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‘Pitch Perfect’? ‘Glee’? UP's Concert Chorus did it first

By Mike Diez Published Feb 01, 2023 4:02 pm Updated Feb 02, 2023 7:19 am

“In the history of choral group singing, I think we were the first to choreograph dance and movements alongside singing,” said Attorney Dot Gancayco, President of the University of the Philippines Concert Chorus (UPCC) Alumni Association.

“UP Concert Chorus is a pioneer of choral singing through movement,” UPCC’s artistic director and conductor Jai Sabas-Aracama confirmed. She said that even before the Americans brought show choir to the Philippines, choir singing was already popular with Filipinos.

“Hindi alam ng mga Amerikano na meron na tayong ganoong culture na sing and dance, and we’re so good at it,” Aracama added.

As UPCC is set to stage its landmark 60th Anniversary Concert entitled  “Sama-Sama Together” this coming February 4, 2023 at the UP Theater, Gancayco and Aracama reminisce about the group’s humble beginnings.

The choir was established by then President of the University of the Philippines, General Carlos P. Romulo in 1962. UPCC would be the university’s official choir, performing at all school functions. As years went on, the UPCC transformed from a mere student chorale to an internationally-acclaimed performing group. Both Aracama and Gancayco credit much of UPCC’s innovations to former Dean of the UP College of Music, Rey Paguio, who became the group’s conductor in 1969.

UPCC in the 1970s

“Dati, ang mga choral groups nakatayo lang or nakaupo habang kumakanta. Pero si Dean Rey, gusto niyang mag-experiment. [So,] we started to include different genres of music in our repertoire,” Gancayco recalled.

“Parang na-westernize, in a sense, yung ating ethnic songs—inaayos into soprano, alto, tenor—naging choralic. That kind of fusion appeals to the younger generation. Nagkakaroon ng bridge (for the younger generation) to appreciate our own songs,” said Aracama, who carried the baton from Paguio as UPCC conductor when the celebrated Dean suddenly passed in 1999. With Aracama upholding the legacy established by Paguio, the UPCC continued to flourish as a multi-awarded choral group, winning several accolades in prestigious choral competitions abroad. 

“After na nag-start kame na kumakanta at sumasayaw at the same time, parang ginaya na rin ng ibang mga groups. Sabi nga namin, ‘nauna tayo sa Glee’,” Gancayco joked. 

1983 UPCC at the CCP
Six decades of UPCC

The Sama-Sama Together” anniversary concert will feature different UP Concert Chorus batches from the 1960s to the present. The touring batches of the past six decades will be singing and dancing to the music that defined their era and generation.

As President of the UPCC Alumni Association, Gancayco has the hard task of coordinating with everyone for the groups 60th Anniversary Concert, from the pioneering members when UPCC started in 1962 all the way to the alumni of the 2000s. 

1997 UPCC

“It’s difficult (getting everyone together), but we were able to get in touch with all of the alumni before, while preparing for our 58th anniversary concert in 2020,” Gancayco said. They were able to stage that 58th anniversary concert two weeks before lockdowns were imposed during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. Technically, the 60th anniversary concert should have been held in 2022.

Aside from the arduous task of rounding up UPCC alumni (210 members, at the latest count) since the institution was created, there is also the matter of having senior members perform onstage.

Dati, ang mga choral groups nakatayo lang or nakaupo habang kumakanta. Pero si Dean Rey, gusto niyang mag-experiment. [So,] we started to include different genres of music in our repertoire. — Gancayco

“Meron iba na uugod-ugod na pero gusto pa rin mag-perform,” said Aracama. She added that there are those who now require wheelchairs, yet are very enthusiastic in becoming a part of the show.

“The point of this homecoming, or anniversary concert, is not really perfection in the sense that, parang academic na kailangan nasa tono parati. Basta matapos natin ang kanta, eto yung areglo, ganyan,” Aracama explained. She said this with tongue firmly in cheek, as all alumni are still able to hit their notes perfectly.

2003 UPCC

Aracama added that the joy of reuniting with fellow UPCC members has been something everyone was looking forward to, especially now that the pandemic has eased. 

“We all miss the camarederie, yung nakakasama mo mga singers na ka-batch mo,” she said. 

The UPCC legacy

The UPCC is made up of students from different courses. According to Aracama, they have members from practically all courses within the UP Diliman campus: from Engineering to Law, to even Agriculture and Fisheries.

As such, UPCC has produced a veritable wealth of talent over the years. There are OPM legends such as Nanette Inventor, Joel Navarro (who wrote and sung Suwerte-Suwerte Lang), Tux members Bob Serrano and Popo Suanes, Heber Bartolome, Edru Abraham, celebrity voice teacher Kitchie Molina and notable singers Zebedee Zuñiga, Sushi Reyes and Dot Gancayco of The Opera, among many others.

There are also those who’ve made their mark as lawyers, engineers, directors, and doctors, including journalist Kata Inocencio and esteemed cardiologist and president of the Philippine Heart Association, Dr. Raul Jara, who passed away in 2020 during the height of the pandemic.

2010 UPCC

“At 19 years old, I was able to go around the world,” said Gancayco, who, aside from being a lawyer, is also an advocate of gender equality and women’s rights. “Having been exposed to different cultures at such a young age helped me develop into the person I am today.”

Aracama, who was a backup singer for the likes of Basil Valdez and Kuh Ledesma while attending UP’s College of Music in 1976, admitted she had no idea what she was getting herself into when she auditioned for UPCC as a freshman.

“But I admit it was super helpful. All the achievements, the competitions that we went to and won—and lost, the festivals, the exposure of our culture to the world through choral music—all were very helpful in my career.”

2022 UPCC

Aracama has also won Aliw awards and Lifetime Achievement awards for her contributions to the arts. An excellent singer who has performed with great conductors and appeared in several broadway and opera shows, Aracama would also mentor several pop artists in show business. She recalled being a vocal coach for her production assistant (PA) in UPCC. Years later, that  PA, Darling De Jesus-Bodegon, would become GMA Network’s First Vice President for Business Development. Bodegon contacted Aracama to become the vocal coach for the network’s musical and talent search show The Clash. That show is now on its fifth season, with Aracama still its vocal coach. 

“I would love to pass the art of mentoring to future generations,” the UPCC conductor said. Now in her 60s, Aracama said that she will retire in a few years. “Wala pa akong nakikita na kasing-baliw ko, pero I’m praying na yung susunod sa akin will really have the same passion, same patience and enthusiasm to work with the younger batch, and to be humble enough to listen to the older ones.” Aracama said, laughingly. 

UPCC’s 60th Anniversary Concert on February 4, 2023 is currently sold out. Visit them on their Facebook page for announcements on availability of tickets.