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. 

GO GLEE CLUB! 

Love, 
Deepa
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.
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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. 
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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!
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