Bernardo M. Villegas
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Tale of Two Children`s Choirs

           Thanks to a Christmas gift of a musical album sent to me by my friend, Bobby de Ocampo, former Secretary of Finance and Chairman of the British Alumni Association, I became acquainted with one of the best boys’ choirs in the world today, the Libera from the United Kingdom.  It is no exaggeration to say that they are “Angels Singing” as their Valentine’s Concert last February 16, 2016 was entitled.  It was the fifth time in the last six and a half years that this boys’ choir, that reached number one in the USA Billboard charts, regaled Filipino audiences with their angelic voices.  I must confess that, like all the local audiences who were fortunate to listen to their concerts, I was so impressed with their rendition of BAYAN KO, considered the second national hymn of the Philippines, that I have been using it in investment roadshows all over the world as a means of “infotainment.”  Like Bobby, I enjoy singing.  So I sing along with the Libera boys.  It is always a hit and the musical number never fails to elicit tears from the Filipino expats in the audiences.

          As Bobby wrote in a Message on the occasion of their most recent concert, the yearly performances of Libera have become the mainstay of the annual Philippine-UK Friendship celebrations which have expanded in duration from one week to three months.  More importantly, the proceeds from the concerts—especially from generous sponsors—have helped to contribute funds to charitable organizations who give material aid to the poor and disadvantaged children in the Philippines.  As described in a brochure that was distributed in their last concert, the boys—whose ages range from six to fourteen—have an original sound which is at once both ancient and modern.  Libera, true to its etymology in Latin which means  “Free”, crossed many musical boundaries.  With original repertoire, innovative extras and inventive arrangements the group brings an imaginative new perspective to the landscape of vocal music.  The defining inspiration for Libera sprang from the ancient music of the cathedrals and monasteries.  That is why their singing of the Latin hymns “Sanctus,” Exultate,”  “Sacris Solemnis,” and “Salve Me” reminded of the boys choir (the Tiples) at the Benedictine Monastery of Montserrat in the province of Catalunya, Spain. The boys are, however, very versatile that they can be as angelic and powerful also in singing familiar English hymns as “Amazing Grace,” “Angels We Have Heard on High,” and “Nearer My God to Thee.”  

          The love affair with Libera was a two-way one.  The boys expressed great joy to be back in the Philippines—so different from the United Kingdom, yet they felt very much at home.  They paid tribute to the extraordinary musical talents of the Filipino people for whom they were particularly honored to perform.  They expressed a special gratitude to Bobby:  “We are especially pleased to be visiting this year to coincide with a rather important birthday in the life of Roberto de Ocampo (70th), who first brought us here many years back and continues to look after us with such unstinting care and attention.”  Knowing Bobby, I think there will be many more concerts of Libera in the future, giving more Filipinos the opportunity to listen to these ordinary boys with extraordinary voices who have attracted an enthusiastic fan base in many countries all over the world.

            Indeed, Filipinos have extraordinary musical talents and that leads me to write about the Loboc Children’s Choir in Bohol.  In Tourism Stories, a publication of the Department of Tourism, assisted by the World Tourism Organization and the US Agency for International Development/Philippines, the inspiring story of music teacher Alma Fernando Taldo of Loboc, Bohol is told, together with 19 other stories of the unsung heroes of Philippine Tourism.  Alma started as an English and Character Education teacher to Grade 5 students in an elementary school in Loboc.  She took charge of the school choir that obtained national and international fame when they started winning in the National Music Competitions for Young Artists.  Her approach is simple enough:  she trains school children aged nine to thirteen years and has persevered in this task since 1980.  Her coaching style is informal:  she allows the children to warm up and enjoy their singing. Needless to say, she instills in the children the necessary discipline without which the choir would have not been one of the most outstanding children’s choirs in the country, if not in the ASEAN region.

          The Loboc Children’s Choir has participated in international competitions and musical events.  It has become one of the tourism attractions of Bohol, which is trying to recover from a powerful earthquake a few years back.  Its road to success has not been easy.  Alma recalled that during their first concert tour in the United States, they had to borrow money from their neighbors to purchase the much needed airplane tickets.  Fortunately, they had some very successful concerts that generated sufficient funds for them to repay the loans they obtained.  Another tribulation they had to suffer was the sickness of some of the children in a major competition abroad.  The sickness prevented the children from singing.

          Alma’s interest in the children goes beyond their singing years.  She made sure that as the children leave the choir, they are helped to pursue their college education.  A cooperative has been organized for this purpose.  The Loboc Children’s choir has put Bohol in the world map of tourism.  This simple music teacher exemplifies the role of ordinary citizens in the development of the tourism industry in the Philippines.  Although already retired from teaching, Alma continues to train children to sing.  Her motto is “For as long as the children sing, hope lives.”  May the example of this barrio lass be emulated in other regions of the Philippines.  Music is almost second nature to Filipinos.  There can be more children’s choirs like Loboc.  For comments, my email address is bernardo.villegas@uap.asia.