Half a decade has passed since music professor Flora Zarco-Rivera took 20 children from the UP College of Music extension program and formed what eventually became the UP Cherubim and Seraphim (UPCS), one of the oldest children’s choirs in the country.
Some of these children would later be manning the frontlines as health workers. Some would be pursuing a career in fine arts, others in architecture. And some would be forging their own paths in the music industry.
After 50 years, they would all be coming back to ‘Cherubim’ to lend their golden voices once again.
On September 25, UPCS marked its 50th anniversary with a virtual concert featuring over 70 alumni, along with special guests Joey Ayala, Eudenice Palaruan, Robin Rivera, Lynn Sherman, and National Artist Ryan Cayabyab.
“The first one is [always the] toughest,” said Associate Director Alyssa Liyana Dioquino.
The concert, entitled Aurea Carmina (Golden Songs), is the choir’s first full-length virtual performance after previously releasing shorter video clips. The hour-long concert featured performances from past and present members of the choir, as well as special messages from alumni and staff.
“We were panicking because we’ve never done this before,” Director Emeritus Prof. Elena Mirano said.
Dioquino said that the team had to do a lot of “backward problem-solving” as technical issues began to arise while they were putting the concert together.
“The very small details that would usually be excusable in [live] performance were not excusable anymore,” she said.
Aside from marked music sheets, they also had to provide asynchronous learning materials like audio guides to avoid mistakes while recording.
According to choir member Aila Orillaza, the online set-up is more challenging because “doing things individually is not the philosophy of a choir.”
Thankfully, alumni from various fields readily stepped in to help with putting the videos together in post-production.
While the shift to the virtual stage proved to be a huge adjustment, it did not hinder UPCS from standing by its decades-old tradition of performing music with social significance.
“The program always has to address something that not just the audience but also the children can learn from,” Dioquino said.
The choir performed Sa Mahal Kong Bayan, Sa Dakong Silangan, Manong Pawikan, Nais Ko, The Trout, and Bata ang Bukas in the virtual concert. Themes of nationalism, respect for nature, and solidarity with Overseas Filipino Workers and indigenous people were tackled and explored through these songs.
Aila shares that every time they are given new songs, their mentors would always make sure to also give them context on who wrote the songs, what it was about, and who it was written for.
“The songs influenced my life in a way that it made me more proud to be Filipino, to learn about my country’s history,” she said.
Mirano and Dioquino recognize that some of the children will grow up and pursue careers outside music so it was necessary for UPCS to imbibe values that the children could take with them outside the rehearsal rooms.
“It’s important for the kids to develop a sense that there is meaning in the music that they sing because that’s what they can bring with them in the future,” Mirano said.
Beyond creating beautiful music, alumni coming from the 1970s all the way to the 2010s all had precious memories to share. Many fondly remember participating in the choir’s national and international tours where they would bond as children.
“It’s not just singing, it’s the being together,” Mirano said.
Every UPCS batch agrees on a batch name that usually represents the group’s shared interests and characteristics. Over the years, the batch would remain in contact despite pursuing different careers as adults.
Before the pandemic struck, Aila recalls coming to Abellardo Hall after school and finding her much-needed solace in choir rehearsals.
While the intimacy of in-person rehearsals is hard to replicate in the virtual setup, Dioquino said that they try to keep the children’s “sense of togetherness” alive.
With members as young as four years old, UPCS makes sure that the children still get to have some fun beyond their weekly rehearsals. The group holds virtual parties where the kids would play games and share food through deliveries.
Bata ang Bukas
Mirano recalls how she tried to avoid following her mother, UPCS founder Zarco-Rivera’s, footsteps in leading the choir.
When she was young, she would help her mother choose pop songs for the group and arrange their choreography, but she never thought that she would also hold the baton herself.
“I fought it for a long, long time. I did not want to [direct] the group kasi I wanted to do something other than what my mother was doing,” she said.
However, as she grew older and had children of her own, Mirano began to find joy in leading the group.
“I think we underestimate children. I think they understand much more than we think,” she said.
Despite its disadvantages, Dioquino said that shifting online helped the kids become stronger singers individually. However, she still hopes to perform on a real stage soon.
“I think one of the great aspects about the longevity of ‘Cherubim’ is that this group has always adapted to its environment and I think it’s testament to the fact that kids are very adaptable,” she said.
While Aila still misses performing live at Abellardo Hall, she thinks that performing amid a pandemic is what makes music relevant in the face of adversities.
“I’m not happy to be part of a time like this but I’m happy to be a part of something that makes our world a little happier,” Aila said. “I think the songs we sing don’t force positivity. They do not deny the hard things that we’re going through, rather they accept that we are in trying times and they encourage us to move forward—not to move on—with whatever good thing we can take from this.”
Mirano adds that the choir has always been about giving hope and moving forward. She said that music plays an integral role in making meaning out of hardships.
“We have to hope for something out there […] We work with children, we want them to come out of this – as we hope that we ourselves come out of this – with a sense of hope that there is a future, that we’re gonna get out of this together, that we are going to be whole,” she said. DZUP
Featured Photo: The UP Cherubim and Seraphim makes its way to their first out-of-town tour in Baguio, circa 1970. Photo from UP Cherubim and Seraphim