By Perry Diaz
Last December 20, 2015, marked the day the world renown and award-winning University of the Philippines Concert Chorus (UPCC) – or simply, “Korus” – was in Sacramento, California on the first leg of its U.S. Winter Tour. As usual, Korus presented a repertoire of music that made the audience call for an encore. And for those who have seen them perform in Sacramento two decades ago, and two years ago, their recent performance brought back fond memories of their ability to awe the crowd with their vibrant musical form.
I remember their first sojourn into Sacramento in 1996 when my wife Dolores – who was then the Chairman of the Filipiniana Foundation and UPCC’s Sacramento coordinator — and about 20 couples and I waited for their arrival at our home. They arrived in two buses, one containing the 40 performers and the other containing their luggage. In spite of the long travel from Washington State where they started their tour, the young U.P. college students looked refreshingly full of energy. After a welcome reception they were assigned to their host families during their stay in Sacramento.
Their performance at the Luther Burbank High School Auditorium was roundly applauded by the mostly Filipino-American crowd. A few days later, Dolores, who was then a member of the Board of Directors of the Sacramento Philharmonic Symphony, brought the UPCC performers for a joint performance of Korus and the Philharmonic Symphony and guest conductor, kabayan, Maestro Eugene Castillo.
Their maiden performance in Sacramento was a success due in part to the conductor, Prof. Reynaldo T. Paguio, whose adept orchestration of the performance was lauded resoundingly.
Two years later, UPCC was back in Sacramento for another outstanding performance. With their successful performance in Sacramento in 1996, the turnout grew bigger.
In 1999, Prof. Paguio passed away following a surgery and from complications of diabetes.
We didn’t know what happened to UPCC after Prof. Paguio’s death. But we heard that they continued to perform in some cities near Sacramento, to wit: Vallejo and Union City. In 2013, Dolores and I attended a conference of the Northern California Sister Cities of which Dolores is Chairman of the Sacramento-Manila/Pasay City Sister Cities. We met Dr. Rozzana Aliga, the UPCC coordinator for Vallejo, who mentioned that UPCC was going to perform in Vallejo. Their next performance was in Union City. Dolores found an opening in the UPCC’s schedule and suggested that they perform in Sacramento after their performance in Union City. Dolores linked with Vice Mayor Jim Navarro, the UPCC coordinator for Union City, and they worked out a schedule. They agreed that UPCC would come in and out of Sacramento on the day of the performance, which was December 29, 2013. However, there was no venue yet. Ant the event was only six weeks away!
Fortunately, Dolores was introduced to Fr. Phil Ganir, a Filipino priest at Saint Ignatius Parish Church. It didn’t take too long to get Fr. Ganir to agree, after all Dolores and I have been loyal supporters of the Saint Ignatius Parish School where our two daughters graduated and where our five grandchildren are now going to school. We got the church as the venue for the concert… at minimal cost!
That was the time when Typhoon Haiyan/Yolanda hit Tacloban City hard. Upon the recommendation of Dolores to the Board of Directors of Eskwela Natin (Our Filipino School), of which she was the President, the proceeds from the concert were donated to the typhoon victims through three non-profit relief organizations, to wit: Lions Clubs International Foundation (LCIF), Red Cross Sacramento Chapter, and the Catholic Relief Services.
The concert was well attended. After a short reception for the performers, they headed back to Union City. We wished they could have stayed longer and there were families who were willing to host them. But time was short.
This year, they came back and stayed longer… one week! There were eighteen performers including the conductor, Professor Janet “Jai” Sabas -Aracama. There were five host families from Sacramento and another five from Davis. They’re part of the Davis Yolo Pinoy Group, which former mayor of Davis Ruth Asmundson organized.
To my knowledge this was the first time that Sacramento and Davis community groups had worked jointly in a project of this kind. The reception committee was delegated to the Davis Yolo Pinoy Group of which a member, Dr. Rich Naval, is owner of Bravante, a St. Helena winery that caters to a select number of high-end restaurants in the Bay Area.
In addition to their concert, the UPCC performed at the Blessed Sacrament Cathedral and in several “Simbang Gabi” masses that included St. Paul, Divine Mercy and the St. Maria Gorretti Catholic Church, which was officiated by Bishop Jaime Sotto. They also participated in Maharlika Lions Club’s caroling project in several homes.
After the 5:30 AM “Simbang Gabi” at St. Maria Gorretti, the host families gave a despedida party for the performers at the beautiful country estate of Lito and Dr. Malu Bautista in Elk Grove. The others in attendance were hosts Pete and Vicki Lumbang, host Ludy Garrucho, Ludi Lapus, Joseph Stayner and Fely Villanueva, and Dolores and myself. Hosts Bert and Julie Melliza couldn’t make it due to prior commitment. We drove the performers to Vallejo where the Union City group was waiting to bring them to their next stop.
And now it’s time to say goodbye to a wonderful group who dedicated themselves to sharing the rich culture of the Filipino people. And in recognition of their talents, they received awards from all over the world, including the Grand Prix at the 6th International Krakow Choir Festival in Poland on June 14, 2015. Indeed, they have represented the Philippines superbly as its ambassadors of goodwill.
The parting hugs and kisses evoked a poignant mixture of sweetness and sadness. As we savor the sweet success of the Korus performance, we also felt a tinge of sadness that they’re leaving. But we also know that they’d be back to Sacramento. And when they do, we’re ready to welcome them back to our homes. But for now, au revoir.
And to the Ad Hoc Committee who made it happen, kudos and more power to you!
Dolores V. Diaz (Chair), Ruth Uy Asmundson (Co-Chair), David Yolo Pinoy Group, Johnny Abilay, Myrna Agbunag, Fred Aquino, Mark and MaryAnn Bamba, Raul Bernaldez, Josie T. Canlas, Joe and Gladys Carrasco, Perry Diaz, Didi Loteyro, Pete and Vicki Lumbang, Bert and Julie Melliza, Ramon and Celsa Taraya, and Zenny Yagen.
And to the Host Families who lovingly cared for the Korus performers during their stay in Sacramento, a BIG THANK YOU.
Paul and Marisa Agnew, Ruth Asmundson, Lito and Malu Bautista, Ludy Garrucho, Dan and Ludi Lapus, Pete and Vicki Lumbang, Alita and David MacKill, Bert and Julie Melliza, Rich Naval, and Rebecca Neumann.
Last but not the least, SPECIAL THANK YOU goes to Joseph Stayner and Fely Villanueva for handling and transporting the luggage from the San Francisco Airport to Davis, and then from Davis to Sacramento, and finally to Vallejo.
SPECIAL THANK YOU goes to Raul Bernaldez for setting up the sound system and lighting. He was also the official photographer and responsible for updating the Facebook account of Eskwela Natin.
SPECIAL THANK YOU goes to Bing and Lynn Ventura for letting us use their 15-passenger van for transporting the performers.
Not only did the Korus make lovely music, they brought out the lovely music of togetherness amongst the members of the Filipino-American community in Sacramento and Davis. The concert was indeed an evening to remember.