Commissioning choral works that explore the Filipino national identity and cultural experience
Raoul Carlo F. Angangco
The “Sa Ináng Báyan: To the Motherland” recital at Indiana University
By Raoul Carlo F. Angangco
Invited annually, graduate schools of music present the Presser Graduate Music Award to an outstanding graduate music student whom they select. The program is designed to encourage and support in a special way the advanced education and career of truly exceptional graduate music students who have the potential to make a distinguished contribution to the field of music. The Award is a cash stipend of up to $10,000, which is made available to a graduate student designated by the institution.
Raoul Carlo F. Angangco received the Award in 2021-22 from Indiana University. His project focused on commissioning four US-based Filipino composers to create choral works that explored the formation of a Filipino national identity.
The Philippines is known as one of Asia’s “melting pots” in that its people and culture are so richly diverse and representative of both Western and Eastern influences. After centuries of colonial rule over the archipelago by Western nations starting in the sixteenth century, it was only in the early twentieth century that Philippine independence from foreign rule was realized. This served as an impetus for national discourse on “Filipino identity.”
As a musician navigating the Philippine choral scene since my elementary school days, I’ve developed a profound curiosity for the concept of Filipino identity through the groups I have worked/sung with, and, more so, the audiences and communities I have come to know through choral singing: “Of what do Filipino choristers sing about? What do choral audiences seek to hear, and experience, and learn by listening? Who do we aim to serve, and how can this communal act of music-making be of service?” My current pursuit of higher education in Choral Conducting in the U.S. is fueled largely by the desire to gain as large a worldview as I can in order to one day best serve my homeland in the field of choral music.
Through this project, I have sought to gain more nuanced insights on the concept of Filipino identity through the compositional voices of four of the most prominent US-based Filipino composers today: Robin Estrada, Nilo Alcala, GP Eleria, and Saunder Choi. Having grown up and studied in the Philippines before pursuing higher education and finally planting themselves in the US, these four are among the most sought-after and commissioned names belonging to the current generation of Filipino composers, with both Philippine and international ensembles performing their works around the world. Personally, their music served as a highly influential force in my upbringing as a chorister and conductor in the Philippines.
The composers were commissioned to write choral works that explore the Filipino national identity/cultural experience in the context of the past (where we came from), present (where we are as a nation and as a people today, in any part of the world), and future (where we see it going or what we might hope for the country in the near or distant future). While each of these composers naturally possess their individual, unique compositional styles, they were all encouraged to freely use, explore, and realize in their works any Filipino traditions, aesthetics, languages, literature, faith, socio-political commentary, and any other cultural phenomenon either pre-colonial or inherited. Any text of their choosing (sacred or secular) that would reflect these themes was likewise encouraged, and eventually, three writers were invited by the composers to contribute original texts or poetic translation-adaptations.
The final collection of works represented different reflections on Filipino identity. The composers made use of different languages (Tagalog, English, and Spanish) and textual topics from various centuries of Philippine history, to which they applied their individual choral aesthetics. The result was four works with distinct conceptual and sonic qualities, consisting of:
SIN PAZ NI DIGNIDAD by Nilo Alcala, setting “Nuestra Patria,” the original Spanish text of the patriotic Filipino song “Bayan Ko”;
BUGTONG: BIBIG by Saunder Choi, setting an original Filipino bugtong (riddle) by Joey Gianan Vargas;
DARK FOREST by GP Eleria, setting text by Niccolo Rocamora Vitug based on “Florante at Laura”;
ANG KAMUSTA by Robin Estrada, setting Estrada’s own Tagalog adaptation of Connor K. Carroll’s “The Greeting”
The rehearsal process was also an opportunity for creative collaboration between the composers and the ensemble —the Jacobs School of Music Conductors Chorus— for which the works were written. Workshops were set up over Zoom where the composers shared about their compositional process, discussing matters of style, rhetoric, and the inspiration behind musical elements/ideas used. In these sessions, the ensemble was able to perform each of the new works for the composers and receive invaluable feedback on how to better realize the composers’ musical intentions.
The works saw their premiere on February 11, 2023 in a doctoral choral conducting recital entitled “Sa Ináng Báyan: To the Motherland,” for both a live audience and international viewers watching on livestream. The composers expressed their joy and gratitude for how their works received successful world premieres at the culminating recital. You can watch the full recording of the event here.
Immediately following the recital, a professional audio recording session of the four commissions was held. After the track drafts were cleaned at the end of April 2023, the final mixes/masters were delivered in mid-May. These were sent out for distribution on major streaming platforms via CD Baby and were officially released on June 1, 2023. You can listen to the recordings on various online streaming platforms, including Spotify and Apple Music.
On a personal level, I am deeply grateful for the wide-reaching professional and artistic impacts made possible by this award as it fueled a project of many important “firsts” for me: my first time commissioning four new choral works from some of the most renowned Filipino choral composers today; my first time working very closely with each of the composers in formulating their works’ ethos which reflected on Filipino identity; my first time facilitating rehearsal-workshops between a choir and composers which allowed for cultural exchange and artistic collaboration; my first time being at the helm of premiering commissioned works; my first time conducting a professional recording session; my first time collaborating directly with a professional audio engineer in creating tracks for public distribution; and my first time officially releasing tracks on major online streaming platforms as a conductor.
Each part of this project process was full of new insights and valuable learning, and I have grown immensely from the experience of working with my mentor Dr. Dominick DiOrio, Professor Jamie Tagg, and my talented and generous colleagues in the Conductors Chorus. This whole undertaking empowers me to keep dreaming of what is possible with the choral art, and how powerful it truly can be in serving as a bridge of understanding among people of different backgrounds, perspectives, and identities.
Finally, I am most humbled that the Sa Ináng Báyan recital-recording project served as a source of national pride for Filipino choral musicians on an international scale. Having even some of our language and history learned, performed, and promoted by non-Filipinos on this side of the globe shows how Filipino artists such as myself can hold our heritage up high and proudly share it with the world. It is my hope that, through this project’s reach, more conductors, composers, performers, and audiences alike are encouraged to engage in nation-building through choral music.
Raoul Carlo (Miggi) Angangco is a Filipino choral conductor and sopranist currently pursuing his Doctor of Music degree in Choral Conducting at the Indiana University Jacobs School of Music. As an Associate Instructor for the Choral Department, he currently teaches undergraduate conducting and has served as director of the IU All-Campus Chorus and assistant conductor for the Singing Hoosiers and the contemporary vocal ensemble NOTUS. He was also assistant chorus master for productions of Verdi’s Falstaff, Lehár’s The Merry Widow, and the world premiere of Shulamit Ran’s Anne Frank.
Angangco was assistant ensemble director and manager of the internationally acclaimed male choir ALERON which performed as a featured choir at the 11th World Symposium on Choral Music in Barcelona and earned various accolades in choral competitions across Asia and Europe. He has sung with multiple renowned ensembles such as the GRAMMY®-nominated Westminster Williamson Voices and Singing Hoosiers, the Ateneo de Manila College Glee Club, Westminster Choir, Westminster Symphonic Choir, Sing Philippines Youth Choir, Asia Pacific Youth Choir, and World Youth Choir.
Recent international choral engagements involve conducting at the Taipei International Choral Festival Masterclass directed by Gábor Hollerung, working with Jean-Sébastien Vallée and the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir / Singers at the Take the Podium Conducting Symposium, performing at the Yale Summer School of Music’s Norfolk Chamber Music Festival as a Conducting Fellow under the mentorship of Simon Carrington, and presenting as a resource speaker on Laban for Choral Conductors at the Philippine Choral Directors Association’s workshop series. Angangco was invited to join the World Youth Choir’s roster of sopranos for its 2023 alumni session tour of Croatia, Slovenia, and Hungary under Zoltán Pad.