Friday, December 31, 2010

'I Like Doing It Because All of You Are Here'

"It" being preparing our Christmas Eve meal in Baguio and "you" being his three family members scattered in the big lowland metropolis. He chose the stoneware, lined up a menu for the health-conscious (that should be me) and the one who could use an extra inch on her waistline (our youngest child Ida). And so we caught the cook of the moment on our digicam preparing a rich person's repast of Canadian salmon sashimi, a salad of Romaine lettuce, walnuts and grapes with a dressing of balsamic vinegar and extra virgin olive oil, tenderloin coins and my contribution, lumpy mashed potatoes. Whenever I'd get something from the kitchen, he shooed me off with his admonition, "Too many cooks!" He also prepared Christmas Day breakfast and lunch. In a rare moment of revealing the vulnerable side of this hard-nosed newsman, he later said quietly, "I like doing it because all of you are here."

Master chef of Green Valley Village, Baguio, gets some assist from eldest daughter Kimi

Pa ra pa pam pam: Spirit of Christmas Past

Were it not for this compulsive habit of jotting down all sorts of stuff happening in my life, I wouldn't be able to recall in detail how I spent the Christmas season of 10 years ago. Recently, I leafed through old journals, curious about who peopled that season. The office I used to work for has folded up since then, but the ties with co-workers remain. A yearly tradition of familial gathering has been cut since most relatives have been swept away by the diaspora, but thanks to Facebook and email, we manage to keep in touch. As for this big little drummer girl, she continues to rapapampam wherever, whenever. To all, a gladsome season of giving.

Dec. 27, 2000
Christmas this year went by so fast. Here's what I remember--a kare-kare lunch prepared by Mom followed by Cousin Eileen calling us on the phone to rally us to go to the Malumanay reunion in Teachers' Village. By that time, Mom and my siblings were tired so only Dennis and I went. Bought Magnolia ice cream at Eunilaine on the way there. Had soup, apple pie a la mode, ensaymada, kutsinta and fruit salad--all the available desserts.

Cousin Rose and her children Yonni and Regina were there apart from Uncle Esting's children, Eileen, Minnie and Jimi, and Tongpet. It was a quiet reunion, the guys finishing the bottle of red wine Dennis  brought. Eileen was pleased with the talc powder I gave her. It's called "Love Life." On their big TV screen, we watched the movies "I'll Be Home for Christmas" and part of "Deep End of the Ocean." Handed two P50 bills to Manang Tinay as Christmas tokens.

Back home, I enjoined Kimi and Ida to hear the 5 p.m. mass with Suzy. They had gone to Rockwell Plant and on finding it closed, proceeded to Megamall. Those mall rats! Pinky brought their mini pinscher Osang whom I took for a walk and fed Honey Stars cereals. She liked being brought to the garden where she sniffed at the grass and the trunks of trees.

After work Dec. 26, Cyn, Al, Amadis and I took a cab to Whistlestop to knock off a few bottles of beer. Al, our office accountant, never pays for his drinks. Cyn is always his benefactor. He announced that we would not receive our yearend salaries because we have no collection from clients. This worried me because there are bills to pay, thank-you presents to give. Maribel, our office aide, described Christmas at the office as tuyo (dry).

Dec. 31, 2001
Visited the Araos family to give them a box of Cunanan ensaymadas. They've set up three aquariums filled with colorful fish, Julian's new hobby. Melen wore a wig, but it wasn't that noticeable. She looked happy and relaxed. They fed us, Kimi, Ida and the office driver I hired, Mang Nany, fabada, their homemade pork and beans, with Kamuning Bakery's famous pan de sal and a garlicky herb butter spread. Ida went for an ensaymada.

Jerry prodded the girls to open their presents: shoulder bags that he had designed. These were made from industrial wastes, and some urban poor folk executed them for him. From Melen I received a handpainted box with three beautiful handkerchiefs inside.

Jerry gave us his interpretation of the Dec. 30 bombing. He thinks it may be the handiwork of some generals so Erap can ask for emergency powers, dissolve the impeachment proceedings and arrest activists and businessmen who've been critical of him. It may be time to stock up on rice, canned goods and water.

From UP we motored to Ayala Alabang to spend New Year's Eve with my brother-in-law Willie and his family. I tried to nap in the guest house while the children played billiards or watched TV. We went to the Town Center, niece Claudine guiding us to the different shops. I bought a pack of my favorite chan pui mui from the Achiban store. Rolly found and bought two history books at National Bookstore, then we went for fraps at Starbucks. Saw my other niece Marie Server King, her husband and their friends. At Powerbooks I found some A.S. Byatt titles which I kept in mind to buy in the future. From Tower Records, I was able to buy a CD of "Miss Saigon" for my girls.

Back on Apitong street, carolers were waiting. They were accompanied by Sr. Sol Perpiñan who gave me the women's background. They sang Christmas and jubilee songs after which sis-in-law Chingbee served them noodles and sandwiches. The kitchen was a beehive of activity. At 10 we went to the village church, it golden retablo dazzling the eyes. The church was full; only Claudine found a seat. Ida felt unwell, and I brought her out for some air.

Back at the house a candlelit dinner was waiting: steak wrapped in bacon, baked mussels, spicy soup, macaroni salad. Westin Plaza prepared a special ham, but I was too full to try it. I allowed myself a slice of Marks and Spencer fruitcake, the best I've tasted this season.

"Blue Streaks," acrylic on paper canvas, 2009.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

A Memory Retrieved

The year 2010 is fading. As I begin to count the blessings of this year (and they are plenty), I am simultaneously preparing a to-do list for the new decade. A resolution that is forgotten year in, year out in the effort to meet the level of each day's need is to stop and be still. And in the stillness compose a verse or what seems to look like one.  Here is a verse, one of a small fistful I did this year, a memory retrieved of a child now fully grown.

Fourth-Generation Brookside Baby

For Kimi whom I named Katha Mayumi

she moved into my lola's house
precisely on her seventh birthday
ready to begin first grade
in a new city.

free of anxiety
she strode to school day out day in
in jeans & t-shirt
standing out at flag ceremony
because all other girl children
came in standard white blouse
& red pleated skirt.
she thought it not unusual
when these same girls
yelled "katha!"
with hints of panic
in their voices
when bullies barged
into their space.

she dealt with them
by just turning up
in trademark scruffy jeans
& well-worn tee

my guess is the boys
couldn't figure out
what she was
in their rightful scheme of things.

eventually she shed off the tomboy stance
explored the world of dolls,
shoved the line of barbies on her kid sister's side
& gave her family of trolls
the affection they deserve,
graduating them with honors
atop the upright piano.

she commenced a life beyond
her adopted city,
adapting to wearying commutes,
shrugging off trolls in the workplace
as easily as the bullies
who have no place
in her scheme of things.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Facing Down the Beast of Depression

With upbeat tunes like “Feels So Good” and “What a Wonderful World” played at the launch of Margarita Go-Singco Holmes’ Down to 1: Depression Stories, a guest wondered aloud if the condition discussed in the book is being trivialized.

Perhaps, that is the program’s point: the beast called depression can be understood and licked. What comes after is a realization that life can be given another chance.

Holmes, a clinical psychologist who has been identified with bestsellers on Filipino sexuality, summed up the condition, with help from her colleagues at the University of the Philippines psychology department, in this spoofy song to the tune of Elvis Presley’s “Suspicion”:

“Every time I wake up, I wonder what my life is good for / Every time I wake up, I wonder why there isn’t more / Why should this be so painful to me, the ex life of the party / Starting to think ‘Oh, what’s the use?’ Am I really hopeless and what’s more, just crazy / Depression torments my heart / Depression tears me apart / Depression, what can I do?”

Karina Bolasco  of Anvil Publishing, the book’s publisher, said it took them 10 years  to put together  Down to 1 as they wanted to show that  far from being “a happy smiling, singing people,” many Filipinos suffer from clinical depression.

But, she added, these Filipinos are “conveniently dismissed as genetically crazy. Have you ever noticed how parents always try to trace the family origins of anybody a son or daughter is likely to marry? First, the place of origin to establish regional traits, then the family of origin, to make sure walang lahing sira-ulo (there is no history of insanity).”

The title refers to a depressed person’s severe feelings of aloneness, even of abandonment–that no friend, partner or any other being could possibly understand what he or she is going through. Three of the 10 storytellers in the book went onstage to describe depression as a “condition too painful to bring on the table.” It is one where one feels “faith vanishing in the desert” and “looking into the abyss and knowing you don’t want to go there.”

Called the FCD 10 (formerly or currently depressed), psychology professor Kay Añonuevo, bankers Roman Azanza and Jeremy Baer, film director Peque Gallaga, writers Alya Honasan and Babeth Lolarga, restaurateur Nina Poblador, TV director Lore Reyes, author Mike Santos and fashion designer Patis Tesoro openly and bravely reveal what it’s like to be, or to have been, depressed.

Some detail their suicide attempts, their medication, what helped and what didn’t in getting them out of the condition that is beyond what Bolasco called “the blues that affect most people in the course of normal life.”

Holmes, who acknowledges suffering from the condition periodically, guides the timorous reader looking for help through a simple test. The score can be interpreted to find out if one is within the mild or severe clinical range of depression.

In her forthright manner, she demolishes commonly held beliefs and myths about suicide. To the quasi myth that “no one but God decides when your time is up ,” she writes, “This is claptrap because many don’t believe in God, even more don’t believe in a God that insists one suffers needlessly.”

Best is her definition of depression: a thief that “takes away your joy, sense of wonder, the taste of your favorite food, even the smell of freshly washed hair…Most painfully, depressions steal you away from yourself. For many, one of the worst things they fear is whether their real selves will ever come back.”

The FCD 10′s first-person tales of surviving depression resonate long after one has put down the book.  Añonuevo states with the force of truth: “While sadness is ordinary, not wanting to live isn’t!”

With admirable candor, the British Baer, Holmes’s husband, talks about the anti-depressant Prozac, how it reduced his libido (down to one from a high of making love 52 times a week) and how he and his doctor arrived at a combination of medications that is satisfactory to him.

Still on the subject of medication, Honasan musters her strength when she hears of people calling her “unstable” because she was on Prozac. She writes, “I don’t hang around them anymore. Experiences like this can teach you a lot about who you should keep in your life.”

Tesoro writes candidly about her addiction to Valium to control her rages and how she overcame it. “I got worse and worse, but when I wanted to throw that pair of scissors, not just to vent but hoping it might hit its mark, I stopped all my medication cold turkey.” Today, if she takes medication, she only has half a pill and has calmed herself through gardening and walking the land.

If anything, Down to 1 assures the suffering that they are not alone.

Originally published by VERA Files
Photo of Dr. Holmes by Anna Leah Sarabia

Saturday, November 27, 2010

A Doggy Life

Exactly a week ago today, Bogart, our family's mini pin, went missing. I slipped out of the house early that Saturday to catch the bus to Baguio to make it to the opening of “Produce from the Garden” at Cafe by the Ruins (still up on its walls are our lip-smacking paeans to fruits, herbs, vegetables, favorite ulam and desserts, all things that sustain our lives).

I wasn't aware of anything unusual until I got an urgent SMS from my sister while the bus traversed Tarlac asking if I had seen or heard Bogart before departing. No, I answered, but I heard him wailing a short while the night before— his usual lament for his mistress, my kid sister Gigi, because she wasn't home at her usual hour. But I dismissed the sound

Earlier, I made a mental note to use Bogart for a future subject for a painting. His “austere dignity”, to borrow poet Denise Levertov's phrase, never fails to impress me, especially when he sits very still on his haunches, his head up, his eyes looking past the window, his ears like antennae, keen to the sound of the car as it turns left on our street with Gigi at the wheel. Mommy calls him a good guard dog because he yelps non-stop when he picks up the scent of strangers at our gate.

Because I was too far to be of any help in the neighborhood-wide search for him, I texted that they post a picture of him in Facebook. This social network has helped others find their missing pets. Gigi managed to compose an emotional email with a photo of Bogart attached. She sounded like she was saying goodbye, giving him up for lost.

My youngest brother Eric got a rude awakening that Saturday when he heard the news. Without even splashing water on his face, he dashed out, going from street to street, alley to alley of Barangay Kapitolyo, calling out Bogart's name. Another sister recounted how Eric would return home just to quaff his thirst, catch his breath a few minutes. Then he went out to resume the search.

Later in the day, Gigi thought of telling the security guards to spread the word that she was offering a cash reward for information leading to Bogart's recovery. She went in to shower. She wasn't done toweling her body dry when the doorbell rang, and a street urchin came forward with information. The child had seen someone catch the dog when he wiggled his small body free from the fence railing and jumped to what he must've thought was freedom.

Because Bogart can be fierce and noisy, the captor put him in a sack and brought him to a new home. Gigi was led to the place. From her account, it was blighted, filthy and dark, a narrow passageway allowing one person at a time to pass through. There a man reeking of alcohol met her and demanded P200 for Bogart's release. He kept the dog in a bird's cage.

Gigi paid up, he asked for more, but once Bogart was handed over, she left, silently furious.

Yesterday I called to ask how dog and mistress were doing. Gigi said Bogart has shown signs of trauma, fearful and shaking at the sight of strange men when they go out for walks.

I impulsively said, “He might need the services of a dog whisperer.”

I could feel Gigi brightening up on the end of the line: “You know of one?”

I told her I was kidding. I've heard of horse whisperers but no one for dogs yet.

Bogart has been the center of everyone's attention since his return. Bruno, the playful, spirited mini pug, doesn't mind playing secondary actor to this little drama.

I imagine there must be double poignancy when Gigi calls out to Bogart and Bruno when she leaves for work each day, “Be good boys now. Take care of each other and the people at home. See you later. When I get back from work, we’ll play.”

Photo above shows Kimi Fernandez carrying Bogart a few days before he went missing. Lower photo, Bogart in his green shirt on St. Francis Day

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Home Works for the Lluch and Dalena Women

 For Julie Lluch, one of the Philippines’ top sculptors, home truly works as proven by her and her three daughters in their first family exhibition at Alliance Francaise in Makati City.

Initially resistant to the idea of a family show, Lluch, 64, a philosophy alumna of the University of Santo Tomas, said: “I found the proposed concept of a family show the corniest thing. But as Alliance president Deanna Ongpin was very forceful in convincing us and we started to work, we found the idea not so cheesy anymore.”

Lluch, Sari, Aba and Kiri Dalena are known in Manila’s art circle as among the most stylish dressers and bold experimenters in their respective media. So going corny would be the path not taken.

The agreement was to pursue each one’s preferred direction, but as their pieces evolved, the reality set in that they are indeed a family, “always together, working parallel, sourcing, referencing, referring and referring to each other,” the mother said.

There was the obvious: Aba, Kiri and Julie live in the same four-storey house in Quezon City. Sari, married and a mother of two, resides nearby.

Lluch said: “We know each other intimately. I feel blessed to be their mother. Art seems so natural to them. I never thought I’d have a doctor in the family. We understand each other better because we move in the same art community. Sometimes, I wish one of us can cook well or can nurse when one of us is ill.”

The four women arrived at the title “Home Works,” the name of an earlier show Aba had. This latest one however does not refer to the job or assignment they had to do at their home studio but to the idea that their home life does work for all.

“In this show, I realized that we are our most comfortable and boldest selves,” Lluch said. “When the pieces were installed, I saw that the content was very sexual.”

Aba has a sculpture of dogs copulating. Kiri has gigantic condoms that could also be interpreted as breasts. Sari filmed, with her husband Keith Sicat’s assistance, a portrait of herself in the bloom of pregnancy, baring her body to the camera while floating in a pool.

When Lluch voiced aloud her observation, Sari said: “You’re the boldest, Mom. You’re the original.”

Sari, 40, a film studies graduate of the University of the Philippines, was jittery about her video being viewed by her father-in-law on opening night, but her sisters and mother affirmed her.

She said: “Afterwards, I didn’t need affirmation from elsewhere. We have lots of fun teasing each other.”

She credited Lluch for “giving us lots of freedom.”

Lluch’s oil painting “Self-portrait,” done in 1972, was shown for the first time. Sari was always mystified about it as a child, but she realized the depth of its subject matter when she became a mother. It shows Julie, pregnant with a second child and minding an unseen baby in a crib, waiting for her spouse to come home.

Sari said: “I related to it when I started waiting up for my husband and for the baby to be born. Sometimes, I find myself torn between raising a family and making films. What Mom painted was a good example of how to avoid post-partum depression by creating artworks or continuing working. Otherwise, you go crazy.”

Aba, 38, a UP fine arts graduate, created a series of dioramas about family life. One showed her father, painter Danilo Dalena painting. Another had her and her sisters engaged in child’s play (she drawing, Sari on the piano, and Kiri with a bundle about to run away from home). The third portrayed her mother surrounded by her cacti sculpture series. What unified the dioramas was the presence of one of their dogs in each as these pets were considered family, too.

Kiri, 34, who finished human ecology at UP Los Baños, agreed: “Home has held us all together.”
Her contributions referred to the condom sculptures and risqué-worded t-shirts her dad made in her childhood. For example, he had a shirt that said: “Key king math thumb book.” In Tagalog, these words read: “bulbous vagina.”

Kiri’s neon-lighted sculpture used the same play of words, this time poking fun at the male genitalia. Hers read: “Teeth thing mall lamb bought.” InFilipino, it means “soft penis.”

She also showed “Penis Line,” small, finger-sized penises in various positions of arousal and state of rest. She considered it ironic that while making these, she was working on a documentary on abortion.

To her, joining “Home Works” wasn’t all that hard. She said: “It was just about being yourself, being relaxed and at ease, except for Mom who issued constant reminders to us to finish our works on schedule.”

Just like a family, indeed.

Photo of Julie (in checkered skirt), family and blogger by GARI BUENAVISTA

Article originally published by VERA Files

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Pacquiao, Licad, Macuja & Other Tales of Heroism

 For the nth time, I'm ceding this space to Pablo Tariman. Last night, I came home from "FILMhamoniKa," conductor Gerald Salonga and his FILarmoniKA Orchestra's last performance in their concert season, a real jab at popularity because they selected memorable music from the movies. The repeated ovations for the young music director, his equally young orchestra and guest vocalist Bituin Escalante are a positive sign for orchestral music's future. 

Walking back to the car park, I thought aloud to my concert companions how Salonga could follow Leonard Bernstein's footsteps (his Joy of Music and his Young People's Concert series helped  popularize the classics among American children by using the then young medium of television). I noticed three videographers onstage recording the entire concert at Philamlife auditorium and took their presence to mean that "FILMharmoniKa" will soon air on TV. That means a wider audience can be reached. 

Salonga is a good communicator. He is not shy about turning to face the audience between numbers to pick up the mic and annotate a piece before it is performed. It is a format that will help create and mold a new audience that will consider concert-going a vital part of their lives. 

My hope is in his 2011 season, he will add, pound for pound, more classics in the orchestra's repertoire. May he strike a balance between crowd-pleasers like last night's "Star Wars Suite," "James Bond Theme," among others, and the musical wealth of the ages that is little seen and heard live. We see the makings of another sort of champion if he achieves this.

By Pablo A. Tariman
 "It’s an outrage and a total disgrace to pay a boxer a million dollars just to have him punch someone on the nose while musicians can hardly make a living. Even if I were given a ticket to the Ali-Frazier fight, I wouldn’t see it it.” --  Antonia Brico, American conductor in during a 1975 presscon in Manila

“With deep concern for his millions of fans around the world, Pacquiao may have to ‘let go’ of an opportunity to finish the ‘Tijuana Tornado’ early in the fight and prolong the action up to the later rounds in order to put entertainment into the fight.”
      --  A sports writer covering the Pacquaio-Margarito fight  in Texas

The Pacquiao-Margarito fight in Texas, USA, once more put to  test the strength and status of the Filipino boxer as the greatest boxing hero for all time.

Pacquiao’s greatness is witnessed in  less than two hours--sometimes less than 30-minutes--by  millions all over the world every time he faces a new opponent.

Coming from a poor family who has seen the many humiliating faces of poverty, Pacquiao has found a way out of third world status by boxing his way to world fame.

Aside from his superhero status, he has amassed untold wealth, dizzying fame and  adulations and has conveniently metamorphosed from boxer  to product endorser,  aspiring singer, actor and now congressman of his Mindanao province. He is husband to a beautiful wife, father to healthy children and a good son to a mother who brought him up despite her own economic and marital woes in the past.

From the way he was and is now, Pacquiao is a role model , a legitimate boxing hero and a candidate for greatness which many think he acquired already.

Do other Filipinos acquire fame and fortune and qualities of greatness the way Pacquiao did.?

If the boxing glove was Pacquao’s instrument, the power of the pen was Jose Rizal’s  greatest weapon and he used it to expose the atrocities of the Spanish rulers and in the process  acquired greatness and a national hero status.

But if there are heroes in the boxing arena, there are also unsung heroes in the performing arts.

Iloilo-born Filipino tenor Otoniel Gonzaga was reaping  audience adulation in Vienna  as Calaf in Turandot and as Bacchus in the  Strauss opera, Ariadne auf Naxus and todate remains the only Filipino tenor who has sung the Verdi opera, Otello.

Another Filipino opera singer  from Morong, Rizal, Arthur Espiritu, made history by becoming the first Filipino tenor to make it at La  Scala di Milan (the Mandalay Stadium of opera) in 2007. Some 67 years ago, a Filipino baritone by the name of Jose Mosessgeld Santiago Font made the same conquest in La Scala  in  the year 1932.

Recently, Lea Salonga  was again the toast of  England and the millions of tv viewers as she sang in the 25th anniversary concert of Les Miserables in London where she was the first Filipina to sing the lead part of that musical.  She is the first Filipina actor to receive  both the Olivier and Tony Awards in theater.

Of late, a 46-year old ballerina in the person of Lisa Macuja Elizalde got steady and consistent acclaim for her roles in Giselle, Don Quijote and lately, Le Corsaire. She happens to be the first and  last Filipino soloist (in fact, the first foreigner)  of Kirov Ballet where  the imminent Mikhail Baryshnikov  and Natalia Makarova came from.

After her triumphs in several continents, Cecile Licad again made waves in Michigan and Germany with her Chopin No. 1. Now headed for Russia where she will become the first Filipino soloist of the Russian State Orchestra, Licad is  also the first Filipino to get the Leventritt Gold Medal in New York (the same medal that went to  Van Cliburn and Gary Graffman) and was adjudged by a New York Times critic  Harris Goldsmith  as a new member of the  league of the world’s greatest pianists.

For their own brand of heroism, these artists deserve more than token notice from the government. They will never enjoy a pay-per view income, only a few can buy several luxury cars and mansions and their highly acclaimed performances will not get congressmen booking flights abroad for their performances.

Which bring us to reflect on the plight of artists with no millions in pre-performance contracts. They have had to make do with modest fees compared to million of dollars of world boxing champs.

Once again, let’s cheer Manny Pacquiao for the nth time for the extraordinary brain and brawn he  has shown in this Sunday's fight.

But for once, we should also remember that the world also needs heroes and heroines who can replenish and warm the heart and spirit of people  in these  difficult and uncertain times.

In this aspect, a  Cecile Licad, an Otoniel Gonzaga,  a Lea Salonga and a Lisa Macuja  have done more than enough to make our country more proud. They will win hearts and minds and they will prove they can make a difference -- not by beating an international foe to a bloody pulp --  but in showing the nobility of the human spirit through the language of music, theater and dance.

They didn't do it because it's trabaho lang.     

They did it for art, love and  life and with no hope of a state motorcade and  prospects for product endorsements.

Pacquiao's image from

Friday, November 12, 2010

Sinag de Leon Contemporizes Art of Paper Cutting

As a child growing up in Marikina, Sinag de Leon thrived in an environment strewn with samples of Philipine folk arts and crafts, her parents being avid aficionados and lecturers on the subject.
She picked up a volume of Childcraft and followed the instructions on how to cut out and form a snowflake out of paper. Snow being alien to her sensibility, she wondered how the intricate designs on pastillas de leche wrappers from Bulacan could be duplicated in her new-found medium.

A vanishing craft in that province, paper cutting has been given a contemporary twist in the series of solo exhibits de Leon has had this year. Her latest solo show “Aninag” at the San Beda Museum in the college campus on Don Manolo Ave., Alabang Hills, Muntinlupa City is on extended run until Nov. 30.

Prof. Felipe M. de Leon, her father, said in the exhibition notes the latest exhibit is different because she “presses her paper cuts within two or three transparent glass panels, making them visible from two sides.”

The result is an interplay of light patterns with the glass panels turning into negative spaces. With the pin lights of the museum artfully turned on the objects, shadows of the paper cut shapes are reflected on the walls.

“Aninag is a fitting title because in Tagalog, it means looking through a transparent or translucent medium,” he wrote.

A Philippine Studies graduate of the University of the Philippines in Diliman, de Leon explained that the Filipino’s love of designs predates the arrival of the Spaniards. It is reflected in the tendency “to beautify spaces to please the eyes,” she said, citing the country’s gold collection — one of the best in the world, wood carvings and shavings in Pakil, Laguna, ornate architectural details like the panolong in Maguidanao, the tattoos on the bodies of Cordillera people, the swirls embroidered on the barong Tagalog in Lumban, Laguna, and copper bracelets.

Paper is also commonly used in local crafts like the papier mache horses peddled outside churches in Southern Luzon provinces, buntings or banderitas hung on a line during fiestas, on the head gear or Ati-atihan dancers and masks at Maskara Fesivals in the Visayas.

Paper cutting requires the simplest materials: a pair of pointed scissors and paper. The creativity is up to the user. The sheet of paper is just folded once, twice or thrice. The user starts cutting to form patterns, taking care not to cut across the paper so the piece isn’t ruined.

The beginner can draw patterns and with practice, these can be discarded. De Leon is proud that none of her paper cuts have repeat patterns.

Apart from exhibiting, she enjoys sharing her skills, saying, “I feel so blessed to share what I do. That is why when I get invited to do a show or demo/workshop, I grab the opportunity and challenge myself.”

She added: “I like to explore my options as a budding artist. That is why I feel that I have to expose my works to a wider audience. I am happy with the comments of people who see my works and become more inspired to do more.”

In time for her 37th birthday on Nov. 20, she will have another solo exhibit at Likha Diwa, a restaurant on C. P. Garcia Ave., UP campus, Diliman, Quezon City, with an environmental theme, using recycled paper instead of new ones.
Her shows refer to Filipino and Asian themes: “Paper Jam” at Likha Diwa was a play of colors with food as inspiration; “Dreamweaves” at Conspiracy Bar was inspired by mandalas and dream catchers, or things that help a person meditate or concentrate; and “Sinalimbay” was inspired by big space and warm colors of “Kiss The Cook Gourmet” where for the first time she doubled and tripled the size of her paper cuts as a challenge to herself (one piece took her a day and a half to cut).

“Aninag is different because for the first time, I did not paste the paper cuts on a paper background,” De Leon said. “By using glass panels, viewers are able to see just the paper cut itself, without any distractions.”

Her mother, Anna Leah Sarabia, never ceases to wonder how her eldest daughter continues to re-invent herself every few years. After she graduated, de Leon worked as a school teacher; then she joined a women’s nongovernmental organization.

This year marked a turning point for de Leon who had proven herself an artist as well.

Photo by Anna Leah Sarabia shows Sinag (in black) with her workshop participants. 

Originally published by VERA Files

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Food from 4 Foodies

Whenever we get together, we being art teacher Norman Chow, watercolorist-writer Baboo Mondoñedo, baker-theology instructor Toottee Chanco Pacis and me, talk is spiced by food on the table or food imagined. So it comes as no surprise that for our group show, "Produce from the Greenhouse," we are united by the subject of sustenance. We officially open our exhibition of acrylics, watercolors and pastels on Nov. 20, Saturday, at 4 p.m. at Cafe by the Ruins, homing zone of foodies from all over the archipelago. We can't assure that a lechon will be the buffet table's centerpiece, but a jolly good time will most certainly be had by all. 

Poster design by Jennifer Cariño

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Mameng's Sparkler

The late Odette A. and the irreverent gang of Los Enemigos used to call her "Mameng" during the twilight of the Marcos dictatorship. Mameng is still very much around, living to see her enemies buried. She cuts a striking figure at concert halls with her trademark beehive 'do, the French tips of her polished fingernails, the terno which she now wears some inches off the floor, almost the equivalent of cut-off jeans, and her brooch, selected for whatever occasion she attends. Well, we caught her wearing this at Sofya Gulyak's piano recital at Philamlife a few weeks ago. We overheard her boast of the three Bosendorfer pianos left behind in Malaca ñang Palace after her family fled. One was a wedding gift from Van Cliburn to her youngest daughter. She never learned of the fate of those pianos.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Queen Annie and her Prince Richard

Richard Merk, jazz singer, comic singing host and owner of Merk’s Bar and Bistro at Greenbelt 3, Ayala Center, Makati City, regards his diminutive mother,Annie Brazil, as still the undisputed Asian queen of jazz at age 77.

Known as the prince of jazz, Richard describes himself as Annie’s “huge son, huge fan.” He can’t believe that “out of millions of mothers out there, she became mine.”

While his approach to singing has been described by retired music reviewer Anna Leah Sarabia as “violent” in its attack with his inclination to belt out the lyrics, Annie’s is the opposite, “like a muted horn in Gershwin’s ‘It’s Wonderful,’ understated, free and easy with the melodies, almost like Ella Fitzgerald, except that Annie is almost coy, somehow demurely flirting with each song.”

At her second in a series of homecoming gigs at Merk’s (her last performance is on Oct. 20 with 9 p.m. show time), the deceivingly frail-looking septuagenarian can turn coquettish as she dished out, while seated, cross-legged, on a high stool, “Our Love Is Here to Stay,” “That’s All,” and “Boy from Ipanema.” She even gave old Tagalog ballads “Ikaw” and “Buhat” a jazzy treatment.

Unlike her 55-year-old son, she remembers the lyrics of each song and does not require a codigo (lyric sheet) to guide her.

That free and breezy interpretation of jazz favorites belies the pain of several losses in her life. Five of her eight children died in infancy, two from doctors’ negligence. She lost those five babies while detailed in different countries like Hong Kong and Thailand.

Those who survived were Richard, Rachel Anne, Ronnel and Ralph. She adopted Ralph when he was four days old and struck a deal with the Almighty to give her 20 more years of life so she could see him grow into adulthood and able to stand on his feet. He was able to finish his nursing course and vowed to take care of her in her old age.

Annie herself almost lost her life twice. The first was in 2005 when she couldn’t breathe nor take a step while playing mahjong in New Jersey (she used to average two to three packs of cigarettes a day until that stroke). In 2006, she suffered from pneumonia while in San Francisco, California. She then totally quit smoking.

Full of gratitude for her extended life, she said: “I have to be active. We all have to work our minds. What keeps me alive are God, Mama Mary, singing, my children, mahjong, my grandchildren in that order. They’re my therapy.”

In New York City, she built up a reputation as a regular jazz vocalist at Stagionale, an Italian restaurant-jazz joint on Bleecker Street in The Village. She was the only singer who sang there steadily for 12 years, she said.

“And in New York, that’s something,” she added. “Other musicians travel from place to place.”
Out-of-town customers sent her admiring notes. They told friends and family to visit the Big Apple to “look upAnnie and say hello for me.”

She never missed a performance because she discovered an effective remedy when she felt that she was coming down with a cold: hot coffee with brandy. Now she drinks that before and during a show because “it opens up my throat.”

Singing since age six, she went on to jam with such greats as Duke Ellington, Ellis Marsalis and Sarah Vaughan, sometimes serving as their front act. She called them all “excellent musicians, good jazz people” who taught herhow “to sing from the heart.”

She said Richard may have gotten his passion for songs from her, but lamented that he doesn’t listen when she gives him advice.

She has no favorite or signature song: “I like every song I sing. Singing is all about love and feeling what you sing as though it’s happening.”

There is one song, though, that she would rather hear than sing — “Windmills of Your Mind,” a roundabout composition whose lyrics can confuse even a professional.

Richard is unabashedly proud of his mom and has no compunction about rebuking audience members who continued to chat without lowering their voices while she sang.

At last week’s homecoming gig at Merk’s, which coincided with Richard’s birthday, he introduced Annie’s set the way a worthy son should: “Listen to my mother’s singing, my mother’s voice, my mother’s heart.”

In the middle of her crooning and scatting, he would tap a customer on the shoulder, point to her and whisper: “Ganda ng Mommy ko (My mother is beautiful)!”

When midnight struck and Richard officially turned 55, Annie changed the lyrics of the Birthday Song to “May Almighty bless you.”
After the applause died down, she sat with her admirers and shared the key to jazz singing. “Learn the song, memorize the lyrics, then sing it the way you want it,” Annie Brazil said.--Originally published by VERA Files

Photo by Kimi Fernandez

For the Love of the Classics

A person's life purpose is nothing more than to rediscover, through  the detours of art…or passionate work, those one or two images in the  presence of which his heart first opened."  --Albert Camus, French writer and Nobel laureate for literature

Monsieur Camus may as well add fools rush in where angels fear to  tread, especially on the subject of bringing the classics to small  venues, not 700-or 1,000-seater concert halls the proximity of which  is compromised at the hint of a thunderstorm and its twin,  Friday-night gridlock.

For Waya Araos, proprietor of Kiss the Cook Gourmet (KTCG), a  restaurant and alternative art space at 65 Maginhawa street, UP  Village, Quezon City, music writer Pablo Tariman of Music News &  Features and a hardy core of cultural volunteers, risking their  blouses and shirts is worth the effort, even if it defies  business-school tenets of cost effectiveness.

Tariman, who has presented pianist Cecile Licad, tenor Otoniel  Gonzaga, violinist Alexandro Tomescu, among others, in various venues  in Metro Manila and the provinces, may have been beaten financially in  some instances but is unbowed in espousing the classics.

He describes the risks involved:  "A small venue hardly raises any  income good enough to cover expenses from artists’ fees to poster and  program printing to piano rental. It’s hard to get sponsors in a small  venue as companies want a bigger exposure for their products. But when  tested as we did with Oliver Salonga last July 4, good food, good  music and good art on the walls make a superb combination. You feed  both body and soul."

It wasn't hard to get Araos's cooperation into opening her space for  the performing arts. She says, "My father (sculptor Jerry Araos)  raised us on classical music. He would get inspiration for his work  from Beethoven, Tchaikovsky and Mozart and would delight us, actually  embarrass us when we were young, by dancing to Ravel's Bolero in front  of our friends. He'd sing along, not well, mind you, but with intense  feeling to Pavarotti, Carreras and Mario Lanza. The daily exposure to  the classics shaped what I am today. When I was presented with the  opportunity to present classical music at Kiss the Cook Gourmet, I  jumped at it."

Enthusiasm was infectious. Before Tariman and volunteers could think  of sponsors, the pragmatic way persons with a slight business sense  would think these things through, foremost on their minds was if the  ROS Music Center-owned Bösendorfer piano on which Salonga played in  his June 12 Philamlife concert would fit the restaurant's sliding  doors. That took care of itself.   Reality set in when costs were computed for the pianist's honorarium  in lieu of talent fee, the heavily discounted piano rental, ink for  printing out posters and other print paraphernalia, etc.

Reliable  cavalry riders came to the rescue in the persons of Aurora and Des  Bautista of Baguio, Dr. Andrea Enrile Dimayuga of Trinity Birth  Clinic, Maria Claudine M. Fernandez, Joy Buensalido, San Buenaventura  and Co., CPA, Quota International Club of Manila and friends in media  who helped drum up interest in the event. Visual artists Merci Dulawan  and Norman Chow came down from Baguio that day, each bearing a freshly  strung lei, for Salonga's matinee and evening performances.  The organizers acknowledged help from these individuals and groups.

Tariman says, "There is nothing like finding a patron who can cover  your expenses so you can concentrate on the artistic requirements of  your concert. In the end, standing ovations don’t translate into  income. Deficits tell you all planning should start with getting  sponsors and making good with ticket sales."  Tariman, awarded in June by the city of Manila the Patnubay ng  Sining at Kalinangan for makabagong pamamaraan (which must only mean  "innovative ways"), was happy with the results of the first two  intimate concerts.

After food expenses were deducted from Salonga concerts  and the balance for piano rent paid off, there was still more than  enough to turn over to the beneficiary, the Values Education and  Skills Training (VEST) Foundation that is working to keep Aeta  children in school in Bayan-bayanan, Dinalupihan, Bataan. The amount  of P12,000 generated is enough to feed more than 20 kids in their  dormitory for a month.

Aware that "risks are trials through which organizers live or die,"  his Music News & Features and KTCG went on with a voice-flute  spectacular, featuring soprano Camille Lopez Molina, flutist  Christopher Oracion and Mary Anne Espina who played on an upright  Bachstein piano in late July.  The organizers moved the concert from its original July 25 schedule  after a non-stop afternoon downpour stranded the performers and  some guests in their respective points of origin. This meant  cancellations by at least 30 confirmed guests (nuns celebrating an  anniversary) who could've filled up the restaurant. Araos was  philosophical, "Win some, lose some."

The show went on with the teacher in Lopez-Molina sharing English  translations of the German, French and Italian art songs in her  repertoire. She included the synopsis of the seemingly preposterous  plot of "La Wally," the only full-length opera that features an  avalanche in it, making mounting it a grand expense.  She also pointed out that far from being high-falutin', classical  music is akin to hearing "Ay! Kalisud" but coming from another continent.

Citing her first song, Schumann's "Widmung" (Dedication)  whose lyrics state "You my soul, you my heart, you my bliss, you my  pain...", she quipped, "It beats saying, 'For all the lovers out  there!'" 

Araos stepped out of her comfortable, tested KTCG menu, introducing a  new item, a very filling mixed seafood in saffron in vol-au- vent  shells to go with standards of rosemary chicken, garlic butter  vegetables, mango passion fruit jelly and lemongrass cooler.

She says, "The series has not yet been a big profit maker for the  restaurant, but it has its perks: the staff exclaiming over Mozart,  saying 'Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star (from Mozart's Twelve Variations  on Ah! Vouz Derais Je, K. 265), alam ko pala yung classical music (I  know my classical music)', which makes my day; getting Linc Drilon and  Becky Demetillo to belt out 'As Time Goes By', 'Bridge Over Troubled  Water' and 'I'll Be Seeing You'; best of all, sitting in the  restaurant on a Sunday night, Chopin filling the air, and half the  people in the joint with tears in their eyes."

Tariman says, "Mounted in a small venue, the intimacy makes you feel  closer to the music and the artist. A small venue also translates into  lesser risk, a more manageable budget. Just limit your complimentary  tickets, or you will go home with your last underwear and sando! But  an ecstatic audience erases all that."

Childbirth instructor and art-music buff Mercy Fabros, a regular at  the concert series, says after listening to Lopez-Molina, Oracion and  Espina, especially when the soprano transformed into the flirty gypsy  in the "Carmen Fantasy,", "I never felt this way. It's like the orgasm  of old women!"  Sinag de Leon, who had a recent exhibit of paper cuts at the venue, spoke of  the "limitless possibilities of the universe," of finding a place that  not only satisfies food cravings but also yearnings of heart and mind.

With spirits riding high, the audience, whether a full house or  so intimate as to equal a royal command performance, may not just  applaud but rise to kiss both cook and impresario. They  fearlessly marched on to the next venture: The Baritone and Flute Spectacular featuring baritone Noel Azcona, star soloist of the UST Singers, flutist Oracion with pianist Mary Anne Espina.  The concert was held last night at  KTCG and featured  favorite baritone arias from Don Giovanni, Carmen and La Traviata  and excerpts from Broadway musicals Les Miserables and  South Pacific.  The evening was dedicated to the memory of the late baritone Gamaliel Viray.

The mission of promoting classical music education and the search to creatively sustain it continue.

Photos by Rebecca Dingkuhn shows Christopher Oracion and Camille Lopez Molina performing (top) and concert organizer Pablo Tariman lost in their music (below). 

Friday, October 22, 2010

How I Spent Thursday: The Sweetness of Doing Nothing

I have a friend whom I thought was in a perfect marriage. Years later, married to a second husband, the real love of her life, she disclosed why she worked to have the first relationship dissolved in spite of the children who adored their father. She simply got bored. After that, she went on a spiritual journey that led her to the Indian meditation master Gurumayi.

I remembered her as I watched Julia Roberts playing the writer Elizabeth Gilbert and transforming onscreen from that bored wife to a soul searcher to finally someone with enough self-love and inner balance who can again grab a chance at happiness in the movie still playing past its second -week run, Eat, Pray, Love.

My daughters and sisters saw it ahead of me, I again unwilling to be disappointed by the film translation of a favorite non-fiction book (I wasn't satisfied with Under the Tuscan Sun and felt Diane Lane wasn't a suitable Frances Mayes). But there was the prospect of seeing scenes of Rome, Naples, Mumbai and Bali, better than watching the National Geographic channel because this one's got a real-life plot.

As the movie took me from Italy to Asia, I lost the sound of the narrator's voice. My favorite parts, as my daughters rightly predicted, were the endless meals Liz takes to feed the hunger in her soul (the scene of her eating a plateful of spaghetti alone with an aria playing in the background--that was almost obscene, especially as the screen was covered with a shower of Parmesan cheese).

As Felipe, Liz's Brazilian lover in Bali where everyone has love affairs, Javier Bardem is more than substantial eye candy: he is, as Liz says, "a feminist husband" who stayed home and raised his children while his wife had her career; he is self-sufficient financially; he can cook; he can sail. So when Liz hesitated to accept his invitation to sail away to a deserted isle, I felt like reaching out to wring her neck.

There was a short scene that showed them in the local talipapa (flea market) where Felipe warned Liz against trying the durian because it "tastes like feet." This is such sacrilege to the real Felipe in my life. Not even 10 elephants can drag this durian-loving man to see Eat, Pray, Love if I tell him that detail. He will just dismiss this as a chick flick.

Bardem as Felipe and Roberts as Liz consummate their relationship in the movie Eat, Pray, Love.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Fare thee well, Gamaliel Viray

Once again, we lose a classical musican. Worse, he hardly leaves a trace of the peak of his performances in the Internet. As with actor Adul de Leon, I searched for images of the recently deceased baritone Gamaliel Viray, only to find reproductions of posters of FPJ movies and even a portrait of Paul Newman. Gamy portrayed many a contravida role in those movies, and his thick moustache made those roles more credible.

Actor Frances Makil Ignacio said her Tito Gamy would've liked that Newman photo to illustrate Mr. Tariman's tribute. She found a video of her late father, Elmo Makil, with Gamy making a brief appearance. I've posted that on my Facebook profile page as I'm not too Internet savvy enough to link it to this page.

My worry is if Gamy bothered to cut a record or CD. I recall that Aurelio Estanislao also prematurely left this world without a recording of his voice. When soprano Evelyn Mandac learned of this, she shook her head violently, ruing aloud,"A shame, a crying shame." And it is, when you think of how we are bombarded daily on TV by wannabe's and trying hards whose voices or what passes for them are amplified and tweaked by sound engineers. Let Gamy haunt them.


By Pablo A. Tariman

I learned from baritone Nomer Son that his distinguished colleague, baritone Gamaliel Viray, had passed away Oct. 19. I have yet to know what he died of and I don’t know how old he was. I figure he was in his late 60s.

Nomer said that today, Oct. 21, Gamy’s remains will be at Sta. Isabel College where he was a voice teacher for many years. From what I know, he is survived by his actress-wife Amable Quiambao and son Ishmael (named after film director Ishmael Bernal).

In his lifetime, Gamy wasn’t just an opera singer. He was stage and film actor and turned to teaching when opera and concert productions became rare as hen’s teeth, so to speak.

In 1979 when the Manila Metropolitan Theater had more opera productions than CCP, he was Zurga in Bizet’s Pearl Fishers with the Leila of soprano Eleanor Calbes. In 1990, he was Germont in the controversial production of La Traviata at the CCP with National Artist for Theater Rolando Tinio directing. What caused the controversy?

Tinio, who wanted to introduce the opera to the new generation of opera lovers, translated the opera in Pilipino and localized it by changing the setting of the opera from Paris to Binondo.

I wrote of Gamy in that opera in the July 8, 1990 issue of the Daily Globe thus: “Next to the Violetta of Donna Maria Zapola, the Germont of Gamaliel Viray registered with such authority that echoed in his singing.. He once again showed that confident singing he earlier revealed as Zurga in the 1981 production of Pearl Fishers. Tinio’s translation of Di provenza il mar sang with such fervor by Viray is another good argument in favor of opera translation.”

A finalist in the Concours International de Chant in France and the Francisco Vinas Vocal Competition in Spain, Gamy was also Marcello in the CCP production of La Boheme with the Rodolfo of tenor Harry Theyard who is identified with the Metropolitan Opera of New York. He was also Papagueno in the CCP production of Magic Flute under Sarah Caldwell and Count Almaviva in Marriage of Figaro also mounted by the then newly-born but short-lived Opera Companyof the Philippines.. He made his American operatic debut with the Opera Company of Boston as Burundai in Rimsky-Korsakov’s The Invisible City of Kitezh.

The fact is Gamy commuted between opera and musical theater. He was in Aida, Carmen, La Gioconda, Turandot and Cavalleria Rusticana, among others but he was also appearing in musicals such as Man of La Mancha, Merry Wives of Windsor, Cats (excerpts) including the zarzuela, Walang Sugat.

But as he commuted between opera and theater (mainly with Teatro Pilipino, Tanghalang Pilipino and Bulwagang Gantimpala), Gamy also found time to be character-actor in many action, drama and comedy films.

He was the senator in Abaya’s Baby Tsina, the mayor in Hinahanap-Hanap Kita, the congressman in Kahit Pader Gigibain Ko! ", the college dean in Bakit May Kahapon Pa?, the big boss in Madrasta, and the lawyer in Kahit Kunting Pagtingin Part II, the punctilious judge in the FPJ blockbuster Kung Puno Na Ang Salop Part III, among others.

I recall one Friday night in the 90s when Gamy was interpreting Schubert songs in Paco Park while demonstrators clashed with police officers along Taft Ave. Knowing that traffic was hard to beat after the commotion at Taft Ave., we (with his wife, Ama and pianist Cecile Roxas) ended up in a M.H. del Pilar watering hole where customers were no opera buffs and people were into karaoke singing.

Recognizing the baritone, one customer asked Gamy to sing. After a night of Schubert and Verdi at Paco Park, he ended up singing “What We Did Last Summer” and “Around the World.”

“I can manage with this instant karaoke singing,” said Viray then.

In Boston Opera where he debuted in a Rimsky-Korsakov opera directed by Sarah Caldwell, there were two contrasting shows in the Boston theater. Inside, he was singing a Rimsky-Korsakov aria while outside, anti-dictatorship demonstrators were chanting about poverty in the Philippines.

I never had the nerve to ask him why his singing was hounded by demonstrations from Boston to Paco Park and Liwasang Bonifacio.

It was also Gamy who "leaked" to me the well-kept-secret that the late Fernando Poe, Jr. was in fact hooked on opera.

While playing some Traviata music on the set of an action film, Viray was approached by the The King if the music was from Traviata.

“Yes,”answered a surprised baritone.

Then FPJ told Viray his little known secret: “Did you know that I took voice lessons from bass baritone Jose Mossessgeld Santiago-Font upon the prodding of my father?”

Santiago-Font happened to be the first Filipino bass baritone to sing at La Scala in 1932 followed by tenor Arthur Espiritu in 2007.

Soprano Rachelle Gerodias has worked with Viray in three opera productions namely the Rolando Tinio version of Puccini’s La Boheme, Gianni Schicchi and in the world premier of Fr. Manuel Maramba's "Lord Takayama Ukon."

Recalled Gerodias: “The first was very important to me because it was the Rolando Tinio adaptation of La Boheme at the CCP which was my very first opera production. We had two sets of cast - a junior and senior one. I was Rosina in the junior cast and Tito Gamy was the Marcello in the senior cast. In Gianni Schicchi ,I actually performed with him as his daughter, Lauretta while he played the title role of Gianni Schicchi to whom I sang the famous aria O mio babbino caro. I remembered his portrayal of that role very well. I thought he was the perfect Schicchi and singing Lauretta with him was such a great honor and pleasure for me.”

Added the soprano: “Tito Gamy is probably one of the best baritones the Philippines has produced. Such a great artist and singer. It was painful to see him after he got sick. He lost a lot of weight and his voice was never the same. But I will never forget his voice especially in La Boheme and Gianni Schicchi. I will always be thankful to be a witness and part of the life of such a great artist. Thank you, Tito Gamy! We will miss you!”

The soprano is right. Gamy is one of the last good baritones of his generation that included Nomer Son and Elmo Makil, among others. Bass baritone Emmanuel Gregorio and Makil had also passed away.

There is big comfort though in the new generation of baritones in the persons of Jonathan Zaens, Noel Azcona and Andrew Fernando, among others.

The way this country go crazy over tenors and sopranos at the expense of baritones was at one time deplored by environmentalist and art patron Odette Alcantara. “The lack of appreciation for bass and baritones in this country is something I begrudge,” Odette once said. “But as their voice category connotes, the bass and baritone are the foundation of an orchestra and even good choirs need the skeleton of good basses and baritones for them to shine.”

To the uninitiated in opera, the baritone is the middle male voice whose range is from G, an octave and a half below middle C. Those who can go below middle C are known as the bass. Tenors soar to reach their high Cs’ bass baritones descend to a super low C and even D.

Ordinary mortals like us can probably gurgle a low C but only good baritones like Gamy Viray can sing it.

The last time I saw Gamy was when he attended the recital of baritone Noel Azcona at the Pasig Museum where I mounted the Pasig Summer Music Festival which lasted for five years.

When Azcona sings at the Kiss The Cook Gourmet on Sunday, Oct. 24, with flutist Christopher Oracion and pianist Mary Anne Espina, we will certainly dedicate the concert to the late baritone of consequence.

For now, I will remember Gamy as Germont for his ravishing “Il provenza il mar” in the 1990 production of La Traviata and as Zurga in the 1981 Met production of The Pearl Fishers courtesy of the late Tita Conching Sunico.

Viray (far right) with his co-teachers at Santa Isabel College (Courtesy of Pablo Tariman)

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Classical musicians rule Aliw Awards

Music writer Pablo A. Tariman had to quietly and reluctantly slip out of Pascal Roge's Monday night concert to receive in pianist Cecile Licad's behalf the latest accolade given her by the music industry. Below is the Tariman report.
Filipino classical musicians with solid world-class credentials topped the 23rd Aliw Awards on a stormy Monday night at the Manila Hotel.

Leading the distinguished awardees were pianist Cecile Licad who got the Life Achievement Award, tenor Arthur Espiritu who received the Best Male Classical Performer of the Year Award and soprano Camille Lopez Molina for Best Female classical performer award.

Licad is the first Asian to receive the Leventritt Gold Medal in New York and Espiritu is the first Filipino tenor to sing at La Scala di Milan in 2007 as Ferrando in Mozart’s Cosi fan tutte. Lopez-Molina who was a dazzling soloist of the Manila Symphony Orchestra this year has performed with the Hongkong Academy Philharmonic Orchestra, and the Konservatorium der Stadt Wien Orchestra, the latter in a performance of Szymanowski’s Stabat Mater at the famed Wiener Musikverein, home of the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra.

The tenor could not receive the award as he was singing Elvino in the Donizetti opera in Switzerland while Licad had engagements with Nuremberg Symphony in Germany.

Previous Aliw awardees in classical music included Ingrid Sala Santamaria, Gilopez Kabayo, Rachelle Gerodias, Mary Anne Espina and Montet Acoymo, among others.

In a latest development, Licad dazzled anew in playing Chopin No. 1 played for the opening season of the Adrian Symphony Orchestra in Michigan .

Licad who proceeded to Germany after the US engagement was singled out by the music critics as one who set the highest standard of music-making for the opening season of the Michigan orchestra.

Wrote a Michigan critic: "It would not be an exaggeration to say that the Adrian Symphony Orchestra’s presentation of the first classical-music performance of its 30th season set the bar mighty high for the rest of its year. Sunday’s concert featured a performance that was most definitely a high point of this or any other ASO season: a truly world-class guest artist, Cecile Licad, in a stunning rendering of Chopin’s Piano Concerto No. 1. Not often do you have the distinct pleasure of hearing someone for whom the instrument seems like a natural extension of themselves, but for Licad it appears exactly that way. She not only displayed a first-rate technique, with the light touch and refinement demanded of this work, but she also captured perfectly what surely had to be Chopin’s intentions with this music: for its understated grace and very intimate quality to shine through for the listener."

The same critic admitted it was a dazzling performance by any measure, and no less so for the orchestra under music director John Thomas Dodson’s baton, which certainly met the challenges Licad set up for it. "

He added: "And just in case you thought a piano work couldn’t get any better-played than the Chopin was, the Gottschalk piece she presented as an encore was, in a word, spectacular."

Licad performing with the Adrian Symphony Orchestra in Michigan

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Is That You, Monsieur Chopin?

This genius of his age once exhorted, "Put all your soul into it, play the way you feel!"

But I never encountered a more cerebral classical pianist than the Frenchman Pascal Rogé. His program of "Chopin and French Impressionism" at the Philamlife Auditorium last night was performed the way a deeply knowledgeable curator would guide you through a history of period music by Fauré, Poulenc, Ravel and yes, the man whose bicentennial is being celebrated this year, the Polish musician who conquered France and the rest of Europe, who prematurely died of tuberculosis and whose heart is buried in his homeland and in all who continue to cherish his music.

Perhaps Rogé has nothing more to prove. He wasn't there to dazzle or impress us with fiery techniques; he is past that. When this ruggedly handsome performer strode onstage, he acquired the demeanor of a professor as he put on his glasses and played non-stop for at least an hour the nocturnes, valses, mazurkas and etudes of the composers earlier cited. No pause at all to acknowledge appreciative applause although there were one or two audience members who couldn't contain themselves.

We had to refrain from clapping after each piece as his interpretation seemed to be meant as one whole seamless piece where he tried to show us the differences and the likenesses of the composers of that period. All that was lacking was the voice-over of a lecture.

And always in the first and second parts of his program, Rogé closed with a Chopin piece as though to put the exclamation point to an entire periodic sentence running into several pages. In the second set of pieces, he alternated Debussy and Chopin till it was hard to tell them apart until you catch a familiar passage.

Nonetheless, Chopin's agony and ecstasy were evoked as were the suggestions of water Debussy unfailingly makes (to me, his is water music: waves licking shore, veils of waterfall, rain splattering on pavement and stones).

Retired music reviewer Anna Leah Sarabia, who still frequents concert halls, said in recognizing Chopin's genius and his embodying the spirit of his age, "He had the capacity to create monumental structures out of so much passion and tension. From them emerged exquisite treasures."

Rogé gave in to the two standing ovations the audience of a few hundred gave him with the piece (our personal favorite and the one I wished aloud he'd play) "Gymnopedie" by Erik Satie. This composer, dismissed in his time as clumsy and repetitive, had no qualms of calling his pieces furniture music, something best played as background to other activities. Well, it is the music I will specify in my living will as the one to be repetitively played till I breathe my last.

To Rogé we owe gratitude for playing against what producer Ray Sison described as "all odds of the storm landing in Manila. He will brave it and so will hundreds of us! I heard him this weekend in Hong Kong, and he means every note that comes out of his fingers."

Our next fervent wish is to hear Rogé again, this time playing four hands with his life partner Ami

Mr. Sison and all supporters/producers of live classical music concerts, are you listening?

Rogé signs diary of delighted fan. Photo by ANNA LEAH SARABIA

Friday, October 15, 2010

A Night with a Russian

Arriving a few minutes late, Anna Leah and I found the entrance to the Philamlife auditorium firmly shut, and the security guard refused to give an inch even as the performer, Sofya Gulyak, was already moving swiftly to her second piece, Chopin's Polonaise Fantasie in A-flat, op. 61 with hardly a pause after the Mazurkas.

We learned later that she did wait for a few seconds for the expected applause after the first piece (it would have been the cue for latecomers like us to sneak in). It didn't come, leaving her with this puzzled look but she went on with the next piece.

Although physically heavyset with a distracting tendency to take brief pauses to wave aside an errant strand of curly hair from her face, pull down her black blouse or tug at her sleeve, Gulyak showed capacities for powerful hand work in the passages that called for thundering fortes and fortissimos and delicacy, especially in her interpretation of Schumann's Abegg Variations, Kinderscenen and Carnaval.

We've often wondered why Manila remains in the radar of world-class classical musicians, considering there's a lot of marketing and promotion still to be done to fill up concert halls. In conversations with writer Pablo Tariman, I shared my observations how I see the same people at concerts, and they're mainly seniors, some with domestic helpers assisting them; they come in wheelchairs or hobble with the aid of canes or walkers.

Wonder no more. Filipinos know how to ovate to recognize an excellent performance. Last night, there were shouts of "Bellisima!", not just non-stop clapping, standing ovations and cries of "More." My teacher, Nieves Epistola, used to compare Filipino and Japanese audiences. She noticed that Japanese music students were notorious for bringing in music sheets of the pieces to be played at the concert and study the pages, trying to see if the performer missed some notes. She said they wanted to get their money's worth. Pinoys are kind in comparison.

Producer Ray Sison of ROS Music Center is an example of kindness. After the applause fades and people rise to leave, he always enjoins the audience to go up the stage to meet the artist. Normally, admirers who want their programs signed or pictures taken with the performer go backstage.

Up close Sofya's pudgy, awkward appearance dissipates to show a milk-complexioned, youthful woman who looks like she is just on her junior year at the conservatory. She is on the early side of 30 but already her accomplishments include being the first woman to win the Leeds International Piano Competition on its 16th year in '09.

I feel so blessed the past few months to have watched and listened to the likes of Sofya, Albert Tiu, Qin Li Wei, Arthur Espiritu, who wears the crown of "Prince of Cantabile" placed on his head by Pablo. On Monday, Oct. 18, another seasoned pianist, Pascal Roge will be here for a night of Chopin and French Impressionism. Lined up in the program are 18 pieces by Faure, Chopin, Debussy, Ravel and Poulenc.

This time, I have no more reason to be tardy as I have a gut feeling that we might have a full house.

Photo by Anna Leah Sarabia of blogger shaking pianist Sofya Gulyak's hand

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

I Can (Still) Dance!

My daughters are unanimous in their opinion: their nanay is better off dancing than singing. They reiterated this the morning after my bro-in-law's big birthday bash at the exclusive, members-only Tower Club on the 33rd floor of Philamlife in Makati.

Willie Fernandez turned 62 last Saturday, not a special age, but it was the first time he was throwing a party this major. When Kimi, my eldest girl who works at his PR firm, said that the Spirit of '67 would provide live music, I got into my most comfortable dancing slippers and even remembered to bring along an extra shirt in case the one I was wearing got all wet from sweat on the dance floor.

When Upsilonians get together with their partners, trust that there is more talking than acting done. So as the brods sat, drank, ate and chatted and the Spirit of '67 played its first set, I stood, swayed, but the Upsilonian in my life was as immovable as the post holding up the function room.

When one of my sister-in-law's nieces gamely went up with me as the catchy "Lança Perfume" (a Brazilian hit, by the way, popularized by Rita Lee) was sung, the dancing got started. It seemed the band's takes on the Beatles, Dave Clark Five, Beach Boys, the Village People's "YMCA" were all it took to make the crowd get up and boogie. During the band's first set, the disappointing thought running in my mind was, "Why are these party-goers behaving like they're in a concert?"

Anyway, I got my adrenaline fix. When the crowd thinned to a handful of relatives and latecomers Letty Jimenez Magsanoc, Nancy Carvajal, Willie Revillame and entourage, it was sing-along time. After my ruination of "Moon River" and "Alfie," my kids sternly advised, "Stick to dancing, Nanay." Our family's Upsilonian shook his head and said, "It looked like it was more your party, not Willie's."

Thanks again for the reason to party, Willie. Till you turn 63! Same time, same band, I hope.

Photographer Kimi Fernandez captures her nanay in the throes of Saturday night fever.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Romancing the Cello

Hinayang is a Filipino word that can't quite be translated into the English "rue" or "regret". It was a sentiment my fellow concert-going companion Anna Leah Sarabia, a women's rights advocate and a music lover to the core from back in her choir singing and classical guitar playing years, nursed after we left Philamlife Auditorium yesterday (Oct. 10) following the warm reception for visiting China-born cellist Qin Li Wei and Cebu-born pianist Albert Tiu in their "Duo Concertante."

Anna rued that so many people missed the chance to be transported to a near-nirvana state by their music. Were it not for steadfast soldiers like Pablo A. Tariman, almost a one-man team in promoting these concerts through his articles, how would the seats have been filled up?

From the first moment Li Wei ran his bow across the strings of his cello, Anna sat up, noting, "Wow! Ang ganda ng tunog!" And sit up we did for the rest of the evening as he and Tiu brought alive Beethoven's Variations for cello and piano in E-flat Major on 'Bei Mannern welche Liebe fuhlen from Mozart's Magic Flute and Chopin's Sonata for Cello and Piano in G minor, Op. 65, the latter's significance being that the composer wrote more passages for the cello than the piano, his preferred instrument.

I must hand it to Li Wei and Tiu for being such good sports when some members of the overwhelmed audience clapped and broke their concentration in between movements. No harm there. World-class musicians like Cecile Licad acknowledge such applause with an indulgent smile and move on with their performance.

Beethoven and Chopin served as warm-up for the vigor required in the evening's last piece, Rachmaninoff's Sonata for Cello and Piano in G Minor Op. 19 whose allegro messo part carried the familiar tune that serves as DZFE's station ID music. Many times Li Wei tapped the sole of his shoe to the music or shook his head of hair in time. This time the two instruments seemed equal with each artist given time to display his prowess.

Needless to say, the audience wouldn't let them go. The encore was a heart-breaking interpretation of Saint Saens' "The Swan" which Li Wei proved to be a piece truly meant for solo cello. He played it sans score, from memory and with his eyes shut, Tiu providing the unobtrusive accompaniment. The duo received two standing ovations and obliged with a third encore, another Rachmaninoff piece.

Backstage, Li Wei received his new Filipino admirers with humility. As I pushed my copy of his and Tiu's recently launched CD of Beethoven sonatas, he said, "Let me just put this cello down." He strode to his dressing room, put the instrument gently in its case, removed his tunic, and proceeded to shake hands and sign autographs.

Earlier at the lobby, a table with boxes of jazz and classic CDs for sale was set up. The sight of such CDs has become rare in music stores. Again, needless to say, our respective budgets for the week were ruined as Anna and I riffled through the collection and found CDs of pianist Oscar Peterson, baritone Johnny Hartman, cellist Julian Weber playing Andrew Lloyd Weber compositions and the St. Louis Symphony performing Satie, Barber, among others.

There were sample sips of Novellino's line of wines, the dry red I recommend if the auditorium's air-conditioner is giving you the shivers. It was a lovely way to spend a Sunday evening, and I wish for more of the same.

Years from now, I might be able to claim, I witnessed the next Yo Yo Ma.

Tiu on piano, Li Wei on cello (Photo from

Friday, October 8, 2010

Vargas Llosa

And in keeping with his oft-repeated philosophical belief that novels should enhance and amplify life, not merely recount it, he has taken some liberties with history. But he quickly adds that 'with essential facts, I have been loyal.'"--interview with Mario Vargas Llosa in January Magazine, 2002.

It is a fact of literary history that Mario Vargas Llosa, this year's Nobel laureate for literature, visited the Philippines in the 1970s at the height of martial law and spoke before an audience of mainly Filipino writers at the annual Philippine Center of International P.E.N. conference at the Cultural Center's main gallery.

I was sent by my managing editor Neal Cruz to cover the conference and the guest speaker's talk, and it was one of the few times my account made the front page of the Philippines Daily Express. But the next day at the same venue, I received a gentle reproach from my former professor in stylistics, Nieves Epistola, who explained that I had wrongly referred to the Peruvian writer in subsequent paragraphs of my report as "Llosa." His complete surname is "Vargas Llosa," she said, the way Gabriel Garcia Marquez is "Garcia Marquez."

I have no copy of that report; I vaguely recall it had something to do with language, and the then dark-haired Vargas Llosa, garbed in a suit like the one in the picture, was, at some point, at a loss for words. He paused, gesticulated with his hands till he exasperatedly threw them and called English "this terrible language."

Later, at lunch, Rosalinda Orosa went up to him and engaged him in conversation in his native Spanish, and he felt more at ease.

I would read his books many years later when they became available. Two stand out in memory: In Praise of the Stepmother and The Feast of the Goat. The first was, for me, an eye-opener on how a novelist can push the envelope in terms of choosing a permissible subject--here we have a madrasta engaging in torrid sex with a minor who is actually the seducer.

The second had me thinking in many parts while reading, "This is so much like what happened to our country." The interlacing of sex and brutal power (South American dictators or many strong men have a reputation of being ladies' men or just run-of-the-mill rapists) has been noted in that novel, and I can't help recalling the short story "When Dovie Moans" by R. Zamora Linmark from the recently published anthology Mondo Marcos as I write this.

I'll have to visit the archives one day to look for a copy of that old news report on the dark-haired, pomaded man who came a-visiting and went on to win the Nobel.

In photo: this year's winner of the Nobel prize in literature

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Get Shorty

For Cousin Shorty (Joseph Server) on his 70th birthday tomorrow

Shorty has always been in the periphery of my consciousness as far back as I can recall, he being the eldest cousin on my mother's side. Even then he was already Mister Funny Guy as opposed to his brother Fritz's deadpan humor. Shorty was hahaha, break-the-ice funny, especially in solemn moments, including his sister's wake.

I have memories of him as a slim, tall, bespectacled guy, his face covered with zits. Despite the geeky look, he was quite sure of himself then. He was still a bachelor with a nice waistline, but my Dad already predicted he would grow a wide girth like Daddy Dodo’s (Burton Joseph Server Sr.).

It was from Shorty that I heard the song “Maria” from the musical Westside Story before he and his sister Jane, my godmother, took my sister Evelyn and me to watch the film version at the Rizal Theater. Back in the old Server home on McKinley road, he had no qualms about singing at the top of his voice: “Maria, I just met a girl named Maria….” What sunk in my impressionable mind was if you feel at home right in your own home, what’s to stop you from singing aloud, even if you had a house guest, especially a kid like me who loved to observe people quietly?

So at home was he that he had friends from the Ateneo who had sleepovers at the his home library. One morning, they all trooped out of the door in their shorts and undershirts. A stark memory I have of that time was of this mestizo fellow, his curly hair standing up, looking dazed and unwashed. I learned later he was Xavier Loinaz. I vowed someday I’d have a house (for our family was gypsy-like then in its constant moving of houses), no matter how modest, where I could bring home my friends and later, my children’s friends, and host sleepovers.

One time Shorty dropped by my lola’s house in Sampaloc, Manila, where my parents, younger siblings, cousins , uncles and aunts and I were living in one big extended household in the early ’60s. It was our bedtime, but he hustled us kids into his big long car with no time to change into what my niece Bianca calls today “leaving” (pang-alis) clothes. I have a distinct memory of me in red flannel pajamas being treated to buko sherbet at the old Milky Way in Aguado, Manila, near Malacañang Palace. I don’t remember now what the occasion was, but it was he who brought us all there.

Early in his marriage to Lita Lotho, he addressed her “Palangga.” Of course, it was new to my ears so ever curious, I asked what it meant. His straight-faced answer was it was short for palanggana (wash basin), and I truly believed him. In my child’s mind, I linked palanggana to cleanliness, and Lita was, before she became a fulltime homemaker, a registered nurse after all. It was much later, when I got exposed to other Philippine languages, that I realized it was a term of endearment that means “beloved”.

When the German Hans Banzhaf came to live in Forbes Park as the new Server in-law, Shorty would make fun of the way he pronounced certain words in English, interchanging the “v’s’”, “f’s” and “w’s”. So Shorty would say over breakfast, “Babeth, please pass the weeneegar.” I was surprised that Hans never got pikon.

And the camera, of course! How can I think of Shorty without seeing a camera slung around his neck? He devotedly documented intimate and big family reunions. The stuff in our own family’s albums from the ’50s and ’60s could only have him as the source.

And when his own children arrived, I could see how much love he poured into his portraits of them as babies, toddlers and now, as parents with their own children. He even built his own darkroom. Having worked with newspaper photographers in darkrooms, I see now why he wanted to be involved in the process when he could easily afford to have the printing and enlargement jobbed out. Imagine a dear child’s image slowly emerging on photographic paper as it is placed gently from basin to basin until it is clipped on a line to dry.

It was from Shorty that I learned about quick response to emergencies and calamities. In 1968, the Ruby Tower collapsed in Sta. Cruz, Manila, after a strong earthquake. Many people were trapped in the rubble. I learned from Daddy that Shorty was out there, digging with other volunteers and rescuers. The image and lesson stayed with me—that one can risk life, the comforts of home and family and a cushy job for total strangers. That to be a person for others is what gives this brief journey on earth a semblance of time well spent.

Photo shows Shorty with camera (from Joseph Server's Facebook album)