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How small-town CamSur choir conquered the world

May 17, 2012 by bicolmail in Top Stories

World Class. The Baao Children’s Choir is a community and church – based choir of children ages 11 to 18 years old from different public and private schools  in the Municipality of Baao, Camarines Sur.

By Sarah Grutas
Photos by Bembot Briones
and Jojie Badilla

Baao, Camarines Sur – Who would’ve thought that an unknown choir from a 4th class municipality in Camarines Sur would emerge as the champion in the recently concluded 18th Certamen International Juvenil de Habaneras y Polifonia in Torrevieja, Spain.

The Baao Children’s Choir under the baton of Virgilio Briones, himself a Baaoeño, bested 40 other groups from around the world during the elimination, and beat 8 choirs during the competition proper last April 27-29, 2012, taking home the coveted Golden Trophy and the €3,000 cash prize.

Translated as the 18th Junior Habaneras and Polyphony International Contest, this competition was organized by the local government of Torrevieja and aims to promote and spread the Habanera, a Latin traditional music, amongst young singers worldwide.


But the road to the choir’s victory in Spain wasn’t easy, says Francisco Bulalacao, Jr., DepEd Region 5 Supervisor and guardian of the choir, “the competition in Spain wasn’t just a celebration of the children’s artistic talents, it was also a celebration of the Pinoy spirit – resilient, hard-working, and optimistic. We had limited budget and there were times when the kids felt insecure about themselves, especially when they were with the other contestants. The choir was aware that it was the only group in the competition that is from a relatively poor country – from a town no one’s even heard of – but they always kept a positive vibe.”

Jojie Badilla, the choir’s road manager, relates that the Baao Children’s Choir is the first Asian choir to participate in the said international competition. This is also their first time to compete outside Southeast Asia, and despite being in competition with other veteran groups, the Baao Children’s Choir still managed to emerge victorious, beating Soilare Children’s Choir (in 2nd place, from Latvia) and Antara Korai Children’s Choir (in 3rd place, from Spain). “During the contest, the Filipino group received a standing ovation and the longest applause from the audience!” Badilla adds.

Government Support

“I wish there was, but we couldn’t impose,” says Francisco Bulalacao, Jr. when asked if the provincial government of Camarines Sur contributed to the choir’s journey to Spain. “Thankfully, Mayor Gaite (of Baao) was there to support us. We also thank the people of Baao who played a big part in the choir’s success,” adds Bulalacao.

Before their departure for Spain, the Baao Children’s Choir held a series of concerts in Baao and other parts of Camarines Sur and Metro Manila to gather resources that will support their roundtrip airfare and accommodation abroad. In addition, Bulalacao relates that Filipinos in Spain were generous to the Philippine delegation as well, with some OFWs even hosting dinner for them.

Small Town, Big Voices

The choir owes much of its success to its conductor,

Virgilio Briones, who is regarded as the Bicol region’s most awarded choral conductor. In a press statement released by road manager, Jojie Badilla, it was learned that Briones is the only Filipino conductor who has won five national championships in the National Music Competitions for Young Artists (NAMCYA), a program carried out by DepEd and the Cultural Center of the Philippines. Under his tutelage, the Baao Children’s Choir (with members from 11 to 18 years old) remains to be the undefeated chorale in the NAMCYA.

The Baao Children’s Choir (also known as the Barlin Angelics) had its First International Tour in December 2011 when they represented the Philippines in the 2011 International Children Arts and Culture Festival in Malaysia, relates Badilla. “The group has won the hearts and drew raves from the public including Malaysia’s Prime Minister Dato’ Sri Mohd Najib and First Lady Datin Seri Rosmah Mansor, Her Royal Highness Queen Sultanah Kalsom,” Badilla adds.

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