Several weeks ago, 10 members of our alumni glee club got to sing at the wake of our youngest colleague, Ramon “Eki” Cardenas. A few months earlier, 14 of us gave a short performance at the wake of another member, retired ambassador Rodolfo “Sepoy” Severino.
These two occasions made me realize how our group —about 60 strong at its peak in college—was rapidly dwindling.
But the more amazing realization was that this fading group of seniors in their late 70s and early 80s has been belting songs with the same overflowing, contagious exuberance for close to seven decades now. It won’t be a big surprise if there will still be enough of us standing in 2021 when the centennial celebration of the founding of the first ever Ateneo choir comes around.
There have been many college glee clubs since 1921, distinguished by their accomplishments locally and abroad, especially those who have brought honor to the school by winning prestigious international competitions. Each group has been identified by the name of its musical director/conductor.
Ours, under Fr. James B. Reuter, is simply the Reuter glee club. Its members were college students between 1952 and 1960, and it officially came into existence in 1953, 66 years ago today and still counting.
This unequaled longevity, as an active singing group with its original members, is all the more remarkable because of several seeming drawbacks.
Most of us couldn’t read notes, and still can’t.
No formal background
With no formal musical background, we only had a general idea of the higher and lower notes in our music sheets. We learned our particular voice’s notes by listening to the pianist striking single keys on the piano, by constant repetition, or by simple “osmosis,” i.e. listening to the guy next to us, hoping he knew the right notes himself. Father Reuter wryly called those who habitually depended on their neighbor “leaners.” Many of us were.
We never went through conventional audition to get accepted. Father Reuter simply asked each applicant to sing his favorite song, probably to see if he could at least carry a tune, and to determine his range and voice assignment. As our club historian put it, “Either you made or you did. No one was ever rejected. Enthusiasm, it seemed, was the only requirement.”
We were an all-male chorale. (The first mixed choir was formed in 1974 when the Ateneo became coeducational.) Thus, our spirit was free-wheeling, at times bordering on the rowdy. We developed an unspoken, close-knit fellowship possible only in an all-male environment.
Father Reuter, although himself all-business during rehearsals and performances, was aware of this positive dynamic and encouraged it.
Although we had our share of performances around the country, unlike other groups, we never had the opportunity to join any local competition (there weren’t any), much less to travel and perform abroad, or to compete in international choral contests.
In those days, foreign travel was a luxury few could afford. Today it is normal, even expected of our school choirs to join music festivals abroad.
Despite all this, our singing band of brothers has managed to stay active longer than any other. And although today we are down to just more than a dozen, with three or four warm bodies for each of the four voices, we will readily serenade an audience with “If I Loved You” and “Some Enchanted Evening,” our perennial signature songs.
Through the years we have sung for every kind of audience: for starry-eyed colegialas in college; for “captive” audiences in a men’s penitentiary and in a women’s correctional facility; for patients in hospitals and children in orphanages; for packed houses in far-flung provinces; for friends at weddings and funerals; and most recently for old, ailing priests in the Jesuit infirmary in Loyola Heights.
Our last major performance was at the Cultural Center of the Philippines Main Theater, with five other choirs to celebrate the 90th anniversary of the first Ateneo choir.
We have sung all kinds of songs—all-time hits from Broadway musicals, popular love songs, traditional English/ Scottish ballads, Negro spirituals, Filipino kundimans and folk songs, international Christmas carols, Gilbert and Sullivan operettas, the Korman Mass in Latin and many more.
In 2003, we held our Golden Anniversary Concert at the Fr. James B. Reuter, SJ Theater at St. Paul University Quezon City.
By that time, our musical director was renowned composer/ conductor professor Francisco F. Feliciano, who was named National Artist for Music in 2014.
Father Reuter (who had retired by then), in a handwritten letter published in the souvenir program, movingly wrote:
“The members of the Original Ateneo Alumni Glee Club have one great, outstanding, beautiful virtue: They like each other. They are friends… and they like music… and God is in the music… Through the long, stormy, painful, suffering, laughing years, this is what has kept them close to each other… And close to God.”
This is for all my glee club colleagues of almost seven decades—those who have left us, those who can no longer sing with us, and those who still do—all of us who have shared a journey filled with song, fun, friendship and memories. This is for Father Reuter, professor Feliciano, and our ever-faithful accompanist, the sweet-voiced Sr. Sarah Manapol.
This is for Totit Olivares, who shepherded the group after college and led us to many memorable performances, earning the group the distinction as the longest active singing ensemble of our time.
And to those of us who are still able to join our voices in harmony—George Balagtas, Mike Cardenas, Joe Castro, Joseph Francia, Ruben Nuñez, Bill Corneby, Tancio de Leon, Nene Syquia, Jun Ledesma, Boy Mendoza, Noel Trinidad, Raffy Evangelista, Rey Guevara, Freddie Rodriguez—let us continue to celebrate life together in song—for as long as we can.—CONTRIBUTED