For this issue, I would like to spotlight on two Edmonton performing groups, both of which have shown passion and dedication to their respective artistic endeavors - the Philippine Choral with leaders Artie Atienza, Ray “Bart” Kavinta and Chito Atienza; and the Pacific Island Dance Troup, headed by Emily Soriano. These two groups we have continually worked with, due to both our respect for their artistic outputs and the friendships we have developed. They are also featured performers in the upcoming Philippine Arts Festival this June at the University of Alberta’s Myer Horowitz Theatre.
The Philippine Choral was formed in 1991 from a group of friends who constantly gathered in basements for karaoke nights. Fortuitously, they discovered at that time that Mil Villareal, Cebu’s best musical director and regarded by many as a musical genius, was quietly retired in Edmonton. Through mutual friends, they were able to set up a meeting, and immediately worked on forming a four voice group. Within a week they had a four-part choral harmony of the kundiman “Dahil Isang Bulaklak” down pat. Composing this founding group, among others, were Ferdie Belvis, Onie Nitoral, Rene Alcantara and Delia Marsh - who the other members fondly recall as their Tony Bennett, Ray Valera, Yoyoy Villame and Barbara Streisand, respectively. And of this original group, five are still active members of the choral - Artie Atienza, Alex de Leon, Chito Atienza, Gilda Yee, Leny Dagondon.
This love of singing then branched out to the local church community in Edmonton. Currently, they are now one of the most sought after cultural performers for major events, community functions and special promotions throughout the city of Edmonton. And with these increasing engagements, came an expansion of their repertoire to Filipino, English, Spanish, Italian and French song favorites. In 1999, they had a major concert at the Winspear - the first Filipino group to perform at this prestigious venue. This sold out concert featured a 10-piece orchestra, culled from members of the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra. Other concerts were held at the Myer Horowitz Theatre and Victoria’s Eva O. Howard Theatre. They also had a road tour of Filipino restaurants for a period of three weeks. A pipe dream is a performance of songs of faith, hope and love in a stone-built Catholic cathedral.
Current membership is a high of 24, comprising 8 sopranos, 6 altos, 5 tenors and 5 bass, always of Filipino descent. An exception however, was made when Angela Chen, of Taiwanese descent and who earned her Master’s Degree in Music and Voice from a conservatory in Vienna, wanted to join. Fluent in 6 languages, she was able to tackle the Filipino lyrics competently. Membership is open to both professionals and non-professionals, Filipino or non-Filipino - the essential requirement being a pure love for singing.
Moving on to its third decade of existence, the group shows no signs of slowing down. For the members, their continued rehearsals is a source of therapy and a good excuse to share food and drinks. It has enabled them to simultaneously fulfill a passion and establish friendships. This all together gives a whole new meaning to their title as Musical Ambassadors of Filipino-Canadian Goodwill.
Pacific Island Dance Troupe
Last April 20, the Pacific Island Dance Troupe had their 7th Luau, and indeed it turned out to be a night of hawaiian/polynesian dancing, games, and good food. On hand were booths for face painting, photo booths, crafts table, and jewelry. People came decked in Hawaiian attire and reveled in the performances of hula, tahitian, and a few modern take dances. The event showed all the traits of the indefatigable Emily Soriano, who harnessed her years of experience as a cultural dancer in the Philippines, an event organizer, her good eye for design and penchant for fun. This group, who not only performs Hawaiian/Polynesian dances but also Philippine folk dances, has consistently participated in Heritage Days and community events. It adds another dimension to the interesting landscape of Filipino offerings in the Edmonton arts scene.
* This was written for and published in May 2012 issue of Pinoy Times.