In about three weeks, Melvin Corpin, the choir director of Our Lady of the Valley Church in Pahrump will be standing before Pope Francis in Tacloban, Philippines directing a choir of nearly 300 people.
“This is the highest honor ever bestowed on me,” the Pahrump director said. “They expect millions of people to be traveling to Tacloban City for the papal visit.”
Corpin has been with Our Lady of the Valley for just two years. He has been chosen by his former hometown of Tacloban to direct a grand choir for the papal visit on Jan. 17.
The Catholic patriarch will be visiting the city of Tacloban to personally witness the devastation of Typhoon Hiayan and talk with the people first hand.
Tacloban was at the epicenter of the disaster. The city is located in the northeastern part of the Island of Leyte, one of the islands in Eastern Visayas or Region 8. The city is 360 miles southwest of Manila. Tacloban has a population of 250,000 people. Today, 17,500 people still live in tents. The typhoon affected 11.5 million people and displaced 545,000. According to the Philippine government, 3,982 people died.
Melvin left his hometown to live in the United States five years ago. The Corpin family, consisting of Melvin, his wife Carla and four sons, Carlvian, Meldian, Mel and Mack now call Las Vegas their home.
There should be 80,000 people waiting to see the Pope Francis at an open area near the airport. The Vatican wanted somewhere near the airport where the Pope will say mass.
Melvin was selected by the priests to direct the choir for this mass.
“I found out about the papal visit sometime around March. My brother told me that the priests were talking about the pope’s visit and my name was brought up. I will be directing the choir,” Corpin said.
Carla said this was a great honor for the family.
“Well it was indeed a surprise,” Carla said. “We are not worthy to be chosen by anyone. The Diocese of Tacloban made it sound like he was the chosen one. The more we think about it, the more we feel humbled about this opportunity for him to share his talent with everyone who is less fortunate than us and with our Holy Father.”
Prior to the United States, the family operated a music studio in the Philippines, where music lessons were taught. Everyone in the family is musically talented. The two eldest at 22 years are twins, Carlvian and Meldian; they play the violin and cello. The two youngest ones at 18 and 14, Mel and Mack, play the clarinet and flute.
The patriarch, Melvin, sings and plays the piano. Carla sings, too.
Melvin and Carla both come from musical families. In Melvin’s family all of his four siblings play an instrument. Melvin went to school for music as did his wife, who has a minor in music. The two met after college while both were playing in separate bands.
His family is their own band and is often compared to Austrian singers, the Von Trapp family, of “Sound of Music” fame. They all come to Pahrump from Las Vegas to sing for Melvin at Our Lady of the Valley every Sunday.
His wife talks about her husband’s talent.
“He is talented and it is extraordinary,” she said. “It is really tailored for him. Despite his enormous talent in music that God has bestowed upon him, he is humbled. When he was 5 years old he learned to play the piano by ear.”
He also wrote a Christmas song when he was in fourth grade. He wrote the music for the mass that will be said by Pope Francis when he visits Tacloban.
Melvin is still highly regarded by the people in Tacloban and Corpin has not forgotten his roots. Last year, he raised hundreds of dollars for his hometown when the typhoon struck by holding a concert at Our Lady of the Valley Church.
Melvin does not really expect any major problems for the papal visit.
“The choirs already know the music. Two years ago I composed the mass for a big celebration in this region so the choirs already have been exposed to the music,” he said.
The songs of the mass will be sung in the native dialect of Waray. He said the pope wants the people to say the mass in their native tongue. There will be about 11 songs.
“I have no idea how they sound. I am flying into Manila on Jan. 2 and will have about 13 days to practice,” Melvin said.
The age range of the grand choir should be from 12 years old to 60 years old. The majority will be young people singing.
“Normally most of these choirs are not in good singing quality in the area because most just are led by guitar players,” the choir director said. “The choirs had to be chosen carefully because so many people want to sing for the pope. Otherwise there would be thousands, but the priest in charge made sure the quality of the choirs was good. He wanted only the best.”
Melvin had to think about the biggest challenges that face him with this endeavor.
“The biggest challenge will be learning the Latin mass parts,” Melvin said. “Another issue will be the amount of songs for communion. As it stands there are only two, and with 80,000 going to communion I think we will need more.”
Melvin said the whole experience is very humbling and he regrets not being able to take his family. The town of Tacloban is not picking up the tab for his plane fare.
“My sister, who is a doctor in California paid for my visit to the Philippines. My sister paid $1,900 for me to go,” Melvin said.
He will be gone for three weeks and this will be his first time seeing the pope.