Jul 23, 2008

Tales from a concert tour

Taken from Inquirer.net

By Bianca Consunji
Philippine Daily Inquirer

Last updated 18:07:00 07/18/2008

MANILA, Philippines—It’s rehearsal time for the UP Concert Chorus, and the members are deeply engrossed in their song sheets. The group has an upcoming concert this August, and every phrase in the piece they’re studying—“All I Ask of You” from “The Phantom of the Opera"—is repeated tediously, with each note pounded out in resounding echoes from a grand piano. Around the room, the members hold pencils aloft, prepared to take note of difficult scales.

You’d think that the choir, fresh from a European tour last summer, doesn’t need to practice as much as it does. But its almost obsessive attention to detail is what distinguishes the group from the rest.

The Concert Chorus—UPCC or Korus for short—is the official choir of the University of the Philippines and one of the country’s most prolific singing groups.

While the Korus is a familiar fixture on the UP Diliman campus, where it performs in most of the university’s major events, it also has quite a following abroad, especially in the US and Europe. The choir just got back from a month-long summer tour of Switzerland, Italy and Slovenia—a regular feat for the Korus. But don’t think they take the tours for granted.

Like celebrities

“There are some things that we’ll never get used to,” said Raymund Madali, a tenor who has been with the Korus since 2005. “Like seeing ourselves on billboards and buses when we’re abroad. And the appreciation foreign audiences have for music is really different. People come up to us after the show and ask us to sign programs. We felt like celebrities!”

Madali added, “No matter how urbanized we were in Manila, we always found something to surprise us while abroad. Going on tour is different from going on a conventional vacation, because we usually have to stay in one place longer.”

“We end up absorbing the people’s culture and values—or lack thereof,” joked EJ Pepito, a European Language major.

Nina Rumbines, also a European Language major, said that the tour “forced us to be able to learn how to communicate across borders. At first, we had to mime everything to be able to get a message across, but give us a couple of weeks in one place, and we’ll be able to buy bread on our own.”

Not that bread is the only thing they eat. “I gained so much weight on the last tour,” groaned Pepito. “Unfortunately, if you don’t gain weight, it means that you didn’t enjoy. Our hosts go out of their way to feed us with all sorts of regional specialties, and of course, we don’t want to offend anyone by not eating what they give us.”

Of course, no international tour is without its share of intrigue—since the members are constantly around each other for months on end, petty fights and budding relationships are bound to happen. “Romance has a tendency to develop on tour,” Madali admitted. “Either you meet foreigners you fall in love with, or you notice that you get closer to one of your friends in the group.”

“And sometimes, when you get home, you realize that the relationship was merely an illusion while on tour,” said Thadz Tomalon from the Bass section.


There are also petty squabbles. “Ma’am Jai [Aracama, the conductor of the Concert Chorus] said that familiarity breeds contempt, so it was easy to get upset over the smallest things,” said Pepito. “Some people returned from previous tours not wanting to see each other again, but they got over that.”

Petty squabbles and failed relationships aside, the other things that happen on tour make for pretty wonderful experiences—newsworthy, even. Just ask Monique Leonardo, a 24-year-old soprano who landed on the pages of several Italian newspapers when her boyfriend flew all the way to Casarsa to propose to her during rehearsals.

“Rusky went all the way to Italy to surprise me and ask me to be his wife,” Leonardo recounted. “He wrote down the question in a red paper heart and inserted it inside a stuffed bear that he gave me six years ago on my 18th birthday.”

The engagement might have been one of the more unusual events on the tour, but it didn’t make the more mundane ones any less special. “The best memories I have on tour are actually the times when we just hang out during long bus rides in between countries,” said Ging Millena, president of the Korus and a veteran of four international tours. “When we’re bored, we share food and invent stories that we all take turns in telling. The company is what makes the trips so exciting.”

Millena said, “Sure, the hectic schedule may be exhausting, but being with the Korus made me realize what I really want—to pursue the arts. Going on tour with the Korus was one of the best things I’ve ever done for myself.”

UPCC will be staging its next concert, “UPBeat,” on Aug. 29. For ticket inquiries or bookings, contact 0917-7911481 or 0915-4288036

E-mail the author at biancaconsunji@yahoo.com

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