(Ed. Note: Entrevista con Nata. In this section, our correspondent Nathaniel Sisma Villaluna shares with us his creamy and delectable stories, 100 % inspiring yet zero in fat.)
Mark’s mom Doris wondered to herself as she hung up the phone. The director of the school wanted to talk to her, in person.
“Akala ko bad news! Malaking kasalanan ito kako, kasi directora na mismo ang gusto makipag-usap sa akin.”
It turned out that Mark did not do anything bad at all for the school to summon her. In fact, the reason why mom Doris was urgently needed at the director’s office was because Mark did something extraordinary–something that she never expected of her son.
She couldn’t believe it when they informed her that her 10-year old son could sing. And not only sing sing. But CAN really sing! Mark is ‘soprano segundo’.
“May audition pala sa school nila noon, tapos pinakanta sila, ayun napili siya para sa Montserrat Boys’ choir. Mag-isa lang siyang Pinoy na nakapasok.”
Mark was a grade 3 student of Sant Francesc d’Asis when the people behind the world famous L’Escolania, Montserrat Boys’ Choir visited the school and held an audition to choose new members for the prestigious group.
The Escolania is one of Europe’s oldest choir groups. The choir school houses the exclusive boys’ choir of altos and sopranos. It is located at the Benedictine abbey of Santa Maria de Montserrat, 48 kilometers west of Barcelona. Mark, wearing glasses, is the only Pinoy in the Choir.
This was the firm and final answer of mom Doris when she learned that Mark passed the audition and could be part of the choir. Being a member, he would move and live in Montserrat and go to the L’Escolania choir school for his studies.
“Ayoko talaga! Mahihiwalay siya sa amin.”
Despite her unyielding stance, the teacher tried some more to convince her. She made her listen to Mark sing.
“Pinasilip ako. Aba, mataas ang boses. Nunca kong narinig kumanta yan. Maganda pala ang boses ng anak ko.”
But still no. Mom Doris and dad Benjamin strongly agreed that Mark was not going anywhere. However, no matter how hard they tried to defy any possibilities that would make their son belong to an elite chorale group, fate had other things in mind.
“So wala na talaga. Sinabi na namin na ayaw namin. Pero si Mark gusto niya. Kaya binili pa namin ng bisikleta para huwag lang pumayag. Pero hindi namin alam na yung school pala gusto talagang kunin si Mark. Tumawag sa bahay. Wala ako, nasa trabaho nung umagang yun. Naiwan ko ang cellphone ko sa bahay. Nagkataon naman na bagong gising si Ferdinand. Sinagot ang telepono.”
It was the director of the school. They were still trying to sway Mark’s mom and dad to change their minds. And bizarrely, the timing was impeccable.
“Bagong gising yung asawa ko nung sinagot ang tawag. Tapos hindi masyadong naiintindihan ang sinasabi ng directora kasi Español. Aba “Si” lang siya ng “Si”. “
That single word “Si” turned out to be the crucial factor that would make Mark the first Filipino to be admitted into the Montserrat Boys’ Choir in its 700 years of existence. Not before long, in September of last year, mom Doris found herself crying on her way back to Barcelona after taking Mark to his new home.
“Nakakalungkot siempre kasi dalawa na nga lang silang magkakapatid, maghihiwalay pa. Kaya iyak ako nang iyak sa tren nung hinatid ko siya sa Montserrat.”
To combat homesickness, mom and son call each other everyday.
“Nasanay na rin di maglaon. Pag Biyernes, excited na akong makita siya uli.”
Students at the L’Escolania are only allowed to leave the vicinity from Friday afternoon to Sunday morning, also, over Christmas until Epiphany, the Holy Week and for summer holidays.
‘Montserrat is a mountain, a sanctuary and a monastery. A spiritual community. This is why Montserrat is such a special place, the life of the sanctuary revolving around the monks’ communal prayers –to which all are welcome– and community’s devotion to the task of welcoming all those who come to Montserrat.’
“Katulad ni Harry Potter.” Described Mark of his new home where he shares the room with three other boys his age.
The school is not only concerned with the musical skills and development of the boys but their academic performance as well. Aside from possessing a beautiful voice, one has to be academically adequate to be considered an applicant. Before Mark was officially admitted, he had to meet a psychiatrist to orient him of his new “life”.
A9.5 for Mark’s writing composition. Mark with his mother, father and brother.
Mark divulged that he cried on the first night. But after several days, he was already getting the hang of it. He instantly made friends with the other boys. The school provides them a lot of activities aside from class lectures.
L’Escolania now has more than fifty boys, from nine to fourteen years old from all over Catalonia. For four years, starting from fifth grade until the first stage of secondary school, the boys stay at Montserrat.
The boys sing every day in the Basilica de Montserrat. After attending their daily classroom lessons, they practice one and a half hours everyday.
“At nag pe-playstation po pagkatapos.”
The school provides them a lot of activities aside from class lectures and singing lessons. Mark is the first Filipino admitted into the elite Montserrat Boys’ Choir.
Mark playing flute
Since the late 60s, the Montserrat Boys’ choir has been performing in various concerts all over Catalonia and the world.
“Yung mga grade 5 students ay nagcoconcert sa Barcelona, yung grade 6 naman at yung malalaki na, lumalabas na sila ng Spain. Si Mark nasa grade 5 kaya nag-train sila para sa kanilang concert dito sa Barcelona.”
“Siempre bilang magulang, proud kami kay Mark. Nakakataba ng puso pag sinasabing maganda ang boses ng anak ko. Masaya ako sa naging swerte niya, kahit singko wala kaming binabayaran sa kanyang pag-aaral. Kaya nagpapasalamat talaga kami sa taas.”
I requested Mark to render a song to show off his vocal power for which he obliged. He sang a few linesfrom his favorite song, Ave Maria. Indeed, the boy has a beautiful angelic voice. Last summer, Mark recorded a song with a Catalan boy for a school in Barcelona.
While most of the choirboys continue their musical studies after upon leaving L’Escalonia, I asked Mark what would he want to be in the future.
Arranging his black framed eyeglasses, he shyly replied.
“Iniisip ko pong maging pari paglaki ko. Pulis na pari po. Pwede po yun, di ba?”
I smiled at him and pronounced the same serendipitous one-word reply his father unintentionally uttered that fateful day, that single word which completely changed this simple boy’s life forever.
After all, whatever destiny wants, destiny gets. And sometimes it comes with a sense of humor. A really good one.
Here’s a really good video of L’Escolania de Montserrat. Watch out for our little boy Mark