“Is that a love-bite? A weird rash?! Oh. No. You’re a violinist.” –Daniel Ross, “10 worst things about playing the violin,” www.classicfm.com
“Sapper Ernest Johnson etched notes into the back of his violin during the Great War, turning the instrument into an invaluable diary of his journey through the trenches of Europe…The detailed diary covers three quarters of the back of the instrument, telling the story of Johnson's travels from August 8th 1915 until 18th February 1918 where he finishes the diary with the words: ‘Finished with army’. Johnson used the instrument to perform for his fellow front line soldiers while in the trenches…Johnson's granddaughter has now restored the violin so she can learn the same songs performed by her grandfather in the trenches, including war-time favourites like Roses of Picardy and Keep the Home Fires Burning.”— from the picture story “Soldier uses violin as World War I diary,” www.classic.fm
Teenage violinists Bradley Bascon and Jeline Oliva will not find themselves in situations wherein the slight bruise on their necks will be misconstrued as anything more than the result of intense practice. If it is in their mothers’ powers, neither will they find themselves scratching out the story of their days on their precious instruments in a foxhole in a war-torn country.
Fil-Am Bascon, only 14 but already a soloist who has played in top concert halls in the US, Europe and his parents’ country of origin, where he dazzled audiences in Makati, Cagayan de Oro (CDO) and Cebu cities, is back in California. Being a nerd, too, with the highest academic average of 4.0 at the Chaparral High School in Temecula, California, he is focused on a Sibelius piece for his next performance.
His mother, Theresa Jallorina-Bascon, said her only child, who’s also with the Claremont Young Musicians Orchestra in Claremont, CA, was elated from “teaching and inspiring young talents in Cebu. He enjoyed giving a masterclass to young violinists at the University of the Visayas.”
She recalled her boy’s Philippine debut at Ayala Museum in July: “The room was full. People were enthusiastic, curious, wanted to meet and listen to this ‘unknown’ Fil-Am violinist. I held my breath when he played. After the first song, I knew he was enjoying it. I could tell that he wasn’t scared or nervous so I breathed a sigh of relief. The heavens must have been watching. The rain stopped. It turned out to be a beautiful night.”
She added, “In all the venues, the audience gave him a standing ovation. I feel joyful, blessed and very proud. It warms my heart to know that he’s accepted here, not just in Europe.” He was the sole Philippine representative in the Beijing Violin Competition last month.
Meanwhile, Jeline, 17, received the turning point news of her life: admission as the only Filipino of 10 short-listed applicants out of 300 from all over the world at the prestigious Mannes College New School of Music in New York City.
Her mother Judith, who organized with some friends a fund-raising concert in her daughter’s behalf in late July so the NYC dream could be realized, said, “Studying in New York is expensive. Unless you’re extremely talented or very rich, if you can make it there, you can make it anywhere as the song goes. It’s the center for strings, the melting spot for rising musicians. We’re thankful that Jeline passed the challenging live audition at Mannes.”
This new high school graduate is being trained by no less than Gilopez Kabayao as his form of help while sponsors for her higher education are being sought. Gina Medina Perez, another of Jeline’s teachers and Manila Symphony Orchestra concertmaster, has high hopes for the girl who she once described as palaban.
In an interview with this writer last year, Jeline said of her instrument of choice, “The violin can bring out all the emotions a person has…Maybe it’s because when it is held, it is near the heart.”
Judith said of the challenges ahead: “Honestly, we’re already losing hope. We need to raise almost $50,000 a year, excluding housing. Jose Mari Chan wants to chip in, but we still need more sponsors to raise the amount. He is concerned because the opportunity has presented itself, but financial help is truly needed. He wants her to push through with her higher studies this year.”
She never pressured Jeline to prepare her for the Mannes audition. “She was focused and determined. I asked the help of her St. Anthony School teachers who gave her special activities so she could have time for her audition—from pre-screening to the live audition. She had a supportive environment. Prayers helped a lot.”
When her child goes onstage, Judith feels “happy, excited, nervous all at the same time because of the audience’s expectations. I pray to keep us relaxed. We put our trust in God.”
Tetchie echoed her: “After I see Bradley play solo with an orchestra, I tell myself, ‘Ok, you can breathe now.’ He has played at the Mozarteum in Austria, at Teatro Verdi in Italy. I realized that were it not for him, I wouldn’t be encouraged to see those concert halls. I’d probably just save my money for retirement.”
Both mothers not only credit the musical genes that run in their families but the prenatal period when they exposed the infants to music.
Judith said, “I was a classroom music teacher and rondalla trainor at the Department of Education in Naga City when I was pregnant. I always listened to classical music whenever I relaxed. The was the first music Jeline heard when I gave birth to her. It was her lullaby.”
Tetchie recalled, “When I was pregnant, I played CDs of Baby Mozart, Baby Einstein. The ear phones I placed on my tummy area. After Bradley was born and when he’d get fussy, I played Baby Mozart or anything classical. He calmed down.”
When he was eight or nine years old and he was slack on his practice period, she’d threaten him: “I can sell the violin and use the money for a new car. He’d go, ‘No, Mom, please.’”
He said of the 1897 made-in-the-US James McCauley violin, “Mommy guards it with her life. She puts it on the plane’s overhead bin when we travel.” An admirer of Isaac Stern and Jascha Heifetz, Bradley chose to concentrate on the violin. He told his Mom: “If I learn the piano, I can’t carry it with me anywhere.” He plays the piano to relax after three hours of daily practice on a school night and five to six hours (spread out during the day) of focused practice during summers.
The piano was Jeline’s first instrument. Her piano teacher alerted Judith that her daughter is “a fast learner gifted with perfect pitch.” During the girl’s elementary years she could perform virtuoso piano pieces (“Dizzy Fingers,” Chopin’s Revolutionary Etude and Polonaise in A. flat Major, op.53, a whole movement of Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata, among others).
She said, “At her young age, we couldn’t believe that her tiny fingers could produce brilliant musical sounds. When she was nine, she tried the violin for the first time. I couldn’t believe when she started to play it without the tape on the finger board as guide for the notes to be played. She learned fast.”
Jeline was 13 when studied under Gina. That was the time she focused on the violin instead of the piano. After a year, she won the first place during the NAMCYA. She was also one of the top five out of 24 contestants at a Piano Teachers Guild of the Philippines competition in the same year that she was preparing for the NAMCYA violin competition.
Bert Robledo, host of DZFE’s “Bravo Filipino,” emphasizes in his program how ranking public officials must be seen in concert halls to set the example in terms of music education and appreciation. At the same time their own exposure would make them realize the excellence of Filipino talents. - Elizabeth Lolarga