JUNE 3- Opening of classes. Mr. Robert C. Caluya must by then, as he usually does at that time of the year, be very busy checking his class list, meeting new students, making sure everything is in order for another productive school year.
But no, he will, on June 3, be sitting on a plane for a seven-hour flight to the World Down Under to join his siblings there. He took a leave of absence from work for six months, whatever that means.
While sadness fills my heart and that of many because of this news of yet another genius leaving, a sense of gratitude seems more apt, for there is really so much we should thank Sir Robert for. He who has given so much. He whose generosity and foresight can be seen in the vast sea of talents he has nurtured. His former trainees—including Hawaii-based Randy Leaño and the Cabrales twins Sherberk and Sherween—have also made names in their respective fields. His friends—including INCAT dance guru Noli Joaquin and The Ilocos Times Managing Editor Mitch Esmino whose association with the Maestro dates back to youth—attest to his caring and loving nature.
Right after earning an education degree at the Mariano Marcos State University in 1988, this native of Vintar town taught at St. Joseph Institute in Dingras. After a year, he moved to the Ilocos Norte National High School (INNHS) where he rose from substitute teacher to Master Teacher II. Since 2012, he has been coordinator of the Special Program for the Arts where he handled classes in Music Theory, Piano and Vocal Music
In 1989, he started as assistant conductor of the INNHS Youth Choir, which was then under the baton of Ms. Sonia Morales. He became the choir’s conductor in 1993, the same year they won first prize in the prestigious NAMCYA (National Music Competitions for Young Artists) under the Youth Choir Category. That victory at the Cultural Center of the Philippines was followed by many other triumphs and accolades, foremost of which are the medals The Samiweng Singers, an INNHS-based group he put together n 2001, won at the World Choir Championships held last year in Cincinnati, Ohio. Co-conducted by Sherberk, the grouped bagged the Gold IV award in the Folklore Category (Open Competition) and Silver Medal in the Musica Sacra Category (Champions Competition) in what is considered as the Olympics of choral competitions.
Samiweng’s sister group, The Laoag City Children’s Choir, which Sir Robert founded in 1995, also emerged back to back Grand Champion (2011 and 2012) in the MBC Choral Competitions, with Ms. Egdonna Legaspi as conductor.
You are probably getting confused, dear karikna, with the various choirs I am mentioning. Truth is, Robert Caluya may have organized more choirs than the remaining hair strands on my shining, shimmering, widening forehead.
Here’s more. He also founded in 1997 the Coro Ilocano whose bulk of members were alumni of the INHHS Youth Choir. He was likewise invited to conduct and direct the Tawid Choir for Christ in their US Concert Tour in Hawaii and California. In 1998, he served as founding conductor of the Sagibsib Chorale, which was formed by Prof. Araceli Pastor (now education superintendent of Laoag City) together with Drs. Mariano and Purisima Bueno.
In the various choral concert tours he spearheaded in the United States, Hong Kong, and China, proceeds were used for charity and for the improvement of school facilities.
And we have not even mentioned yet the help Sir Robert has extended to many other choirs, including the Nasudi Chorale of MMSU.
But Robert Caluya is not leaving us without yet another artistic gift. Soon, hopefully before he leaves (the sound engineer, I heard, works slower than desired), the Samiweng Singers will launch their first all-Ilocano album. I promise to keep you posted.
Meanwhile, thank you, Maestro, and have a safe trip.