Viewing: Ateneo College Glee Club

European Grand Prix for Choral Singing

After our Sunday morning stroll in (mostly deserted) Maribor, Mimi, Pete, Marlon and I ran into the Glee Club right outside Union Hall, where they were due for their soundcheck.
After hugs were exchanged and manic shrieks faded away, we went into the holding room with them for last-minute instructions from Ma’am Malou, prayers and a huddle. I really have to give it to Ma’am, she was the picture of calm and purpose—exactly what a big group needed at a time like this.

It felt so strange to know what they were all feeling, but not actually be part of it—to be outside the circle looking in.

Then it was time for their 15-minute rehearsal, the only time choirs actually get to step inside the hall they compete in. Since the full repertoire is 25 minutes, the soundcheck was just about enough time to check the acoustics against a portion of each piece, and also if everyone can hear each other. I’ve been in halls where the audience enjoys a fantastic sound but you can’t hear yourself at all, let alone the people next to you, and it’s always a freaky feeling.

To me, they sounded amazing. Sparkling, fresh, warm, pino, with heart. And it’s not just because I used to sing in this choir, okay. I think I’ve heard enough choirs to know.

Lunch followed at a park nearby. We got a chance to catch up with darling Leo, who was also with the Glee Club when we competed in the European Grand Prix in 2001. I can’t believe he now has two Grand Prix competitions under his belt.

Then, back to Union Hall to claim our tickets and wait for the competition to begin. The event had been sold out for weeks. Slovenes love their choral music!

We got the nosebleed seats in the very last row, but asked to be moved. In hindsight, we should have just stayed here so we could see what the judges were writing down!

The organizers very kindly moved us to the upper left of the hall, where we unfurled our handy-dandy Philippine flag and got ready to cheer for our Glee Club. Can you say groupies?

Then the competition began.

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Maribor on my mind

It’s not an exaggeration to say we traveled from one end of Slovenia to the other during our four days there. After landing in Ljubljana, we rode a train northeast to Maribor for the Glee Club’s competition, after which we took a bus to Koper on the southeast coast, right next to Italy and Croatia.

map via Wikipedia

The train ride from Ljubljana to Maribor took about two hours. Slovenia is not very big and there’s not a lot of distance to cover, but the train runs about as fast as those shopping mall kiddie trains. But that’s nothing to take issue with, because the route shows off Slovenia’s idyllic green landscape to stunning advantage.

Slovenia is a ridiculously gorgeous country. Marlon and I were tired after our early departure, but didn’t dare nap. Not with the constant stream of gorgeousness outside: farmhouses, streams, cattle grazing freely…

… hills covered in green, meadows carpeted in flowers, trees in bloom.

After months of gray in Amsterdam, I could finally believe it was spring.

A stroll around Maribor, after the jump!

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Dear Glee Club

Hello from Maribor, Slovenia! Today is the European Grand Prix for Choral Singing, which is why I’m here. When my beloved Ateneo College Glee Club competes against four of the best choirs in the world (from Ukraine, Sweden and two from Japan), I will be there to cheer them on. 
I was part of the cast that competed in the European Grand Prix 11 years ago, when it was held in Debrecen, Hungary. We lost. It was one of the most emotional and intense shared experiences of my life.

The support for the present Glee Club has been amazing, further amplified by social media. Back in our day, we lived and competed in a bubble. Below are excerpts from a letter I wrote them, which they read on the bus to Maribor.

Dear Glee Club Batch 2012,

You’re in Europe! Yay! Congratulations on getting here! Everyone who has ever toured with the Glee Club knows what you’ve been through to get here. You’re here, individually and as a group, because you deserve to be here. Many of you made tough choices; showed resourcefulness and dedication; listened to your passions; followed your guts. For these things alone, you are already winners and deserve to be congratulated.

I’m so excited for all of you, because 11 years ago, I was just like one of you. I know what’s in store for you guys: the best time of your lives. 

After we sang in Debrecen, many of us in the EGP cast shared the same feeling: that we could not have sung any better. The group was so emotional coming off that stage, even before the winners were announced. And it wasn’t because we were nervous or wanted to win. It was because we recognized that we had done our best. It’s hard to avoid using clichés here, because in this case the cliché is true. 

Look for that feeling when you step off the stage. Aim for that. To know, personally, deep in your heart, that you have given everything you could give. I pray for that for all of you. 

You will make (if you are not already making) memories that will last you the rest of your lives. You will learn (or are learning) what you love most and want in life. Remember what makes you feel happiest and hold on to it. It will help you sharpen your intuition and follow your heart later on, when life doesn’t make it so easy. 

I can’t say this enough: I know what it feels like where you are. That’s what makes me so excited for all of you. And so proud, too. 

I am rooting for you guys (hindi pa ba obvious?) with all my heart. My prayers and love are with you all. 


Batch 2000-2001

If you want to support the Glee Club, or see the level of excellence the Philippines is at in choral singing, or if you’re just curious about how an international choral competition works, check it out via livestream at 4pm in Slovenia, 10pm Manila time. The winner will be announced at 7pm in Slovenia, 1am in Manila.

Spring break

I’ll be away for the next couple of weeks on The Big Trip of the year. This trip will be the longest Marlon and I have traveled together. It’s even longer than our honeymoon, and I’m planning everything. So while I’m excited, I’m also a little freaked out.

But that’s all in the fun of traveling. Being able to go on a long trip was what I wanted when I started getting restless in Singapore. That bout of “metaphysical unease” two years ago eventually brought us here, and now we get to take that long trip. I couldn’t be more thankful for that.

Our (rather ambitious) itinerary includes a mix of places I’ve been before, and new places that we’ll discover together for the first time:

  • The 2012 European Capital of Culture, Maribor, Slovenia, for the European Grand Prix for Choral Singing. The Glee Club qualified 11 years ago, and qualified again this year. Go Ateneo! One big fight!
  • Ideally, if I wake up early enough, a day trip to Lake Bled in Slovenia
  • The Mediterranean coastal town of Koper, Slovenia
  • A double date with the Duhamels in Venice
  • One night in Bologna, to stuff our faces with Italy’s finest
  • FLORENCE. Four days. Can’t wait.
  • San Gimignano, our base for exploring Tuscany and the nearby towns of Siena, Lucca and Volterra
  • Marina di Carrara on the Ligurian coast to visit relatives on Marlon’s side
  • Pisa, where we catch our flight back to Amsterdam
I’ll be traveling with the laptop, but don’t expect to be blogging on the fly. So in the meantime, feel free to explore the archives, wish us luck and pray that we’ll still be solvent/married/shaped vaguely like humans by the time this trip is over.

Over and out!

P.S. “Viaje” calligraphy above by yours truly. 

Prague, then and now

If you couldn’t already tell from my previous posts about it, touring Europe with the Ateneo College Glee Club was a life-changing experience. There is nothing like being 19 and traipsing all over Europe for free, getting to see and experience things tourists don’t, and doing what you love everyday with people who will become your friends for life. 
My memories of Prague from over a decade ago are all tour memories. And those memories were so good, I couldn’t help but try and retrace our footsteps.
The Philippine Embassy organized a concert for us inside the National Museum, which was pretty awesome. 
It was kind of hilarious to go back to the National Museum and find another bunch of lost, badly dressed Asian tourists carrying plastic bags in front of it, exactly where we were 11 years ago. 
I had to take a picture of the KFC in front of the museum because we all have memories of nearly dying of hunger there while waiting to be served by the slowest, rudest, most disinterested staff of all time. Working for an American fast food franchise must be the kiss of death for proud Europeans. 

We were the Glee Club “kiddies” back then. We all went up to Prague Castle but didn’t go inside because it was already closed. Rehearsals and performances took first priority, and we tried to do what sightseeing we could after official business was over.

Me in the same spot overlooking Prague, sans kiddies. We all live in different places now: Manila, Singapore, the US, Amsterdam. Miss you guys and wish you were all here with me.

Another guardia civil. This one is not allowed to move or smile, unlike the friendly one at Charles Bridge. P.S. I remember being very worried about looking fat in this outfit 11 years ago. I was very conscious about my arms. Pakshet.

This time I actually got to go inside Prague Castle on a walking tour with Sandemans New Europe. We had a very enthusiastic, entertaining and knowledgeable guide, a Czech student named Filip. Here he is passionately questioning why the biggest pillar-less hall in Europe (on left) is no longer used for its original purpose: indoor jousting.

Filip also pointed out that the immense St. Vitus Cathedral was started in the 1300s, but remained unfinished until 1929. That’s the reason why, quite bizarrely, the likenesses of four men in business suits are carved into its Gothic exterior (top right). They were the committee who spearheaded the completion of the church. Very quirky, and almost… Pinoy. I kind of like it.

A young, pre-bangs, pre-hair color, pre-upper lip wax moi on Charles Bridge. Rina had just chopped off four inches off my hair that morning. Incidentally, Rina also brought me to get my first dye job and upper lip wax at Azta Salon many years later. Haha! Also, note all the high waisted mom jeans in the background.

Eleven years later… I think I actually look better, although I wish I had stayed skinny. Or maybe I just have a better camera now!

Aside from the 30 statues lining Charles Bridge, there are also a number of bronze plaques that are supposed to bring you good luck if you rub them. At the time, all of us rubbed them with the aim of winning a big international competition… that we subsequently lost. But I also recall there was one you rubbed if you wished to return to Prague. I think it’s the one I’m rubbing in this photo.

Well, I don’t know if I rubbed with the wrong intent. But it worked… I did return to Prague! (I have also done this in Paris and Brussels, and returned each time.) I made sure to rub another one just in case. And I made Marlon do it too.

I don’t know exactly what we were rubbing them for. But if they grant me either good luck or a return trip to this beautiful city, I won’t complain!

Number one fan

Everyone needs a number one fan.

The Ateneo College Glee Club already had its own when I joined it as a freshman in 1999. His name was Dr. Fernando Hofileña, M.D. To us, and the generations of Glee Club members who knew him, he was simply Doc Hof.

Doc was a tenor in the Glee Club during the 1950s, when it was still an all-male choir. He stayed on to become its tireless cheerleader, mentor, guide, morale booster and its number one fan.

You couldn’t be in the Glee Club and not know him. Your identity as a card-carrying member of the Glee Club was not valid until you had seen him strolling in his stately pace with his trusty umbrella along Katipunan; until you’d been stopped by him in the hall and held by the arm for a long chat (often, just as you were dashing to class or to rehearsal); until you had heard him speak in superlatives of the group you belonged to.

Everyone has their favorite Doc Hof story. Mine is the time when, after a particularly disastrous rehearsal, our conductor launched into a cutting sermon that left our confidence in shreds (as conductors will often do).

At the end of Sir Joel’s tirade, Doc walked into the rehearsal room beaming, bringing his hands together in slow, emphatic applause. “Incandescent!” he declared beatifically.

Well, nobody could stay angry or tired after that.

My other favorite Doc Hof story is how he, as an octogenarian, was hit by a truck while walking home in Loyola Heights. We were all horrified when we heard. Oh, no, not to worry—he was okay, he said. He simply got up, dusted himself off and walked home. After getting hit by a truck. True story.

Doc Hof’s unconditional love and support was constant even in the toughest times—when we sounded anything but incandescent. I was president during a difficult time in the Glee Club: we changed conductors twice in one year; we were on our own after a dramatic break from our alumni members; the makeup of the group shifted suddenly towards young, inexperienced singers. After our hard-earned triumphs in Europe, listeners expected a seasoned, winning sound that the “new” Glee Club simply didn’t have and couldn’t rush no matter how bad we wanted to.

During that transitional period, I heard many things from many people—but not a single thing from Doc. Making difficult decisions for the group was nerve-wracking and we officers could never be sure we were doing the right thing. In those times, Doc Hof’s quiet kindness was a gift. His constant presence was reassuring. His unshakeable faith in us, that we would endure and flourish, was a soothing balm. He simply knew that we would make it, even if I wasn’t sure we would.

Doc was so in love with the Glee Club, it was all he ever talked to us about. He never said much about himself. We were all stunned to learn about his achievements when he was awarded the Lux-In-Domino Award by Ateneo in 2008.

Here was a man who, when World War II broke out, stopped med school to return to his province of Negros to help his father, then the Mayor of the town of Silay. After fleeing with his family and townspeople to the mountains, he joined the Resistance against the Japanese and became acting Mayor at the age of 22.

After the war, he became a Fulbright scholar and studied pediatrics and child psychiatry in New York, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. He came home to become the pediatrician and clinic head for the very first school for special education in the Philippines—now the Cupertino Center for Special Children in Loyola Grand Villas. I could go on and on, but you can read more about Doc’s remarkable life here.

He loved music, theater, debate. If you had ever talked to him, you would realize how much he exemplified a bygone era—one where people were kinder, greater, more genteel, more noble. Now that Doc is gone, I’m hard-pressed to think of anyone whom I could accurately describe as genteel or noble. Now I feel like his era has passed with his passing.

Everyone needs a number one fan. That a man as accomplished and remarkable as Doc Hof could be humble enough to be ours—so unabashedly, so unconditionally—was a gift beyond our deserving.

Doc was laid to his eternal rest today. Though it was always an honor and a pleasure to sing for him, I believe that we were only the opening act to what awaits him. I can only imagine what beautiful music must have been prepared to welcome him. I can only imagine his face when he hears it.

Dear Doc, rest well and enjoy the music. We love you and we will miss you.

A few thoughts on dreams

Parang kailan lang, ang mga pangarap ko’y kay hirap abutin…
These lyrics from Florante’s Handog leaped out at me from a video posted by Will, from the current Glee Club, on my Facebook wall this evening.
Bigla kong naalala na noong kaedad ko sina Will, pangarap kong tumira sa Europa. Hindi ko alam kung paano ko gagawin, pero lagi kong iniisip na sana, balang araw, makabalik ako at makatira dito.

So ang ibig sabihin, dahil nandito ako ngayon, nagkatotoo ang pangarap ko.

Kiddies in Prague, 2001. Slight digression: why did I think I was fat?

I sometimes lose sight of the fact that I’m living a dream fulfilled: when it’s cold, rainy and gray for what seems like the umpteenth day in a row; when I see other people living in fantastic locations; or when I’m slogging through a ten-page immigration document written entirely in Dutch.

How easy it is to forget that my dream came true. So when I do remember, the realization can hit so hard it sometimes brings tears to my eyes.

Though it may seem like it to people who don’t know me or Marlon very well, it may seem like I got to Europe by latching on to a jet-setting expat type (or an expat-to-be) with a career that would take him around the world. But I’ll tell you something not a lot of people know.

When Marlon and I first started dating, the plan was very different. I was dead set on living in Europe (how, neither of us knew… but I was going to do it!) and Marlon needed to follow me, somehow. That was why he took his overseas job with a multinational company in the first place: because he thought it would give him the best chance of following me wherever I decided to end up.

This is the first step that the man of my dreams took in making my dreams come true. He believed in me. He saw me as a person who could, and would, achieve some whacked-out dream like that. Never mind that I had zero plans. Never mind that every time I thought about what I wanted, I wanted it so bad and felt so far from having it that I easily wound up bawling every time. He simply believed in me.

Over the course of the next four years, he took another simple but very difficult step. I can sum it up in four words: he stuck it out. I mostly mean the long-distance thing, but there are other, bigger things that nearly blew us both in separate directions. But he just hung in there. And because he did, so did I.
Then, last year, when I started getting itchy feet and questioning our life in Singapore, he did one last thing that bridged the gap from there to here. He listened. It wasn’t easy for him to consider such a big change, with the career he had built and the comfort we enjoyed. But he listened, and that single act encompasses so wonderful things. Being someone I felt I could talk to about anything, enough for me to open up in the first place, is one. Sharing my sense of adventure and love for travel, valuing what we agreed our marriage would be, and not being bound to money or comfort, were others.

And this is why I—why we—are here.
Thanks to PKF for the photo!
There are as many dreams as there are ways of making them come true. All I’m saying, really is that this life, and the man I’m living it with, has been one of mine.

Garden state

Last month’s visit to Versailles was actually the second time I’ve been there. The first time was exactly 10 years ago (eeep!) with the Glee Club. We had some bonus miles from our bus company, so the group decided to use it on a day trip to Versailles.

However, it was a Monday and the palace was closed. We only got to see the gardens, which were free. We would have been extremely bummed if not for the fact that the Versailles gardens are, like, jumongous. Never underestimate the fun-generating ability of a bunch of Pinoys with cameras.

The gardens of Versailles then… and now.

How’s this for another before and after shot?

Nobody is allowed to comment on how I looked like I was stretched in post. I’m not exactly happy about this decade-long, er, expansion project. You are however allowed to comment that 10 years later, I am at least dressed better than my neneng self. By the way, this outfit is part of the two-part guest post I did for Plus Size Fasyon Mudra.

In the summer, Versailles charges a €7 admission fee for its gardens. In exchange for this little sum, you get the perfect soundtrack for a French frolic. Music from several appropriate historic periods is piped in amidst the tall green hedges, serene fountains and assorted Greek bronze figures.

Not all of us were happy about having to pay for something that was free on our last visit. On the bright side, the music was well-chosen, discreet and did a lot to enhance the ambience and stimulate the imagination.

Not only did I keep expecting to happen upon Marie Antoinette amidst a flock of poodles, the music  made me feel like I should be laughing a coquettish, lady-in-waiting kind of laugh and playing hide-and-seek in a powdered wig and taffeta ballgown. Makes me wish I hadn’t left the talcum powder and the whalebone corset in my other handbag.

Paris, 10 years later

Do you remember?
Do you remember waking up to days, weeks, months where all you had to think about was what you loved to do most, in the company of the people you most loved to do it with?

Do you remember sound checks and rehearsals…

Churches upon churches…

More masses than you’d ever attended in a single day?

Do you remember passing the hat for money? And being so thankful for every deutschmark, franc, guilder, peseta, tolar, lira, and much later, euro, that our voices earned for us?

Do you remember the bread broken with strangers who made the meals and cared for us, so that after those meals they were strangers no more?

Do you remember taking too long to load the bus with suitcases that got heavier at each stop…

… and laughing at the most ridiculous things that only we could find funny, together?

Do you remember the applause and the cheers, how they made your heart feel all warm inside no matter how tired you were… and smile so hard you thought your face might split apart?

Do you remember singing our joys, sorrows, triumphs, exhaustion, even our goodbyes?

Do you remember what it was like to win?

And what it was like when we had to start all over again?

That was when I wish someone had told me that in spite of everything I feared, what I loved would continue, grow and flourish.

And though the songs may be new ones…

The faces may have changed…

And although now we can only be on the outside looking in…

It looks and feels as sweet as I remember. And I know they’ll always remember it this way, too.

Wiping my eyes after the Glee Club sang for the morning service at the American Church in Paris, I asked Gutsy: “Why did we have to grow up?”

I’m not sure, but I think maybe we leave some things behind to make room, to clear space for new and different things…

… things that make new selves of us, and that assure us every day that becoming an adult is worth it.

And while we leave some things behind, some things, like laughter, music and friendship…

…are simply forever. 
“We’ll always have Paris,” goes the famous line from Casablanca. But I think we’ll always have much more than Paris. And for that I will always be grateful. 

10 years ago I was 18

UPDATED: Now with pictures and a note on technology!

Maggie and Gutsy’s forays into nostalgiatime made me realize, somewhat belatedly, that 2010 marks the passing of an entire decade. So I thought a look back at the Noughties (surely there is something better to call it?) was worth blogging about.

But as I have the awful habit of putting a favorite song on loop literally for years, thus preventing more current songs from penetrating my aural fog, I am not in the best position to make a playlist to commemorate the decade.

So let me just remember how it was 10 years ago, when I was 18.

10 years ago…

… I was a college freshman and my favorite class was English with Doreen Fernandez. I was just beginning to discover how much writing was a part of me, how happy I was doing it, and how good I could really be at it. Ten years later, it’s become how I make a living and how I live.

… I was possessed by the terrifying belief that to lose myself in the delicious mindlessness of pleasure, I had to be very deeply in love. To my great relief, I learned that the two could exist independently, thereby leading to some very liberating but otherwise pointless and frustrating… er, adventures.

… I made a powerful choice to be happy, long before I knew I could make such powerful choices, which got me over the biggest heartbreak of my life. Thankfully, no other heartbreak has followed to date.

… I promised to be friends with my first love. We still are.

… I met the man whom I would marry. I never thought he would be the one.

… The singular point of my existence was making it on tour, getting to Europe and having a life-changing adventure. I was probably waiting for some European Lothario to sweep me off my feet, but the real life-changer was the friends I made in the process of making it on tour and singing my way through Europe.

… I fell in love with singing. And after years of being an alto, I became a soprano. Now that was life-changing!

… I was in Slovenia, among other places. And I was shocked to discover not everywhere in Europe was prettier/newer/better than the Philippines. Slovenia!!! How’s that for somewhere you’ll never be again.

Que horror! Ano ba yang bandanna efek? 

… Oh Lord! All my tour pictures were on film. Each roll of film cost roughly Php150 and about the same to develop. I had to really think about which pictures I wanted to take. I saved up for months to have all 18 rolls from the tour developed. In my mind, 10 years is not that long ago since the memories are amazingly fresh — but looking at these film prints just makes it all seem prehistoric.

…  Speaking of pictures. The only person who had a digital camera back then was multibillionaire wonder boy and pawnshop heir Harvey Villarica. The resolution of this uber-expensive piece of technology was… ONE megapixel. Which meant he could develop them into prints about the size of a postage stamp (or, if you really wanna go back, Neoprint-size). We were all mystified the first time he showed it to us. “Harvey, what will you do with the pictures if you can’t develop them?” my English block mates wondered. “Put them on the Internet,” he shrugged. We just stared at him. “But… what for?” Ah, the dark ages.

… My family and I were struggling to make ends meet. There were days where I literally would have to scrounge up fifty pesos just to be able to go to school. Things are vastly improved now, to say the least.

… I shared a bedroom with my sister, with my mom in the next room. Today we live in three different cities — Sta. Rosa, Kuala Lumpur and Singapore.

… I was at least 35 lbs lighter. This in spite of the fact that I would have a three-pack of Chips Ahoy or a chocolate bar everyday. Well at least now we know how I got to my present weight. Hah.
… And in spite of the fact that I was 35 lbs lighter, I absolutely did not take advantage of my skinny-ness and dressed like an eejit. My favorite outfit was flared jeans, black leather platforms from the mercato in Milan, a blouse and a Jansport backpack. Ngek. My second favorite outfit was army green cargo pants, a large t-shirt, and sneakers. Fug. This style of dressing created the impression that I was either butch (Marlon: “I thought you hated guys”) or an athlete (Mags Imaizumi: “Oh aren’t you on the soccer varsity? You dress like the type”). Go figure.
 I loved this butchy grey Esprit jacket to death. I wore it all over Europe 
with my passport, wallet, camera AND travel journal stuffed into my tummy pocket 
like a dumpy manang kangaroo. I even cried when it went missing. 
Now I wish I could reach into this photo and rip it off me. 
Mamatay na lang ako sa lamig.

… I was one, maybe two cup sizes smaller. I would gladly give back my boobs if I could also give back the rest of the poundage I’ve accumulated since then.

… I had virgin hair. (High school attempts to “dye” it with Kool-Aid do not count.) I had only just discovered how not to tweeze my eyebrows to invisibility. Upper lip waxing, moisturizer, eye cream and sunblock were not yet part of my beauty vocabulary. The only sunblock in my consciousness was Coppertone and you would never think of putting that gunk on your face if you weren’t at the beach.

… I failed Math 12. Ten years later, does it matter? Hell no.

… Come to think of it, I can say with perfect honesty and zero regret that I once woke up to find myself in bed with my Math 12 teacher and his wife! (Be not alarmed: Lorna, Gerard and I were in the same Glee Club caroling group that year and we slept in the sofabed in Eunice’s den after caroling in Alabang. I was sleeping next to Lorna, naturally. LOL!)