By Antonio C. Hila
Philippine Daily Inquirer
The Episcopalian St. Stephen’s Parish is celebrating this year its 110th founding anniversary. Established in 1903 by the American Episcopal Church representatives headed by Bishop Henry Brent, it belongs to the Episcopal Church in the Philippines.
Bishop Brent arrived in Manila in 1902 and had initially set up a church intended for American and civilian military personnel and their families. The presence of Chinese believers in the congregation prompted the bishops to address the need for missionary work in the local Chinese community.
Thus was born St. Stephen’s Church in downtown Manila, which held its first worship service on Nov. 8, 1903.
From its original address on San Fernando Street, it transferred to Nueva and Reina Regente Streets before moving to its present home on G. Masangkay Street.
In 1917, it opened the St. Stephen’s School, initially for girls; it became co-educational in 1945, producing successful professionals and businessmen.
Music is held like a jewel in its church service. In fact, the Anglican-Episcopal church treasures the tradition of upholding and using fine music in its service all done in praise of the Almighty.
It articulates the biblical dictum: “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.”
A choral concert, offered as a thanksgiving, was a highlight of the parish’s founding anniversary.
Held in its main sanctuary, the concert featured the Churchwomen’s Choir, Youth Choir, and Church and Chancel Choir; and the Manila Symphony Orchestra (MSO).
The choral rendition was interspersed with the audience’s singing of hymns, collaborated on the pipe organ by no less than renowned organist Armando Salarza.
The Rev. Samuel Sia, rector of the church, gave the invocation and led the audience in singing the hymn “The King of Love My Shepherd Is”; “Crown Him with Many Crowns”; and the capping song “Because He Lives.”
Singing was facilitated with the projection of the lyrics on screen, much more with the well-projected, rich baritone of the reverend.
Committed and inspired singing elicited deep listening. The Churchwomen’s Choir, composed of both the elderly and the young, conducted by Patricia Lim, sang in joyful mood a composition of Gordon S. W. Chin’s, “Ye Are to Praise Jehovah,” in Mandarin.
The Youth Choir, conducted by Johanna Ting, followed with the “Alleluia” of Mozart and the spiritual “Dry Bones” by Kirk. Exposing the young to serious and good choral music is certainly an admirable musical virtue.
The program’s main fare was Franz Josef Haydn’s “Missa in Tempore Belli,” or “Mass in Time of War,” one of his more popular Masses. Haydn wrote the composition during the troubled time Austria was in conflict with France and Germany during the European wars, greatly fearing an invasion.
The choice of the work underscores its relevance to the troubled state the country faces now.
On the podium was music director and conductor Celia Yu Ong, leading the Church and the Chancel Choir and the soloists: Stephanie Quintin, soprano; Patricia Lim, alto; Conrado Ong III, tenor; and Erwin Lim, bass. In collaboration with organist Salarza and the MSO, the entire ensemble under her leadership unfolded the majesty of Haydn’s work.
When an amateur choir is made to sing like a professional choir, there can never be a dull moment of listening. Every choral articulation is relished.
From phrasing to projection, tonal balance, color and dynamic nuances, the choir was in perfect form. Ong cut an authoritative stance of a veteran choral conductor. She conducted with warmth, leading the entire ensemble to glorious music-making.
The soloists managed to achieve balance, thanks to the good natural acoustics of the church. The anxiety of the troubled time was convincingly depicted first in the short solo parts in “Benedictus,” which the soloists did with conviction. (The soprano and the bass had good vocal projection).
In the succeeding “Agnus Dei,” Roby Calderon sounded the timpani to bring out the apprehension brought about by an agitated situation. A bright mood soon followed characterized by celebrative fanfare sounded by the trumpets. Peace, at last had reigned.
The audience left the hall touched and recharged. Truly, optimism makes life tick.
(This article was published by the Philippine Daily Inquirer, Lifestyle Section, on November 18, 2013.)