The race to win. It was a competition among the most beautiful sounds on earth, in which the Madz emerged victorious.

Watch this video to find out what the University of the Philippines Madrigal Singers have worked for the past 50 years.

The Madz set milestones in joining festivals and competitions and winning top prizes, being invited in prestigious choral, diplomatic, and institutional events, and reaching farflung communities and venues to share their music to as many audiences as they can reach. Indeed, the Madz are triumphant in all aspects.

My entry to the Madz was perfect timing, and I feel blessed. Sir Mark was already the choirmaster at that time, and three years into his stewardship, he decided on going back to the international competition arena. He was ready to take the challenge with a new set of singers.

I was part of the three competitions! 2004 in Torrevieja, Spain, 2006 in Tours, France, and 2007 in Arezzo, Italy.

!Hola, España!

The year: 2004
The competition: 50th Certamen Coral de Habaneras y Polifonia
The location: Sunny Torrevieja, Spain
The awards: First Prize Habanera Category, First Prize Polyphony Category

Waking up to a beautiful view of the beach every morning for one whole week sure is a treat, but this competition was, for me, the most nerve-wracking. First time jitters, so they say. But this was quite an adventure for everyone.

Since we would only sing for one night, we pretty much got to enjoy the town, hopping on a bus to Alicante during the day for some sight seeing (and window shopping!), and returning in the afternoon, waiting for the evening to watch other competitors, or locking ourselves in one room for sectional rehearsals or the nightly Rosary and prayer brigade. Some took a dip on the nearby beach, ending up with skins one or two shades darker in photos! On that Sunday I went to church, heard Mass in Spanish, and prayed for the wonderful experience we have had during the tour.

Competitions start late in the evening, as Spanish people are known to have long afternoon siestas. Depending on the number of choirs for the evening, competitions would end past 12 midnight.

And with a set of five songs in our repertoire (three were for the Habanera Category and two for the Polyphony Category), we bagged both First Prizes! And Ma’am OA, founder of the Madz, along with some of her family members, was there to witness it. Sweet triumph for Sir Mark and his singers.

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Victoire au noble roi François!

The year: 2006
The competition: Florilege Vocal de Tours, France
The location: Cute town of Tours, France
The awards: First prizes in the Vocal Ensemble and Free Program categories, Renaissance program Winner, Grand Prix de la Ville de Tours (which qualified us for the European Grand Prix for Choral Singing the following year)

Nope, we did not sing La Guerre by Clement Janequin, but we sure were on our battle form as we entered the competition.

In 2006, we competed for the Florilege for the Mixed Vocal Ensemble, Free Programming, and Renaissance. Winning top prizes in those three eventually won us the Grand Prix de la Ville de Tours, thus gave us a slot for the following year’s European Grand Prix for Choral Singing in Arezzo, Italy.

Before the tour, we all stayed for a week at the Executive House of the National Arts Center in Mt. Makiling, Laguna. It was a refreshing (literally, as we woke up in fresh air and a swimming pool!) retreat for all of us, but hard work of course as we had rehearsal sessions and quartet exams, from sunup to sundown.

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Bravissimo!

The competition: European Grand Prix for Choral Singing
The location: Arezzo, Italy
The award: The pinnacle of it all, the 2007 European Grand Prix for Choral Singing!

Five songs. Those were our tickets to winning the EGP. We used to rehearse the competition set during the concerts before the competition, so we pretty much had mastered the repertoire by heart already.

This blogpost I wrote told our EGP story. It was overwhelming, surprising, and humbling, that after a long concert tour that year in Europe, we will get the Grand Prix. That very next day, we traveled home and was welcomed by our families and friends at the Cultural Center of the Philippines, our artistic residence. We stayed for a week in the Philippines before we traveled to the US for another six-week long concert tour.

I was just so lucky to be able to take part in the three competitions under Sir Mark’s wings. After these, the Madz have not yet participated in any competitions, but were awarded the UNESCO Artists for Peace in 2009, Guidoneum Award from Arezzo, Italy in 2010, and the Brand Laureate Award in 2012. Winners, still, and forever will be. Such a great blessing from the Lord.

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