Himig Heswita is almost as old as the Society of Jesus.
As Fr. Catalino Arevalo writes, in his foreword to the album Far Greater Love:
If we read through the history of Jesuit missionary work, even just the magnificent pages in Father (Horacio) de la Costa’s The Jesuits in the Philippines, 1581 – 1768, we will see what a significant role music played in the work of evangelization … Already in the first Jesuit centuries, “Jesuit music” made its mark: from the beginnings we have Jesuit contributions to baroque music played in Jesuit churches and taught and sung in Jesuit colleges. We all saw the movie The Mission and were moved by the Indian boys singing its music. The Paraguay reductions wrote a glorious chapter in Jesuit music… As has been well said, the arts – not least of them music – have always been part of the Jesuit “way of proceeding”.
Such is the tradition from which Himig Heswita springs. It is a tradition that aims to make use of all things, music included to praise, reverence and serve the Creator. It is a tradition that seeks to lead people back to God – by the “gate of beauty”, if necessary. And so we have generations upon generations of Filipino Catholics reared by the songs they learned while studying at their Jesuit schools. Song in Latin and Spanish at first, and then, in the wake of Vatican II, songs in English composed by young Jesuits from St. Louis, Missouri.
The turning point came in the year 1965, when Fr. Eduardo P. Hontiveros, SJ (lovingly called Fr. Honti) composed a Filipino Mass while serving Rector of San Jose Seminary. Answering the call for inculturation, Fr. Honti began composing songs in the Filipino idiom. A torrent of compositions would follow throughout the 70’s, resulting in what could arguably be called “classics” of Filipino Liturgical Music: “Ama Namin (Our Father)”, “Ang Puso Ko’y Nagpupuri (Magnificat)” and “Pananagutan”.
Fr. Honti’s example would animate and inspire local composers and music ministries, and of course, his fellow Jesuits. 1981 saw the release of HIMIG HESWITA, an album celebrating 400 years since the arrival of the Jesuits in the Philippines. Working with Fr. Honti on this album were “second-generation” Jesuit composers such as Frs. Nemy Que, Fruto Ramirez, and Danny Isidro.
This drive to give voice to the Filipino soul would continue to spread. Fr. Manoling Francisco, SJ began his carrer as liturgical composer when he was fourteen years old, a freshman at the Ateneo de Manila University High School. Collaborating with his classmates and his teacher, Mr. Onofre Pagsanghan, Manoling would produce “Mariang Ina ko” and “Hindi Kita Malilimutan” Later on, Manoling would compose with his friends Jandi Arboleda and Norman Agatep, laying the foundations of what would become the Bukas Palad Music Ministry. Other Jesuit composers were at work as well.
Fr. Charlie Cenzon, SJ, composed “Awit Ng Paghahangad”, which was heard on a PLDT commercial and became an anthem for Jesuit volunteers (JVP).
Fr. Jboy Gonzales, SJ composed “Panunumpa” which would later become a part of the sound track film “Tanging Yaman” popularized by Carol Banawa.
Fr. Arnel Aquino, SJ wrote “Pagsibol” and “Ito Ang Araw” while at Sacred Heart Novitiate, and began another tradition of Jesuit Music for Meditation with the LAUDS series.
1n 1994 these younger Jesuit composers came together to produce HIMIG HESWITA 2. This album was not really a sequel to the first HIMIG HESWITA, but a development, a new stage of growth. HIMIG HESWITA 2 featured Frs. Arnel, Manoling, Nemy, and brought together the choir that would include such voices as Frs. JunJun Borres, Chris Dumadag, RB Hizon and Peter Pojol. With HIMIG HESWITA 2, the core group of HIMIG HESWITA was formed. Joining them were lay friends — among them Oggie Benipayo, Rey Malipot and Veepee Pinpin— who would add their talent to Himig Heswita.
The Catholic renewal that spread over the country with World Youth Day in 1995 led to two important developments: first, the consolidation of Himig Heswita as a stable singing group; and second the collaboration with instrumentalists who would come to be known as the Musician Friends of the Jesuits. These concert musicians would bring a different flavor to Himig Heswita, making liturgies and performances even more meaningful.
Occasionally, Himig Heswita would also perform with other groups in the Jesuit Music Ministry. Several concerts with Bukas Palad and Hangad have been produced in the last twelve years, and members are these groups as well as Tinig Barangka, Barangka Choir, Keynotes Chorale, Ateneo College Ministry Group, and Srs. Bubbles Bandojo and Susay Valdez of the Religious of the Cenacle, regularly added their voices to Himig Heswita for recordings, concerts and liturgical celebrations. Himig Heswita and Friends have made their presence felt all over the Philippines, from Naga to Cagayan de Oro, and the music has spread beyond the boundaries of the Philippines as well.
HIMIG HESWITA has produced numerous albums and participated in a number of recordings for the Jesuit Music Ministry. Since Himig Heswita 2 there have been five full albums: The Best of Himig Heswita, Purihi’t Pasalamatan, Your Dwelling Place, O Bayan ng Diyos, and Stand By Me Still. Himig Heswita and Friends has also been part of many anthologies, such as Alay Kapwa, Far Greater Love, Something More, Believe and Humayo’t Ihayag.
Himig Heswita has participated in the ministry of healing. Smaller more intimate concerts have been held for the benefit of those suffering from acute ailments . Your Dwelling Place is in fact a recording of one of these concerts. Himig Heswita has also done its part in developing local music ministries, through the many workshops on liturgical music given by Frs. Manoling, Jboy and Arnel.
Looking back, we see that the spirit that fueled Himig Heswita has spread to other groups as well. Fr. Honti’s work of music thrives with the choirs he helped established in Pansol and Barangka. Lay ministries such as BukasPalad and Hangad reach farther and farther, inspiring more and more laity to take an active part in their Church. The tradition of music for meditation begun in piano (Lauds) has spawned interpretations in guitar and flute Vespers) and in chamber music (Matins). There has also been a strong effort to inculturate the Chinese- Filipino community with Jesuit songs translated into Mandarin (Songs for Worship). And the ministry — the mission– continues.
We celebrate the wealth of tradition that comes from the Society of Jesus. We celebrate the gifts of talent and creativity that spurred Fr. Honti and other Jesuits to give their people a voice with which to sing. We celebrate the work of the Spirit that has made these ministries grow wonderfully, beyond our wildest imaginings. But most of all we celebrate that that Love without which we would have no reason to pray or sing.
Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam!