High School Choir Triumphs Against the Odds

Beginning their journey with no funds or resources for a choir, this high school choir in the Philippines have made their singing dreams a reality.

Many thanks to the students who made contributions to this article.

A favorite piece of repertoire & why

We are from a public high school, and our choir started from nothing: no piano/keyboard, no sheet music, no funds, no venue, no room, and a small number of members. In order to keep the choir running, we share everything, whether that means borrowing a keyboard or the personally funding the sheet music. We thrive on the support we give each other and our strong faith that raise us up to accomplish more than we could dream of. Maybe that’s why our favorite piece is “You Raise Me Up.”

How does your choir bond as a group?

Since the Camerata members are all students and alumni of Ernesto Rondon High School, they spend a lot of time together. They study their songs by voice sections, play games, tell jokes, help one another with homework assignments, support one another with positive advice, and listen to music together.

QUICK FACTS

Choir Name: The Rondonian Camerata
Location: Ernesto Rondon High School, Project 6, Quezon City, Metro Manila, Philippines
Style: Various
Number of singers: 30-35
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What is your audition process?

Those auditioning must be a student in good standing at our High School, and they must sing 2 contrasting songs to showcase their ability to match pitch. They also have to pass 3 months or in class training to become a fully fledged member.

What is something you do in rehearsals that surprises new members?

Many of the new members were surprised by the way we begin rehearsal. We do a lot of stretching, starting from the head (facial muscles, eyes, mouth, and jaw), neck and shoulders, arms and then body before we vocalize. This is a system they’ve never done before or experienced in choral singing.

A funny moment in rehearsal from a member’s perspective

We never have a dull moment. Our Director always makes us smile by making funny facial expressions, smiling back at us and cracking a short joke. For him, singing should always be fun, and he makes us feel that way too. We follow his lead, not because he’s a teacher, but because we want to experience the joy of music making. With that, every rehearsal has its funny moments!

What was a very special performance and what made it special?

We performed during the 3rd Regular Session of the 17th Congress of the Philippines held at the Senate of the Philippines. We sang a song with the arrangement of Sir Robert Delgado, also a Philippine Madrigal Singer alumni. It was easy to put our full hearts and souls into the song which strongly reflects our nation’s current political and social climate. With a lyric line of “Isang bansa, ba’t ‘di magkaisa?” (“One Nation, why can’t it be united?”), we gave the performance our all so our beloved Senators might feel and hear the voices of the youth today.

The Rondonian Camerata performing in concert.

An emotional moment in rehearsal?

We had this internalization of our piece “Ikaw lang ang Mamahalin” in preparation for a competition. Some members couldn’t contain themselves and burst out crying. Some of them experienced pain that related strongly to the song’s message. It took us almost an hour to get back in our usual selves and continue the rehearsal.

How did the song go over at competition?

Most of the members began to cry while singing, which invited an emotional response from the audience and the juries. The song tells about longing for or still waiting for someone who can never be yours. The lyrics are in Filipino, which translate to: “It’s over, even though my heart says keep holding on, even though I still seek for you. And yet despite of all our struggles, when tomorrow comes, you’re still the one I will Love.”

A challenging performance and how you faced it from a member’s perspective

For our recent choral competition on December 8, 2018, we were only informed a week before that we would be competing! We only had 4 days to rehearse, and we hadn’t even had a song for it. Nevertheless, our Director had faith in us that we could overcome this challenge if we put our minds to it. So every day after school and at home, we studied the music and the recorded parts our Director sent us of the concert piece.

And, how did it go?

Initially, after the choir performed, many members felt disappointed because they felt they hadn’t given their best and might not place at all. However, we never gave up and we held out hope! To our overwhelming surprise, we received 1st place! As the host announced our school name and declared us as the Champion, the dejected emotions quickly turned to blissful and enthusiastic joy. Through this experience, the group learned that no matter what, never lose hope!

A composer/arranger you love to tell your choir members about

Robert Delgado was a choral conductor, composer and arranger, clinician, judge, and publisher. I tell students this so that they can be reminded that they can accomplish anything.

A favorite inspirational quote

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.
Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.
It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us.
We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?’
Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God.
Your playing small does not serve the world.
There’s nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you.
We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us.
It’s not just in some of us; It’s in everyone.
And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.
As we’re liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

– A Return of Love: Reflections on the Principles of “A Course in Miracles” by Marianne Williamson

Many thanks to the students who made contributions to this article.

Written By
Nilo Bansuli, director of The Rondonian Camerata and instructor at Ernesto Rondon High School, eagerly seeks to share his 25+ years experience of choral singing, conducting, clinics, workshops and seminars with the younger generations of music makers in the Philippines.