The San Francisco-based Philippine Saringhimig Singers are celebrating 45 years of illustrious and enviable musical glory this year.
The internationally awarded choir will highlight its remarkable performance history with a concert aptly titled “Gratitude,” a celebration of 45 years of choral artistry and excellence in music, on June 22, 7 p.m. at the Mission Dolores Basilica in San Francisco.
Under the artistic direction of Professor George Gemora Hernandez, founder and long-time mentor of the Philippine Saringhimig Singers, “Gratitude” will showcase a repertoire of sacred classical hymns, African-American spiritual songs, contemporary choral arrangements, Filipino folk songs, kundiman, pop tunes, and Original Pilipino Music (OPM).
The show will also be a send-off for the choir’s summer concert tour where they will be participating and competing in choral festivals in Spain.
The Philippine Saringhimig Singers are composed of music and non-music professionals, students, teachers, and members of the San Francisco Bay Area community dedicated to the art of choral musicianship. The members have diverse and distinguished backgrounds in their respective fields.
In addition to performing Filipino folk songs and OPM, the choir also renders European music ranging from medieval to 21st century in classical, sacred, and popular genres.
FROM UPCM TO THE WORLD
The name Saringhimig is a Filipino-inspired word that means “magical wings of song,” according to Michael Gil Magnaye, member of the group. It was Hernandez who adopted the name for the group to denote a diversity of songs in an array of musical styles.
Also, the word “Saring” reminds Hernandez of a Philippine legendary bird called “Sarimanok,” which symbolizes magical wings, and “himig” meaning song or melody.
Hernandez was a music student at the University of the Philippines College of Music (UPCM) in 1974 when he founded the Saringhimig Singers, the group’s original name. Interestingly, the group started as a chamber choir and is composed of students from the UPCM as original members.
The choral group’s debut performance was at the UPCM’s Abelardo Hall and subsequently went on tours in 1979, 1980, 1981, 1983 and 1984, winning numerous awards and accolades in some of Europe’s prestigious choral competitions.
International recognition did not prove to be far behind. The Saringhimig Singers embarked on several European concert tours as they participated in different choral festivals. Subsequently, they won in distinguished choral competitions against many of the best choirs in the world.
The group also reaped many critical reviews from European journalists, music reviewers, and writers as they also established an undisputable international reputation.
Not too long after, the Saringhimig Singers gained recognition as one of the best choirs in the country at that time.
In 1983, Hernandez moved to the US to pursue his studies in other disciplines of music and took a hiatus from choral conducting. He completed his studies in piano, voice, and choral conducting at the San Francisco State University and the San Francisco Conservatory of Music.
“Singing with several choirs in the San Francisco Bay Area reminded Professor Hernandez of his choir days in UP,” Magnaye said. “He decided to reestablish Saringhimig Singers in the Bay Area to showcase the Filipino artistry and culture in the US.
“There were several members from the UP Saringhimig Singers who moved to the US and some of them lived in the Bay Area. They were the core group along with other choral singers that joined the Philippine Saringhimig Singers.”
Hernandez reestablished the group as the Philippine Saringhimig Singers in 1992 and continued the recruitment and training of new members. He led the group to two European tours, participating in choral festivals in Spain in 1994 and Germany in 1996.
“His mission, to this day, is for Saringhimig Singers to be an ambassador of goodwill, promoting the beauty and customs of his native land through music and art, contributing to the acceptance and improved sensitivity of diversity and multicultural society in California and the rest of the US,” Magnaye said.
Always looking to expand his artistry, Hernandez was an active member of the San Francisco Opera Chorus for several seasons from 1997 to 2002. He briefly shifted gears, took a break from competitive choral performance and forayed into training, teaching, and directing the Philippine Saringhimig Singers to perform musical theater and operatic style shows, presented in various San Francisco venues.
He also gave lessons full time that became his foundation for his current music academy. He did all that while raising a family.
In 2002, Hernandez decided to return to “classic” choral singing and wasted no time in tackling ambitious choral arrangements for the group which were performed internationally.
“As a singer, just when you thought you were good enough, you discover that there is still so much to learn under the guidance of the Maestro, George Hernandez,” Magnaye said. “George is unselfish with imparting the wealth of knowledge he has amassed, with many years of excellent education and training from well-respected choral masters and musicians from the Philippines and the US.”
He went on: “Working with George is truly an enriching experience. He is strict but nurturing and exact with the interpretation of his arrangements. His versions of classical and popular songs are unlike any other, with each arrangement unique and exuding exquisite harmonies – a joy to deliver in a choral setting.”
The members of the Philippine Saringhimig Singers, past and present, swell with pride to know that their choral conductor is well-known and respected around the world. “We are truly blessed to be mentored by him and trained to sing his arrangements which are sought after in the choral community,” Magnaye said.
“We admire the hundreds of choirs that perform his famous ‘Rosas Pandan,’ but we are extremely fortunate to have the Maestro himself lead us in performing this masterpiece. His constant reminder of ‘with artistry, you have the power to change the world, into a better world,’ remains an inspiration that we all strive to achieve.” He added.
“Rosas Pandan” is a Visayan-Cebuano folk song composed by Domingo “Minggoy” Lopez, with Tagalog lyrics by National Artist Levi Celerio.
In 1995, when Hernandez was at the Festival Internaconal de Cant Coral, a Catalunya center choral festival at Puig-Reig, a small-town north of Barcelona, he was asked if he could hurriedly put together an easy song for 1,000 voices.
Hernandez made a new arrangement for “Rosas Pandan” for a large chorale and has since become the world-renowned version for the song.
Many of the performances of the Philippine Saringhimig Singers were to help in the fund-raising projects for several religious and non-profit organizations. They also did singing engagements in music festivals in Europe.
In 2006, the Philippine Saringhimig Singers won the distinguished first and second prizes at Kathaumixw International Choral Competition in Powell River, British Columbia in Canada.
The Philippine Saringhimig Singers staged well-received, acclaimed, and award-winning performances in different parts of the world. In 2003, the group was voted Best Choir in the World Choral Festival in Puebla, Mexico.
At the Llangollen International Musical Eisteddfod in Wales in 2004 – its first competition after more than twenty years – the group placed in the Top 5 out of 30 choirs. They placed third at the Certamen de Habaneras y Polifonia in Torrevieja, Spain in 2005.
In 2007’s California International Choral Festival and Competition in San Luis Obispo, the group won third place in the choir’s choice category.
At present, the Philippine Saringhimig Singers have 32 active singers. There are no “lead singers” in the choir, clarified Magnaye.
“Several members are soloists in their own right, bringing their experiences in opera, musical theatre, sacred music, and classical music to the fore. Everyone brings his or her dedication and commitment to achieve a common goal of excellence in choral music.” he said.
As expected, there are challenges that the group faced along the way.
“The biggest challenge that this group faces is time,” Magnaye stressed. “Finding enough time to train in choral singing as required or demanded by Professor Hernandez is a big issue, along with balancing work and family schedules.”
“Meeting only once a week puts a stress and limitation on the choir’s ability to hone or train their choral and musical skills at a faster rate. There is so much music to learn but not enough time to perfect your skills,” he added.
Thankfully, the Philippine Saringhimig Singers have consistently staged well-received performances everywhere. From 1974 to 1984, the UP Saringhimig Singers performed in Canada, USA, and all around Europe.
From 1992 to the present, the choir has performed in Mexico, Great Britain, Wales, Spain, Germany, Italy, and Canada.
“The most memorable performances of the choir are the winning performance in Lehiateka Certamen Cancion y Polifonica in Tolosa, Spain in 1980, where we received the Grand Prize,” Magnaye said.
Surprisingly, in the 45 years of the Philippine Saringhimig Singers, the group has not recorded an album. They have recorded a compilation of live performances of Christmas songs in the '90s on cassette, and a compilation of various songs in the early 2000s on a CD.
An album will definitely be one of their goals in the coming months.