By Virginia A. Sembrano and John Frederick Pineda
The University of Santo Tomas (UST) Singers was founded in 1992. Since 1993, it has won 82 top prizes in 23 international competitions. The most celebrated of its winnings was the 1995 title Choir of the World when it won the title for the first time. When the choir once again competed at the Llangollen International Musical Eisteddfod in Wales in 2010, it took home the Grand Prize for the second time and the much-coveted Pavarotti trophy. And in 2019, it won the “Choir of the World Champion of Champions.” This new victory is another feather in the choir’s cap, making it uniquely three-time champions.
The “Choir of The World Champion of Champions” title is an online voting contest presented by the Llangollen International Musical Eisteddfod through its newest on-demand streaming service, Llangollen. TV, featuring performances of contestants in over 20 competitions in the festival. The Llangollen International Musical Eisteddfod also showcases its annual choir competitions, considered as the oldest and one of the most prestigious choral competitions in the world based in Wales, the United Kingdom.
The “Choir of the World,” established in 1987, is the final choir competition at the annual festival featuring all first prize winners from five categories namely, mixed choirs, youth choirs, female voice choirs, male voice choirs, and open choirs vying for the grand prize, the “Luciano Pavarotti Choir of the World” trophy, named after the legendary Italian tenor, who competed as a choir member at the festival in his youth.
Since its first competition abroad 26 years ago, the UST Singers has not only captured the hearts of jury members during competitions but also the hearts of Thomasians who get to experience the world-class music of the 27-year-old choir.
The festival, in its 72-year history, opened an online voting poll for the “Choir of the World Champion of Champions,” wherein the public could choose the best choir from all the previous 32 grand prize winners since its inception in 1987. Some of the countries represented in this competition were the US, Germany, South Africa, Australia, Hungary, and Bulgaria. The voting period started from the first week of June until the second week of July, leading to the culmination of the festival.
The UST Singers under the direction of its founder and conductor, Fidel Gener Calalang Jr., is composed of 31members, mostly students enrolled in the various programs of the university, while others are already professionals who comprise the alumni group in the choir. Choir members train under Prof. Calalang on a regular basis for hours after the student members are off from their classes, whether they are preparing for a performance, competition, or world tour. Discipline and dedication to the craft are of primary importance to the members.
Since its first competition abroad 26 years ago, the UST Singers has not only captured the hearts of jury members during competitions but also the hearts of Thomasians who get to experience the world-class music of the 27-year-old choir. University guests, for whom this premiere musical group performs, also share in the heavenly melodious experience. The UST Singers is always a top of mind performer in important university occasions such as the visit of the Queen of Spain and the Princess of Thailand, and gatherings of special guests such as members of the diplomatic corps and other similar special events.
Also worth noting are the string of achievements bythe UST Singers conductor Prof. Calalang and assistant musical director Mark Agpasa proudly representing the Philippines in the international arena.
Prof. Calalang was appointed as one of the members of the international panel of judges at the 65th International Choral Competition of Habaneras and Polyphony in Torrevieja, Spain held from July 22 to 29. Regarded as one of the biggest and most popular competitions in Europe, it aims to continue the long tradition of singing and patronage of the habaneras, a unique musical tradition, as well as the performance of various high-caliber choral music of different genres. Prof. Calalang won the Best Interpretation of a 20th Century Piece at the Third Ave Verum International Choral Competition in Baden, Austria in 2017, and the Best Choral Arrangement Prize in Florence, Italy in 2015.
Mark Agpasa was awarded the first prize at the composition contest of the 14th Busan Choral Festival and Competition, held in Busan, South Korea. His work, “Jubilate Deo,” earned him the highest mark besting 59 entries from over 29 countries around the globe.