Before the TV hit series “Glee” was even conceived, the most happening thing in Cagayan de Oro City was to make it to the glee club of Xavier University-Ateneo de Cagayan. It was the breeding ground of local talent.
And now, here’s the latest: The music scene in Cagayan de Oro City will no longer be the same now that its favorite music teacher, song artist and choir director May Flores, has gone on retirement.
After 38 years at Xavier University-Ateneo de Cagayan, where she played a key role in the glee club and at the English department in the high school (how she instilled in her students an almost architectural passion for and precision in constructing, or deconstructing, sentences and even paragraphs), she is moving on to what she calls “a well-deserved rest.”
Looking back, she says, “It was music that brought me to this lifelong career in the academe. My dream was to pursue a degree in Music. But due to financial reasons, this did not push through.”
She reckons that her parents already saw her potential in the teaching field when, as a child, she would always play the role of teacher with her playmates. When she was in high school, as a member of the Sodality in Lourdes College, she was a catechist to her fellow youths.
“But even then, I didn’t realize that God was calling me to the teaching vocation,” she says. “It took a while for me to accept it, even when I was already pursuing my Bachelor of Science in Elementary Education at Xavier U. It was an emotional struggle. What kept me going was the enjoyment and fulfillment I had of being a glee club member throughout my college years.”
In 1975, right after graduating from college, she began to teach at Xavier’s High School (XUHS) Department. It was at the behest of the late Jesuit priest Antonio Cuna, the glee club director. “He ‘ordered’ me to handle the high-school glee club. He knew me because I was with the college glee club for five years.”
She was, in fact, in a dilemma. The principal of the grade school had invited her to teach there. She recalls, “I was an Elementary Education graduate and my major was General Science.”
The available slot in the high school was first-year English. “At that time, I couldn’t turn down Derps [Father Cuna]. He was very influential in my life. Also, Derps had a very strong charisma. You could never say no to him. That’s how much we loved him. I expressed my apprehensions regarding teaching English and he said he already worked it out with the then principal, Fr. Jose Ma. Fuentes, that I would observe classes at first.”
It was a “roller-coaster ride” for her because she had to make a turnabout from General Science to English.
She recalls, “The fire for both teaching English and training the choir ignited me to achieve more. I worked very closely with Derps so that the XUHS glee club could help in the mounting of the annual university concert. Everybody on campus looked forward to it. It was Derps’ way of raising funds for the scholarship burses.”
In 1977, she led the High School Youth Choir, an all-male choir then, in joining the National Music Competition for Young Artists (Namcya) and the Himig Competitions. The choir won in the regional level and made it to the national finals at the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) and the Folk Arts Theater.
“It was more than what I dreamed of at that time,” she says. “It was overwhelming.”
This was the start of a string of wins at choral competitions, including the Namcya.
“Since I didn’t have any formal training in music, Fr. Fuentes, the principal, sent me to the CCP to train under Lucio San Pedro, Ramon Pagayon-Santos, Rey Paguio and Flora Zarco-Rivera. They enriched my knowledge and skills in music,” she says.
This emboldened her to share her music expertise outside the high school. She helped the choir at the St. John Vianney Seminary and the Carmelites, both in Camaman-an Hills in Cagayan de Oro.
“My work at the seminary gave me the privilege and honor to work with the great Jesuit musician and composer Fr. Eduardo Hontiveros, a very jolly, light-hearted man. This opportunity has widened and enriched my perspectives about life,” she says.
Flores also helped out in the music programs of other private schools in Cagayan de Oro City, and gave training workshops to music teachers in different regions all over the Philippines for many years.
“I have been blessed with so many mentors—Father Cuna and professor Lino Abrio, my choral trainers in college; Fr. George Hofileña; Fr. Danny Huang, who showed me that being a real teacher is to respond to a call for service which requires dedication and deep commitment; Fr. Jojo Magadia, who taught me to believe and trust in my capabilities; Fr. Alberto Ampil, who stressed that dedication and commitment in one’s work means that one must aspire for high quality, discipline and efficient delivery of service; Ms Lumen Teodoro, who demanded discipline and efficiency; Fr. Julian Pastor, who instilled in me the values of humility, sincerity, simplicity and action; and Fr. Pio de Castro, a huge person with a big heart who once went to the house and made us donuts. They are among my many mentors and friends who have enriched and nurtured me as a person and teacher, and showed me how to live out the Ignatian spirit.
“I can never fully express my gratitude to this gift, this opportunity, this apostolate,” she adds.
She also thanks her parents who guided her to this path.
Her parting words: “In omnibus amare (in everything, love). In omnibus servire (in everything, serve). In omnibus amare et servire Domino (In everything, love and serve the Lord).”