Okay, allow me to reminisce. I haven’t seen this video until today!

Four years ago, I was one of these musically gifted people who became part of this historic competition that made a mark in the history of choral music.

The Philippine Madrigal Singers won the European Grand Prix for Choral Singing in 2007. It was their second win, having won the same award in 1997. Our choirmaster, Mark Carpio, was then only a member of the group founded and first conducted by Prof. Andrea O. Veneracion. Two other members have sung for both competitions.

For those who might not know, the EGP is sort of a choral Olympics of the best choirs in the world. The word European there doesn’t pertain to only European choirs. It’s just that the competition is held in Europe. To further explain that, please click this link of the European Grand Prix for Choral Singing.

Along with joining that particular competition, we also embarked on a three-month long European tour. Quite long, right? For those months we were literally living in a suitcase (and a trolley bag and a backpack!). We went to several cities in France, Germany, Italy, Austria, Netherlands. Aside from our clothes, toiletries, and other stuff that will help us last us for three months, we had to carry our big costumes and concert shoes and make-up kits.

Through the years of travel, the Madz has been blessed with friends. And these friends organized concerts, gave us home away from home, toured us around town, some even shopped for us! Really generous people, and most of them, thanks to technology, we still get to keep in touch with.

We know food in Europe is so expensive, so we make space for some “kadiwa.” The older Madz batches have used this term for bringing “baon” in their luggages. I think it was an old term during the Marcos era. “Kadiwa” is anything that can be eaten as it is, or with hot water, or with the aid of a can opener — instant noodles, canned goods, junk foods, candies, instant coffee. Helped us save lots of shopping money!

It was one of the most memorable experiences that I had with the years I’ve been singing with the Madz. As I look back, I ask myself why did we win? We were against the best of the best choral groups, one is even an all-children’s group.

I’ve listed three things that I think made us win:

1. Practice makes perfect, and permanent. I saw that thought from a Facebook comment of one of the Madz Alumni now based abroad. Being a Madz member involves hours of practice a day. We rehearse three times a week after school hours. When a tour and a competition is near, we rehearse almost every day!

Aside from rehearsals, the Madz maintain a busy calendar of weddings, concerts around town and in provinces at times. We were also college students and have full schedules. Our teachers know that if we’re absent, we have “harang.”

[Harang: in English, block; musicians’ term for a “raket” or event that is blocking your school or work schedule. We choose the “harang” instead of school because it’s additional money and we send ourselves to school!]

So by singing together most of the time, we get to know each other, thus we somehow made “permanent” what we were rehearsing. Slight note, though: make sure you have the same edition of music sheet and you all know your notes well.

2. Proper winning attitude — right inspiration, right fashion. The Madz has a string of awards under its belt. Since 1989, when it first competed in a competition, an international competition immediately, the group did not stop winning. They joined again in 1996, winning the European Grand Prix in 1997, a first for Filipino choirs. This triumph disqualified the group in competing for international competitions for the next five years.

When Sir Mark took over the helm, the group tried its luck again in an international competition. In 2004, which was also his first European tour as conductor (and my first ever international trip!), the Madz joined a Habanera and Polyphony competition in Torrevieja, Spain. It’s not as huge as the Grand Prix, but they gave out huge prizes! We won first prizes in both categories.

Other Filipino choirs joined (and won first prizes, too!) the following years. It’s tremendous joy for the choral community when we hear of Filipino choirs winning competitions everywhere. I wish it wasn’t only the choral community rejoicing, but the whole nation as well.

Then we joined a qualifying competition for the Grand Prix in 2006 in Tours, France. We represented Tours for the Grand Prix the following year which was held in Arezzo, Italy (which is the video shown above).

Therefore, international competitions are again put on hold, so the current batch are very lucky to be touring with no added pressure. I know they are really doing well in their concerts. (For schedules of their remaining US concerts, click here).

Being discovered to have perfect pitch, I was given the arduous task of being the “pitch giver” — I hum out the reference note since we don’t use a keyboard. I’m seen hitting a tuning fork on my head or my knee just to make sure I got an A440 right before a song starts.

Next to our choirmaster, I was the most nervous person on the semicircle. Definitely. Especially during the Grand Prix. What I do is I treat each competition as a concert so I won’t be that nervous.

What is talent without audience impact? I can never forget how we called ourselves “walking tourist spots” as people took our pictures while we’re walking on the streets of Arezzo. The women carried well the beautiful black and white gowns made by a fabulous local designer Jo Rubio. Our men wore equally beautiful barongs made by Onesimus.

Not to forget, the hair and make-up. It was probably the best hair and make-up we did during the whole trip (it better be!) I know all of us singers smiled at the audience, especially to the judges (wonder if it added plus points for us?)

3. We always begin a concert with a prayer. We form a circle, hold hands, and pray. Each of us take turns in leading the group in prayer. Our prayer usually contains thanksgiving for safe travels, good health, kind hosts, yummy food, and a great concert.

I’m pretty sure all other choirs also start a concert with a prayer. Acknowledging our Master Conductor, the Great Creator of wonderful music we hear is indeed the best thanksgiving one can make.

With all those ingredients, we can surely make more winners out of all the brilliant choral groups who, like us in the Madz, once dreamed of making a mark in Philippine choral music and inspiring His audience who will listen to our music wherever we may be.


~ Touringkitty

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