Friday, December 14, 2012
Awed by the UP College of Music's Handel's Messiah: A Christmas Concert
When I was still a student at the University of the Philippines, I heard about the annual free Christmas concert organized by the UP College of Music and the country's most award-winning choral groups. It featured excerpts from Handel's Messiah. Somehow, even though I studied there for eight years, and then moved with my family to a house just 15 minutes away from campus, I never got to watch this special show. The opportunity never came up as December is always a busy time.
This year, another one of my good friends is leaving the country for good very soon, and he asked me if I knew of any "Christmassy" concerts we could go to, specifically mentioning "Handel's Messiah." I Googled it and found out that the annual Christmas concert I had been missing was again to be staged this year, but for the first time it was going to be held at the University Theater, after the beloved Abelardo Hall simply could not accommodate anymore the increasing number of people who came to watch this show every year. I noted the date and the magic words "FREE ADMISSION" and planned to go with my friend.
December descended upon me with birthdays and baptisms along with reunions and shopping, and I only had time to check the show's details the night before the concert. I saw that I should have obtained control tickets to the concert. Panic set in...
On the day of the concert, I assured my friend we could get in, and proceeded to one of my favorite buildings in my favorite campus, the UP College of Music. I just loved going there and listening to the sounds of different instruments being played by earnest music students. In college, I took piano lessons at the Extension Program and was asked by my teacher if I wanted to pursue a Minor in Piano. I looked at my life then, recognized the crossroads, and made a decision. I thought I could not afford to practice four hours a day on top of my senior year in the School of Economics, so I said No. Besides, I knew I wanted to become a lawyer.
So I was almost in tears when I learned that they had run out of tickets two days before. I asked where I could buy them, even though they were for free. I was advised to try the University Theater. I walked to the next building and was referred to someone they referred to as "the Professor." I explained to the Professor my predicament, that I had an Australian friend who was leaving, that I loved music and UP and had always wanted to watch this particular concert, that had I learned about the need for tickets I would have secured them weeks ago, etc. Prof. Ruben Defeo, the Artistic Director of the University Theater, said he would try his best to get me some tickets, and advised me to come early.
After a day of errands and traffic jams, my friend and I met at the theater steps. As soon as the doors were opened, I looked for the Professor. He was there, in red, smiling like my own personal Santa Claus. People were elbowing their way to the theater but he stood there, waiting. He nodded when he saw me and asked how many tickets I needed. He then produced two from his pocket. I greeted him my warmest "Merry Christmas!" and waved the precious pieces of paper to my friend who finally believed in my charm and resourcefulness (I think he was ready to kill me if we had not been able to get seats.)
When the show started, I just said prayers of gratitude to Jesus, for letting me experience the gift of music. There were no festive decorations, no garish lights and colorful trimmings. The Professor turned out to be the one to give the Opening Remarks. On stage came performers of the highest caliber - the UP ARCO, UP Cherubim and Seraphim, UP Concert Chorus, UP Madrigal Singers, the UP Singing Ambassadors, and the magnificent soloists. They sang to a packed theater, of Christ Jesus who had come, of the voice of one calling in the desert, of prophetic words from Isaiah and the Gospels. Their golden voices lifted my spirits and planted a renewed hope in my heart. I looked at my friend, and was grateful that he would carry the gift of the Filipino musicians in his heart wherever he went.
There were no dances, no speeches, no special effects. Words cannot describe how majestic the concert was, for me, sitting in the middle row, slightly leaning to the right because of the tall man in front of me. I felt assured of God's PROMISE to all of us, of His faithfulness throughout the ages, of His constant love. I saw how universal His love is, through words, through music.
The orchestra and their conductor were the real stars of the show for me. Prof. Edna Marcil M. Martinez skillfully guided the singers, the orchestra, and the audience in a symphony that could excite the saddest heart. After my addiction to the Nodame Cantabile anime and live action series, I had much more respect for orchestra members and conductors. I saw their grueling practices and immense talents. The University Orchestra played superbly to my amateur ears.
After each choir and orchestra had played, part II of the concert came. Handel's Messiah. It drove me to the heights of worship, starting with the prophecies about Jesus, and exclaiming the glory of God who fulfilled His promises. The tenor, counter tenor, soprano and baritone all sang from the heart. I had goosebumps when the grand choir sang "For unto us a child is born", and when they reached the Hallelujah chorus, the whole audience was up on its feet.
The concert ended with community singing of Filipino Christmas songs, which was like a duet between the grand choir and the audience.
What a memorable experience, one that prepared my heart even more for the coming Christmas season.