Before the prestige of having founded the multi-awarded UST Singers, Fidel Gener Calalang Jr. or just Fidel to his closest friends and colleagues, humbly started as a scholar for Piano Performance and Voice at the Conservatory of Music in the University of Santo Tomas. With no formal training on any forms of music, Fidel had come a long way since he first stepped foot inside the university’s paved grounds.
With a remarkable ingenuity for music and equally good ears, he has developed his musical prowess through facing challenges and experiences over the years. At the start of his journey, he was a member of the University of the Philippines’ Saringhimig Chorale while taking up his college degree in UST. He was only 18 years old when he first traveled through Europe and North America in 1983 to 1984 through the aforementioned group under the baton of George Hernandez. While doing so, he also won prizes during the Mozart Piano Sonata Competition at the University of Santo Tomas in 1984 while his compositions for piano, art song and solo instrument won the Cultural Center of the Philippines and the League of Filipino Composers competitions in 1983, 1985 and 1987. He was also a finalist at the National Competition for Young Artists (NACYA) in the solo voice category in 1987. In the latter years of his career and after having been recognized as one of the best musician internationally, Fidel has also sat down as member of international juries in choral competitions in Pardubice, Czech Republic (IFAS) in 2006 and 2008, in Wales in the United Kingdom (Cor Cymru) in 2004 and in Sopot, Poland (Mundus Cantat) in 2013.
Indeed his passion for music only flourished after such invigorating experiences that he decided to found the UST Singers in 1992 and has led the esteemed choir into winning numerous international awards including the 1995 and 2010 Choir of the World Grand Prize in North Wales, United Kingdom; the 1998 Gran Premio Citta Di Gorizia in Gorizia, Italy; Grand Prize in the Tonen International Choral Competition in Monster, Netherlands in 2002 (where he also won the Best Conductor Award), and the historic win at the Festa Musicale Choral Competition in Olomouc, Czech Republic where the choir got three perfect 100 scores in 3 categories and one other category with 99 percent. The choir’s most recent wins include the 2010 Premio Habaneras and Premio Intercontinental at the 56th Certamen Internacional de Habeneras y Polifonia in Torrevieja, Spain and the 2015 Golden David Trophy in Florence, Italy which are two of the most important wins of the esteemed choir to date. In line with this, Fidel’s choral compositions were also recognized by Earthsong Choral Music USA and were published under the Music of Asia category and the Pacific Series.
Such accomplishments only brought forth more plethoras of awards and invites to hold workshops and lectures to Fidel. He was even invited to join international juries for into competitions all over the world among other things. But what actually pushed Fidel to be so hard-working and determined in achieving his dreams? In an email interview, Fidel confided:
“Being a Thomasian is the major element that led me to pursuing my goals and achievements. When I was beginning to form the choir way back in 1992, I dreamed of UST having a choir of its own representing the university not only here but in the international music scene. I focused on that goal though it has been incredibly difficult in the formative years to draw attention and gain recognition. There were failures, heartaches, headaches, trials and anxiety but it was all part of a grand scale plan laid by God and part of the quest for excellence. Never giving up and committed to the purpose and mission, the choir weathered various experiences around the world thru 30 international tours and in 24 international competitions, winning 80 top prizes for the past 25 years. Through my education at the UST Conservatory of Music, I was able to develop the musician that I am now. It opened avenues for musical discoveries, artistry and excellence. Now, I share this gift to all my choir members, past and present, as I continously hone and mold talents for the institution and most of all for the country. Definitely my being a Thomasian helped me in my profession.”
One may think that at this point of his life, Fidel has already reached the peak of his career but in reality, he’s just getting started. With a true passion for the Thomasian dream of excellence and compassion, Fidel has nurtured not only the UST Singers’ future but the hundreds of music students and enthusiasts around the world. Aside from being a faculty member of the Piano and Conducting Departments as well as the head of the Composition and Conducting Department at UST, he has also conducted workshops and classes during different events, music festivals and universities in Italy, Taiwan, France, Germany, Spain, Poland and USA specifically in Washington and Denver over the course of twelve (12) years, consistently bringing with him the undisputed Thomasian values every single time.
“I am a proud Thomasian, loyal to the institution that gave me my education and enriched my life as an artist and as an individual. It is my love for UST that opened the doors to founding the UST Singers which started in 1993. My desire to share my knowledge and talent of aspiring singers, diligently working for excellence, and representing and bringing UST to the country and to the world is a dream realized through the blessings and guidance of the Almighty God. I view myself as a hardworking and dedicated Thomasian who continuously strives to become excellent and world class, grounded on Thomasian values of humility and service. I believe in the power of prayers and faith that led and guided me in the colorful journey of the UST Singers in the past 25 years.”
Perhaps it is due to his undying faith in these Thomasian values along with his relentless hard work every step of the way that led Fidel into the pinnacle of his musical career even after being doubted by his peers. It is commonly accepted that making a career out of music is quite a struggle especially for the younger generations. But Fidel has always been a believer and had these to say to those wanting to walk the same path:
“To make a career in music is not easy. It entails time, patience and laborious practice to develop skill and talent. I started to study music at UST without any musical background. My peers and folks even doubted my survival in music school since it was a quick advantage to start studies with sufficient musical background and experience in playing the instrument, reading notes and the like; and I had none of those when I started. It was pure determination and the patience to work hard that redeemed me from my deficiencies and weaknesses. I strived to practice hours and hours every single day. I did visits at the library for reading and listening sources. I pushed myself to do a lot. I studied hard. Eventually and with confidence I ventured into experimenting and writing music, I formed singing groups; I joined singing groups; I studied singing; I pursued conducting; I discovered teaching; I was able to see the world at age 17 as a choir member; I joined competitions; I became a follower; and I became a leader. It was all courage, determination, passion, and faith that made it possible. A career in music would require mental emotional and physical stamina in perfecting the craft and the art. It requires a lot of hard work specially in daily practises. It is also a career where musical growth must be guarded with scrutiny as the talent develops. Learning never stops; listening and reading is continuous; and for a conductor, the sources are ever expanding. The musician must never fear the stage. Inevitably, it will be the testing ground for a ‘make or break’ and for fighting all our fears and gaining successes. It is a career not for the faint of heart. Confidence must be nurtured thru many experiences and thru ups and downs.The passion for music and the art must live to make it happen. The joy of making music must exist. One must love it and own it.”