Praise God, honor Ina, amplify Bikol music

On Ateneo Choir's 1st album

NAGA CITY—HERE is something earthly but is also ethereal. And much more, here, the two blends very well together.

On July 30, this year, the Ateneo de Naga University Choir launched its first album, Kamurawayan sa Diyos (Glory to God). The choir, probably the best in Bikol, sang in its usual flair and was accompanied by a 30-piece orchestra—a performance unprecedented in the Bicol music scene. For Joseph Reburiano, who arranged, scored, conducted and directed all the tracks in the CD, the album is a dream fulfilled. “It was a project that had been there since the university choir was established,” he added. The album was produced in time for the celebrations of the seventieth anniversary of Ateneo de Naga University and the Tercentenary of Peñafrancia Devotion.

The AdNU Choir, popularly known within the Ateneo community as UC, was established in 2001, and has since then been directly under the supervision of the university president. UC is composed of students from the different colleges of the university; they enjoy scholarship for their services rendered on and off campus. The group maintains the status of being a cultural ambassador of the university.

The UC has three objectives: first, to conduct researches on Bikol cultural and liturgical music with the goal of publishing well-arranged musical collections that may lead Bikolanos to a deeper appreciation of Bikol music and its significance to rituals, celebrations and the development of our culture; second, to enrich and deepen prayer experience and other religious activities, especially the celebrations of the Eucharist; and, third, to lead Bikolanos to a wider sound vocabulary and music-cultural perspectives towards developing a richer music culture.

To many followers, the choir has already hit these objectives when they moved their listeners with the cuts from their very first CD album. Much more were touched by the live performances during the launching concert which commenced with a fresh instrumental version of the “Himno a Nuestra Señora de Peñafrancia”, a song more popularly known in Bikol as the “Resuene Vibrante”, composed for the 1924 Canonical Coronation of Our Lady of Peñafrancia by Fr. Maximo Juguera, CM.

First in Bikol

For Reburiano, Kamurawayan sa Diyos is “the first Bikol album with musical arrangements intended for a full orchestra. The tradition in Bikol sacred music is to make arrangements as simple as possible; on the other hand, we can have it more complicated, that is, to make our music richer and our rituals more meaningful to celebrate.”

He always points to the song “Ina nin Kabikolan (Mother of Kabikolan)” as an embodiment of the colors of the Bikolano devotion to Ina—Our Lady of Peñafrancia. The song is the official hymn for the celebration of the tercentenary of Peñafrancia devotion.

“In form and content, I wanted to capture how we, Bikolanos, revere Ina. I wanted to set into music how we wave our handkerchiefs as Ina passes us by. I wanted to translate into a song how voyadores would struggle to make their way to Ina’s andas; how the boatmen would row their boat in gentle unison. I want to make music out of these images, and “Ina nin Kabikolan” succeeded in embodying them, and I believe, we very seldom do that,” Reburiano shared.

Donnel Ramirez, the soloist whose voice gives a rather silvery character to “Ina nin Kabikolan”, says of the song, “It was as if [my voice] was used to unify all Bikolanos and all devotees of Ina wherever they may be. There lies the fulfillment of having sung the tercentenary hymn. Something deep within stirs me too, and then I would just find myself singing it to Ina the way any child would sing to his or her own mother.”

Similarly, the launching concert was widely lauded, not just for the sweet and carefully restrained performance of the UC, but also for the presence of an orchestra, which is a very rare sight in the Bikol music milieu. It is more interesting to note that all performers, save four guest instrumentalists, were Bikolano artists hand-picked by Reburiano.

For this, Reburiano was pensive as he told Vox Bikol: “it was amazing to realize that we can in fact form a local orchestra here in Naga, an orchestra that will have regular seasons and performances, focused on uplifting the quality of our music, all for the development of our local culture.”

New and Revisited Songs

The preparation of Kamurawayan sa Diyos, according to Reburiano, involved months of arranging and scoring. The produce: a sixteen-track record of new and and revisited Bikol sacred songs penciled for chorus and orchestra in the contemporary musical idiom.

The first two tracks are instrumental renditions of “Himno a Nuestra Señora de Peñafrancia” and “Ina nin Kabikolan”—both in a boatman’s gentle but firm cadence. Then follows Julito Regalario’s “Tara, Kagurangnan Maria (Hail Mary)” in which the UC’s mellifluous singing comes with an orchestral caress that gives the song a real Filipino texture.

Classic Bikol sacred song “Namomotan Taka, O Kagurangnan” by noted composer Fr. Lorenzo Juan Jarcia III is featured in a surprisingly never-been-heard manner so that at some point the song may turn so suddenly from dulce to allegro accompanied by an exciting run of the violin section.

Reburiano’s collection of his own version of responses for celebration of the Catholic Mass follows with “Kagurangnan, Kaheraki Kami (Lord, Have Mercy)”, “Kamurawayan sa Diyos (Glory to God)”, “Banal (Holy)”, “Ama Niamo (Our Father)”, and “Kordero kan Diyos (Lamb of God)”. The new versions were composed in response to the changes in text of the Mass in the vernacular. “Kagurangnan, Kaheraki Kami” is the only a cappella cut in the album, but it presents an intense version of the Kyrie. “Banal” is slow yet grand. “Ama Niamo” is dulcet and so is “Kordero kan Diyos”.

The title-song “Kamurawayan sa Diyos” brings new form to the Bikol sacred music. At one point, Reburiano quipped that he only used to imagine melodies like this in the Bikol context, and that the actual “Kamurawayan” is an answer to—and a fulfillment of—an old query whether the melody would fit Bikol text. “Kamurawayan” is lilting and grandiose in its peaks and runs, and is very much moving in its lows and slow downs.

Bikolano Jesuit composer Fr. Fruto Ramirez, who’s own version of “Ama Niamo” has been an anthem of the Bikol church, lends two songs: first, the popular “Hesus, Tinapay nin Buhay (Jesus, Bread of Life)”, and secondly, the classic and nostalgic Marian song “Ina”.

Restrained yet regal, “Awit ki Kristong Hade (Hymn to Christ the King)”, penned by this writer and set into song by Reburiano, is a reverential tribute to Christ the King, to whom the Ateneo University Church is dedicated.

The album ends with a full and fresh version of the “Himno a Nuestra Señora de Peñafrancia”. Probably the longest version of the song at 8 minutes 34 seconds, just like the instrumental version, UC’s “Himno” is slower than usual because, again, it takes the boatman’s tempo.

Bikolano artistry

Kamurawayan sa Diyos is a loud and lucid manifestation of Bikolano artistry. Aside from Reburiano’s musical ingenuity, the record in any way showcases the natural talents of the 21-voice UC.

The album also features voices of former members of the UC. Rhea Rodriguez sang “Hesus, Tinapay nin Buhay” while Floyd Tena gave an endearing rendition of “Ina”.

The “Himno”, in a special way, features the voices of two Bikolano professional musician-singers: tenor Conrado Ong III, who hails from Daet, sang the first strophe; while Prof. Ena Maria Aldecoa from the UP College of Music sang the third strophe.

The 30-piece orchestra for the launching concert was a gathering of Bikolano musicians coming from different music groups and institutions in Naga City.

Music and faith

In the CD inlay of the album, AdNU President and Kamurawayan executive producer, Fr. Joel Tabora, SJ, quotes the famous lines from Fr. Horacio de la Costa, SJ: “…We are a remarkably poor people; poor not only in material goods, but even in the riches of the spirit. …But poor as we are, we have something. This pauper among the nations of the earth hides two jewels in her rags. One of them is our music… [the other is] our Faith. … These are the bonds that bind us together; these are the souls that make us one.”

Fr. Tabora further shares: “Hidden in this CD are two jewels: the jewel of music coming from the Bicolano soul, … [and the] jewel of our Faith: our love for Ina, our Lady of Peñafrancia. Ina nin Kabikolan (Mother of Bicolandia), who does not tire to lead us to her Son, Hesus, Tinapay nin Buhay (Bread of Life), our Kristong Hade (Christ the King). In this CD may these two jewels bind us together, make us one, and bring glory to God!”


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