#FEATURE | COVID Season, Change in Pisay Tradition

by Fran Fabricante

Art by Jana Malaya.

It’s the first of December and the house looks more decorative than usual. More lights, more ornaments, some hints of green and red here and there; but for some reason, it doesn’t really feel like Christmas.

During the typical Christmas season, everything is busier: the “Christmas Rush” as they would call it. As stores would get filled with people purchasing their last minute gifts, everything would eventually wind down as families start gathering together on Christmas Day. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic has limited the holiday season which Filipinos love the most.

As early as September, Christmas already begins here in the Philippines. However, the pandemic has greatly affected the Christmas traditions Filipinos look forward to. If your favorite tradition was eating some bibingka or puto bumbong after Mass, or maybe caroling with your family, the Philippine government has established some protocols that have put some traditions to a halt. Some of these include avoiding singing, coming in close contact with others, and limiting the number of people in gatherings.

Nationwide Christmas traditions aren’t the only traditions affected. In PSHS-MC, our annual class Christmas parties aren’t celebrated at school anymore. The school-wide Christmas celebration “Paskuhan sa Pisay,” which first started last year, is also another party that students sadly won’t be able to relive in 2020.

Aside from Christmas parties, there is one Pisay Christmas tradition that everyone looks forward to: Paskorus.

After the 1st Quarter Periodical Exams, students would scatter around the school, marking their area for practice until the Paskorus Eliminations. The preparations of voice pieces, instrumentals, choreographies, and costumes would mark the Christmas season in Pisay. However, such preparations aren’t present this year.

The birth of Paskorus

Paskorus, a combination of the two words “Pasko,” meaning “Christmas,” and “korus,” meaning “chorus” or a group of singers, was born in the 1980s, around the time Ma’am Evelyn Mijares was still a music teacher in Pisay.

Eventually, Ma’am Mijares became an English teacher and new music teachers had to fill in the spots; and that’s when Ma’am Melody Hernandez came in. Currently the beloved music teacher of Grades 7 and 8 and previously the club adviser of Himig Agham, Ma’am Melody had to learn the origins of such a tradition from Ma’am Mijares.

“The Glee Club in 1980 thought of naming the club Himig Agham,” said Ma’am Melody. “The club needed a name because they were applying for their first attempt to join a competition: The Chorale Collection of ’81 at the Cultural Center of the Philippines. They succeeded and made it to the 2nd place of the Mixed Division.”

“That experience fired up the Himig Agham and come Christmas Season, each member led [their] class for their entry to the Paskorus, raising the quality of their choral presentations, and influenced by their previous experience in preparing for an off-campus choral competition and exposure to other choral groups’ performances,” said Ma’am Melody.

Since then, PSHS-MC has organized the Paskorus Competition among classes every Christmas season.

“Knowing that it was becoming an exciting school wide event, the Himig Agham first sponsored it in order to provide cheer, thrill, and camaraderie among the members of the school community, until it finally evolved into a yearly tradition every Christmas Season.“

For current students, the same excitement remains.

“Paskorus is more than just a music project. It’s an activity which lets me sing, brainstorm, and bond with my classmates. Paskorus is also one of the things that reminds me that Christmas season is nearing and it really gets the Christmas spirit going,” said Claire Chua of 8-Champaca.

For Grade 7 students, Paskorus is also one of the first class projects in Pisay.

“When one is nostalgic for lower-year life, Paskorus is probably going to be one of the first things that comes to mind,” said Tocz Laurenio of 12-F.

“Then, until now, it became [and continues to be] a yearly project of the Student Council,” said Ma’am Melody.

In 2020, the yearly project actually skipped a year.

Arriving at the wrong note

The pandemic has greatly affected music education. Music teachers such as Ma’am Melody have expressed difficulty in teaching such a hands-on subject.

“At the beginning, it was really ‘unthinkable’ in a sort of way. There are doubts as to how I will teach Music ‘remotely’. But as things unfolded in the months after March 2020, with the help of fellow Music teachers, my friends, co-teachers in Pisay, and you, the younger generation, teaching music with the online set-up became a bit easier to manage, plan, and execute in a way. But of course, just like any subject, I would prefer a face-to-face setup because I miss the voices of you, my students!”

Unfortunately, the most anticipated Christmas event also did not take place this year. All we can do now is reminisce the past and unlock treasured memories made during the previous Christmas seasons.

“I miss you all, the students and your beautiful singing voices during the Paskorus season. I miss how you all showcase your various talents; I miss how you argue as to what Paskorus song to sing per class; I miss your super energetic aura during rehearsals: I miss your mischievous ways, your competitive spirits when we practice at the audi; I miss all the excitement, thrill and adrenaline rush during the elimination rounds and the finals!”

Other than teachers missing the hustle as we prepare for our Paskorus pieces, the actual participants miss it as well.

“What’s fun about the preparations is that nothing is certain. Even if you have a song all planned out, you’ll always find each member of the class adding their own flavor to the class’s arrangement, which I guess is what made each Paskorus performance more special to its respective sections,” said Jan Manzano of 11-B.

Prior to the start of School Year 2020–2021, the PSHS-MC Administration announced that joining clubs and extracurricular activities, including Paskorus, would not be required because of the current conditions. Upon hearing this, some students even messaged Ma’am Melody about it.

“I also still wanted to have Paskorus, of course with the help of our partners, the Student Council. But due to the many limiting factors and issues of internet connectivity, ‘offline or online mode’, and others, I was also disheartened for not having Paskorus this year, most especially for the Freshmen students who would have enjoyed the experience what other PSHS Scholars enjoyed for a little over 39 years already!”

In addition to having issues with internet connection, some students have expressed other problems which may affect an online Paskorus.

“The thing with implementing online Paskorus as a class project is that one person or a really small number of people will naturally have to make buhat a really huge chunk of the work needed to finish the project i.e. audio mixers and video editors,” said Laurenio.

“I guess if I didn’t have any backlogs, I definitely would [join an online Paskorus],” said Manzano.

Despite possible limitations, some clubs still operate virtually, such as Invictus and SaGala, which continue training online. In the recently concluded Humanities Festival 2020, the Pisay community has seen that school bands such as “The In Bituin” continue singing as well. Considering that organizations like these are able to continue their passions virtually, perhaps the Pisay community didn’t know that Ma’am Melody actually had a plan.

“My plan was to have everyone record [their] own voice, (of course, depending on the music piece or Christmas choral piece chosen by each class), have all the voices recorded ‘harmoniously’, mixed by an assigned student per section and have a ‘Virtual Choral Paskorus’ 2020.”

Ma’am Melody also mentioned that the virtual celebration could be held as a competition, complete with online adjudicators who judge the performances through music video recordings. Then, the awaited winners would be presented on a livestream performance for the whole Pisay community to watch simultaneously.

“How beautiful and exciting it would have been!” said Ma’am Melody.

Ma’am Melody participated in a similar activity, the Madz Et Al Virtual International Choral Festival, which was held last November 1 to December 13.

“It was very challenging, a great learning experience altogether, and indeed, very exciting and fulfilling!”

As the choral festival was something voluntary, an online Paskorus could be an event where students who want to participate may do so, instead of making it a requirement for Grades 7 to 9.

“If we were to have an online Paskorus, I think it would be best if this were voluntary and that there would be an alternative requirement instead of choosing this,” said Chua.

Although the chance to handle Paskorus virtually did not happen this season, the same plan may be used for future events.

Changes in tradition

The COVID-19 pandemic may cause some permanent changes in the future, which may affect Paskorus.

“The answer to this question [of such changes to Paskorus in the future] is yet to be determined when we get into the situation.”

Possible changes will also depend on the suggestions and directives of the Management Committee, the Division of Student Affairs, the music teachers, the Student Council, and the advisers.

“Personally, I would still prefer that the Paskorus be implemented as a Christmas Carol Competition, just like how it was all originally celebrated in Pisay,” said Ma’am Melody.

To deprive students from participating in the most awaited December event would be selfish, especially for those who haven’t had the chance to participate in it.

There is hope in music

Paskorus is no doubt part of the Pisay experience. Whether there are good memories or bad, this school tradition will continue to live on as long as we hold on to it. Hopefully, we would be able to feel and see the Christmas spirit as students perform their pieces again at school.

Ma’am Melody also has a message for the Pisay community:

“During this pandemic, I learned a lot of things and did a lot of things I have never done before. Definitely, music, singing, playing instruments, and dancing are ways and tools that heals me and my family in many ways. I hope you also find your ‘core’ and identify which ones will help you cope with life’s challenges.

As Albert Einstein said, ‘In the middle of every difficulty, lies opportunity! Believe in yourself and all that you are! Know that there is something inside you that is greater than any obstacle.

This pandemic is not the time to get what we want! Rather, this is the time to appreciate what we have! Have a merry, blessed, and safe Christmas and a health, virus-free 2021 to each and everyone! I hope to see you all soonest! Keep singing and making beautiful music, guys!”

Although the celebration of Christmas is limited to our homes, one day we will be able to celebrate with the school community and keep the traditions going as well. For now, enjoy noche buena with your family, and don’t forget to celebrate virtually with your friends. May it be having a Netflix Party, playing some Among Us, or just catching up through video call, take the Christmas Break as a time to relax, wind down, and enjoy the season.

Merry Christmas and happy holidays, Pisay!

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The Science Scholar

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The official English publication of the Philippine Science High School–Main Campus. Views are representative of the entire paper.