Monthly Archives: December 2007

Pablo Answers 20 Questions

pablo-christmas3.jpgThe fabulous Jovi of Girl, Interrupted tagged me to answer this 20 Questions Meme.  I finished it, actually, but then saw Pablo Honey looking all wistful that I asked him to answer it, too, which thrilled the poor dear to no end. 


Remove 1 question from below, and add in your personal question, make it a total of 20 questions, then tag 8 people in your list, list them out at the end of this post. Notify them in their chat box that he/she has been tagged. Whoever does the tag will have blessings from all.

20 Questions Meme

1.) At what age do you wish to marry?

  • Cacti don’t marry.  I would like to spread my seed, though, and produce lots of Pablitos and Pablitas.  So, pollinate me, please!!!

2.) What color do you like most?

  • All shades of blue.  They make me think of the desert sky. 

3.) If you have the chance, what would you probably say to your beloved one?

  • “Ah, you’ve pricked my heart.”

4.) Where is the place that you want to go to the most?

  • Australia and stare at the changing colors of the Uluru.  

5.) Which part of you that you hate the most?

  • My bar-b-que stick leg.

6.) When you encounter a sad moment, what would you do?

  • Flap my arms around and wail.

7.) What are you afraid to lose the most?

  • My flexibility.  I don’t want my rubber body to harden with age.

8.) If you win $1 million, what would you do?

  • Buy a tanning bed (since I miss the desert heat).  Set up a foundation for teachers.  Buy Cabsy a grand piano.

9.) If you meet someone that you love, would you confess to her?

  • Yes!  I would do even better and sing her the traditional cactus wooing song entitled, “Pulp of My Heart”.

10.) List out 3 good points of the person who tagged you.

  • Witty.  Deep.  Smart. 🙂

11.) What are your requirements from your cacti half ?

  • Succulent. Nice aerole and spines.  Rubbery but soft.  Has a nice pair of arms.  Good taste in hats and bandannas.    


12.) Till now, what is the moment that you regret the most?

  • I don’t regret anything.

13.) Which type of cacti do you hate the most?

  • Posers.  Ones who wear ostentatious hats but are without depth.

14.) What is your ambition?

  • Help Cabsy reach out to more students.

15.) What is the thing that will make you think she is bad?

  • If she thinks she’s too good to be called a cactus.

16.) What is it that people don’t know about you?

  • I don’t have eyes — just the shades. 

17.) So far, have you had a life-changing moment? What was it?

  • Meeting Cabsy and the ICAns.

18.) Name one of your body part your past significant others tells you he adores.

  • My rubbery soft trunk.

19.) It would be 2008 in a few days, do you have a new year’s resolution?

  • Exercise for flexibility.

20.) What did you wish for this Christmas?

  • A new spine.  I’m tired of this bar-b-que stick.

Pablo Honey tags 6 of his pals: Chris, Liz, Merri, Grace, Allie, Ekang

Tagged ,


‘Twas the Season.  Last Year . .

  1. . . . I would never have written a “Merry Christmas, Everyone!” post.  Least of all, write its title in all caps and with 3 exclamation marks to boot.
  2. . . . I was still gut-wrenchingly missing my dad and couldn’t celebrate.
  3. . . . our beloved half-black-lab/half-askal, Jack, went missing after getting spooked by fireworks.
  4. . . . I didn’t see my best friend when he came home from Thailand because we fought the year before.  Hence, I have not seen him for 2 years.
  5. . . . a trio of students from ICA, whom I call my Beloved Three, and I had a falling out.   My mouth got the best of me and I ended up hurting them.  Another bridge burned by my impulsiveness and temper.  
  6. . . . my Christmas was so uneventful I still can’t remember it.    
  7. . . . #6 is NOT an exaggeration.

‘Tis the Season.  This Year. . .

  1. . . . I am writing a “Merry Christmas, Everyone!” post unabashedly and typing its title in all caps, shouting it to the whole world!
  2. . . . I still miss my dad but he visits me in my dreams whenever I need him.  Or whenever he needs me.  This gives me strength, it does.
  3. . . . our beloved half-black-lab/half-askal, Jack, celebrated Christmas with us.  Last year, a month after he went missing, our helper found him.  He was adopted by a kind family just a street away and was returned to us safe and fat.   A real miracle. 
  4. . . . my best friend came home from Thailand a couple of days ago and we are meeting this week!  He and I patched things up via YM a few months ago but his work brings him to places without internet so we have a lot to catch up on and finally will.
  5. . . . one of my Beloved Three YMed me recently and declared us still friends.  We are meeting this January! Weeee! 
  6. . . . I celebrated the best Christmas EVER because of new friends the-choir.jpg, old ones renewed image008.jpg, a wonderful family, and my music — my soul — reborn.  I FINALLY (finally, finally!) found my way back to myself.  This is the best Christmas ever because I have finally allowed it to be so.     
  7. . . . #6 is NOT an exaggeration! 😀



From Pablo Honey and Cabsy!

The Arki Files: The Fine Art of Losing


Dear Choir,

Here’s the nitty-gritty of it: losing.  It sucks.

As kids, we were taught how to win, to keep our eyes on the prize we hope we will get in the end; but we were never taught how to deal with defeat or how to recover from loss.   This, the fine art of losing, is something that we teach ourselves as we go through life with defeat and loss.  It goes without saying, then, that our lives have been, are, and will be riddled with events that will drag us down the pits.  It’s an equalizer of sorts, defeat is, because no human being, no matter how powerful or rich, has never been rejected, let down, or beaten. 

Consider art and our approach to it.  If losing is an art then our proficiency for it can be honed and deepened as well.  We start out with tentative steps and build our confidence through practice. In the beginning, we depend on the people around us to keep us moving but eventually learn to operate on our own, without prodding or encouragement.  

This doesn’t mean, of course, that we must endeavor to lose.  On the contrary, we must always strive for excellence.  However, the possibility of failing never occurs when we’re inert or complacent.  It is present only when we reach for the stars above or jump hoping our feet will land on safe ground.  The reaching and the jumping are the stuff that builds character, not the stars nor the ground themselves.   

The journey is more significant than the destination.

The Fine Art of Losing (and feel free to add to it):

  • Howl at the moon and let the world know your pain – then be still and make your peace. Wounds fester when kept under wraps.
  • Don’t blame. Not yourself; not others. But if you can’t help it, do it. Let it all out then shut up and know that there are things beyond your control and you are human.
  • Things can be sometimes unfair. Do something about it instead of yakking.
  • Loss and defeat are opportunities to learn and grow.
  • Remember: Losing means that you fought, and it’s always better to have fought than not at all.

And we fought the good fight, didn’t we? 

We lost.  We didn’t place.  We could have been last, for all I know.  I howled, you heard me, and blamed myself as I usually did, but then you kept me from sinking into the mire of regret.  You patted my back and told me, “OK lang yan, Ma’am”.  I saw you laugh and tell people, “Hi there, we lost” with all smiles.  You called after I texted and howled along with me then texted hours later that you still couldn’t believe it.  You squeezed my arm and sat beside me while I pondered.  You told me you looked forward to singing in Haraya, already looking towards our future together.      


Thank you.

I kept saying “3 weeks” but was recently corrected by my mother.  She was right: we only had 2 to learn 3 songs and sing them brilliantly, and jump over the hurdles of getting used to one another.  We did all that despite our rocky schedules and other responsibilities.  We are cut from the same cloth, you and I: as architects-to-be you don’t only have books to pore over when you’re through with classes.  You have plates to finish and models to construct, just as I have music to write and pieces to practice.   Isn’t it amazing that we were able to bond and sing together without asking world to stop turning until we accomplished our task?

I am proud of you: each and every one of you.  I will always thank the universe for leading me to you.   Let us keep making music together.  Let us continue fighting the good fight.   


Cabsy grace-and-me2.jpg


For a personal account of the UP Lantern Parade and more on losing the Carolfest (lol), click “Hi! We Lost!”: Losing the University Carolfest 2007.  

The Arki Files: UP Arkaira in Sonata Form



December 14, 2007 (11:30 P.M.)

I knew I shouldn’t have hopped (yes, hopped) all night and drank that cold glass of coke because I can feel the clammy hands of the flu I thought I had shaken off this afternoon reaching for my neck as I type this.  Suddenly, after a night at the ball, I am again the pumpkin abandoned by magic.

It wasn’t the first time I’ve trained and conducted a choir.  Nor was it my first competition or performance in front of a large crowd.  But I know myself and my tendency, not to forget exactly, but to look back and feel that the things I’ve done were not that special.  It’s not that I don’t value the things I’ve done; I just tend not to rest on my laurels.  Sometimes, though, this compulsion to move forward results in me taking my accomplishments for granted.  I wouldn’t mind so much if they didn’t involve other people, but when they do, and the images and names of the people in my past circles blur along with the memory of my deeds, I feel like I’ve betrayed them in some way. 

Because I don’t want to forget this, the people and the three weeks we spent together, I will write about it. 

Because it is special, I will recount it so the memory of it will live on in the telling and reading.


UP Arkaira is the College of Architecture’s organization that “provides a venue for architecture students to put to use their musical talents and to simply enjoy music.”   I came to know of the group’s existence because, Val Con, a former student off mine at ICA, texted me three weeks ago asking if I can train and conduct their choir for the upcoming UP Carolfest 2007.  I didn’t really have plans of accepting choral work this year since I had so much to do, but I told myself, if I like them I’ll say ‘yes’.  I met Val the next day along with their 2 representatives: Richard, their former conductor, and Ekang, one of their sopranos and, I must say, a real charmer.  I liked them immediately, but there was the final test: I wanted to see what they thought I was worth. 

I’m not money-hungry, people will tell you, but I recently made a bold statement in my other blog about naming my price and sticking to it since I always seem to give in to requests of reducing my fee.  I told them my hourly rate and that I was willing to give them a package price, but that they had to decide what to pay me.  I even warned: “There’s an acceptable fee and one that borders on insulting.  Think about this carefully.”

To make a long story short, Ekang got back to me and quoted an acceptable fee, adding that this was everything their org had in the bank.  I was so touched that, instead of accepting the fee, I voluntarily reduced it by 20%. – doh!  This has made me the butt of jokes amongst my musician friends who laughed like hyenas after I admitted it.  A freelance-writer friend, after much computation, gave me the exact amount I was getting per hour and told me, in a disappointed tone, to stick to my guns next time.  Those hyenas (I say this with great affection) and that writer didn’t have to rub my spinelessness in.  I know that, because I am not earning enough now that I’m back in school full time, I will always question the soundness of my decision.  Sigh.  Never mind because, right then and there, a bulb lit: for the longest time, I’ve been longing to nurture a music group and this situation seemed serendipitous.  I made a deal with them: I told Ekang I’d reduce my fee if

  1. They make me an honorary member of Arkaira.
  2. I will be their official trainer and conductor.

She seemed happy, although I think it was more for the money that will remain in their account than for my volunteering.  Tee hee.  Up to this day, though, I still don’t know if she took my first condition seriously.

I’m not going to reveal my training method in this post (perhaps in a future post), which is a synthesis of 30 years of Music training (I started out young), 21 years of teaching non-singers to sing together and the amalgam of everything I’ve learned in theatre, dance, psychology, science, and even sports (running and boxing).  Let’s just say it’s pretty grueling.  It requires energy and focus.  It also touches on metaphysical concepts since I believe singing and musicking involve more than the body.  It requires me to constantly think on my feet and take risks.  Being a military man’s daughter, my approach is a lot like training soldiers for battle, I’m afraid, since, besides training them how to sing, my goal is to build up their courage for the performance. This hardly meant that we dove into the process in total seriousness.  We did get quite a few laughs in and, after a while, my students got used to my random shifts from drill sergeant to clown.  Despite the seeming unpredictability of my moods during rehearsals, they are, in fact, calculated moves, always done with a purpose in mind, and never capricious.

Arkaira was made up of 15 budding singers, meaning they were non-singers who loved to sing and had good voices.   It was hardly unexpected that majority of them were musically illiterate and so expecting them to sight-read was out of the question.  It left me the option of teaching them by rote, but this meant giving them a quite a bit of ear training in the 3 weeks we had. 


I’ll say a bit about each of my singers.


ekang.jpgEkang: A smart nut. A loony bundle of energy. I had to restrain her during the performance because she would sing faster than the pace I set.  She’s my BIO 1 classmate and I always tell her, “If you can grasp the workings of the electron transport system, you can get this melody!”

cachi.jpgCachi: She can be kooky.  She can be serious.  This girl was able to sing a high a-flat after spending a whole morning bent down, trying to find her head tone.  Talk about determination. She almost quit, though, saying she had to find another reason for staying since it didn’t make her happy.  I hope she stayed because it made her happy in the end.

nikka.jpgNikka: Poker-faced and almost bored-looking.  She suddenly came to life onstage with her 100-watt smile.  A real surprise.  Another surprise was her talkativeness and honesty during our jeepney ride from UP to Katipunan.  I knew, despite her shy demeanor, that she had the strength to endure my method because of the things she shared.

allie.jpgAllie: Her outfit one day reminded me of the cheese flavored snack so I started calling her Mr. Pringles.  Cute as a button, I found it hard to jolt her (a.k.a. shout at her) but had to because she had crazy eyes while singing (a.k.a. she would look around instead of focusing on me while I conducted).


grace.jpgGrace: She lent me her havaianas when the heel of my shoe broke before the competition so I ended up wearing very expensive slippers on stage.  She had the sniffles 2 days before the competition.  I caught her bug and spent the day before it shivering in bed with the flu. 

faye.jpgFae: A real puzzle at first.  She appeared sullen sometimes but I really liked her spunk.  In the end, she opened up and I appreciated it since her sassiness was one of the things from which I drew strength.  She made it a point that I notice that she’s been recording and practicing her part which really cracked me up inside.

greta.jpgGreta: Sharp ears but tentative.  She wavered at the beginning of “Kumukutitap” and looked like she was about to faint.  But I saw the exact moment her eyes brightened and her face lit up, and I knew she allowed herself to be part of the music at last.

val.jpgVal Con: She sang tenor in 2 of 3 songs and learned their part enthusiastically.  I coined her “hermaphrodite”.  (Yes, I’m a meany.)  After the first rehearsal, she told me: “So this is what it feels like to be a Glee Club member.”  My rejoinder: “Just you wait.  That wasn’t even half of it.”


james.jpgJames:  A natural tenor.  I had to keep reminding him to push down his shoulders to keep from tensing up.  He had a constant smile which always easily returned after a scolding.  

anjo.jpgAnjo: This one reminded me so much of my best friend.  They had the same hearty laugh. His stuffed-toy appearance also made it hard for me to push him, but he was always ready to laugh again afterwards which I took as a sign of forgiveness. 

He proudly stood in front of the large choir at the end of the competition, a mistake since he didn’t know the lyrics to UP Naming Mahal.

chirstian.jpgChristian: Quiet and serious-looking.  I had to woo this one to smile during our performance which he gave grudgingly, it seemed, in the end.  You never know what he’s thinking since his expression never changes.


ralph.jpgRalph: He was the unwitting comic-relief on the very first day of training.  His laughter always made me laugh and I enjoyed seeing him happy.  On the last few days, he couldn’t focus because of his upcoming thesis submission and I had to ask him, “Are you mentally present?”, to which he would honestly reply, “Not really.” 

I learned on the day of the competition that his thesis deadline was moved yet again.  Yipee!

edpat.jpgEdpat: He had a stare that never wavered.  He was mostly quiet but you can feel him thinking. He approached me with honesty and told me that he gets rattled whenever I look at him sternly, this after I gave them a scolding on stage on our first technical rehearsal.  I thought it was very brave. 

john-jay.jpgJohn Jay: He had the sharpest ears of all basses.  He confused me, though.  I had the impression that he was an extrovert but as time passed, he turned out to be quite the opposite.  He receives distinction for having 2 very obvious booboos during the performance.  There he was sincerely singing to the crowd after I had told the group time and again to stare only at me.  I had to madly gesture at him before I started the second song – a sort of non-verbal scolding. The other happened after the end of African Noel.  Unexpectedly, and in his excitement, I imagine, he raised his arm at the end and was the only one to do so. All of this caught on tape.      

george.jpgGeorge: The rocker-intellectual.  He’s the anti-rocker, actually, because you wouldn’t know he was one from his serious demeanor.  He over-thinks while singing and misses his pitches because of it.  This got me into a pretty pickle because I would always tell the choir: “You must be thinking singers! Think while you sing!”, then a few beats later would turn and spot him over-thinking and say, “Stop thinking! Just sing it!” Ay-ay-ay. How I hated the inconsistency.


francis.jpgFrancis:  He designed the group’s African sablay-over-white attire.  My singers’ costume rocked the stage, and at one point, our turn-the-sablay maneuver made the audience cheer.  I was so thrilled that I blanked out on the pitches of African Noel and had to be corrected by Val Con.  Whee.

I have to mention Sir Ozaeta and Sir Mata who sat beside me during the competition. They cracked me up with their comments that went straight for the jugular.  They were pretty fair, though, and would be the first to admit when a choir was doing well.  Their tandem reminded me so much of the 2 hilarious critic muppets, Mr. Waldorf and Statler, who sat in the side balcony while heckling the Muppet Show.  sir-o-and-m.jpg

At one point, I heard Sir Mata softly singing the Latin version of “O, Come All Ye Faithful” while one of the competing choirs was singing the English version.  Not bad.



December 15, 2007 (11:30 A.M.)

I’m near the end of my first account of my experience with UP Arkaira.  As with all recapitulations in the sonata form, we go back to the main themes presented earlier: that of my flu and my need to write about this before the lid on my memory of it drops.  I still have the flu, and, a day later, I’m still writing and remembering, remembering and writing.   But, of course, the recapitulation is not an exact repetition of the exposition.  My variation would be my thoughts of the future.  They have “Haraya”, a yearly college anniversary celebration, coming up this February and Sir Ozaeta told me that he’d like the choir to present a song.  I’m looking forward to this but I have to wait and see if my singers are up to it. Last night, as some of them and I munched on our burgers and fries (and all the food they had to give up for 3 weeks), I broached the subject of continuing what we started and even possibly have the group sing at my thesis presentation.  Val Con, Ekang, Cachi and Fae seemed quite excited and I hope that feeling stays on. 

A recapitulation signals the end of a sonata’s section. 

I hope that this end only speaks of this post and not of my involvement with UP Arkaira.   I’ve never encountered a non-music college that is so into music. They have a piano in their college secretary’s office, for pete’s sake — I think that says a lot.  Maybe I’ve found kindred spirits there: me with my fascination with architecture; and they, with their love for music.  

The results of the Carolfest will be announced on December 19, during UP’s annual Lantern Parade. (Yipee!) I hope we place because last night my singers were phenomenal.    

Congratulations, choir.


Greetings, Dear Students, from Cabsy

eyeapl.jpgI’ve decided to say hello to my students, both current and former, who have dropped by: 

Val Con of UP Arkaira and ICA. – She was one of my most interesting and smartest students at ICA.  She sat in the second row, along the aisles, I think, and I never felt her attention waver during class.  The first time I met her, she sat in lotus position in class — a no-no with other teachers, but I let her continue sitting this way because her courage to do so made me smile.  I remember, I noticed the one time she let her legs dangle to the floor because she seemed deep in thought and it bothered me so much I couldn’t focus on my lesson.  I guess there are students from which you draw strength while you stand vulnerable in front of 40 others.  Val was one of those students. 

(I haven’t thanked you for Arkaira.Thank you, Val, for Arkaira. 

Nina Gonzalesa former ICA student and Glee Club member who’s currently my voice student.  Sometimes you meet other souls with whom you form a deep bond.  Nina, though many years younger than I, is one of those souls.  She is the only student who had the guts to scold me for letting my anger get the best of me after the death of my father.  I was profoundly hurt when the Glee Club members, who shed tears after I had left ICA, didn’t bother to be there for me during the lowest point in my life.  Nina had lots to say about this and spoke beyond her 17 years.   She is one of the strongest people I know, and I love her.

I might be free for our lessons in January.  I’ll let you know, dearie.

Roxanne, a.k.a. Babsy, a.k.a. RoSanne, a former student and Glee Club member and current YM chat mate. Roxanne and I can talk for hours.  The other day she said hello via YM and said she can talk for 20 minutes — we said good night 2 hours later.  What do we talk about?  Nothing and everything.  Roxanne and I hold each others’ juiciest gossip in the strictest confidence, and she was the first student to whom I ever dared reveal my anti-teacher cussing side.  She started calling me Cabsy after I made a typo calling her RoSanne, and both names just stuck like crazy glue. 

All I can say, RoSanne, is: Shhh…. 😀

It delights me to know that my students do drop by from time to time.  Make Cabsy smile: if you don’t have a blog but have dropped by, let me know.  Tell me what you think.  Or not.  Knowing you checked this blog out will be enough to make me happy.

Our Students, Their Brains


The idea for this entry started as a response to Dino Manrique (a.k.a. noid) and his comment on my post, “A Musician’s Fear and Loathing of Mathematics” which I posted on his website,

His comment

Imagination and the Right Brain
Submitted by noid on December 12, 2007 – 4:17pm.
An example of our school system’s — and our society’s’ for that matter — over-emphasis on left-brained modes of learning. That’s why creatives/right-brained individuals often feel left out or marginalized. The ironic thing though is that right brain/intuition is indispensable to genius. More than a handful of quotes, for example, have been attributed to Albert Einstein regarding the importance of the imagination:
I am enough of an artist to draw freely upon my imagination. Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world.
Logic will get you from A to B. Imagination will take you everywhere.
To raise new questions, new possibilities, to regard old problems from a new angle, requires creative imagination and marks real advance in science.
I, myself, am just finding this out. Am now more fascinated with math and science than I ever was in school, knowing that these fields can actually be approached from a more artistic perspective. Long live the right brain! 🙂

I agree with your observation about the focus of society and schools on left-brain modes of learning.  Math and science do exist in the realm of logic but every new theory and invention was born of creativity and ‘thinking out of the box’, possible only by way of the right brain.

What if we switch it around? Can we say that it’s possible that the arts can be approached in a more logical perspective?  Certainly, music can be analyzed structurally and this requires logical skills.  There is, in fact, a subject called “Forms and Analysis” where a piece is dissected by measuring harmonic and melodic pitch intervals and, by using certain systems (like the diatonic system — major and minor, for example), predicting the music’s movement in relation to the tonic (or where it originated).  It’s almost mathematical, this analysis. One can argue that music can be regarded logically “after the fact”, once it already exists; but what of the composers who intentionally employ mathematical concepts into their music, just as he would elements like timbre or dynamics?    

I’ve met musicians of all sorts. That many are strongly right-brained comes as no surprise.  They use intuition to create or interpret music, and are more likely to be innovative in their approach.  But there are also quite a few, composers and performance artists alike, who are strongly left-brained.  Not surprisingly, they’re the ones who excel in the analysis of musical form.  They sight-read music faster, are able to interpret musical symbols more efficiently.  However, one sort lacks what the other has: which could explain why ‘Forms and Analysis’, a subject where only a few breeze through and the others come out of crawling, is one of the most dreaded at the U.P. College of Music; and why not all performance artists, no matter how superb their technique, are said to have ‘heart’. 

Of course, the happy exception would be the musicians who have balanced right and left brains.  Possibly, they have a thicker corpus callosum which enable a more efficient communication between both hemispheres.  They have the capability and the ability to find the medium between creative and logical thinking.  As composers, they can go beyond existing structures and find unusual ways of expressing sound while still consciously aware of form and all its elements.  As performance artists, they are sticklers for what’s written on the score, but are able to bring a new dimension to the music by way of intuition.  One could say, probably, that these musicians know the rules and choose to break them, or more precisely, venture from them.   

As an educator with these observations in mind, I would probably be more careful in judging a music student’s or musician’s logical or creative abilities.   Too quickly, music teachers would label a certain student “bobo” (stupid) for not being able to quickly grasp musical concepts whose understanding require logical thinking, or “parang bato” (like a stone) for purely interpreting a piece as written, with nary a touch of feeling or personal interpretation.   Different brains means different capabilities.  In fact, musicians born with a balanced brain could have been easily programmed to lean heavily towards only one hemisphere had they been trained to do so by a music teacher who, say, forced them to stick to reading notes and never to play by ear (oido); or by one that constantly ignored a student’s inquiry about certain musical symbols and encouraged them instead to improvise. 

If  teachers are always encouraged to regard their students as individuals, then it follows that how their students think is just as important as what they think.  We must not rely on impressions or the usual clichés (all musicians are right-brained) and be quick to dismiss or give up.  Instead, we must be creative in finding new avenues of teaching in order to rouse our students’ less utilized brain hemispheres.  Observation, care, and a genuine concern for our students’ thinking process will ensure a deeper understanding and holistic response to music.

A Brave New World


I teach piano and voice at Center for Movement and Music, a performance arts school connected to the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music.  With the yearly assessment coming up, we were all deep in the grind of preparing our students.  Recently, on her way to work, one of our senior piano teachers met an accident just a few blocks away from school.  A speeding truck swerved to avoid another vehicle hitting her just a split second after she managed to push a young girl out of the way.  She died a few hours later without having regained consciousness.  She was in her 60’s, probably.  I never asked, and now I wish I had during one of our jeepney rides home after teaching.

The tragic news has jolted me into a state of uncertainty.  When I was young, though I thought of death constantly, I believed it could never touch me.  Death was for the old.  When I was 15, 35 seemed very old.  Now I’m 35 and I don’t feel old at all, but I know the possibility of dying, suddenly or in slow pain, draws nearer and nearer.  I’m not being maudlin.  It’s a fact that the older I get, the closer I am to being fertilizer. 

Which brings me to these random thoughts.  They all boil down to making some kind of dent in life’s ever-droning mechanism before my death.  I’ve always believed that I am in this world for a purpose that transcends the physical realm.  Seriously, are we just here to eat, sh*t, procreate, eke out a living, buy stuff, consume, and do all the other mundane things we human beings do in order to survive and have a semblance of a life?  I think not.  Ever since my 35th birthday, when I realized it was my 5th 7th year walking the earth (therefore, I believed, special), an urgent voice has been nagging — nay, hounding — my thoughts:

It’s time to do what you came here to do.

The only snag, and it’s oh-so-simple, is that my mind, which right now is a complicated web of ideas and feelings gathered in my 35 years, is trying to synthesize everything into one clear and solid statement that could possibly answer the question, “What is it that I came here to do?”

a.k.a. “Why am I here?”

a.k.a. “What is my purpose in life?”

And maybe, a.k.a. “What is the meaning of life?”

Since I know my oftentimes destructive propensity for perfection and know better, I am allowing my web of consciousness (and unconsciousness) to consolidate in its own time.  In the meantime, the inkling of a greater purpose in life is enough to sustain hope in my soul and push me to think of my future in relation to the cosmic scheme of mortals.  If you know me well, you would fall off your chair upon hearing this because I have never considered my future seriously or savored the meat of it as others do.  The customary job or school application question, “How do you see yourself in 10 years?”, I answer without much regard or sincerity because I don’t have the capacity to look ahead.  I live in the present; I always have and have never seen this as a flaw on my part.  However, this new strong desire to help and to give requires a steady gaze into the future and a complex world of possibilities. 

There is a battle ahead and I need to get ready.

While I wait for clarity, I have come up with a tentative list of tasks based on new interests and old passions.

Go back to my roots and compose.

I am a composer. 

Even before my life as a pianist, I have thought, felt, and lived as one ever since I was 5 years old.  In college, personal and emotional issues made me doubt my essence and I refused to call myself one since then.  I didn’t lose the ability to compose and could come up with a song or a piece if pushed, but you can relate the process to a person who cooks and calls it a ‘meal’, instead of his ‘creation’ or ‘masterpiece’ as a chef would. 

Recently, though, I have started composing again: a piece for piano trio and solo mezzo-soprano.  I can hear the music in my head again, and have rediscovered the unfazed attitude only real composers have, the one that enable us to say, “I will write it the way I want”, without apologies or doubt.  Thirteen years of limbo after, the accidental return to my roots was a consequence of a shift in the way I perceived the world, but the final nudge came from, mushy I know, a secret unrequited love (which will remain so).  I will continue composing long after my heart is healed, though, and this time, instead of hiding my works in yellowing notebooks, bravely find a venue for my music.    

Raise the Academe’s regard for Music.

The University of the Philippines is the most enlightened of all academic institutions, in my opinion.  Still, I know many of its administrators and faculty deem Music as a superfluous course.  Our college may be the first they turn for distraction or entertainment during important official functions, but I doubt if many of them view its students as intellectuals, or as vital members of society.   I make these claims from the experience of having professors say disparaging remarks about music students even before I got to fill in my classcard, and of hearing some of my classmates’ assumption that I will not perform as well as they do just because I’m not taking up business administration or engineering (or whatever course they believe is better than Music.)   

I’m not bitter.  We, music students, bear some fault.  We cut classes to attend rehearsals or gigs.  We hand in late papers because of late nights and a mind barren from exhaustion.  We stutter during recitations because many of us aren’t wired to be verbally articulate, and would probably express ourselves best through non-verbal sounds.  Our presence is hardly felt inside the classroom because many of us, despite our brave onstage face, are introspective and shy. 

But then, there are really those who think we’re just a bunch of frivolous stage-whores without intellectual depth or substance. 

This unfair regard for musicians and, more importantly, the pure excitement I feel at the thought of it, is pushing me to find ways to connect other disciplines, like Math and Science, with Music.  It’s hardly innovative or revolutionary, and, admittedly, it’s more for me and my need to respond wholly yet succinctly to people who snidely ask, “What is Music for?” or assert that it has no value in this world. 

It’s just me wanting to slap the haughtiness from their heads.

Well, mostly.

After the sting from the slap, I want to see their eyes light up with a new appreciation for Music.

Take my MA and my PhD.

Possible course for my MA:  Art Studies.

PhD: Education.

Be braver in standing up for what I believe in.

For starters, to ensure that everything I write here I declare instead of whisper, I have changed my public wordpress name from the “lizzie5apple” to “almacabel”, my real name.  No pseudonym from which to hide behind any longer.     

Baby steps, everyone.  Baby steps.

The State of Philippine Education


Dismal, I think. And I say this only because I’ve taught in a public school for my practicum last semester, and have given workshops held in public schools in a few provinces.   It’s one thing to feel bad when one reads about the lack of classrooms and the dearth of capable and inspiring teachers; but to really witness the state of our public schools in the Philippines for oneself is disheartening. 

Fact:  School

60% of our youth are in school, 7 out of 10 of those in public schools.  

The most important socialization agent next to family, a positive school experience can compensate for the antisocial influence of family and community.

Lest you think I’m being too harsh, let me recount my experience. 

I was tasked to teach music to a fourth year class at a public High School which I will leave nameless.  I held my classes at a new building where the honor students are placed yet my students used dilapidated chairs. I had 63 students, most of them girls.   I was told that English was the school’s medium of instruction yet I noticed that most of my students spaced out when I talked in English.  They also hesitated in reciting because they lacked confidence in speaking it.

Fact: Literacy and Education

Females have higher educational attainment than males: Males 65.2%; Females 71.7% (2002).

Females are more likely to attend college (possibly because males from poor families are encouraged to work to contribute to family income).

More boys are being suspended than girls.

Their classroom was cramped and stifling, and a lone electric fan had the burden to cool 64 sweaty bodies.  On my first day, I came unprepared.  Having taught in private schools, I have gotten used to finding chalk waiting for me in the classrooms.  Of course, if chalk wasn’t provided for, other teacher-essentials weren’t either.  I also learned to hold my bladder until their dismissal time at noon because there were only two bathrooms, one for males and one for females, in the three-storey building.  Truancy is common because teachers often find it hard to monitor the many students in class.  Often I would find students littering the corridors during class and meeting up with their friends from other classes.

Fact: Friends

Peers increasingly constitute an important element in social environment of adolescents (with an average of 5 close friends).  Boys keep a wider circle of friends than girls.

“Barkada”* life during adolescence is associated with trial and error learning and experimentation.

Influences: attitude speech, interest, appearance, and behavior.

A mix-up in my schedule during my first day gave me the opportunity to substitute in two non-honors classes.  These were held at a decrepit building (which I nicknamed “The Cave”) tucked in the corner of the school’s compound.  It was dark and dank.  To illustrate its discouraging state, let me share this anecdote:  I was well into my introduction to music when I noticed 2 of my students standing.  Another was sitting on his classmate’s desk.  When I insisted they sit down, they explained that they had no chairs.  Incredulous, I thought they were kidding; alas, they were not.  Three people had to be absent so that everyone can sit on chairs.  Naturally, the students’ demeanor in the cave was totally different than their “honored” counterparts.  They were unruly, and I must admit, quite scary.  They lacked interest in studying, and who can blame them? Their learning environment was hardly conducive to it.

Since we were required to come up with a musical performance, I helped my honors class come up with their own composition.  When the need for extra rehearsals came, I encountered a problem.  Most of my students couldn’t stay to practice because they had to work to help their families.  I had a couple of students who worked in factories in the afternoon.  Food was a most welcome incentive for them to stay.  In fact, a few of them joked that we should extend practices to include dinner.   

Fact:  Labor Force Participation

Youth comprised 1/3 of the 45.3 million working-age population.  The working youth comprises 20% of the total number of employed persons.

Young women (38%) registered a lower labor force participation rate than young men (58.7%).

Youth comprises 12% of overseas workers.

Despite the challenges faced by these students everyday, they were a beacon of hope.  They admitted they hated music (the subject, at least), and were not particularly thrilled when they first met me.  Their experiences with their past MAPEH teachers, who possibly were capable Physical Education teachers, lacked training in music and the arts, two essential components of the program.  But if shown enough passion and belief in a subject, they were not difficult to inspire to give more than what is required.  Needless to say, my class did very well and gave an outstanding performance. 

My last day hinted the return to their old empty music class schedule.  Without the practicum students, my students’ MAPEH teachers, who had admitted they couldn’t teach the subject, will again take over their music class.  With MAPEH teachers incapable of teaching all the components of the program, it’s no wonder there’s been talk about DepEd getting rid of the arts subjects. But that’s a whole other story.

*a clique or group of friends.

Source: Knowing and Understanding Our Youth: The State of the Philippine Population Report, 2nd Issue
November 21, 2007

A Musician’s Fear and Loathing of Mathematics


For Dr. Fidel Nemenzo

Many musicians fear Math.  We cringe at the mention of numeric equations, and scrunch our brows at the sight of mathematical symbols.  The irony of it all is that music is based on organized sound — patterns of all kinds.  Combined, they create a complicated cacophony of elements moving simultaneously.  Sound is measured, augmented and diminished in various ways, whether as frequencies or durations.  A competent pianist can sight-read a piece, easily computing distances of pitches and the length and quality of their resonance, concurrently for two hands.  His brain interprets the piece both horizontally and vertically, and simultaneously throws in extra-musical nuances like emotional interpretation.  But if given a mathematical equation that’s linear at best, this pianist will most likely run. 

Why is this?

When I was a child, despite my propensity for Music, I didn’t fear Math.  Indeed, as a very shy young girl who stared mostly at the ground, I used to count my steps and even the number of cement cracks my feet lands on.  I was fascinated by patterns and recognized them in the sounds I heard.   In fact, I wrote my first composition in color-coordinated numbers: with measured distances both in a horizontal (melody) and vertical (harmony) manner. I was five years old.

My fear of numbers began in grade school when my Math teacher corrected the way I added them up.  I remember being able to add figures easily but not, according to my teacher, in the “right” way.  I had my own unusual method of getting the sum of two quantities and it was not one that could be explained with ease so bear with me. 

I would think of the numbers as images that I break up much like this:


I tend to find the relationship between both figures, match them up, and identify their difference.  I can’t say that the illustration is an accurate representation of what I envision in my mind, and it’s possible that it doesn’t appear like it makes any sense, so it certainly demonstrates the thorny task of explaining to my teacher what the process entailed.  Her remarks embarrassed me in class and my love for Math wavered.  In first year high school, my algebra test paper was returned to me with encircled solutions and a glaring red question: “How did you get this?”  All week long I waited to be confronted with cheating during the exam.  It didn’t matter that I got the answers right: my method at arriving to it was different and, therefore, wrong.

Thus began my loathing for the subject.  Though I didn’t stop appreciating patterns in Music, I gradually stopped seeing the connection between my art and Math.  I started composing music seriously around this time and playing more complicated piano pieces.  Although I believed in my gift, I recognized my limitations in sight-reading and in notating my compositions.  Was it any accident or coincidence that my difficulties lay on interpreting symbols and visually representing musical patterns?  I think not.  As I look back, I now realize that my fear and loathing of Math have stunted my growth as a musician, especially in the area of logical organization.  I thrived in my early years as a composition student in College, but as my requirements grew in length and size, I could no longer rely on inspiration or plain will.  I needed to shift back to “hearing” sound as patterns and visualizing them in my head.

I took Robert Frost’s cue and walked the road less travelled.  My journey took me to the world of Theatre, Dance, and the other Fine Arts.  I gravitated into the realm of teaching, heard and finally answered its call.  My quest as a Music teacher was to put myself in my students’ shoes, as an actor would, and see music in their eyes.  My challenge was to introduce music, not as an entity so foreign to them, but as one to which they can relate.  I firmly believed that all in life is connected, and if so, I can find a way to bridge music to anything my students were interested in.  Having strongly-left brained students forced me to reconcile my fear and loathing of Math in order to reach them, and I revisited my “incorrect” methods in Mathematics and slowly began to appreciate their uniqueness.  As an educator, I am encouraged to regard my students as individuals with distinctive characteristics and needs; why, then, should I not value myself as one and welcome my different method of solving problems in Math?

Recently, a professor’s narrative about Math and its place in the world made me excited about it once again.  His desire to make it less formidable and more accessible to us was an invitation to love Math again, and to see that I am part of a universe of patterns, and therefore, am, myself, a mathematical blueprint.  And as he spoke about patterns everywhere, and how the Supreme Being must be a Mathematician, I couldn’t help but imagine new possibilities in Music and in Life, strengthening my belief that everything in life is connected in an unending and infinite design.  Near the end, he declared his hope that we leave the auditorium and see Math everywhere and in everything; and as I let myself out the room, I took in my surroundings in wonder as I had done as a child, and walked to my next class fully aware of my existence in a world that made sense.