picfest travelogue: Manila, Philippines – October 2015

Genevieve and I spent eight mid-October days in metro-Manila to visit Hail Mary the Queen Children’s Choir in their home, learn more about the supportive community that makes their organization a success, and audition other Filipino choirs for picfest.

After a travel day of 20 hours, our flight from San Francisco touched down in Manila’s Ninoy Aquino International Airport at 4:30 am. Our host Dinna Sarmiento welcomed us with hugs and cheerful smiles, despite the early hour, and got us checked into our hotel before 7 am where we were happy to freshen up, get some breakfast, enjoy a short nap, and get settled in. A few hours later, she picked us up for lunch where we met her husband Ulan and the two of them shared the story of HMQCC. They wanted to have a children’s choir in their parish and a place for their five children to sing, so sixteen years ago they hired Jude and Theresa Roldan and established what has become one of the premiere young choirs of the Philippines.

From there we were taken to ReLuxe Spa where one of the owners, an HMQCC executive committee member, gifted us with the best antidote for jet-lag: a 3-hour spa experience. Feeling refreshed and energized, we finished the itinerary of the first day as the guests of honor at a welcome dinner hosted by the executive committee.

The next five days were filled with music, friendship and adventure. The Philippine choral culture is artistically rich and vibrant. We visited several local choirs for on-site auditions and were delighted to award picfest invitations to three choirs that we hope will be able to attend in the 2017 and 2018 seasons. We also attended HMQCC rehearsals and performances, explored some of the local cuisine and historic sites and met many of the family members of the singers who had been our guests at picfest a few months earlier. In every encounter, we found the people to be gracious, grateful, generous and welcoming.

The culminating event on the schedule was the 7th annual Halina’t Umawit, a day-long festival hosted by HMQCC for which I had been asked to serve as guest conductor. However, as the week unfolded, so did Typhoon Lando. Although Manila did not get the brunt of the storm, there was enough rainfall that a level 2 alert was issued, meaning that several outlying areas were likely to have road closures, and so the festival had to be postponed until November.

Fortunately, the HMQCC singers come from the immediate area, so the logistics crew went into action, secured a space for a morning workshop and an afternoon concert for their families. Working with this choir – designated Children’s Choir of the World in 2013 by the prestigious Llangollen Eisteddfod Festival in Wales – was an honor and absolute pleasure. And the concert, under the direction of Thereza and Jude, was stunning.

After the final performance and an enthusiastic ovation, the singers and members of the audience raised their hands toward Genevieve and me while the choir sang a special blessing composed by Jude for their visit to picfest last June. It was a fitting gesture of the authentic hospitality extended to us at every turn and a celebration of what we believe will be a long and rich relationship with the choral community of the Philippines.