Thursday, December 29, 2016

Consoling feedback after 'Yuletide without Mom'

My essay "Yuletide without Mom" came out in yesterday's Highblood section of the Philippine Daily Inquirer. I received feedback in my email and in text messages. Some friends who I haven't been in touch with in awhile were surprised to learn Mom had passed away. I also learned of recent deaths in their families.

First to respond was my kumpare (godfather to my youngest daughter Ida), the writer Amadis Ma. Guerrero. He texted early yesterday: "A moving tribute to Mommy Lolarga was we at Raya (our former office) called her. She was our Mommy, too!"

From painter-actor Ivi Avellana Cosio (daughter of National Artists Lamberto and Daisy Avellana) came a longer message that cried to be shared with those who are grieving: "My dearest Babeth, our deepest condolences on your Mom's passing. A special hug for you and your youngest sister with whom I truly empathize. My Mom passed way (also in May) of 2013 on Mother's Day, a few days before my birthday. In December, my older daughter insisted we celebrate the first Christmas without Mama in Beijing with her and her family. It was so different that it helped to get us through such a painful time. But back in Manila, same same. I still cry when I think of her, or my Papa who left us in 1991, or my favorite brother in 2011, or my grandparents who passed away when I was much much younger. Grief is really so personal and different for each one. And I truly believe no one has a right to tell you how, when, or how long to grieve. Also, no such thing as 'getting over it'. You don't, well-meaning friends notwithstanding. You just learn how to cope with it one day at a time. And there will be good days and bad days. That being said, I wish you and yours a better New Year in every way. Tama si Helen Mirren. Much love from us."

Smiling grandmother with grandchildren Ida and Kimi Fernandez and Carlo Trinidad (foreground) several Christmases ago

“Would you rather I clean the house or write a poem? A poem lasts.”—my Mom

“I want to write poems instead of notes, but each ending is a death,
and I cannot handle the finish of words.”
Renée E. D’Aoust in her essay “Gratitude is my Terrain: Maybe”

This time of the year last year, she had just been discharged after a prolonged hospital stay. There was no exact term for what was ailing her, but it was enough for my siblings and me to have her home for the holidays. She missed reunion parties with her amigas and favorite nephew. We thought she would rally and recover in the new year.

But as actor Helen Mirren put it succinctly in summarizing the year 2016, “I think we can all agree that 2016 has been a big pile of sh*t.” It was the year when Mom’s worst fears about the betrayal of her body came true. We, along with hired caregivers, took turns cleaning her up after a “lapse.” Never could I erase from memory the helpless, pained look on Mom’s face every time this happened. I could sense that to her it was the ultimate humbling, and her look carried an apology with it.

Even if I tried to humor her when I tidied her up, the smile that used to light up our house was gone. That smile was the most eulogized part of her on the last day of her wake. Writer Efren Yambot told of how he was welcomed to the small feasts Mom prepared for her Manila Bankers Life colleagues by her smile. It encouraged him to return to similar occasions she hosted even if it meant covering miles to get to the office. When my Singapore-based daughter Ida would come home, it was Mom’s smile that greeted her first.

This Christmas my husband ordered chicken galantina from two sources to replace the irreplaceable—Mom’s yearly supply of morcon. He once had a meal at a restaurant in San Fernando, Pampanga, that boasted of the best morcon. He even had a beef roulade wrapped to take home. But his verdict was it was close to the taste of dog food and couldn’t approximate Mom’s morcon.

His assistant then, a recipient of Mom’s largesse, used to say that even only the sauce of the morcon sufficed for a meal. That was how good it was: We would ladle leftover sauce on a steaming mound of white rice when the meat roll was gone. Nothing was wasted.

A sister and some cousins were able to observe Mom in the act of preparing morcon, but even if it is ever replicated, the matriarch-cook who ruled over the kitchen and the rest of our house isn’t there to pronounce judgment on another’s take on her dish.

Mom with her five daughters

It isn’t just her dishes that we miss. Nightly the youngest of my four sisters weeps from the pain of the loss. Recently, she suffered chest constrictions and had to take herself to the hospital emergency room because of the stress of prolonged grieving (Mom died last May). Despite our assurances to her that Mom is at peace, she still isn’t prepared to go to the next level of the stages of grief and loss according to Elizabeth Kubler Ross (denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance). Grief counseling has been advised, but it is up to her if she will take it.

To sort of pierce through the cloud of sorrow hovering over the house, I right away volunteered to host Christmas carolers from my Grade 11 class. The sound of young voices, the guitar strummed by a fellow teacher, makeshift maracas and drums brought the tidings of comfort and joy straight to our hearts.

Although my sisters and I didn’t prepare anything homemade from our kitchen (we cannot hold a candle to our mother, cooking-wise), the store-bought pancit, roast chicken and mini siopao were wiped out by bottomless adolescent appetites. I truly felt Mom’s spirit approving.

To those having a hard time coping with the holiday frenzy because of mourning that cannot be kept at bay, keep saying “This, too, shall pass” and leave some space for the occasional joy to surprise you.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Dying to Tell You

"Dying to Tell You," acrylic on canvas paper, 12" x 18", 2016.

Dear Me,

I just want to assure you that dry periods in painting or any kind of creative work are the old normal so you shouldn't fret too much when the Muse or the Holy Spirit seems to be absent in your life.

You're back to painting your signature still lifes after a brief foray in including the handiwork of your grandchild in your paintings--her doodles, her cutouts, her you-name-it, she's the fearless art-maker in the family. She'll have her moment to shine again. Right now, she's too focused on raising and disciplining a puppy named after a Christmas spice, nutmeg.

Kai with Nutmeg the moxie (a mix of the breeds Maltese and dachshund)Photo by Kimi Fernandez

Some of your acrylic paints in tubes have hardened. Teacher Norman Chow advised that these should be massaged when they're not being constantly used. Who knows? In the course of massaging the paint tubes, inspiration will come.

That's why you should always give yourself a second and third chance before feeling that you've thoroughly lost It already, It to include the compulsion to write and blog about life's seemingly little events. For you do lead an event-ful life. The uninspired moments are just telling you to take a break, to mourn for what was lost, then to get over the sniffling and take up the brush, computer keyboard or pen.

"Foursome," acrylic on canvas paper, 12" x 18", 2016.

Always with you,

Monday, November 21, 2016

‘Cosi fan Tutte’ targets millennials

From left: Carlo Mañalac, Carlo Falcis and Roby Malubay

The title of this Italian opera by Mozart means “all women are the same.” Its plot concerns two friends betting about their respective fiancee’s loyalty. When a third friend warns them not to be too trusting for all "women are the same," they test their sweethearts’ loyalties by disguising themselves and wooing their lovers to see who remains true.

The Manila Chamber Orchestra Foundation (MCOF) production on Nov. 28 at 7 p.m. at Ayala Museum stars members of the Viva Voce Ensemble: soprano Anna Migallos as Fiordiligi, soprano Aissa Guilatco as Dorabella, tenor Carlo Mañalac as Ferrando, baritone Carlo Falcis as Guglielmo, mezzo soprano Roxy Aldiosa as Despina and bass baritone Roby Mahusay as Don Alfonso.

The male cast shared that the opera’s setting will have a contemporary feel. Falcis said, “It will be different in a sense that it is more ‘now’. Our characters are living in the present. They’re like yuppies living in the age of Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. The characters are more adult, not teens. Their relationship problems are real as they are today. But we remain faithful to Mozart’s music, the Italian text and how the story goes.”

Malubay agreed, “This ‘Cosi’ is different because it is in a modern setting. We think millennials can relate to it, especially those with complicated love lives.”

Directed by and under the musical supervision of Camille Lopez Molina, “Cosi fan Tutte” also features recitative parts which Mañalac, 28, a voice graduate of St. Scholastica’s College (SSC), finds challenging. These are what he called “the conversations in the opera. All the while I thought it was easy. A recitative has its own style. It’s another discipline.”

He described his role of Ferrando as a “hyper and energetic guy but a control freak” who finds it hard to let go. He added, “The opera is basically about letting go and having fun. The high tessitura of my role needs a lot of stamina. I don’t know why Mozart does this to his tenors and sopranos! Anyway, I’m working really hard to have that stamina.”

Also an SSC graduate, major in voice, and the oldest among the guys at 35, Falcis said the part of Guglielmo “has been the role I've been doing ever since. But we always have different takes on it. Aside from relearning the songs and adding the recitatives, this Guglielmo is different from the ones I’ve played. He’s more serious and mature, not as playful as before. So I had to pull back a bit from that playful side and become a more adult.”

He continued, “What makes ‘Cosi’ special is the ensemble work—how Mozart married the words with the music and with the characters themselves, how he let lines flow from one character to another with his whole music. I have learned so much on how to be a team player in an ensemble because of ‘Cosi.’”

Malubay, 25, an SSC student taking his second degree in voice, has to strike a balance between his studies and performing professionally. He said, “Studying the opera is a challenge because i did some parts of it before, but now we will add recitatives. Mozart’s work sounds easy, but if you work and perform it, it has big, big obstacles for a singer when it comes to technique and endurance.”

He plays Don Alfonso in his favorite opera. To prepare he has watched different versions of the opera so that he has an idea what the story is about, who Don Alfonso is in the story.

Food and water play a huge part in their pre- and post-performance. Manalac always treats himself to warm soup before going onstage, adding, “I always like performing with a full stomach. I find it easier for me to sing when I’m full. And after performances, anything goes. Usually the group goes out for good food again. We talk about the funny things that happened during the performance.”

Falcis likes some quiet time before the performance “to get my mind and whole being focused on the work at hand and calm down my nerves. Afterwards, we can chill. Chilling takes a lot of forms: eating out, having coffee or ice cream.”

Malubay prefers to just drink water to hydrate his body and vocal folds, practice his lines and keep his mind full of happy and positive vibes. He also exercises.

For tickets, call Ticketworld at tel. no. 891-9999, MCOF, 997-9483, 782-7184 or cell phone nos. 0920-9540053 and 0918-347-3027. --Elizabeth Lolarga

The cast of Cosi fan Tutte

This article was first published in the Philippine Daily Inquirer's Lifestyle section on Nov. 21, 2016.

Monday, November 14, 2016

‘Dictatorships are literature’s natural enemy’ –Vargas Llosa

Mario Vargas Llosa, 2010 Nobel laureate for literature, flanked by officials of De La Salle University at last Tuesday's conferment of doctor of literature, honoris causa. Vargas Llosa was educated at the De La Salle Academy in Bolivia and Colegio La Salle in Peru.

At age 80, Mario Vargas Llosa, 2010 Nobel laureate for literature, described his relationship with the brothers of La Salle as “quite ancient.” His memories of these brothers, who taught him how to read and write, are “rich, vivid and moving.” There is one particular brother, a Spaniard named Justiano, to whom he owes a debt of gratitude for “the most important event in my life” –learning how to read.

At the recent conferment of the honorary degree of doctor of literature at De La Salle University in Manila, he spoke extemporaneously and called this skill “a magical operation” that transformed the letters of a book into “images and a living experience.” He felt his world enriched and transformed. Each time he discovered a book, reading remained magical after all these years.

He respects the invented life created by writers. His role as story teller was born in those early years “as a result of the extraordinary pleasure I had in reading.” But Peru then had a limited literary life so his “vocation wasn’t integrated with life. I felt eccentric and marginalized.” He was consecrating days, months, years to his writing with great difficulty in finding a publisher, “but I persevered.”

At one point, he supported his studies and writing by taking on seven jobs, among which was as a radio man and a journalist for the Agence France Presse.

He said writing has fulfilled his life “in an extraordinary way” and at the same time added that “it is difficult to demonstrate how books change the lives of readers for the better. Sensibilities, desires are stimulated. This shows the importance of books in daily life.”

He continued, “Good books are the best defense against prejudices, distorted views of people in different languages.”

Vargas Llosa signs a copy of his novel for short story writer-journalist Amadis Ma. Guerrero. The latter approached the Nobel laureate and introduced himself thus, "Yo soy Amadis Ma. Guerrero. Buenas tardes" and showed his copy of The Green House, a 1982 pocketbook edition well-preserved by a thick plastic cover. Pleasantly surprised, Vargas Llosa grabbed the book, scrawled his signature and said, "Mucho gusto!" After which others followed with assorted books and publications for autographing.

Despite these differences, the common denominator that is of utmost importance, he said, “is we are all humans challenged by the same obstacles” in order to continue to live.

By reading good stories, he said, “we make more accessible to us certain values” like the “freedom needed for societies to become modern and prosperous. Good books develop in us a kind of dissatisfaction with the world as it is. We hope that life will change, that we create societies that are more fair and nearer the worlds we create with our imagination.”

Vargas Llosa is convinced that reading good literature “is not only a great pleasure but also fundamental for the training of citizens in free and democratic societies.”

He warned that “all regimes that try to control human life have suspicions about literature. They try to control this activity and eliminate spontaneity. Dictatorships are literature’s natural enemy.”

He praised reading and writing of good books for helping “develop natural criticism of the world as it is.”

And he returned to Brother Justiano for having started all this with the young Vargas Llosa as he learned how to read and write.

He bemoaned how for some sectors of society, litearature is considered as “just entertainment.” Society pressures the youth to go into what he called “practical skills”

Yes, he said, literature is “the best entertainment but at the same time, it is a kind of knowledge of the world. Literature is able to make us feel we are having living experiences.” Through literature, he continued, “we enter into an intimacy with a culture, know the most secret personality of persons.”

Reading, he concluded, is not just for pleasure but also for the shaping of “better citizens to face the challenges in our existence.”

He thanked DLSU for the honorary degree conferred on him, quipping, “I will try my best not to deceive you.” -- Text and photos by Elizabeth Lolarga

This article and the photos accompanying it were originally published in, Nov. 14, 2016.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Julie's time

"Night Spa with Lorca"

Sculptor Julie Lluch's text inviting me to her solo show "In the Fullness of Time" came with a reproach-cum-veiled threat, "I will make tampo if you don't come." The Tagalog word tampo cannot find an equivalent word in English, short of saying it cannot be translated. "Sulk" doesn't come even close, but I got the message.

I cut short my semestral break in Baguio with husband Rolly's blessings and took the Monday morning bus, non-stop, to Quezon City, taxied home to Pasig, showered and changed into fresh clothes, found a cab and hightailed it to Finale Art File at La Fuerza compound on Pasong Tamo, Makati.

I arrived an hour before opening time. A scaffold was still up as the spotlights were being adjusted. The Tall Gallery, still devoid of guests, left me lots of quiet time to go around and look at Julie's works closely, caress the cold-cast marble, the new medium she is working with.

What can I say? You have until Dec. 3 to catch the exhibition. Come alone, come with a group. Can't help but agree with Alma C. Miclat who, in her Inquirer interview with Julie, quoted her as saying, "“Yes, I do look for God in the art gallery.”

I looked and I found Him, too.

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"Kairos 3" with Julie's daughter Aba as model


From the "Georgia Series" Photos by Babeth Lolarga

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Eating away my grief

"In existence, I think one’s mother is, generally speaking, the strangest, most unpredictable and elusive person one meets." Marguerite Duras

Gliceria Yatco Dula in 1946

Mommy and I didn’t have the most buoyantly cheerful of mother-daughter relationships. But whatever differences we had, things were always patched up by food, especially food prepared and cooked by her.

Since she died last May, I’ve dealt with her absence by filling it with food. Not just any kind of food but the kind that reminded me of what she used to serve the family on regular days and special occasions—humba, menudo, mechado, kare-kare, callos, adobo.

Because I still, by choice, don’t cook, I sought out the food of my childhood and youth in various restaurants in the resto hub that Barangay Kapitolyo in Pasig has become.

What put a halt to my overindulgence (dining alone in restaurants, even enjoying a buffet lunch by my lonesome) was a case of gastroenteritis and severe dehydration that landed me in the hospital.

My creatinine level shot up to the hundreds, my kidneys were doing only 24 percent of their function.

The doctors and medicines were able to turn the numbers around to normal in 24 hours during which I did a thorough examination of conscience. Certain realizations surfaced while I was flat on my back with an IV drip attached to my arm.

“Was it possible that I might be expressing my grief by overeating?” I asked my doctor.

She said it was, citing her own experience. When her own father died, her family made it a Sunday ritual to visit the grave, then go out for lunch every week for a year. Then they noticed they were all putting on weight and they decided to stop and just have monthly reunions.

I envied my sisters who could express their grief through copious tears shed when certain memories of Mommy were triggered—finding Mom’s hairband, preparing her clothes for giving away to charity (I kept her shawls and handkerchiefs for myself), praying for her soul’s repose at the family altar.

Mom’s ashes were inurned in a columbarium four months after her death. Again I watched my sisters cry their eyes out when the day came to say goodbye to the urn holding her remains.

But my tears wouldn’t come. I did look forward to the comida china afterwards where the family gathered around a table while a lazy Susan was swung clockwise and counterclockwise as we helped ourselves to food, food, glorious food—that was all in my mind and rumbling tummy.

I still am the object of fat lady jokes from the family although I’ve made the effort to cut down on binge eating, and do gentle exercises that aren’t hard on my joints.

Mommy Lolarga in a recent photo

“Why did I let myself go on your account?” I’d ask while gazing at Mommy’s picture when she was a slender young adult.

Maybe it was a form of rebellion going as far back as my teens. Mom kept her figure all her life, even after her eighth baby—I didn’t want to be like her.

She cooked like a pro—her morcon is irreplaceable. I never did the dutiful daughter role by learning how her dishes were done. She followed no recipe and relied on her estimates and instinct the way most of her generation did.

Mom was a loyal office worker. Her years of service ran to decades whereas I would leave at the first sign of discontent.

I guess I harbor a vestige of guilt. Her deathbed request to me was to give her a sip of Coca-Cola after a meal of broth and gelatin. I explained to her that because of the scarring in her guts, Coke would only hurt her so I practically forced water on her.

Bad girl! I should’ve, I should’ve given her a few sips of Coke! But I wouldn’t have been able to stand the sight of her cringing in pain from stomach spasms.

After I texted friends and family announcing Mommy’s death, Sr. Perla Macapinlac, ICM, of the House of Prayer in Baguio immediately responded: “My prayers for her and you. She has only gone home to God, but God’s home is everywhere in the universe, including our hearts, so your mother has not gone away. She is right there in your heart.”

And in my gut, I hasten to add, where Mommy, early in my life, left her indelible imprint.-- Elizabeth Lolarga

This article originally was published in the Philippine Daily Inquirer's Lifestyle section on Oct. 30, 2016.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Camille Lopez Molina and her love of music and singing

Camille Lopez Molina

The word “chiaroscuro” may be inextricable from the world of painting. This hasn’t stopped soprano Camille Lopez Molina and pianist Najib Ismail from choosing it to be part of their coming concert’s title, “Love in Chiaroscuro,” on Sept. 15 at 7 p.m. at the Ayala Museum in Makati.

While they brainstormed about the repertoire, they started choosing songs based on what they felt strongly about. Molina said, “You want your audience to enjoy your performance. But they only receive and reciprocate the performers’ own enjoyment. The terms ‘nuance,’ ‘expression,’ ‘colors,’ ‘shades,’ ‘levels,’ ‘layers,’ ‘contrasts’ can refer to the voice, text, music and personal references. Chiaroscuro, referring to the play of light and shade in painting, drawing, photography and other visual arts, seemed to be the word that articulated most clearly what we meant.”

Among her personal preferences in the program are: Liszt’s “Sonata de Petraca,” Wagner’s portrayal of love in “Wessendonk Song,” “Song to the Moon” from Dvorak's “Rusalka” which, by the way, she voiced in the Peque Gallaga film “Sonata” wherein Cherie Gil played a diva who had seen better days.

Although Molina sings with the vocal ensemble Viva Voce of which she is founder-artistic director, she seldom holds solo concerts. “Love in Chiaroscuro” is the first since 2010. After her students Myramae Meneses, Renee Michaela Fajardo and Anna Dinah Migallos were featured in the concert “Divas: The Beauty of the Soprano Voice” in April this year, Joseph Uy of the Cultural Arts Events Organizer and Manila Chamber Orchestra Foundation (MCOF) asked this writer to go up to Molina to the holding room and tell her she was being lined up next on the second half of this year.

She recalled with a laugh, “The decision was clinched for me. I was given a date and told to have a recital. ’Yun na ’yon (That was that)!” As two of the country’s top voice teachers, she and her husband Pablo are overjoyed at the triumphant acceptance of Fajardo and Meneses at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London and recently, Migallos’s being the star of the night at an Indonesia Opera Society event in Jakarta.

She said on the effectiveness of her team teaching with Pablo: “His is the technical brain. I’m more on the application and interpretation. There is a sense of validation which is fulfilling (when our students make it abroad). After the initial thrill, it always boils down to what are we doing next? What else can be improved? There’s always something to improve, if not vocally, then maybe physically, or as is usually the case, mentally. Singing is coordination, a synthesis of physicality, emotions, artistry, intellect, energy, etc. Since we are constantly evolving as human beings, then the process of learning is never-ending.”

Ismail assured that Thursday’s concert would have hugot songs, meaning, the song’s interpretation comes from somewhere deep. Molina said, “Najib and I are similar in how we go into the music so our repertoire is a true collaboration. We bounce opinions back and forth. He knows my voice and what I can do. I know him and what he loves to play. So yes, these songs are straight from our hearts and guts.”

Asked to comment on the film “Florence Foster Jenkins” and its tone-deaf protagonist, she said, “I loved it. It expressed so much of what lovers of music feel, of what all musicians and artists feel about their craft. It wasn’t about Florence’s lack of talent, but how much she loved singing because she loved the music.”

For tickets, call Ticketworld at 891-9999 or the MCOF, tel. nos. 997-9483, 782-7164 or cell phone nos. 0920-9540053 and 0918-347-3027.

Published in the online edition of Philippine Daily Inquirer, Sept. 14, 2016

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Arca's Yard and its camote pie

A row of bulols (rice granary gods) found in the attic of Arca's Yard Photos by EV ESPIRITU

Come rain or come shine, Arca’s Yard up in Tiptop, the boundary of Baguio and La Trinidad along Ambuklao Road, enjoys full-house patronage. Locals don’t mind the drive up outside city limits to get their slice of camote pie.

Owner Nida “Ninj” Sabado believes “I’m the only one serving this pie probably in the whole Philippines.” She cites the root crop’s role in Igorot rituals, especially in cañaos where pigs or carabaos are butchered to mark special occasions like wedding feasts. Alongside the cooked meat, staples like camote and gabi are served,

Sabado grew tired of boiled camote so she thought of a different way of serving it. She researched and discovered that sweet potato pie is the favorite dessert of Michael Jackson. Through trial and error, she got the taste she liked—pure, organic, with loads of anti-wrinkle and anti-oxidant elements.

Camote pie a la mode

Before Arca’s Yard Café opened, there was the gallery she put up to assuage her grief over her mother’s death in 2014. It was a combination of mini library and museum with the Cordillera as its theme. She said, I want to share and preserve the culture of Benguet and the whole Cordillera.”

She wanted the place to be somewhere her writer and artist friends could hang out, even if there was a typhoon raging. The gallery once faced the road, then she moved it to their adjacent family proper and now it’s facing three mountains on a clear day: Mt. Pulag’s tip, Mt. Purgatory and Mt. Ugo on the Itogon side. The sunrise and full moon can be viewed from the balcony.

The gallery-café grew to a three-room bread and breakfast place that is five storeys high, including an attic for the book collection, and still expanding sideways. It has come a long way from being originally the ranch and kamote plot of Sabado’s father Arca. She says he had no surname—Jonson, Dianson, Djanson were appended after his first name. Before World War II, Arca supplied Camp John Hay and the hotels of Baguio with fresh milk.

Ninj Sabado is a good storyteller about the old Baguio.

Today Sabado’s customers not only go up for the pie but also for the enlanrged menu that includes lamb chops, pasta, lechon kawali, arroz a la cubana and anything that she calls “easy and quick to cook. I didn’t realize all this would be successful.”

Arca’s popularity grew through word of mouth and social media. Visitors are always fighting over seats that have panoramic views whether it’s sunny, rainy or foggy.

Lovers' Locks

Another feature is gate inspired by a bridge in Paris. Sabado calls it Lovers’ Lock. She sells the padlocks for a minimal fee and lovers can make their vows by that gate barring a cliff.

When the restaurant is packed, service slows down. Sabado soothes her waiting customers, telling them, “We’re new, we’re feeling our way and trying to improve the service.” –Elizabeth Lolarga

View from the balcony

This article and some photos were first published in the Aug. 3, 2016, issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer Northern Luzon Supplement.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Teacher, student show what they’ve got in #galingNAMCYA

The piece for two pianos selected for July 16’s "#galingNAMCYA" concert is appropriate for this collaborating pair of teacher and student. “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” gained fame in Disney’s classic animated movie “Fantasia.”

Gabriel Allan Paguirigan, who is finishing his piano degree at the University of the Philippines College of Music under Prof. Luci Magalit, quipped, “I chose this because of Mickey Mouse. I’ve always been a Disney kid who owned copies of the old movies, including ‘Fantasia.’ This piece is one of the first classical pieces I’ve heard. This transcription of (composer) Dukas is a delight to play and fits the hands nicely. Plus it’s not too long or too short.”

Luci Magalit

Magalit, prize-winner of the National Music Competition for Young Artists (NAMCYA) Piano Category, said the concert isn’t her first collaboration with Gabby on two pianos. She had played orchestra reductions to piano in his undergrad recitals, his NAMCYA participation and in a Mozart concerto competition.

For the Cultural Center Little Theater performance, she recommended “The Sorcerer's Apprentice” because “the length is right, the music is easy listening, interesting, not serious or gloomy, and it is neither too easy for a NAMCYA show nor too difficult, given our busy schedules,” she said.

She described him, a two-time NAMCYA winner, as “very hardworking and very teachable. He never lets his amazing talent get to his head. He is always open to learning, whether from me or from other pianists and piano teachers. When he doesn't readily grasp an idea or he finds it difficult to replace a habit with a new one, he does his best to learn it. Aside from this receptivity, the other thing that I love about Gabby is his sincerity as an artist which, at the end of the day, is what defines a musician, no matter what his teacher is able to give him.”

Magalit recalled her experience in competing. “I joined at an age when it was my last chance. Since I had not joined NAMCYA before, I took it all in with openness, no expectations. I remember the decrepit upright piano we used in the first stage of the competition in a crowded and noisy gym in Manila. I remember the MRT and LRT rides to the semis where I thought I would be eliminated because I struggled with the Prokofiev Sonata I was performing for the first time, then to the finals at the CCP where I was to perform Bartok’s Third Concerto, which I was also playing for the first time.”

She continued, “It was a new experience playing a concerto at 8 a.m. but the best of it was playing on that stage. The bigness of the auditorium and the lights twinkling in the ceiling gave me a sense of magic and made me forget how difficult my concerto was. I am immensely grateful for the entire experience. The prize money was not very substantial. I bought my first cellphone with it.”

Gabriel Allan Paguirigan

Both pianists agree on the role of award-giving bodies in the flowering of talents. Paguirigan said, “The contests expose musicians to more opportunities. It feels amazing to discover and appreciate the talents rising in our country.”

Magalit said, “NAMCYA is important. It is the only award-giving body that is national in scope. Award-giving bodies as competitions are essential to the discovery and development of talent and skill. It is not enough that a piano student does well in his/her academic piano requirements or gives good recitals or gets performance opportunities outside school. A competition offers a venue to stretch one’s abilities to a level that he/she has not yet discovered, which he/she will not discover otherwise. It provides a certain pressure not present in other performance situations, given that the jury is known to be top-caliber and trustworthy.”

She added. “This pressure tests a musician’s character: both teacher and student experience the pressure and it will show what kind of people they are in the way they handle it. Apart from whatever title or prize the young musician obtains from the competition, the whole experience of stretching, discovery, testing of mettle is essential to preparing him/her for the bigger world. It would be in the best interest of our country's cultural and artistic life that there be more competitions.”

They’re both passionate about sustaining the lives of classical musicians in this country. Magalit said, “We in the classical music industry must do something to create a bigger demand for high quality live performance of classical music in our country, if we want to continue. This is what I always tell my students: Always do your best, and share your music.”

Paguirigan nodded, “One can’t live on just performing. Most performers I adore here are also teachers. Performing and teaching demand much time though. Music is an extremely difficult track. We never stop learning, face countless hours of practicing and a spectrum of difficult situations and people as musicians. As long as you love what you're doing, play on.”-- Elizabeth Lolarga

Friday, July 8, 2016

The power of flowers

"Daisy" by Kelly Ramos

BAGUIO CITY—Merci Javier Dulawan and Kelly Ramos, writers and painters both, had always talked about someday doing a joint project that would involve words and paint. It was a thought they put out there for the universe to pick up.

What happened instead was they found themselves for much of this summer working on unfurled sheets of watercolor paper to meet their target of 10 paintings for their current “The Watercolor Flower Show” at Café by the Ruins Dua, Upper Session Road, Baguio. The exhibit runs until July 10.

Although Ramos is the more formally trained one in fine arts at the University of the Philippines between the two painters, the self-taught Dulawan has had watercolor as her preferred medium of expression since the mid- to late 2000s. Ramos recalled doing just one watercolor plate as a school requirement and hadn’t touched the medium for more than 20 years.

Still they managed to work separately and confidently meet their deadline, even as the younger Ramos practiced on small scraps of paper.

Detail from Merci Dulawan's "Red Gumamela"

Choosing flowers as their subject was the easy part. Dulawan said, “Baguio means flowers, and ever since they’ve been my subject. New learning says that the edible protein found in flowers helps humans reflect, meditate, ruminate about our connection with the Divine. I feel connected. In this series, I honor the contribution of flowers to human.”

Uncannily enough, when it was time for the two to bring their finished works to the framers, they saw that they painted a variety of common flowers and not once did they have duplicates of a certain species of flora.

"Fifi's Pitcher Plant" by Dulawan

The experience revived Ramos’ interest in watercolor and the surprising effects that could be achieved with a medium that she once forsook for oil on canvas. She found the images right outside her home in Tawang, La Trinidad. And when the wildflowers weren’t enough for her, she went around the parks in Baguio and visited the ICM House of Prayer which has a sprawling garden enjoyed by those taking their spiritual retreats.

Dulawan quoted the children’s book author Hans Christian Andersen who wrote, “Just living is not enough... one must have sunshine, freedom, and a little flower.” -- Elizabeth Lolarga

This story earlier appeared in the July 6, 2016, issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer Northen Luzon Supplement.

"Prickly Pear Cactus" by Ramos

Monday, June 13, 2016

Anne Marie of the keys

Anne Marie "Macky" Caldoza

“Good music, good food”—these, in pianist Anne Marie Caldoza’s words, are her priorities in life as she enters her 25th year on earth, half of it spent studying her instrument.

Known to family and friends as Macky, she attributes to her Lola Joaquinita her first exposure to music. Joaquinita Cinco Alzate was the town pianist. During the Japanese period, she played for parties. She even accompanied a young Imelda Romualdez in Tacloban. But Caldoza said her attention span as a child was such that she couldn’t learn earnestly from her lola. Or she may have tried the older woman’s patience.

At age 12 she began formal piano studies with Prof. Najib Ismail at the University of Santo Tomas. During that period with him she won, among many prizes, honorable mention from the National Music Competition for Young Artists in 2013, a silver award from the 2011 Asia International Piano Academy and Festival with Competition in Korea, second prize the 2010 UST Chopin Competition, second prize from the 2007 Piano Teachers Guild of the Philippines Bach Competition.

After she graduated cum laude at the UST Conservatoryof Music with a bachelor of music in piano performance and performing at Paco Park, Ismail thought she was fit for something bigger and recommended her to pursue her masters of music in piano performance at the Longy School of Music of Bard College in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

To reach Longy, a century-old conservatory inside a New England mansion, one of the largest in Boston, she walks for 30 minutes, cutting through Cambridge Commons and Harvard Square from the house where she rents a room from a Filipino family.

Calzado has built a name for herself on campus, having served as an officer of the Longy Student Association in her first year and co-president in her second. Longy has a small student population of 250. She says they know one another, adding, “Basically, we are one big crazy family.”

She recently graduated but plans to return to Longy this fall for a graduate performance diploma, saying, “I still have lots to work on.” She adds that two years of graduate studies aren’t enough and despite four hours of daily practice.

If there’s anything that Longy has taught her, she says, “It is to embrace all possibilities and to think creatively as possible, be it in class projects, concert programming, performance practice, etc. The dream is to make a difference, no matter how small.”

Caldoza opens the Manila Chamber Orchestra Foundation (MCOF) season on June 22 at 7 p.m. at Ayala Museum with a challenging program made up of Handel’s “Suite in B-flat Major, HWV 440,” Beethoven’s “Sonata in E-flat Major, op. 7,” Haydn’s “Sonata in G Major Hob. XVI: 40,” Harold Shapero’s “Sonata in D Major” and Rachmaninoff’s “Etudes-Tableaux, op. 33.”

She says of her selections: “There’s always something to love about the style of each composer. I play or listen according to my mood as part of my ‘quarter-life crisis.’ Even if Handel is baroque, there is something lyrical you can do with him. You’re allowed a little freedom because the counterpoint is very thin. I have friends who study early music, and they’ve helped me with nuances.”

To relax she continues the family tradition of baking. She specializes in cupcakes and cookies for her own consumption and for community sharing. Her latest creations carry the combined flavors of Earl Grey tea and chocolate, chocolate crinkles with a crusty top and ginger molasses cookies.

Or she plays with four dogs, two of them pugs. Caldoza talks fondly of them, “We’ve had Raya since I was in high school. The other is Porkchop, a fairly recent addition. Raya sleeps under my piano whenever I practice. I used to have a pug named Puffy that loved the Grieg minor concerto and she’d come running when she hears me start playing. She’d sit beside me for hours and sometimes howl while I played.” -- Elizabeth Lolarga

For tickets to Caldoza’s “Tribute to the Masters,” call Ticketworld at 891-9999 or MCOF at 997-9483, 782-7164 or cell phone nos. 0920-954-0053 and 0918-347- 3027.

A shorter version of this article is published in today's issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer's Arts and Books section.

Monday, May 30, 2016

The music never stops for this couple

Soprano Stefanie Quintin and classical guitarist Anton Luis Avila have been sweethearts since their high school years in Baguio City. The way the romance began depends on who’s telling the story.

Avila said they met during the National Music Competition for Young Artists in 2005. “I was competing in the Category B Guitar Competition. She was part of her school choir for the Category B Choral Competition. It's a long story from there, but that’s how Stef first fell for me.”

Quintin protested, “I did not notice Anton back then until my friends started having a big crush on him. Having a crush on a guitarist was inevitable. So there, we became high school sweethearts and eventually became colleagues. We have been performing together since 2007.”

The two plan to make their chemistry evident on June 5 in “Acoustic Adagietto,” a dinner concert production of the Cultural Arts Events Organizer (CAEO) as part of the Baguio Summer Music Festival at Hill Station on Upper Session Road, Baguio City. Dinner starts at 6 p.m., concert at 8 p.m.

Quintin, with Avila as accompanist, will also give a free lecture-demo-cum-mini recital on June 4 on “The Miracle of the Human Voice” at 3 p.m. at Sarmiento Hall, the alumni center of the University of the Philippines Baguio.

Stefanie Quintin

Quintin has degrees in vocal pedagogy and vocal performance from the University of the Philippines. She trained with Fides Cuyugan Asensio and Rica Nepomuceno.

She said, “I was fortunate to have The Fides as my teacher. When I entered the UP College of Music in 2008, I had no idea who she was until my batchmates told me that Tita Fides is one of the pillars of classical music here in the country. How naive of me.”

She described her teacher’s teaching style: “She lets her students explore their own capacity as singers and musicians. She gave me the freedom to choose my pieces and at the same time assigned challenging ones like Darius Milhaud’s ‘Chansons de Ronsard,’ Strauss’ ‘Madchenblumen,’ most of which are rarely performed here.”

She said Asensio’s influence on her could be seen in her selection of “rarely heard pieces,” she said. “I expand my repertoire and at the same time make the audience appreciate various compositional styles. Tita Fides taught me that singing is not just about high notes. Singing should be about the message of the music, how we can transmit it to our audience. The best thing that I learned from her is to always sing with intention, never sing for attention.”

After earning his degree in applied mathematics from the Ateneo, Avila studied guitar at UP under another legend, Lester Demetillo. The young man said, “I’ve learned a lot from him both in playing the guitar and in life. The most interesting would be these: Be creative in solving technical problems; always play musically, artistically and intelligently; and at a certain point, speed is detrimental to musicality.”

Anton Luis Avila

He found a corporate job, but, he said, “The cyclical life in the corporate setting drained me. So my dream of studying music came knocking again.”

After he convinced his parents for support, he entered the UP College of Music as a student. He said, “I was relatively successful as a guitarist during my stint there. There were realities to accept. I wanted to stay but after discerning, I realized that getting a degree in music wasn’t for me. While my pursuit for a degree was put on a halt, being a musician, being a student of music never stopped.”

Asked why they chose Brazilian music, particularly bossa nova for the second part of their June 5 program, Avila said everything was Quintin’s choice, adding, “She always challenges herself technically and musically. My own curiosity for Brazilian music started in 2005 when I was 14. I was intrigued with the syncopations and harmonies of South American music. They were different from classical and even pop music. This comes from a deep love for the classical guitar repertoire, built largely on Spanish and South American music.”

He said, “Classical music is here to stay. What most consider as ‘classical music’ is different from what it actually is. When we think of classical music, we think of Bach. This is a limited perspective. That’s why people often fear classical music. The reality is some music, like those of Juan Carlos Jobim and Laurindo Almeida, are now considered standard repertoire for classical musicians. Thus, they’re here to stay.”

What makes their style of bossa different from Sitti or Astrud Gilberto is theirs is more deeply rooted in the traditions of classical music. Quintin clarified, “Mostly, what we’re going to play are composed music by Brazilian composers rather than songs played bossa nova style.”

To their Baguio counterparts, the duo has this joint message: “We hope that our humble efforts will somehow open the hearts, minds and ears of the people in Baguio to classical music.” -- Elizabeth Lolarga

For tickets and inquiries, visit Hill Station, call (074)424 2734, 0915-829-2166, or, or contact CAEO at c.p. nos. 0906-526-7241, 0920-954-0053, 0918-347-3027 or landline (074) 997-9483. The Baguio Summer Music Festival and “Acoustic Adagietto” are made possible by the National Commission for Culture and the Arts and Smart Telecommunications.

A shorter version of this article appeared in today's issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer.

Bound by their love for one another and for classical music

Sunday, May 8, 2016

The times of Mommy's life

The best Mother's Day gift I received arrived in my email yesterday, a lengthy letter from my second-born daughter Ida detailing how her class of 21 nursery students prepared for their own tribute to moms. She clinched her letter with what I'd call an "Ida-ism": "happy mother's day, nanay! you make my eyes roll and you may not be my favourite person, but i love you."

Gliceria "Nene" Dula as a debutante in 1946

Holding her second-born child, my sister Evelyn Marie ("Embeng")

My own Mommy made my eyes roll not just a thousand times. Among my sisters we like to joke that of her physical traits, Mom bequeathed us her indio nose and her bunions that make closed shoes uncomfortable.

Our clashes were bitter wars of attrition with periods of peace, with the intercession of Daddy, during mealtimes and occasions like birthdays and Christmas. There was a period in adolescence when I opted to stay home rather than be seen with Mom and her growing brood (a devout Catholic, she followed papal edicts to the letter and refused artificial contraceptives). Alone I cherished the relief from her nagging and what I felt was her overbearing presence.

I longed for a mother who could be a friend and confidante the way my Lola Purang in Baguio was to her children and grandchildren, or the way Aunties Fe and Pacing (my father's sisters) were to my cousins. What I felt the Lord had burdened me with was a battleaxe in a slender and attractive package.

One of my sisters still has this image of Mom with a fly swatter ready to swat not just flies but any erring child. The fanny was her target. I have memories of Mom chasing a sister round and round the round dining table with a flyswatter in her right hand. We knew what kamay na bakal meant early on.

I was only able to say what was in my heart to my mother through a letter when I approached my 60s. The letter wasn't even penned by me. It was written for me by former Baguio Writers Group president Luchie Maranan when BWG had a commissioned handwritten letter campaign in February 2015. I supplied the ghost writer with the inputs on what I had been meaning to tell my mother, among which was how I appreciated her sacrifices for the eight children she bore even if this meant a lack of quality time for us since she and Daddy had to go out and work to provide for us. When I finally held Luchie's letter, the hair on my arms stood up. Her penmanship uncannily resembled Mom's, and my first thought was, "Why is Mommy writing me a letter through the BWG?"

Baguio still means happy memories to us. It was where our parents brought us in the summer, and it must have cost them a pretty penny to do so. Thank you, Dad and Mom!

The mellowing of Mom came with the coming of the grandchildren. Her oldest apo Carlo's Matchbox collection is courtesy of his Lola Mommy, who spoiled him to pieces.

This is what I mean by Mom's makuha ka sa tingin facial expression captured by poet Mila D. Aguilar during an intimate concert at Balay Kalinaw organized by Pablo A. Tariman.

Anyway, when Mom read "my" letter, she told my daughter and sisters that even late in the day, I had come to realize why she was the way she was--her sternness, her disciplinarian's ways. By becoming a mother myself, I have seen that motherhood is the toughest job in the world. And that the fretting over one's children and their well-being, even if they're already adults, never ever stops.

My mom was a proud and vain woman, ramrod straight in posture, always well turned out, fully made up whenever she left the house, whether for the office (she worked until her 70s) or a Legion of Mary meeting. An illness crept up on her late last year. Today she is a ghost of her former self, but to me she is even more beautiful as peace slowly descends on her. She mumbles in that state between wakefulness and sleep--I try to decode what she says in hopes I get clues to her past which she has always been reticent to share, except for the good times. Her knees buckle when she tries to stand with assistance from hefty adults.

But our faith teaches us hope--miracles are possible. If her body and mind don't heal fully, my siblings and I plus those who fondly call her Auntie/Tita Nene or Mommy Lolarga (from the streetsweepers she has befriended to the village security guards she sends merienda to) pray that her spirit does, ready to return to the source of Light and Love. And when Judgment Day comes, she will be restored to full glory. This we all believe.

Guess who has the biggest smile in a family picture from one Christmas in the 1990s? That's our Mom, vibrant in red and seated second from right.