IT all started with a love for Philippine heritage, art, and performance.
Singing, dancing, and performing have always been integral aspects of the Filipino tradition—be it cultural or contemporary dance groups, learning to play multiple instruments, or karaoke “Magic Mic” at parties.
But for Warays living in the Eastern Visayan islands of the Philippines, being in community through performance and service to one another has always been tradition. With joy and pride in their hearts, Filipinos have displayed their resilience—sticking together in community through hard times.
Waraynon Initiative Network (WIN) was formed two years ago with the initial goal to preserve and promote culture through the arts. The founders of the group are mainly from the Leyte, Samar, and Biliran islands, collectively known as Region 8. In August 2013, these family-friends got together with the idea to host activities and events celebrating the unique Waraynonculture.
Then tragedy struck in November of that year, when Typhoon Haiyan hit the region, killing over 6,000 people and leaving thousands more without aid or shelter. Haiyan was one of the strongest tropical storms ever recorded in Southeast Asia.
“When the typhoon hit, we realized our organization had an even greater purpose,” said Melvin Corpin, one of the group’s founders, who brainstormed the idea alongside his brother-in-law, Manuel. “Many of us knew each other back home in Leyte and also in the States. When we got together, we each shared our vision of wanting to help others, especially those of us who still have family in the Philippines. We want to bring them a message of hope, that they are not alone.”
WIN became more than a cultural group aimed at preserving Waraynon tradition. Since then, it has developed into a non-profit benefit corporation and arts organization dedicated to helping Filipinos affected by the frequent typhoons.
“We already loved to play, sing, and perform at gatherings,” said Corpin, who began directing the group’s musicians early on. “Our love of performing gave us the idea to have an organization where we can professionally play and sing, not just in churches or at parties, but in concerts as well.”
Less than a year after Haiyan struck, Corpin and the Board of Directors took action. Inspired by the urgent needs of their own community, WIN began developing the first-ever benefit concert on July 26, 2014: Ha Imo La, meaning “For You Alone” in the Waray language. The concert was held at the Barnsdall Gallery Theater in Hollywood, and raised a net amount of $15,000 for disaster relief.
“The concert is a culmination of our main goal of promoting cultural heritage, and also as a means to fundraise and help our community,” said board member Dulce Caldac, vice president for support services & recruitment.
Following the success of last year’s concert, WIN made even more collective efforts to help victims of the typhoon—organizing fundraising events and projects, sending relief goods to affected areas, and assisting families through livelihood projects.
Now on its second year, WIN is hosting another benefit concert on July 25th, at the William & Jane Bristol Civic Auditorium in Bellflower, Calif. This year’s theme is Lamrag: Ray of Light—a sequel to Ha Imo La, reflecting the hopeful, resilient spirit of Waray culture even through devastation.
“We felt the need to really come up with something like this, so that one way or another we can help our people. Until now, two years later, they are still in the process of literally getting back to life…they lost their livelihood, families and homes in the typhoon. They are in need of our help,” said Corpin.
“It’s a lot of work, non-stop training and planning and fundraising,” he added. “But is it worth it? Absolutely.”
Artists rendering their services
The tagline of WIN ARTS, or “Artists Rendering Their Services,” emerged from the groups’ genuine love of performance music. Naturally, WIN began its very own orchestra, dance troupe, and chorale with a cause.
Many family members and friends got involved in the showcase, including adult members of the chorale and their children, setting WIN apart from other performance groups.
“What’s really unique about this orchestra is that all of the kids involved are children of Waraynon parents from the same region,” shared Maxinne Vergara, who assists the corporate treasurer, sings in the chorale, and plays flute. “It’s special because you never hear about a regional orchestra from the Philippines.”
“It’s unique, because usually the younger people are the singers/dancers, and their parents play in the orchestra—but in our organization, it’s the other way around,” said Tess Agner, co-Vice President of project implementation and marketing. “The young ones play; we dance and sing.”
Agner also added, “We are all Filipino heritage, but sometimes we get overlooked from the Tagalog/Luzon languages. As Waraynons from Leyte, east and west Samar, and Biliran, we also have our own special heritage. About 90 percent of our orchestra comes from Leyte.”
Many of the Philippine songs in the showcase are sung in Waray, the special dialect of the region, as well as traditional Tagalog language.
“Many of our orchestral pieces both in last year’s and this year’s concert are originally compositions by Melvin Corpin, our musical director,” said Vergara.
Corpin—known simply as “Tito Melvin”—became the group’s Vice President for Ensemble, in charge of putting together the music for the show, as well as the chorus and orchestra arrangements.
“Months before, I come up with the theme of the show and prepare the arrangements, send out demos, sing the choir parts, and send out everything for people to learn and practice,” Tito Melvin remarked. “The songs we choose sets the overall tone of the concert, and this year we wanted to do something positive, reflecting themes of eternal light—Lamrag—and hope.”
Proceeds from the concert have benefitted various livelihood projects in the region; including a fishing boat cab transportation program, rebuilding of homes and schools, sending out used clothing/supplies, and restoring coconut farms where much of the typhoon devastation occurred.
The group is also closely tied with the Leyte Kalipayan Dance Company, which preserves Filipino Leyte culture and has performed with WIN. Last year, some of the concert funds went to replacing costumes and instruments for typhoon victims in the dance troupe.
WIN also hopes to raise funds for a medical mission within the next two years, to culminate with another concert in the Philippines.
“It’s nice to know that we are doing this for our families back at home,” said Germaine Kempis, who plays violin in the orchestra. “Even though I can’t physically be there, I’m still doing all the best I can to help.”
Lamrag: Ray of Light, Hope from the Pope
In January 2015, some WIN orchestra members traveled to Tacloban City, which was badly hit during the typhoon. They met with the Palo Ambassadors Orchestra for Pope Francis’s historic visit to Tacloban.
“Despite the papal mass being held in a typhoon, over 100,000 faithful pilgrims showed up to see the Pope and hear his message of hope to the Filipino community,” recalled Maxinne Vergara, who attended the papal mass with her family. “It’s a good reminder to get out of our little bubble here [in the US]. It’s easy to get connected overseas, but it’s another thing to know that you can do more simply be being present with the community.”
Pope Francis’ message of hope, compassion, and mercy to Filipinos is reflected during this year’s benefit concert, Lamrag: Ray of Light. Inspired by his words, Lamrag aims to reflect the “deep need of profound hope that perhaps only the Pope can deliver,” said Corpin, who also wrote original music performed during the papal visit.
This year’s benefit show will feature both contemporary and classic songs (both Tagalog and pop medleys) in vibrant, new arrangements by the chorale and orchestra. The songs and storyline will depict the despair felt by Filipinos after the typhoon, as well as the message of hope and perseverance following Pope Francis’ visit. The show will also include cultural performances from Leyte Kalipayan Dance Company (LKDC), featuring alumni and kid dancers.
The original song “Lamrag,” composed by Melvin Corpin and performed for the papal mass, will also be highlighted.
Waraynon Initiative Network’s second summer benefit concert on July 25th will have a matinee show at 3pm, followed by a gala showing starting at 7pm. Proceeds will support operations and projects of WIN. Donations are all tax-deductible, and WIN is always looking for more generous hearts and performers to contribute to the cause.
“As a community, Filipinos are resilient, we are strong,” said Corpin. “We are not only hospitable; we are survivors. As Pope Francis said about helping our brothers and sisters, we will always support one another because that is what the Filipino does.”