The flight of stairs leading to Parking Structure 4 houses the faint echoes of several voices in harmony. A closer listen to the lyrics reveals both familiar songs from American Top 40 radio as well as music entirely in Tagalog.
The vocals belong to the members of Tinig Choral. Since its inception in 1988, the a cappella group has placed an emphasis on celebrating Filipino culture through music performed at events held by Filipino organizations on campus and in Los Angeles, said fourth-year psychology student Koichi Agapito. The group also participates in cultural workshops and plays traditional Filipino games during its Tuesday and Thursday rehearsals.
In order to help spread Filipino culture across the campus, Tinig Choral has held onto a tenet that isn’t typical of other a cappella groups, Agapito said. The group chooses not to hold auditions, and instead welcomes all music lovers, regardless of their previous musical experience, to join the approximately 25 members who show up for rehearsals.
“Music shouldn’t be limited to people with singing experience,” Agapito said. “It should be fun.”
While the group was initially formed as a branch of Samahang Pilipino, it eventually divided into its own entity. The ties between Tinig Choral and its former parent organization still remain strong today, however, as many members of Tinig Choral also perform at Samahang Pilipino Cultural Night, according to Agapito.
The group performs year-round at events on and off campus such as the Justice for Filipino American Veterans march, the Festival of Pilipino Arts and Culture and the Pilipino Transfer Student Partnership Welcome Reception.
Agapito has been performing for Tinig Choral since his freshman year debut at the Typhoon Haiyan benefit concert in Covel Commons. Now in his fourth year, he serves as the group’s director, overseeing the operations of Tinig Choral.
Agapito, who spent seven years of his life in the Philippines, said being part of Tinig Choral has allowed him to feel connected to his Filipino culture. Listening to Tinig Choral’s rendition of the song “Tanging Yaman” as part of the set of his first performance cemented his dedication to the group, he said.
“I heard (the song) growing up in the Philippines,” Agapito said. “When we sang that I was like, ‘Wow, it sounds really good – I want to stay.'”
Although the members of Tinig Choral routinely perform contemporary pop songs, they incorporate many traditional Tagalog songs into their repertoire, Agapito said. One such song is the group’s theme song “Mga Munting Tinig” from the eponymous movie that Tinig Choral screens at the group’s annual Thanksgiving get-together, “Tinigsgiving.”
“We actually close out with it every rehearsal,” Agapito said. “We go in a circle and we sing the last line.”
Tinig Choral allowed newer member Charmhel Bascos to fulfill a personal dream of joining a college a cappella group. It’s an avenue to represent her Filipino heritage through her voice, said the first-year microbiology, immunology and molecular genetics student.
The group’s open-door policy is what initially appealed to tenor section leader Joshua Valerio, he said. The second-year mechanical engineering student had never joined a choir or a cappella group prior to enrolling to UCLA, and only fostered a private interest in singing. But he found Tinig Choral’s casual ambiance particularly enticing because it wouldn’t conflict with his busy course load, he said.
“I didn’t feel like I could commit that much time to a strict a cappella group that had auditions,” Valerio said. “I’m glad I could find a place to destress, instead of another a cappella group where you’re stressing about auditions.”
In alignment with its relaxed atmosphere, Tinig Choral does not enforce mandatory rehearsals for its members. The only exception to the rule is the group’s eight staff members, who play the role of instructors during practices.
The inclusivity of Tinig Choral has fostered a space on campus that is welcoming and comfortable, Valerio said. As a Los Angeles native, he said he never was able to find a haven with similar Filipino influence and culture until he discovered Tinig Choral.
“I never had a place that had so much Filipino influence and culture,” Valerio said. “I don’t even speak Tagalog. But here, I learned how to sing in Tagalog.”