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Minstrels of Hope at Montreal’s Place des Arts

Nelia Palma

On October 1, the Congregation of Notre Dame, as a principle donator to and supporter of the Roncalli Foundation, was invited to attend its 35th anniversary celebratory event held at La 5e Salle of Place des Arts. After enjoying a festive welcome-aperitif, the guests were invited to make their way to the performance hall. As guest performers, the foundation had invited a choir group of ten young women from the Philippines known as the Minstrels of Hope, currently touring to promote their new Time to Shine album. The Congrégation de Notre-Dame sisters in attendance were especially proud of these women; in four years, the Congregation mother house has welcomed them twice and, when in Montreal, has become one of their homes away from home.

Before the performance, the customary speeches provided some background on the history, mission and current activities of this formation. The Minstrels of Hope was established in the slums of Manila, The Philippines by Mr. Alain Pronovost, a Canadian who, for the better part of forty years, has been working as a volunteer in the poorest countries in Asia. Like so many underprivileged Filipinos, the members of this choir lived through childhoods defined by overcrowding, violence, unsanitary conditions and seemingly no hope for a brighter future or a steady job. Happily, along the way they found help in the Minstrels of Hope. Under the wing of this independent non-profit NGO, the young women were given the opportunity: to pursue their studies; to develop their artistic skills and talents; to hope for a better life for themselves and their families; to help other underprivileged youth. Indeed, the group also helps further the education of young people in their communities who, for one reason or another were forced to abandon school. Their programs in alternative academic education and liberal arts splendidly attempt to alleviate poverty and uplift the needy. When Mr. Pronovost took the microphone to thank and acknowledge donators, sponsors and guests, he made special mention of the two religious congregations who had generously accepted to welcome the choir group while they were touring in Montreal, the Sisters of Providence and the Sisters of the Congrégation de Notre-Dame.

When the Minstrels of Hope took to the stage, accompanied by the Pop Jazz six-piece band, Tuxedo Swing and their choir master, Benibaldo Mapa, the large audience greeted them with enthusiastic applause. The choir showcased a most varied repertoire, from Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah to Bon Jovi’s Living on a Prayer, from soulful folk ballads in Tagalog (their native tongue), to a bubbly Everly Brothers musical medley. Many of their performances were accompanied by lively choreographies which revealed their playfulness and youthfulness. The audience marveled at their impressively wide vocal range and at how some of the most powerful voices came from the smallest and most delicate of frames. Those who had heard them perform four years ago noted how their voices had become richer, their harmonies tighter, their formation more mature.

For the audience, the biggest surprise of the evening came when, after having enjoyed the many songs on the program, Benibaldo Mapa, the choirmaster, who, until then, had been either directing the group or accompanying them on the piano, suddenly burst into song with his own rendition of The Lion Sleeps Tonight. The spectators’ reaction was instantaneous – the concert became a sing-along. At the end of the number, guests cheered for a first encore. We were treated to a two-choir performance of The Beatles’ Let It Be. Singing with the Minstrels of Hope was the Roncalli Foundation Employees Choir. The combination of voices and the solo performances was truly wonderful. For a second encore the Minstrels of Hope and their choirmaster tickled our funny bone one last time singing and dancing for us a lively a capella version of a well-known pop song. With Tuxedo Swing, the entire audience provided percussion by clicking their fingers to the beat.

It was indeed the Minstrels of Hope’s time to shine, and they did it beautifully. Congratulations to all involved and many thanks.

To learn more about The Minstrels of Hope or to make a donation, go to

All proceeds go to fund their educational and artistic efforts to help less fortunate youth in the depressed areas of Manila.



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