HEAVENLY VOICES, HEAVENLY WOMEN

MANILA, April 2, 2004 (STAR) By Alfred A. Yuson - On April 4, Palm Sunday, a notable event will be figuratively and literally conducted at the Church of the Gesu at the Loyola Heights campus. At seven in the evening, the Ateneo Chamber Singers 2004, composed of the alumni of the Ateneo College Glee Club, will be launching a CD album, "Awit sa Panginoon." Presumably, they will be rendering some of the wondrous songs, as conducted by the outstanding musical director Jonathan Velasco.

The sacred choral music represented in the 12-piece CD was actually recorded at the same university church, on a beneficent grant from the National Commission for Culture and the Arts or NCCA.

The songs are led off by Awit sa Panginoon, a world premiere recording composed by 33-year-old Robin Estrada, with a translation into Filipino of Psalm 30:1-5, and sung in the Pasyon tradition by Niner de Pano and Aleli Salazar. Hearing this song performed live would be a most appropriate and distinctive way of starting Holy Week.

The rest of the songs are: O Magnum Mysterium, Jauchzet dem Herra alle weit, A Hymn to the Virgin, The Tyger, The Lord Is My Shepherd, Old Time Religion, Lead Me, Lord, Send Me, Prayer for Generosity, Your Heart Today and The Warrior Is a Child as a bonus track.

I was fortunate to have received an advance copy of the CD. It’s a wonderful gift to cherish well beyond the season of Lent. I can imagine some of you playing the disc even while lolling about on the sands of Boracay, getting a head-to-foot massage. The music you will hear should complete the experience, turn it into a highly aesthetic, indeed, spiritual one.

Velasco, who used to conduct the San Miguel Master Chorale, outdoes himself in this album, drawing the finest possible choral performance even from a group with such exalted voices. And I didn’t realize that the acoustics at the Church of the Gesu, where I’ve only heard the hip-hip-hurrays of long-delayed elation that last time the Blue Eagles won a UAAP basketball championship.

Velasco turns soloist himself in the grand, robust rendition of Old Time Religion, which I swear beats hands down any of those rollicking versions performed regularly in America’s deep South.

I don’t know the De Panos, but it’s evident that they’re quite a distinguished musical family or clan. N. Arnel De Pano composed and arranged the haunting Lead Me, Lord, while Dada De Pano Supnet sent shivers up my blue-blooded spine (eh, wot?) with her liquid, crystalline alto as the soloist for the memorably riveting Send Me, again composed and arranged by Arnel.

Joel Navarro arranged The Lord Is My Shepherd and Prayer for Generosity, while The Warrior Is a Child is arranged by GP Eleria and features John Rafael Mojica as soloist.

Another great track is Your Heart Today, composed by Fr. Manuel V. Francisco, SJ, and arranged by GP Eleria. Performing as guest soloist is the fantastic belter Dulce, who here gives ample evidence that she doesn’t just give justice to her name, as she’s no sugar-coated chanteuse, but simply a soulful, spirited power of a voice.

Recording and mixing engineer Chris Reyes ought to be given a standing ovation for the album’s crystal-clear quality, and just as hearty kudos should be awarded producer Gianpaolo Eleria, production coordinators Mimi Agbay and Oneill Torres, and all those who made this super collectible of a CD possible.

Thanks, NCCA and AdMU. No wonder we’re bagging all the global choral awards. Truly, the world is at our feet when it comes to unity and harmony of mellifluous voices. Now if only we can say the same of our quality of governance.

Or, of our basketball affairs. Sorry to interject a negative note here, but – I’ve written about this and will just have to repeat myself – I wish BJ Manalo and his backers in the Ateneo community wouldn’t push through with that absurd prospect of having him play his last year in the UAAP as a Blue Eagle.

BJ burned his bridges not just because he left Ateneo for De La Soul, er, Salle, but by uttering such contentious lines upon his departure as: "I’m leaving Ateneo cuz it doesn’t have a worthy basketball program" and "Ateneo will never win a college title while I’m playing for DLSU!" Or words to that effect.

Rejoining the Eagles turns him into someone much like a political butterfly, a double balimbing, and worse, would only focus media attention if not controversy on a single player "torn between two rivals" —- at the expense of a team, make that two good teams. That the Ateneo community will be divided on this issue should be the most important reason to drop any fool plan of an acrobatic comeback to Loyola (from Taft, after Loyola) by Manalo. Matatalo lang ang college basketball sa larong ito.

I’ll say it again: there’s always Adamson with Luigi Trillo as coach, in case BJ can’t mend fences anymore with DLSU headman Franz Pumaren.

As has often been said, if flippantly, basketball is an old-time religion in these here parts. More so for college basketball, where faith and loyalty are premium elements, more so than individual skills or ambition. "Give me that old time religion," then, for "it’s good enough for me."

Now back to positive, amazing grace. We have one last chance this week to pay tribute to Women’s Month, so here’s plugging a couple of titles written and/or edited by masterful ladies, and which saw recent launchings.

Filipino Women Writers in English: Their Story: 1905-2002, by Edna Zapanta-Manlapaz, published by the Ateneo de Manila University Press, is literary history at its best. The 258-page volume also manifests topnotch critical thinking and a spirited research effort, so pardon the twin colons in its full title and the hyphenated feature of its authorial genesis.

Edna’s a good friend and colleague, so she’ll forgive us that chauvinistic fillip, too. Or so we hope. Indeed, this book "is the first of its kind in Philippine scholarship," chronicling "the evolution of Philippine literature simultaneously in terms of medium (English) and gender (women)."

Biographical accounts of the women writer-subjects are provided, as well as bibliographical information, plus a treasure trove of varied critical commentary on their works, which are also generously excerpted or presented in full.

Edna issues an honest caveat in her preface: "No literary history is value-free. My critical evaluations of women writers, formed by own reading and informed by the critical reviews of others, are largely left implicit throughout this study. However, in the case of writers’ works I have studied well, I occasionally make these evaluations explicit."

Caroline S. Hau writes: "Manlapaz skillfully weaves writers’ and critics’ voices into her seamless narrative of the creative and sometimes conflicting ways in which the Filipino women writers responded in their writings to sociopolitical and historical forces and situated themselves within and against the Philippines’ ‘literary tradition.’"

The author served as the executive director of the Ateneo Library of Women’s Writings (ALIWW) and was a professor before she retired last year. Academe’s loss is Philippine literature’s further gain, as Edna will surely add to her own distinctive trove of 16 books authored or edited thus far. More power to you, good friend.

Santa Monica, California-based writer and editor Cecilia Manguerra Brainard was in town last month for the local launch, at Powerbooks Greenbelt 4 in Makati, of the anthology Growing Up Filipino: Stories for Young Adults, as reprinted in a soft-cover edition by Anvil Publishing, Inc.

Most of the 29 short fiction pieces collected by "Baby" Brainard for this anthology, which intends to impart "the saga of what it means to be young and Filipino," are by Filipino-American writers, or US-based Filipino writers. The most distinguished bylines include those of Linda Ty-Casper, Veronica Montes, Marianne Villanueva, Vince Gotera, Oscar Peñaranda, Brian Ascalon Roley, Alberto Florentino M. Evelina Galang and Mar Puatu.

Some of the stories are by Philippines-based writers, a few of whom were present at the launch to render excerpts from their contributions. These were the young Wanggo Gallaga and even younger Jimmy Abad, as well as Connie Jan Maraan, Cristina Pantoja Hidalgo, and this writer. Tita Gilda Cordero Fernando, being the most eminent contributor, declared herself exempt from podium duties, and simply hurried everyone else up so we could get on with the book-signing.

And so we did. And we’re still hurrying, to tell yet other expatriate Filipino writers of how we enjoyed that evening, when we meet another strong contingent attending the AWP or American Writers and Writing programs conference in Chicago from March 24 to 27.

As you read this, we’d have met up with Luisa Igloria, Reine Arcache Melvin, Edna Weisser, M. Evelina Galang, Nick Carbo, Eugene Gloria and Linda Nietes, and shaken hands for the first time with young Fil-Am poets whose fine works we’ve reviewed in this space, among them Jon Pineda, Patrick Rosal and Aimee Nezhukumatathil. And we’ll be making you tsismis next Monday of how the assembly fared, in and out of the conference.


Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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