The UP Singing Ambassadors @ 31

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It was the last song they had to sing in one of their choir competitions in 2008. After this, they would find out whether they won or not.

It was a foreign song for the all-Filipino choir from the University of the Philippines. But they had to sing it, because Oregek, composed by Hungarian artist Zoltán Kodály, is one of Hungary’s very own. Afterall, the UP Singing Ambassadors was performing in the country for the 23rd Bela Bartok International Choir Competition.

The ladies were in their stunning blue gowns, complementing the gentlemen’s dark-red tunics. Their conductor’s white barong tagalog stood out in the group as he moved across the room to face the choir.

His hands made fluid movements, and, at once, the soft but mystical voices of the ladies filled the hall. Then came a brief silence. He raised his right hand, and, in one gesture, signaled the men to join in the singing, adding a new dimension to the already beautiful sound.

They were singing in Hungarian and captivated their audience with the wonderful blend of their voices. The varying vocal ranges were dancing in the air. Like one complicated acrobatic stunt, the minutest of details was important, and every member of the choir was sensitive to the slightest change in their singing.

They sang in alternating fast and slow, loud and soft, powerful and subdued. And their audience held their breath the entire five-minute presentation. When the last note was sang, everyone burst in loud applause, at first disconcerted but slowly turned into synchronized clapping. People cheered as they made their final bow, and the clapping followed them long after they had exited the stage.

No one thought that a choir that started out as pastime for freshmen dormers at the Kalayaan Residence Hall would one day sing before foreign audiences all over the world. Back in 1975, when it was still called the Kalayaan Chorale Crowd (KCC), UPSA members only had their co-dormers to applaud them whenever they performed on special dorm events.

However, with the encouragement of the then dorm manager, Sister Angelina Bernardo, the budding chorale group flourished. And in the pivotal year 1980, KCC was finally renamed the University of the Philippines Singing Ambassadors.

On the 12th of August that year, members representing five batches of KCC, met to discuss the future of the group. Together with their Kuya Ed Manguiat, still the present-day conductor of UPSA, they discussed possible new names that could better represent the membership of the choir. By that time, several upperclassmen dormers were no longer residing in Kalai.

“Singing Ambassadors” was chosen among others because it captured a new vision for the group. It is no longer an exclusive choir for freshmen dormers, but a group of students bound by their passion for music, desiring to be “ambassadors of goodwill” through Filipino musical genius.

UPSA’s dedication to excellence in their craft slowly placed them in the map of the best chorale groups in the country. They rose to the ranks of fellow renowned choirs like the Philippines Madrigal Singers, the UP Concert Chorus, UST Singers, and Ateneo College Glee Club among others.

It was since recognized as UP’s “official performing group for choreographed choral music.” It is also the “resident choir” of the UP Diliman College of Arts and Letters, performing regularly in college-wide events like CAL’s graduation ceremonies and anniversary.

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But the horizons are wider for UPSA. It was destined to represent Filipino talent not only in the country but all over the world. Since 1992, it has not failed to bring pride to the Philippines with its numerous awards in various singing competitions.

In 2008, for example, UPSA brought home 12 awards from its two-month European tour in five countries, including Poland, Hungary, France, Wales and Switzeland. Of the twelve awards, they won two grand prizes, seven first prizes and three third prizes.

In all their victories, UPSA now has the distinction of being the only Asian choir to win the Grand Prize in the “Olympics” of choral singing in the 49th Guido d’Arrezo competition in Italy. It is also one of only four Filipino choirs to qualify in the European Gran Prix for Choral Singing.

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All these years UPSA has reaped several victories for UP and the country. But its activities go beyond singing competitions into communities for the elderly, the orphans, sick, handicapped, prisoners, Overseas Filipino Workers and public school students among others.

It has provided choral clinics and voice lessons for interested youth. At the same time, UPSA spearheaded several fund-raising events for their beneficiaries Tahanang Walang Hagdanan and Bahay Mapagmahal, San Lazaro Hospital and the Golden Acres, among others.

In its official website, UPSA wrote, “The group will continue to sing and dance not just for the sake of music but also for charity and lifelong friendship with the less fortunate ones.”

Now on its 31st year, the UP Singing Ambassadors will, no doubt, continue its tradition of molding young and aspiring singers with the highest vocal quality and soulful performance. And as it molds them to become the future artists of the country, the group also imparts indispensable lessons on discipline and professionalism which they can bring and use in their future careers.

After all the applauses faded and the audience sat back on their seats, it was time to reveal the judges’ decision. There was silence in the hall, broken only by jittery sounds from excited supporters. The words from the emcees came and went, and then the drum rolls. When the first prize was called, the name UP Singing Ambassadors filled the room. UPSA won in the Mixed Choir category where they sang Zoltán Kodály’s Oregek.

You are all invited to watch the opening of the UP Singing Ambassador’s 31st anniversary exhibit at the Faculty Center, UP Diliman. There will be an opening presentation on Sept. 13, 2011 at 10:00 a.m. 

For my friend and brother in faith.
"make music to the LORD with the harp, with the harp and the sound of singing"
Psalm 98:5

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