It's been a week since the Philippine Madrigal Singers charmed Dumaguete with their two concerts, one at the Sofia Soller Sinco Hall in Foundation University and the other at the Luce Auditorium in Silliman. Yet it is only now that I'm writing about it because I've found it difficult to enthuse about marvelous music in one paragraph and then in the next breath lament about a tragedy that befell a family that has become quite close to us of late. This sad story is not mine to tell, suffice it to say that it involved the unexpected and horrible demise of a loved one that has left a deep, deep abyss of anger and confusion in those left behind. And so it was with that frame of mind and spirit that I watched the Madrigal's concert, knowing that I would not be lingering after the show to celebrate with the audience and the performers, because I had a wake to go to, to see the face of a young child who had just learned that his parent would be coming home in "a box with a lock."
It was my first time to watch the Philippine Madrigal Singers, a.k.a. the Madz, so everything was new and a surprise to me. The first surprise was their signature semi-circular formation. I thought singers had to be standing upright for best vocal aerodynamics but the Madz defied that and were seated for most of the two-hour concert. The next surprise was their choirmaster, Mark Anthony Carpio, who was seated with them giving signals with his eyes, head and body instead of with the usual elaborate hand gestures that I have come to associate with choir conductors. I was very impressed with the finesse and uniqueness of their communication. Instead of gesticulating with his hands in the air, Carpio gave eyebrow raises and subtle tilts of his head, shoulders and torso to bring the different voices to crescendo and decrescendo, with his hands staying flat on his lap most of the time. Such control and connection!
That the Madrigal Singers were good singers was not a surprise, it was a well founded expectation and I was not disappointed. In fact, judging by the standing ovation at the end of the concert, nobody was disappointed. At all. What surprised me was the age of the singers. They were all adults, most probably with all the attendant responsibilities of day jobs and families. Yet the quality of their impassioned performance displayed the just rewards of daily practice. I don't think anyone, even the very talented ones, could perform as well without the benefit of rigorous rehearsals.
My friend, Crystal, herself a voice major and currently taking up masteral studies in choir conducting, said, "Ate, listen to their voices. Buong-buo. Very solid na because they are all adults." I wanted to ask Crystal why did we not have a similar choir here in Dumaguete, surely we don't have a dearth of talents here. Then I remembered that we do have. Two in fact. There's Faith Unlimited with Ms. Gina Raakin as director and there's Ating Pamana with choir director Dr. Susan Vista-Suarez. Although these two groups, perhaps, still have some ways to go before they can reach the level of discipline and dedication of the Madz.
Another thing that surprised me about the Madz' performance was the sparsity of movement. I'm a theater aficionado and I've always thought that drama on stage needs big, exaggerated movements, as opposed to film where movements are more subtle and natural. It was a delight to have that preconception debunked and replaced with the realization that drama can be achieved even without big stage movements. In this case it was the exquisite blending of powerful voices that brought all the elegant drama that was needed.
The first part of the programme featured international classics like the William Tell Overture, It was a lover and his lass by Shakespeare, Eres Tu and Loch Lomond. The second part almost brought the audience to our feet, and my heart did swell, I think Filipino music is just so beautiful. Included in their repertoir were Salidumay, Kataka-taka, Dandansoy (this Visayan lullaby reminded me of childhood again), and Yoyoy Villame's Buchiki was one of the songs they did for the encore. At one point, Choirmaster Mark Anthony Carpio directed the audience as we sang along with excerpts from Abba's Mamma Mia numbers.
As they say, time flies when you're having fun. It didn't seem like two hours had passed and nobody wanted to budge from Luce Auditorium for the longest time after the show, hoping perhaps for some more songs. There was a lot of handshaking and picture taking in the Luce lobby and there were dining tables set up so there must have been some eating and more fellowship that followed. It was a gala show, after all. As for me, I had to leave and attend to more somber matters. When the Madz return to Dumaguete, in the near future hopefully, I am watching again and dragging everyone else along because I have most definitely become a fan.