ON Friday mornings at the Quezon Memorial Park, senior citizens gather for some aerobics and singing practice just for the fun of it.
One such Friday morning, a man walked in, stayed until the old folks finished the two-hour session, and approached Felicidad dela Cruz. She had been playing the organ and leading co-members through a medley of songs.
?Ma?am, can my wife join? She has just retired.?
?Oh, yes, please tell her to come.?
Laughed choir directress Engracia Reyes-Lim when told of the conversation: ?This is the only choir that doesn?t require an audition.? She added: ?We welcome everyone as long as they join the vocalization practice every Friday after aerobics. We choose the songs that they can do, kung anong kaya.?
The motley group had a most unconventional beginning. In 2005, the women of the Quezon City Wellness Program headed by former University of the Philippines PE professor Lydia Buendia met one of her former students, Engracia Reyes-Lim, who wanted to do a survey among the elderly for her masteral course in music. Buendia suggested that Lim organize choral training sessions for music-loving senior citizens.
That 34-member choir of women aged 60 to 85 years old became The Golden Nightingales Chorale (TGNC) ? senior citizens singing for fun and friendship, but also winning awards and kudos, and volunteering at day care centers, public schools and the Molave Youth Home.
They used to be called ?The Older Persons Choir,? until 2007 when they opted for the niftier title Golden Nightingales Chorale, which seemed more apt once they started getting invitations to do concerts.
In November last year, the choir held its fifth anniversary concert at the UP Abelardo Hall. Dean Jose Buenconsejo of the UP College of Music noted in his message for the souvenir program: ?We do not often hear much of choral singing among small, independent communities of amateurs who are bonded together by the passion and sheer love for music. Much more, we also normally do not see people of old age sing. It is in these contexts that I praise the spirit of the choir.?
The 20 sopranos and nine altos of the Golden Nightingales Chorale joined Lim, their choral directress, pianist Rufina Santos Jorge and vocal coaches/pianists Nonita Zabala and Virginia Tolentino in a performance of Filipino love songs, original Pilipino music and Broadway hits.
Some members also played instrumental numbers and became known as the Angklung Philippines Manunugtog Kawayan trained by Azucena Narzo, president of the Chorale. Others rendered French, Spanish, German and Italian favorites under the name Diamond Singing Belles. These two groups branched out of the chorale to include members eager to learn other musical genres.
The senior citizens infected the Sunday audience with their enthusiasm, and had everyone singing along, especially in the encore ?Kay Ganda ng Ating Musika.? They also impressed the audience with costume changes, as they donned butterfly-sleeved kimonas and black pants, blue blouses highlighted by a rose on the right side, brightly-colored shawls and matching pearl necklaces and bracelets.
After witnessing the choir?s evening performance, one might easily think that the Golden Nightingales group is an exclusive well-heeled group. Its soprano members include retired travel agent Theresita de Guzman and retired guidance services specialist-UP Law Center professorial lecturer Lilia Torres. But the Golden Nightingale Chorale also has for members retired teachers, church workers, small-scale entrepreneurs and just about anyone who wants to sing.
?We weren?t intending to perform on stage,? Lim recalled in an interview. ?They really just wanted sing-along sessions. But just after we formally got the group together in 2005, we were invited to represent Quezon City in a contest for National Elderly Week.?
The chorale had only three weeks to train, she recounted, but they were encouraged by the Quezon Memorial Park Development Foundation and by the Inner Wheel Club of Makati North. The group placed third.
More awards followed as the group continued practicing and joining concerts, their age offset by their capacity for hard work. The women stayed alert for instructions, lined up for song sheets instead of hurrying off after a practice session, and memorized lyrics in time for the next performance.
But cheer was always the group?s trusty companion. At the Quezon Memorial Circle on Friday mornings, in her blue ankle-length socks and black flats, Victoria Saranza starts with a few mincing steps and is soon joined by a co-member.
?I was a working student at Philippine Christian College,? Saranza recalled after the spontaneous jig. ?After graduation I joined the service programs of my church. When I retired, I moved to Fairview to help in church projects."
Her cheerful disposition is typical. Under a senior citizen volunteer program, many members of the chorale donate their expertise as tutors, values formators, lawyers and psychologists for families and children in conflict with the law.
?In Quezon City, we involve our senior citizens in governance and community development. They give a minimum of 24 hours a week at flexible hours? for a regular monthly incentive,? said Vice Mayor Joy Belmonte in her message.
?This is the realization of Eng?s (Lim?s) beautiful dream ? building a community united through music,? wrote Dr. Lilia Torres, soprano, in the group?s fifth anniversary concert souvenir program.
Reflecting on her five years with the chorale, Lim said: ?They prove that the elderly are far from being helpless and a burden to society. With God?s initiative and [people?s] willingness to cooperate, life can be useful and enjoyable, especially if God?s gift is shared with others.? Women?s Feature Service