DIMMED lights, serene atmosphere, and historical artifacts as backdrops—it was a perfect setting to envelope oneself with hymns and classical melodies performed by one of the top chorales in the world. And indeed, the performance of the UST Singers last Nov. 11 to 12 was a delightful mix of rhythm and symphony, their grandiose sounds echoing within the jam-packed halls of the UST Museum.

It is amazing how far the UST Singers have gone since they were just a small group of students hanging around and stretching their voices in the halls of the Main Building back in 1992. With all the recognitions they have received locally and abroad, the singing ambassadors of good will proved that they are really the “Choir of the World.”

In more than a decade of spreading goodwill and the UST pride throughout the world, the UST Singers have been sharing their music internationally despite a tight budget. It has been a practice of the UST Singers to stay with host families whenever they are abroad if only to save on the expenses, while other choirs stay in fancy hotels. At one time, they had to stay for a week in a bomb shelter. There were only triple-decked beds and no windows, and the 35-member group had to cram inside. With the Spartan accommodation, they realized that even with their numerous awards and distinctions, they were like fugitives in a foreign country.

In a terrifying incident, former UST Singer president Viola Villenia recalled that the bus they were riding on their way to Kansas City smelled like there was something burning. They did not know that the back of the bus was already in flames.

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“We didn’t know what was happening. We suddenly panicked when people in the passing cars shouted, ‘Your bus is burning! Your bus is burning!’ It was a good thing everyone got out immediately, because after a while the bus actually exploded,” Villenia said.

The group ended up in a small station outside town and was in the six o’clock news the same day. Many feared the possibility of graver danger, Viola said, but it did not stop them from finishing the rest of the tour—in fact, they got on another bus and went straight to their next performance.

However, the UST Singers believe it was their stay with their host families in the different countries that truly moved them. Even though it was for cost-cutting purposes, it was nevertheless a heartwarming experience.

UST Singer Stephanie Tan said they felt very much at ease with their generous hosts—they believed that they were able to share our culture and connect with people from different walks of life, despite the language barrier. Sharing heartwarming experiences with people different in many ways had led them to find families miles from home.

Pride

One of the more important things the UST Singers have learned through their international tours was their pride and love for country. Vernie Abando, who has been with the group for nine years, has remained passionate about his love for our native soil, regardless of its many flaws, because it is in creating a name for the country around the world that makes him proud to be a Filipino.

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“Whatever they say, nothing compares to the Philippines,” Abando said.

Even with 12 international concert tours under their belts, the UST Singers are still striving to enhance their craft. Their latest concert tour that took them to four major concert halls in South Korea and 15 cities in the United States showed that they are still one of the most prestigious choirs worldwide.

Highlights of the tour included The Springtime of Faith concert with Aaron Neville at the Kemper Arena in Kansas City, a performance at the UST Medical Alumni Association in America Grand Homecoming concert at the Marriott Marquees in New York City, and a special performance in celebration of the Philippine Independence for the Filipino community in Washington D.C.

Among the many awards, they remain to be the only Asian “Choir of the World” (1995 Grand Prize in Wales, United Kingdom). They also won the Grand Prize in Gorizia, Italy, and the “Ville de Vevey” Prize for Best Programming and Interpretation in Montreux, Switzerland last year.

Through the years, the UST Singers have established themselves not only as true “ambassadors” of the country in their worldwide jaunts, but most especially of Thomasian goodwill and pride. Their experiences have helped them achieve their prominent status today and made them learn new things from a different perspective—something they will carry with them even after their stay with the UST Singers. Anne Nerissa C. Alina

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