Going through the alumni registry of the University of the Philippines Concert Chorus—or UP Concert Chorus/UPCC or simply, Korus—can feel like reading a who’s who in Philippine music and the arts.
Among the distinguished men and women who’ve been part of the 60 year-old chorale include singer-actress and comedienne Nanette Inventor; folk singer Heber Bartolome; violinist John Lesaca; flutist Tony Maigue; balladeer-politician Anthony Castelo; composer and film scorer Jun Latonio; Jesus Christ Superstar of the Philippines Boy Camara; baritone Elmo Makil; classical singer Montet Acoymo; piano virtuoso and former president of the CCP Raul Sunico; Edru Abraham of the ethnic musical ensemble Kontra-Gapi and his wife Becky Demetillo-Abraham of the folk rock duo Inang Laya; Moy Ortiz of The Company; Bob Serrano, Manny Aquino and Popo Suanes of The Tux; singing lawyer Dot Ramos-Gancayco and her Opera band mates Zebedee Zuñiga, Sushi Reyes and Manolo Tanquilut; tenors Frankie Aseniero, Dodo Crisol and Jonathan Badon; stage performer and concert artist Nolyn Cabahug; singer-actor Nomer Son; music educator Emmy Punzalan-Cayabyab, celebrity voice teachers and back-up vocalists Kitchie Molina and Olive Isidro; conductors Jai Sabas Aracama, Joel Navarro and Ed Manguiat; broadcaster Kata Inocencio; stage actors Lionel and Cynthia Guico; composer and music arranger Roland Raymond Roldan; sopranos Jeannelle Roldan and Kay Balajadia-Liggayu; Miss Saigon’s Leila Florentino, Angel Suguitan, Mia Ongkiko, Luz Tolentino, and Bones Deoso; TV/film executives and musicians Ding Achacoso and Joseph Olfindo; ad agency president Raul Castro; advertising and pop music composer Charo Unite; Kaye Tiuseco of the Ryan Cayabyab Singers, Anna Achacoso-Graham of Baihana, and many other budding artists and luminaries not just in music but in the fields of—wait for it—health and social sciences, business, law and politics and in just about every profession and endeavor there is.
All of them and hundreds of other Iskolars ng Bayan have at one point called themselves part of UP’s oldest and one of its most recognized official choirs.
In 1962, University of the Philippines President Carlos P. Romulo started what was called the UP Mixed Chorus, with UP College of Music Dean Ramon Tapales as the group’s conductor, and UP students as choir members. Their first big public performance happened in 1963, at the gala concert-cum-inauguration of UP President Romulo himself. UPCC has also been blessed to have been under the baton of National Artist Dean Ramon P. Santos, Prof. Johnny Ramos and Prof. Flora Zarco-Rivera.
The legacy of Rey Paguio
In 1969, Dean Rey T. Paguio (also of the UP College of Music) took over as conductor. According to Prof. Joel Navarro (he sang that Metropop classic “Suwerte Suwerte Lang”), at that time, Prof. Paguio had finished studying overseas and was eager to try new things with the UPCC. “Prof. Paguio was part of a group of UP musicians that had Flora Zarco Rivera, Andrea Veneracion, Aurelio Estanislao, Ramon Santos… They were leading men and women who were trained abroad and they brought that kind of training and exposure back to UP.”
Prof. Navarro, who was a UP Concert Chorus member from 1971-1974 and from 1977-1978, says, “The zeitgeist was ‘do everything!’. That was the spirit of the times… For Rey Paguio, his vision for the UP Concert Chorus was, ‘Sige! Hindi lang tayo kakanta. Sasayaw pa tayo, aarte pa tayo sa stage.”
Singing and dancing
Under the tutelage of Prof. Paguio, the UP Concert Chorus became an icon for its ChoreoCapella or choreographed a capella, and inspired and paved the way for choirs to tackle out-of-the-box, multi-dimensional performances. The UPCC also came to be known as an acclaimed choral group with a wide repertoire.
While there are other official choirs in UP, the UPCC and its members are distinguished for their versatility. Mr. Ed Manguiat, founder of the UP Singing Ambassadors and a UPCC alumnus says, “Dahil nagsasayaw din kami, we communicate with our hands and movements. So even if the audience is composed of foreigners, they can still understand the message of our songs.”
In its more than six decades of existence, the irrepressible UPCC has performed in not just shows and music festivals, but also for full-length ballets, operas, movies, TV specials and pop concerts. Not even the pandemic was able to stop the UPCC from mounting concerts—they went online and even produced three Spotify albums.
The UPCC is the recipient of several international and local awards such as the 2012 Aliw Awards’ Lifetime Achievement Award, the 2013 National Commission for Culture and the Arts Ani ng Dangal Award, the World’s Best in Folk Choral Performance at the 2012 Festival Internacional de Cantonigros in Spain, and the Grand Prix winner at the 6th International Krakow Choir Festival in Poland.
Concert tours a la UPCC
For members, their best achievement is the experience gained at UPCC’s international concert tours. Atty. Noriz Castillo, Chairperson of the UPCC 60th anniversary celebration, says “Traveling (with UPCC) gave me the discipline of working with the group… During our time, we lived with different sponsor families for six to seven months. We learned to adjust to the personalities. Hindi ka pwedeng pa-star. Dapat team player.”
Atty. Dot Ramos Gancayco was only 18 when she joined UPCC’s stints abroad, which she describes as eye-opening. “I was exposed to different cultures. I developed my confidence. Most important of all, I met new friends and formed life-long friendships.”
Expanding artistry (and body mass index)
Singer-comedienne Nanette Inventor counts riding the double-decker bus and devouring an oversized pizza in New York City, missing their plane to Frankfurt, and enduring the 10 degrees Celsius-temperature in Italy as among her fondest UPCC tour memories.
Of her experience in Italy she says, “Suot namin coordinated batik shirt and skirt under a beige blazer with UPCC logo. Dahil sa ginaw, umiiyak ang kalahati ng UPCC. Ang natirang kalahati, nagshe-shake-breakdancing. Everyone at the Eurail train station thought we were in deep prolonged wailing because we were mourning the death of someone who jumped in front of a high-speed train! But it wasn’t too humiliating because our wailing was in different voices of soprano, alto, tenor and base… Oh, laban kayo?!”
Without the UPCC, Nanette cannot imagine where life would have taken her. “In a warm, friendly, inclusive and nurturing environment, the UPCC helped me to grow in confidence, musicianship and style— expanding myself in artistry and... body mass index!” she self-deprecatingly quips.
It was in 1980 when Nanette made her movie debut as the singing and dancing Mother Superior in the musical comedy “Kakabakaba Ka Ba?” (Also in the Mike de Leon film were: UPCC’s Ding Achacoso, Thaemar Panuncialman Achacoso, Joseph Olfindo and Lea Locsin).
UPCC’s most famous groupie
Thanks in large part to Prof. Rey Paguio’s foresight and guidance, the UPCC would influence a future National Artist for Music.
Ryan Cayabyab was a UP Business Administration major when he became friends with Prof. Paguio and UPCC members. (Mr C. would later marry UPCC member Emmy Punzalan) Mr. C discloses, “Naginggroupie ako noong freshman or sophomore ako. Ang relationship ko sa UPCC, nakiki-jam ako… Sa kaka-jam ko sa kanila, I shifted to music eventually.”
In 1975, Prof. Paguio asked Mr. C. to compose an original choral piece that the composer entitled “Eklesiastes.”
To complete his degree in Bachelor of Music Major in Composition in 1983, Mr. C wrote another major choral work for UPCC— “Misa” which the choir also performed at his graduation recital. Thus reinforcing Mr. C’s collaboration with UPCC, a bond that remains strong to this day. He says, “They brought 'Misa' with them on their European tours. And because of that, my name was introduced to the various world choirs. (From then on,) the UPCC always brought a Ryan Cayabyab work or piece to perform in their tours. After 'Misa,' Prof. Paguio asked me to write an expanded ‘Gloria’ for choir, with piano accompaniment and ethnic instruments.”
Succeeding groups would perform Mr. C's other compositions, notably “Hibang sa Awit” and “Kay Ganda ng Ating Musika.” At the start of 2000, the UPCC learned and brought on tour the Saint Michael Mass that Mr. C also wrote.
60 years and counting
From being a university president’s choir to the pioneer of ChoreoCapella in the Philippines, to being world-class choral performers, the UP Concert Chorus continues to be a cradle for Filipino music and artists.
When live performances were disrupted due to COVID, the choir’s mission became more urgent and relevant. “Singing together is so special,” declares current conductor Prof. Jai Sabas-Aracama, under whose helm UPCC was brought to even higher national and international acclaim. “Choir singing is healing and spiritually uplifting. It’s a chance to give back,” says Jai. “Because I believe when we pass on to the next life, it’s another choir just waiting for us. What we can sing for now is just a taste of heaven on earth.”
The UP Concert Chorus celebrates its 60th anniversary with a concert entitled “Sama-Sama Together” to be held this February 4, 2023 (Saturday), 5:00 pm at the UP Theater in Diliman, Quezon City.