Sunday, August 10, 2008

A time for Bikol music






TWO WEEKS ago, I flew back to Naga for a musical presentation entitled HimIg (Himig Ignacio) featuring the Ateneo de Naga University Choir (UC) which was in time for the celebration of the feast day of St. Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Jesuit order. The performance, which choirmaster Joseph Reburiano asked me to conceptualize into a prayer-concert, lasted for about two hours. The choir performed twenty-three songs, mostly—and expectedly—were Jesuit liturgical hymns portraying the spirituality of the Jesuit founder.


The Ateneo de Naga University Choir sang prayers in HimIg (Himig Ignacio) last July 30, 2008.

I write this with an objective proposition and strong belief that UC is perhaps Bikol’s best choir today. And yet it still remains hidden and underrated; having not entered any competition and not much gaining popularity even in Naga. I have been with the UC since the year 2000, still in its Music Ministry years; since then, I have been a witness to how this choir developed in its musical craft, which were mainly due to its choirmaster’s formal studies in choral conducting at the University of the Philippines. Through the years, I admit I have developed this kind of hardness on choral performances; my body reacts when a choir screams out a piece or when it goes out of the parlance. I would narrate jargons if I continue with this. Nevertheless, I am impressed when a choir delivers a piece, from the lowest to the highest notes, with a zephyr-like ease and fluidity. Sadly, most choirs in Bikol, or perhaps those that I have heard before, are still in their screaming days.


Choirmaster Joseph Reburiano played the piano while Donna Dychinco provided thicker texture with her cello performance.

After the UC’s latest concert, I concluded that finally this choir has somehow reached a level of maturity in its musical skills. I was moved by their rendition of Lucio San Pedro’s “Isang Pagkain, Isang Katawan, Isang Bayan,” Manoling Francisco’s “Ama Namin” and “Daan ng Bayan,” and Paulo Tirol’s “Aba, Ginoong Maria.” Showcased also in the concert was the magnificent quartet composed of Donna Dychinco (cello), Joseph Reburiano (piano), James Reburiano (flute), and Jaymie Rebustillo (violin). The quartet produced for the evening a kind of sublimity in Fruto Ramirez’s music for Francisco Soc Rodrigo’s translation of “Panalanging Maging Bukaspalad.” The deep husky voice of bass Erdie Arriola was just perfect for the song. Similarly, Francisco’s “Your Heart Today,” which was based on one of Ninoy Aquino’s letter to Cory while he was in prison, left the audience touched with the sweet and soothing rendition by the guest performer and Joseph’s niece, Maria Fe Caña, accompanied too by the quartet. Jesuit scholastic Nono Ordoñez also performed in the concert; I also sang three songs including my personal favorite, Francisco’s “Take and Recieve,” which is a translation of St. Ignatius’ oblatory prayer Sume et Suscipe.


Ever-enthused, violinist Jaymie Rebustillo adds color to the music.

In several occasions, I have heard Joseph’s politics in running the choir: he wants the choir to sing the madrigal way. This is not to get us confused with the world-renowned Philippine Madrigal Singers. Madrigal singing is characterized by an obvious ease and serenity in performing music despite arrangements of high-degree difficulty. I personally believe that throughout the ages, it has become a kind of philosophy. It is now a way of living out music, seeking for more ways to make the act of singing new. If this is the choir’s school of music, then we can expect much from them.


James Reburiano played the flute. Scholastic Nono Ordoñez SJ (seated) also performed a number of songs.

Personally, what the choir lacks which I have been trying to fill in by proposing to them over and over again—sometimes with a trembling heart—is a preferential focus on Bikol music. Latest exchanges are hopeful though. I insist on this because nobody can do it but a Bikol choir. This is also a challenge to all other Bikol choirs, that vis-à-vis development in the craft of singing, Bikol music also needs to be given attention. We have been in drought of authentic Bikol music, not even in the popular scene, except of course for some pop bands whose longing is to perform their genre in the local language. Further, we are also in drought of researches and studies in this area of art.

Imagine a concert of a repertoir entirely in the Bikol languages. There is the possibility of reviving the ancient folk songs of Bikol, then we can also initiate changes and innovations in terms of musicality. Imagine “Ano Daw Idtong sa Gogon?” sang the madrigal way. Imagine an avant garde choral piece on eating sili or an erupting Mayon volcano.

The thing is: we have much more than “Sarong Banggi” and those Bikol songs in habanera tradition, which is actually not natively ours. And with the emergence of more cultured developments in Bikol music, a vast new arena is offered to us, and this is a challenge to all of us. It is just a matter of passion.

Photographs by Kenneth Pornillos.

5 saw it:

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