Arts & Culture

The choir icon as long-distance swimmer



Prof. Andrea VeneracionIN the 80s, National Artist for Music Andrea O. Veneracion put the Philippines in the music map with the winning streak of the Philippine Madrigal Singers which she founded in 1963.

On the 50th year of her choir which continued to bag prizes in choral festivals around the world, Prof. Veneracion passed away in the evening of July 9, just two days before her 86th birthday on July 11.

One of the 50th anniversary events of the Madz (as the choir is popularly known) is the Andrea Veneracion International Choral Festival which opens at CCP August 8 to 11. The CCP has announced twenty selected choirs from seven countries will compete in several categories namely folk music, chamber choir and vocal ensemble.

“The Andrea O. Veneracion International Choral Festival will see the fruition of the first international choral competition in the history of the art of choral music in the country,” added the CCP.

Early in her youth, Veneracion wanted to take up medicine but upon prodding of her piano teacher, Julio Esteban Anguita, she took up music and has since then never looked back. She was a lyric soprano and finished a master’s degree in voice at the Indiana University.

Veneracion  as campus  beauty in the UP Cadena de Amor celebration. (From the book A Life Shaped by Music by Marjorie Evasco.)In one of her recitals in the early 60s at the Philamlife Theater accompanied by Regalado Jose, music critic Rodrigo Perez III of the Manila Times noted that Veneracion “has a light, silvery timber. It floats out easily and graciously… Each line unfolds with a sense of musical design and at the same time with charming naturalness. She happily avoids an excess of showmanship and interprets everything with restraint that comes only from a proper education.”

Her hitherto unknown life outside of music is revealed in her biography, “A Life Shaped By Music” by Marjorie Evasco.

Indeed, what the music world doesn’t know is that the National Artist was a champion swimmer.

Recalled another National Artist for Music Lucrecia R. Kasilag in the book’s introduction “I was ten years her senior and I watched her grow in terrific grace all through those years. At the Philippine Women’s University, I saw her develop her ambidextrous talents as a swimmer and a pianist when she was in high school. I’ve watched her dive and swim in the elegant form of a disciplined athlete. I knew a good diver and swimmer when I saw one. Thus, even if I myself could not execute her moves in the water, as a musician I intuitively felt the rhythm, harmony and grace that she knew in performance.”

Wanting to quit swimming to devote her time to music, Veneracion’s swimming coach reminded her that music and swimming were alike in many ways and that she didn’t have to sacrifice her music in order to swim.

The cover of the biography of National Artist Andrea Veneracion by Marjorie Evasco. “You have to learn how to swim with the rhythm of the music in your head. Sing as you swim and get into the rhythm,” her swimming coach  recounted in the Evasco book.

The pianist and aspiring soprano turned swimmer learned that in swimming as in making music, one cannot be erratic with the rhythm of breathing because it is central to a performance. Indeed if one didn’t know how to coordinate the rhythm of breathing with the movement of the body in water, or with the movement of the song to one’s body, the whole performance would be adversely affected.

“Andy’s (Veneracion’s) championship form was a metaphor for what eventually became her unique teaching style in choral music,” extolled Evasco.

Evasco also said Veneracion  taught the members of the Philippines Madrigal Singers what she learned from swimming: that in order to do anything at all with ease and grace, the whole body must move in rhythm with one’s inner sense of music. And the secret of song was in the breathing.

Veneracion had a stroke in 2005 which rendered her comatose until her death.

Madz choirmaster successor Mark Carpio with his mentor, Prof. Veneracion.She is survived by her husband, Dr. Felipe Veneracion and children Rafael, Chiqui, Angel, Diday, Peachy and granddaughters Isabelle and Emmanuelle.

The National Artist will be given a last tribute and necrological service on Sunday, July 14, 2013 at 9 a.m. Before the Sunday state funeral, her remains will lie in state at the Immaculate Concepcion Cathedral in New York, Cubao.

Mark Carpio — who succeeded the National Artist as choirmaster of the Madrigals — knew only too well that the choir must grow even without its founder. “We have to grow from the inside. If there is one thing I want to share with the singers and the future singers of the Madz, it is that we should all learn not just to think of how to give pleasure to other people with our singing, but also how to grow, how to make ourselves grow musically in the choir.”