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.