Published on Page A10 of the November 16, 2006 issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer
CHIAROSCURO is derived from the Italian words for clear or light ("chiaro") and for obscure or dark ("oscuro"). And this artsy term aptly describes my experience with a Manila choir. The word came to me as I struggled to put together a two- to three-sentence testimonial that each choir member had to produce for the souvenir program of a series of farewell concerts. The interplay of light and shadow stayed with me for some time and eventually brought me back to where I had started with the group.
I was a wide-eyed, naïve chorister from the province, a neophyte, when I decided to enter the Manila choral scene. What pulled me toward the choir was a deep, spiritual experience I had during one of the group's concerts a couple of years ago. The melodious strains and uplifting lyrics of Twila Paris' "How Beautiful" had a great effect on me. I can still remember feeling the warm flow of tears down my cheeks. The music and the words touched me to the core. And after the concert, I told myself I had to be part of the choir.
When I learned that auditions were being conducted for tenors and basses, I mustered all the strength to show up. I sang "Madaling Araw" as my audition piece.
It was my first meeting with the maestro himself. He was encouraging, I should say. When I had a hard time reaching the high notes, he taught me a technique that has helped me to this day.
When I passed the auditions, I was very happy. Yet I knew that it was just the beginning. Passing the auditions was one thing, staying in the choir was another thing. I had a "loving struggle" with the musical, choral texts set by different composers. A poor sight-reader, I could hardly sing. I would listen wide-eyed as the other choir members attacked the notes and hit them right.
After rehearsals, I would try to play various parts, to no avail. Still I couldn't quit. It was only the start, I assured myself.
The challenge of being part of a chorale, as my experience proved, goes beyond creating music. Soon after joining the choir, I started feeling other members' nastiness. But I told myself that I should not let their unkind comments weigh my spirit down, but instead I should learn to take their criticism in a positive light. Still, I couldn't help but be affected by their words sometimes.
There were times when the tension seemed so unbearable that I thought of quitting. Then I had to drag myself to the rehearsals. Fear of being caught unprepared would sometimes make me consider not showing up at all. Finding alibis seemed quite easy, but I chose to carry on.
It was only when I came to terms with my limitations as a musician and doing something about them that things started to clear up. Little by little, I emerged from the darkness but there were other things I had to overcome. I had to push myself to learn, study the pieces and master the art of listening, really listening, not only to myself but to the group as well. I had to deal with comments constructively and value them.
As I dealt with my limitations as a musician, the more I opened myself to others. In the past, I would feel some anxiety whenever I had to talk to other members of the group. And I would immediately go home after the rehearsals, thus missing the chance to interact with the other members. And I felt quite isolated. In my frame of mind, music was my only motivation for staying and nothing else. I couldn't imagine myself knowing the other members of our choir and getting close to them.
But when I opened myself to the others, I started to see each member in a different light. I found out each one's quirks, but it did not keep me from getting to know him better and letting him know who I was.
It wasn't easy. I had to take a leap of courage. I had to struggle to be free from the limitedness of my music and the insecurities that I had built like walls around me.
Right now, the choir that I am proud to be part of is on a European Tour. For the first time, our choir will compete in Tolosa, Spain.
It is also my first time to be on a musical tour. And the pressure has been building quickly.
Although this is my own personal account, I know that many members of the choir have a similar story. I know I am not alone because I share the Light with them and it is this Light that binds us together. It is through that Light, I believe, that the group was formed. It is the same Light that binds my music and my spirituality with those of the rest of our group. And our spirituality has been shaped by the Light through music.
Mark Anthony P. Canios, 24, teaches philosophy and theology at Miriam College.
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