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‘We needed to be in the Philippines’: Tabernacle Choir highlights Filipinos’ importance

MANILA, Philippines — Following a successful and viral performance with The Tabernacle Choir in December 2022, acclaimed Filipina Broadway singer and actress Lea Salonga reunites with the internationally-renowned choir for its first ever concert in the country, the second stop for the group’s “Hope” world tour.

Besides Lea, Filipina YouTube sensation Ysabelle Cuevas will also join the choir as guest artist in two, invitation-only performances in Mall of Asia Arena on February 27 and 28, which are in total expected to draw around 18,000 spectators.

Choir president Michael Leavitt said in a press conference in Conrad Hotel Manila yesterday that they decided to bring the “Hope” tour to the Philippines because apart from garnering millions of views for Lea’s December 2022 performance with the choir, there are 850,000 members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints in the Philippines.

A former three-term Governor of Utah, Leavitt held prominent roles in former US President George W. Bush's Cabinet, first as the Environmental Protection Agency Administrator and then as Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services.

The country, he said, also has one of the highest viewerships of the religion’s TV and radio broadcast “Music & the Spoken Word,” which at 95 years old, is reportedly the longest-running broadcast program in the world.

“It’s very popular in the Philippines. Among our international audiences, this is where our audiences are most robust,” he shared.

“We see to define populations where there are concentrations of members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints and where there has been an interest in the choir and when we see the performance of the choir being able to bring a sense of peace, sense of healing, and in some way, spark the feeling we all have when we have the divinity in us.”

Besides the Philippines, the choir will be bringing their world tour to some parts of Asia and South America, and for them to have the Philippines on tour means that the country is very important for the choir.

“So, it’s a decision we take very seriously because we don’t have unlimited volunteers, we don’t have an unlimited number of places we can go over in a period of time, but it’s very clear – we needed to be in the Philippines.”

WATCH: Lea Salonga shares songs to sing with Tabernacle Choir in the Philippines

Tabernacle Choir and Filipinos: A brief history

According to Leavitt, they knew that the Philippines “is the place where we can find friendship and a big sense of purpose.”

He narrated that the 177-year-old choir is one of the world’s most recognized and admired. He recalled how it was started by a group of people from all over the world who migrated to western United States, “in pursuit of religious freedom, with a mission to foster unity and community, faith.”

“Our mission is to help people feel a sense of peace, a sense of healing and a sense of hope,” he said of the choir, with emphasis on “Hope” as the theme of the current world tour.

Around 400 singers and orchestra members are in the Philippines for the concert series, from the choir’s pool of over a thousand singers, which Leavitt estimated to have rendered over 750,000 hours of volunteer service.

“You’ll be surprised by this – all of them are volunteers! They are revolving. They are united in a sense of unity, and their faith and music,” he said.

“These are people who have left their jobs and families and other things to be in the Philippines… We form a very special relationship with those we have as guests, enduring relationships, so we are looking forward to forging new relationships.”

Among the choir’s global participants, two are from the Philippines who participate periodically in the choir. Meanwhile, three regular members have a Filipino background and are also performing at the choir’s first Philippine concert.

“So there’s a large contingency of Filipino presence in the choir,” Leavitt declared.

“All of our global participants bring a special spirit to what we do, especially enthusiasm, and I think it catches on the entire choir a lot,” said the choir’s Music Director, Mack Wilberg.

According to him, the key for the choir’s longevity is trying different things, such as singing songs from various genres to appeal to people of all ages.

“In today’s world, as we know, technology has changed everything. I’ve been with the choir 25 years and things have changed tremendously since that time and it’s more difficult to continue to be relevant in the world that we’re in right now and so we embrace technology and continue to do so, but also, we want to make sure that the music we perform is relevant.”

He shared that the choir is also heavy in youth involvement because they are the choir’s future listeners.

“So, we want to stay relevant and not just stay in one lane,” he stressed.

“Music is a very special and universal language,” Leavitt noted on what keeps the choir going despite having no pay and the sacrifices.

“From music, we draw feelings, not simply thoughts. And that both gives meaning to us, but it also unites us. I believe that it’s speaking to a part of us that is divine…” — Video by Deni Rose M. Afinidad-Bernardo

RELATED:Lea Salonga, Tabernacle Choir expected to repeat viral performance at choir’s 1st Philippine concert

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