Friday, December 05, 2008

small voices no more

About three years ago, I attended my cousin’s wedding. My mother was one of the principal sponsors and I the regular, ever-persistent companion. Held inside a school chapel, voices filled the place that reminded me of old classical movies and an aging church for the aging devout. Typical wedding accessories, I mumbled. Come picture taking time and everything I imagined about the voices proved me wrong. Up above us, I realized that the people singing were children, not adults. I was deeply in awe. After rounds of tugging my mother’s gown, I discovered they were the Loboc Children’s Choir.

Ignored in the past in favor of its neighbors with their urban but highly embellished setting, Bohol lies at the center of the Philippines with its local colors of the past still present in every nook, cranny, and sensibility. One can see it evident in colorful parades or even its firm religious grounding that tricycles got to have a Bible verse painted on each of them. So basically, its interest for history is not depreciating.

Though the potato-shaped province is now rightfully considered one of the top tourist destinations around, there’s more to Bohol than white sand beaches with breathtaking diving sites, wide-eyed tarsiers, colonial churches, Chocolate Hills and calamay. Because twenty-four kilometers from Bohol’s capital city of Tagbilaran, is the town of Loboc that humbly awaits those who seek brilliance. What’s in it? Aside from the fact that it is a home to a generation of singers and composers, it has the Loboc Children’s Choir (LCC).

A simple school choir for town affairs and school activities, the LCC is now among the exceptional singing groups in the country. Now 28 years old since it was founded in 1980 at the Loboc Central Elementary School, the choir, composed of children aged nine to thirteen, has already established for itself a reputation that usually takes a much longer time to achieve. Well, for a town that sustains its vibrancy with rondallas, music bands, a brass symphonic ensemble, and many more choirs, it’s hard not to embrace the youth in its creative culture. Currently, the choir’s music consultant is Mrs. Enriquita Butalid while the conductor is Alma Fernando-Taldo (or better known as “Ma’am Taldo”), teaching and handling English and Character Education for fifth-grade pupils at the Loboc Central Elementary School—the school where it all began.

Glory and Fame
It’s definitely not only the childhood charm and title of being from Loboc that brought the LCC into the national and international limelight. It is, of course, the talent. Their utmost dedication to music, singing local folks songs to upbeat Filipino classics, is the driving force that has made them a three-time National Champion of the National Music Competitions for Young Artists (NAMCYA) in the Children’s Category. Being in a prestigious competition in the Philippines, the LCC has proven that they are no mere small voices after championing the years of 2001, 1995 and 1993.

Singing with and for well-known people is a common occurrence for them. In 2000, the group represented the country in the International Children's Culture and Arts Festival in Tianjin, China, and held concerts in Beijing and Hong Kong. By 2003 LCC bagged the gold medal in the 6th International Folksongs Festival in Barcelona, Spain for the Youth Category, surpassing the scores of twelve other international choirs. In the local scene, they sung in various major business establishments in Makati and Ayala Alabang with the help of Metropolitan Museum of Manila. Subsequently, this got the attention of Her Majesty Queen Sofia of Spain that they sang for her with the University of the Philippines Singing Ambassadors during a cultural exchange visit. And just recently, the choir won this year’s ALIW Best Group Concert in the Philippines.

But what is poignant is that their gift is not only shared to the affluent, the award-cognizant elites, the ones who could afford a costly ticket. Because aside from guilded concert halls and auditoriums, they sing for many people who need more love and joy through music and they are found in homes for the aged, hospitals, orphanages, and even prisons. That’s talent for a good cause.

Lasting Birthright
Even if the children right now are not the original batch that has graced the audiences back in 1980, since a child has to “graduate” when he or she reaches the age of fourteen, all of the members leave a legacy that no one could replicate except for the children who got themselves into the choir. If there’s one thing the choir would be proud of, it’s not the bright lights they are in but their passion to uphold musical artistry.

Loboc, where an almost 300-year old Church of St. Peter the Apostle looms over a serene river winding through its heart, is indeed a town as equally remarkable as the feats of the young boys and girls.

Back to my cousin’s wedding, there was no doubt I was entirely in awe. If ever I’d witness them singing again, I am sure they’d still astound me not the way they did three years ago when I discovered that they were children but because, as young as they are, they’ve brought the rich cultural heritage and talents from one of the nation’s rare treasures onto center stage. When a child’s heart sings, anyone would be humbled, especially a fellow Boholano like me.

Writer’s note: The Loboc Children’s Choir is having a concert at the Claire Isabel McGill Luce Auditorium, Silliman University on December 6, 2008 (Saturday). The matinee show starts at 3 o’clock in the afternoon while the gala starts at 8 o’clock in the evening.

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