In a conversation with the Saipan Tribune’s editor, Ruth Tighe recently mentioned in passing that the paper should do a profile on a choir that she recently heard sing at a wake. She gave such a glowing review of the choir’s performance—their professionalism, the outstanding blending, the emotive quality of their singing—that our interest was sufficiently piqued such that we had to hear the choir for ourselves.
The earliest we could hear the choir was the start of the Christmas dawn Mass at the Mount Carmel Church last Dec. 16, so, shivering and still more than a bit sleepy, we hied off to Mount Carmel on that day, a mite anxious that we might be disappointed. I am glad to report that I wasn’t. It’s not everyday that you go to a Mass just to hear the choir sing but The Shepherd’s Choir just might make it a reasonable excuse to do so. The impossibly high notes held at crystalline pitches, the deep basses counterpointing thrilling tenors, the eclectic pieces of music in their repertoire—the overall package makes The Shepherd’s Choir one outstanding chorale group whose multi-layered singing produces glistening melodies that pluck at the heart and soul. The vaulted ceilings of the church provided the perfect setting for the soaring melodies and soft harmonies of the choir, the high walls amplifying the softer notes while echoing and deepening the altos and basses.
More surprises, however, awaited us. Far from being professional singers, we were pleasantly surprised to find out that the choir is actually composed of ordinary folks who just love to get together and sing—20 individuals of different ages from diverse backgrounds and ways of life, from accountants to engineers, programmers to bankers, medical workers to undertakers, and retired people to students. “The joy of making beautiful music together has kept the Shepherds Choir together and flourishing,” the choir said.
“We do this because it’s a way to serve God,” said Rose Soledad, one of the group’s original founders. “It’s like uniting the people of God through music and we’re all really enjoy doing it. We have fun learning songs, meeting new friends, but first and foremost, it’s about serving the church and spreading the word of God.”
Even their pianist, Franco Mendoza, is a man of surprises himself. A veritable Renaissance man, he is currently the webmaster of Verizon Micronesia but—get this—he finished college with a bachelor’s degree in Zoology from the University of the Philippines, and a degree in Music from the UP Conservatory of Music, major in piano.
“The choir is most grateful for [Mendoza’s] contributions to its musical life,” the group said.
Founded in 1991 by Rose Soledad and Moises Olan, The Shepherds Choir have provided various churches and community members on island with live music during liturgy services for the past 14 years.
“We were new to the island when we formed the choir, and we were just looking for something to do,” Soledad said about the creation of the group. “We just got together with friends and formed the choir.”
Soledad said announcements were made at the church regarding the formation of the choir for other interested individuals to join.
“At first, 30 people registered, then it grew to, at one time, about 60 but some moved to other places or went back home,” she said.
The choir sings an eclectic selection of sacred music, from choral classics to contemporary compositions and spirituals. In addition, they lend their talents to dedication services, vespers, memorial liturgies, and a host of other worship celebrations, which form a vital part of the fabric of worship on Saipan.
Practice session is held once a week at the Kristo Rai Church. Session begins after the Wednesday service, which begins at 6pm.
Soledad is currently the choir’s conductor, holding that position since 1993. “It is largely due to her commitment and dedication that the choir has reached its present strength and quality,” the choir said in the statement.
The group currently serves the Mount Carmel Cathedral as one of its principal liturgical choirs every Sunday morning at 9am and at Kristo Rai Church every Wednesday evening at 6pm. The choir also alternates every Saturday between San Jose Church and Kristo Rai Chuch.
Also, Soledad said several members of the group recently began teaching music classes at the CCD sessions at the Mt. Carmel Cathedral.
Soledad added that members of the group have bonded into what is now “their second family.”
“This is a family,” Soledad said. “We’re away from home so this is really, for the choir, a second family because we’re away from our home.”
Soledad said the choir is inviting interested individuals to become part of the group. “We’re inviting all those who love music and love to sing to join us.”
Interested individuals may contact Soledad at 287-0925 or Mendoza at 287-0129. Individuals may also reach the group Sunday mornings at 9am at the Mt. Carmel Cathedral or visit their website at www.shepherds choir.com. (With Jayvee Vallejera)