere one expressing frustration that of all days for her to get sick, it had to be today. She promised to still do her best, and she most certainly did.
I was moved to tears when, during one of her first few numbers (I think it was "Dadalhin"), she remained quiet during the song's chorus, and you could hear the audience singing as if to reassure Regine of their presence, or to encourage her to sing back, or to sing in her place and sort of say "don't worry Reg, we got this for you."
And when Regine spoke, in tears, about how her audience deserved so much more than she could give, you would hear people randomly shouting back at her "Okay lang 'yan!" or "Kaya mo 'yan!" It was heartwarming, to say the least.
With that kind of appreciation from her fans, it wasn't hard to understand Regine's frustration over losing her voice. She said she had worked so hard for months to get back in shape because she wanted to be perfect for everyone. She really wanted to give her audience the best, and even though she did actually manage to sing (and actually sing pretty well and manage to belt out some high notes - just not as well as she usually does) for Regine, her current state was just not acceptable.
And so she made a spur-of-the-moment promise (which must have made the show's producers nervous) to do the concert again for free when she got better. Later on, to show it wasn't all lip service, she told the audience to keep their tickets so they could see the repeat for free. She was absolutely serious about giving her audience the perfect show. And of course, the audience was absolutely thrilled over this bit of news.
So beyond celebrating 25 years of Regine's commitment to her craft, the evening became a testament to an important part of her success: the unconditional love of her fans. In my opinion, it unexpectedly made this anniversary concert perfect. After all, where would any artist be without their fans?
Vice Ganda, whom Regine called onstage for some impromptu entertainment, said it best and spoke for everyone there: "Hindi mo na kailangang bumirit at patunayan sa amin na magaling ka. Alam na alam na namin 'yun. Andito kami kasi gusto ka naming makasama ulit."
So much love in that arena tonight. I'm glad I was there to see it.
I think I'm beginning to understand foreigners who think we tend to go overboard with the "proud to be Pinoy" bit.
On Facebook, there are these pages like Amazing Places and Fascinating Places that feature awesome photos taken in scenic spots all over the world. You see comments by people of various nationalities, usually expressing awe at the beauty of each place.
If you read the comments of photos taken in the Philippines - that of Mayon Volcano or of our beaches or other nature spots - you will surely come across more than one "proud to be Filipino" comment. And it seems we're the only ones who do this. There are photos taken in Las Vegas, in Montana, Indiana, several places in the US, but you never see a "proud to be American" comment anywhere. Same goes for photos from different countries. I have yet to see a "proud to be Canadian" or "proud to be Aussie" comment in these threads. (I think I'd be annoyed if every photo of the Eiffel Tower had some "proud to be French" comment.)
Is there really a need for us to declare how proud we are every chance we get? I'm sure every person in the world is proud of whichever country they come from, but it seems we have a greater need to convince others that we are no different.
I'm beginning to see this "proud to be Pinoy" phrase more as a defensive statement rather than a simple declaration of something true. It's as if not saying it meant the opposite. It's as if the whole world thought little of us and this was our way of fighting back. Maybe deep down, this is what we really believe.
And we want so badly to change what we perceive to be their image of us.
We hunger for compliments and recognition. Every bit of praise is like a major victory. We'll latch on to it and beat our chest and say "you better believe it!" instead of simply and confidently nodding in agreement. "Proud to be Pinoy" is a battle cry, something to keep our spirits up, and yes, one can say that the Filipino fighting spirit is a good thing to have. I just wish we weren't in battle mode all the time.
I would love to see the day when Pinoy triumphs all over the world are too many to count that we take them for granted, when every compliment we get for the beauty of our land is something that makes us simply smile in humble gratitude, maybe even shrug a bit because it's something we're so used to getting. I dream of the day we no longer feel the need to cry out "I'm proud to be Pinoy!" because that would merely be stating the obvious. Because we'd know deep in our hearts that the world already thought highly of us. And if they didn't... well, we couldn't care any less. Because love and pride for our country would be something each Filipino knew, not something we needed for the world to believe we had.
My name is Trina Belamide and I'm a songwriter and record producer.
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