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Teresita Marques: A life of music

Teresita Marques: A life of music

Her love for music took Teresita Marques to Lisbon but she never imagined that she will founding one of the country’s oldest chamber choirs, becoming one of the most prominent Filipinos in Portugal.

Prof. Teresita Gutierrez Marques met her husband, Antonio at a music festival in Coimbra in 1973, where she was with the UP Madrigal Singers and him, with the University of Lisbon Choir. Antonio was instantly smitten by the Filipina beauty that he invited the young Teresita to have dinner with his family the day after. Proving his pure intentions, he flew to the Philippines to meet her family and stayed there for four months. In December 1976, they tied the knot in the Philippines.

Born and raised in Batangas, Prof. Teresita studied music at the University of the Philippines – Diliman. She joined the world renowned UP Madrigal  Singers in 1968, just a year after  it was founded, and was an active member for seven years. It gave her the opportunity to see the world at the age of 17, performing in prestigious concert halls for heads of states and dignitaries. Prof. Teresita still remembers very well when they sung for former King Juan Carlos of Spain in the 70s.

When she moved to Portugal in 1977 as a newly married woman, the whole country was still reeling from the aftermath of the 1974 revolution. Unemployment was high and the air was rife with uncertainty.

Teresita Marques founded Coro de Câmara de Lisboa, becoming one of the most prominent Filipinos in Portugal.
Prof. Teresita Gutierrez Marques: the Conductor (Photo: Carlos Santos)

It was not easy at first. My husband was working as an economics teacher and was trying to finish his law course. I didn’t work for seven months after I arrived from the Philippines. I studied the language first.

Prof. Teresita Marques

Prof. Teresita´s first job was at the Companhia Nacional de Bailado, the National Ballet Company as an accompanist. Because of her experience in choral music, she then applied at the Lisbon National Conservatory as a choral teacher. “I couldn´t believe my luck when I got accepted. We were five applicants, and I was the only woman and a foreigner at that. That was the beginning of my journey.” 

The birth of the Coro de Câmara de Lisboa

First on her agenda was to form a chamber choir. “I decided to create a choir because the school didn’t have one. I chose the best singers and at the end of the school year, we performed in a concert for the whole school.”

Prof. Teresita´s chamber choir was a success. Invitations from different groups outside the school poured in. “They began to pay us, but the school was against it. We also needed sponsors for our concerts and activities so in our 3rd year, so I talked to my singers. What do we do?”

They decided to leave the Conservatory of Music, and Prof. Teresita’s 20-member Coro de Câmara de Lisbon became a legal and independent entity and would later become one of the most respected choirs in the country.

Prof. Teresita juggled between her teaching duties at the Conservatory and her choir.

Members of  Coro de Câmara de Lisboa, with founder Teresita Marques, one of the most prominent Filipinos in Portugal.
Prof. Teresita together with the members of Coro de Câmara de Lisboa

I really enjoyed what I was doing. I was fortunate I didn´t experience any form of discrimination at work. In fact, my colleagues were very helpful. They knew that it was not easy for me in the beginning due to the language barrier. My co-teachers were much older than me, they treated me as their daughter.

Prof. Teresita Marques

Every day was a challenge for her. She had to prove that she deserved her post. Although she was the only choral teacher in the entire school for five years, she displayed nothing but professionalism and hard work. She was named coordinator of the chamber orchestra, chorale and bel canto classes in her last 12 years at the Conservatory.

Meanwhile, Coro de Câmara de Lisbon has been going places, collaborating with the Ministry of Culture, recording CDs for big record companies, joining choir competitions and travelling around the world. They bagged the grand prize at the International Choir Competition in Tolosa, Spain in 1982. In March 2016, they recorded a CD entitled “Celebration of Philippine-Portuguese Friendship”, as a joint project honoring the 70 Years of Diplomatic Relations between the Philippines and Portugal. In 2018, Prof. Teresita went to the Philippines to receive the Overseas Filipino Presidential Award for Overseas Filipinos who have contributed and obtained success in their professions abroad. 

Still a busy life ahead

At the height of the first wave of the pandemic, Prof. Teresita and her choir members didn’t idle their days away. They recorded the song “The Lord Bless You” by Joseph Lutkin and posted it on Youtube. “I was having breakfast the following morning and suddenly our recording was transmitted on Portuguese radio and the announcer mentioned our choir and played our song. I was very happy. We did more recordings after that.”

Prof. Teresita was one of the recipients of the Overseas Filipino Presidential Award for Overseas Filipinos who have contributed and obtained success in their professions abroad. 

The choir has just turned 43 and currently, it has 16 active members. Prof. Teresita sometimes hints of retiring. “The members tell me, no, you can´t leave us. And I jokingly tell them, why is it your business if I would like to stare at the wall? It has become a running joke now. But seriously, being with the choir is psychologically good. My mind works.”

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Prof. Teresita can’t slow down even if she wants to. Just recently, she got a call from the court of justice for some important case. “I was surprised. The caller told me that I was referred to by the Philippine embassy and asked me how much time I could rush to court. After 20 minutes, I was face to face with five men in handcuffs. One of them was Pinoy.”

The Pinoy was accused of drug trafficking and she just found herself a new title under her belt, a court interpreter. “There are around 3,000 Filipinos in Lisbon. Although we have a good reputation here, there are some remote cases of drug trafficking and domestic violence that involve our kababayans and that’s when I come in.  Aside from translating at court hearings, I also have to translate documents after the trial from Portuguese to Tagalog and vice versa.”

Prof. Teresita conducting a 3-day choir clinic to the members of Coro Kudyapi in Barcelona.

At 70, Prof. Teresita has lived a sedulous expat life. Being a music teacher, a choir conductor, a wife, a mother, a grandmother, and a court translator, she has learned to survive, adjust, appreciate her surroundings, and count her blessings.

I will do what I am doing until my body and mind allow me to.   

Prof. Teresita

For now, Prof. Teresita can´t turn her back on something that she is eternally grateful for: music. Music took her around the world, brought her to Portugal and gave her the chance to create something beautiful and exceptional. 

This article was previously published in TFEM Autumn/Winter Issue 2021.

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