Thursday, July 17, 2014

Classical music singers who work their butts off and like it

Viva Voce, which is made up of members who are soloists in their own right, will have a repeat performance of "Complicated the Concert" on July 19 at 2 p.m. at the Lopez Museum and Library, Benpres bldg., Exchange road, Ortigas Center, Pasig City. Photo by Babeth Lolarga

With Typhoon Glenda veering away from the country after exacting another round of damage to life and property and with the storm signal down, the show must go on for Viva Voce's "Complicated the Concert." This is a repeat performance of an earlier acclaimed concert of patriotic hymns and more lamentations in song form, all inspired by the museum's permanent exhibition and current ones of visual and performing artists Leslie de Chavez, Mike Adrao and Ea Torrado.

Led by soprano and voice professor Camille Lopez Molina, who is also the group's accompanist, Viva Voce originated as an intensive summer voice workshop intended to provide young classical singers with a venue where they could master their craft.

Lopez Molina said, "It was designed to help them conquer the challenges of performing as soloists. The first Viva Voce workshop was held in 2010, the last in 2012. From there we have evolved into a performing group of singers. The group is just a temporary haven to help iron out vocal performance problems of each individual. It's a sort of halfway house between being a student and a professional. We teach these kids not just how to sing and perform but also to give them a heads up on the business side of the profession, the ethics, the risks, the requirements."

Viva Voce was also a good reason to go up to Baguio. Their head said, "Gawa tayo ng gimik para maka-stay sa Baguio ng matagal-tagal sa summer!"

The first batch of facilitators in 2010 were tenors John Glenn Gaerlan and Randy Gilongo, Pablo Molina (Camille's husband and also a singer) and she. Their pianists were Peter Porticos and Camille's mother, Dr. Myrna Lopez.
Viva Voce founder Camille Lopez Molina Photo from her Facebook profile

Lopez Molina had already attended many voice workshops in the US and Canada. Being a natural teacher, she thought she could combine and adapt the formats she learned abroad "to suit our resources and our participants' needs."

In the second batch of facilitators were soprano Rica Nepomuceno, pianist Najib Ismail and actor Nonie Buencamino. The 2012 workshop was a dream come true with such luminaries as tenor Arthur Espiritu, soprano and professor Irma Potenciano and Dr. Jonathan Malicsi as facilitators. The workshop content included singing diction sessions, text analysis, interpretation sessions and career talks.

Their Baguio summers weren't all sight-seeing and sleeping till noon. Activities lined up daily were physical exercises for stretching, breathing and support, and muscular coordination, vocalizations, games, individual lessons, masterclasses and recitals.

Lopez Molina continued, "We were lucky that Glenn found good venues for us to use, particularly the Convent of the Holy Spirit on Pacdal Road. The place is far from the noise of the city center. There is a hilltop on the property where we would have morning exercises in the open. It's a strenuous climb, it was a challenge to drag ourselves up there every morning, but the effort was so worth it."

Excellence is one of Viva Voce's guiding principles, if not THE guiding principle. It is, as the founder put it, "the only way you can make a living from classical singing. Your attitude reflects your artistry, and artistry is what you can sell, not just your talent. There are a lot of really talented people who can't break into this field because of an attitude of mediocrity. Puwede na just doesn't cut it. You have to be the best person for the job. That means working your butt off to master your instrument and learn your craft."

She described excellence as a quality that "challenges you, keeps your artistry fresh and gets you noticed. Anybody can sing classically or operatically, but not anybody can actually be a classical or an opera singer. Excellence means you don't make a distinction between 'Philippine standards' and world-class. And it's more fun when you have others with you learning the same things."

Technically, Viva Voce isn't a chorus or a choir. Lopez Molina explained, "Viva Voce is composed of soloists who sing as an ensemble, which includes chorus work in operas, oratorios and masses. But the thrust is different. The focus of a choir is the sound of the whole group, to sound as one. An ensemble puts more emphasis on individuals performing together and finding a common musical 'groove' or vibe but with each person's sound still clearly defined."

To prepare for "Complicated the Concert," what the Viva Voce members did, upon the invitation of Lopez Museum consultant Ricky Francisco (who joined the 2012 Baguio workshop), was to view the art works. He explained everything to them from the concept of the entire exhibit to each artist's work's significance and intention.

Then the group put their heads together on how they could somehow incorporate or weave the works in the songs. This led to the use the slides and subtitling since they already have a projector and floor-to-ceiling screen installed.

Lopez Molina recalled the process of selecting their program repertoire: "I let the art works guide us. We took each work literally, asking ourselves, 'What do you see?' We chose each number in the repertoire literally like what is the song saying? From there I chose real-life photographs that are relevant to both painting and song. These connected us to the real and present world. This process made me see much more behind the text of the songs and the visual content of the art works. I realized how intertwined our individual identities and our psyche as a nation are to our nation's history."

Asked if the meaning of plaintive love songs could also be expanded to the idea of bayang inaapi, she nodded vigorously, saying, "Definitely!" - Elizabeth Lolarga

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