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.



12 thoughts on “The Arki Files: UP Arkaira in Sonata Form

  1. Hi Ma’am! 🙂

    Your blog post made me smile, and at some points (like Sir O and Sir Mata’s characterization as muppets), laugh hysterically.

    The past few weeks we spent preparing for the Carolfest are moments in my life that I will not easily forget. Though it wasn’t really my first time to sing in a choir as I also was part of the Glee Club during most of my high school life, I have to say that this was a different experience, refreshing almost. It’s the first time that I actually felt completely drained at the end of the day, yet still happy, from singing.

    And you know what? You’re the first one from whom I actually really learned how to sing head tone correctly. Hurrah. 🙂

    The choir has so many things to thank you for, but what I want to thank you for most of all is for being more than just our teacher and instructor, but for making us ONE, united, and bonded together. But I guess music just does that for you, as I’ve always believed love for music brings people together.

    I really do hope this isn’t the last time that music bring us all together (as I really was quite excited with your story that Hallelujah can be sung as a chorale). And whatever results there may be on the 19th, I will forever remember our last vocalization: Princess Polly picked a prickly pear. 🙂

    Mr. Pringles! 😀 It’s so nice to hear from you!

    Yes, that Princess Polly gets them every time. Hehe. I usually give that to my 5- 12 year-old voice students so they can have fun while vocalizing. I guess you guys are 5-year-olds at heart. 😀 (So am I!)

    It was difficult trying to cram in everything you needed to learn in a measely 3 weeks but, after some rallying and a bit of drama, you guys bravely rose to the challenge. Despite the physical and emotional havoc it wreaked upon my life (hehe), I will never regret having taught you guys this year. I am so proud of what Arkaira has accomplished. I wish we can continue it, and, yes, we can sing unusual choral songs, like rock arranged for choir. You wouldn’t know it but I used to have a band and our repertoire was ear-deafening rock (which is one of the reasons why I had to stop). I love rock and I can arrange it for a singing group. 😀

    I learned something new about you today. You write pretty well and I just discovered you have stories in you. It would be nice to find out what happens to Hallie Prinze. 🙂 Also, because of you I learned that Cambio is actually rockin’. I especially like “Passengers”… hmm. maybe I can arrange that for choir. Teehee.

    And you know what? You’re the first one from whom I actually really learned how to sing head tone correctly. Hurrah. 🙂” <– Aww. This really made me smile. 😀 Thank you, Allie, for dropping by and sharing. Please visit again. I’m going to link you up, in fact, so I can listen to more Cambio. 😀


  2. ekang says:

    sa hinaba-haba ng post nyo, ma’am liz (o itutuloy na ba natin yung marita?), ito lang po masasabi ko:

    thank you po. sobra. you’ll never know how grateful we are, especially me, for everything you’ve taught us. i will love val forever for introducing you to my life. 😀

    “Up to this day, though, I still don’t know if she took my first condition seriously.”

    mukha lang po akong hindi makapaniwala nun pero alam ko pong seryoso kayo. hehehe.

    pwede naman po taglish dito di ba? kadugo ng ilong e! (hehehe)

    Haba ba? 😀

    Kahit na kinikilabutan ako, pwede mag-Taglish dito. 😀 Yipee.

    It seems weird having a weekend off and not seeing you guys. I will have to find something new to shout at (heheh!). Seriously, though, I am grateful, too, for our experience together. It was one of the most fulfilling things I’ve done this year. I hope we can continue singing together. Bahala na si Batman (a.k.a. Sir O. hehe!)

    Regarding Marita: bahala kayo. If you want, call me Cabsy. Yun na lang kasi Marita reminds me of my missing cat ‘Pepita’. Sad. 😦

    Thanks for dropping by, Ekang the nutty charmer. See you in BIO 1!

    PS dahil kay Mr. Pringles, nag-Multiply na rin ako! Yipee!

  3. Chris says:

    We didn’t have this kind of stuff back in college? Not fair! 🙂

    Hope you didn’t catch the bug, though. 🙂

    Good night, ma’am.

    You didn’t? That’s too bad. 😛

    And I did cath the bug. More precisely, it caught me. 😀

    “Ma’am”? Not you, too! 😀

  4. Grace says:

    Hi Ma’m!:)

    Hehe sorry po talaga nahawa ko kayo sa sipon ko.. Ganun po talaga ako, madaling sipunin, madaling manghawa! :p

    Alam niyo po ba, nasira yung havaianas na pinahiram ko sa inyo 😦 It’s so sad!!!!! Pero oh well, hindi ko yun itatapon! I had good memories w/ those pair:)

    Sobrang thank you po talaga Ma’m:) Na-regain ko yung love ko for singing during those 3 weeks. Bumalik lahat ng good-choir memories hehe:) plus, my love for Alto. Haha. (nag-Ssop kasi ako ngayon sa church choir, nakakairita. No choice.)

    Ang dami ko po talagang natutunan sa inyo:) yung totoong head tone, and shifting of voice… Thanks cos na-feel ko na may hope pa palang mag-improve yung boses ko. Sobrang stuck ko kasi before those 3 weeks..

    Hehee. hindi ko ma-express lahat ng feelings ko. basahin niyo na lang po blog ko para masaya ^_^

    Thank you po talaga Ma’m!:) Sorry kung taglish at malabo! From the heart naman lahat ng yan eh! naks!:)

    Oh, at hindi ako Arkaira. Wala lang. :p

    Hmmm… hindi ka pala Arkaira… I might have to change my title. 😐

    I read your journal (I’ll add it to my blogroll) and I’m really happy to hear that this year’s carolfest will ba a memorable one for you, too. Natawa ako dun sa ice cream — kaya ka pala sinipon eh! LOL! 😀 I’m also happy to hear you sing with your church choir because you do have a good voice and it would be a pity if you don’t use it. It’s hard to join a choir-org at UP because it will really disrupt your studies. They’re geared towards competition and regular performances kaya nga ang daming taga-college of music na di maka-graduate sa kaka-LOA. If Sir O continues his support for us, we might go on rehearsing in preparation for Haraya. Becausewe have more than 3 weeks to prepare for this, we can take rehearse at an easier pace. And I also told the others that if you’re interested, you guys can perform at my ‘thesis-recital’ in March (hopefully). So, yun. May 2 upcoming performances na kayo if you want to continue. Ako, happy naman with your group (labs ko kayo) and am looking forward to still being your ‘conductor’.

    Kasalan ko ba na nasira yung Havaianas mo? Nahiya tuloy ako — ang mahal kaya nun. Di ba dapat matibay siya? 😦

    By the way, di ako sure kasi nahihiya ka kumanta ng mataas but I think you’re mezzo-soprano — not alto. This means you have a bigger range because you can reach low and high pitches. I’m a mezzo, myself which is why I can reach the high notes of the sopranos and some low notes of the bass. LOL! So don’t feel bad about singing sop in your choir. Kaya mo rin yun! 😀

    I’ll see you around, Grace. 😀 Ingat lagi!

  5. Chris says:

    You drinking lots of fluid? 🙂

    Hope you’re feeling better, ma’am. Err… Cabsy! 🙂

    I am. Thanks, Manong… Err… Chrissie. 😐

  6. Merri says:

    Hi Ms. Cabel

    in case you’ve forgotten me, I’m the former ICAn (Xygenz batch lol) who stalked and took a picture with you during the lantern parade =)

    I just want to say HI!!! =D, after wondering what happened to former teachers of ICA. You’re just in UPCA pala. It was a great loss when you left ICA, our fourth year music class wasn’t as fun and educational as it was when you’re still our music teacher. (sige sipsip na, but that’s the truth!!!!)=(

    Anyways, I hope to see you around campus soon, good luck with your studies and continue to teach ARKAIRA hehehe =)

    Merry Christmas na rin 🙂

    Merri, I’m so happy to hear from you. I think you know I don’t like getting my pics taken but I let you take it because I do remember you and have always enjoyed being your teacher. I remember that you were smart and smiley. I was really happy to see you again, in fact. I’m really glad that you’re in UP. 🙂

    Aww… What you said there just made me smile. My time at ICA was a defining moment in my life as a teacher and I couldn’t have created all those fun lessons had it not been for you girls. Thank you for responding so well to them — the performances, most of all. Sometimes, I forget the importance of the good I”ve done and it’s always gratifying and touching to know that you have not forgotten.

    Naiiyak ako. 😦

    Thank you, Merri, for sharing this. Please drop by again and I’ll add you to my blogroll so we can keep in touch. Merry Christmas din, Merri! 😀

  7. Grace says:

    Ma’m, hindi po kayo may kasalanan sa havaianas ko. Overused na rin kasi yun. Hehee. Oh well. Noel. Wee, excited na ko sa Haraya! Sana talaga matuloy yun! Nawa’y dumating ang araw na maabot ko yung notes ng sop na less effort. 😛 Salamat po sa words of encouragement! See you soon!

    Yey! Good kasi wala akong pambayad sa havaianas mo if ever. Hehehe. If Sir O’ is still excited about me conducting you guys, we shall sing for Haraya! Yebah! Start tayo sa pasukan. LOL!

  8. Droe says:

    Hi Ma’am,

    I am an alumni of Arkaira and graduated 2004. I’m glad that Arkaira touched your life as well. Naabutan namin si Christian Bautista sa Arkaira and he really is good.

    I laughed my heart out when I say your pictures of Sir Ozaeta and Sir Mata. I must say it’s one of the best illustrations of this famous tandem. 😀

    God bless!

    Best regards,

    • Liz says:

      Thank you for the comment, Droe. I’m glad you enjoyed the post. (I’m wondering how you found it, though?) Arkaira really does have a special place in my heart. And Christian is very talented. Do you know that he dances really well? He could be the Pinoy Fred Astaire. 🙂


  9. annie david says:

    UP Arkaira is SO lucky to have you. 🙂 (inggit, hehe)am so touched by your posts here. wish we had someone like you, btw, am also from one of the choirs who competed. 🙂

    Thank you so much for the kind words.

    Really, you competed then? What group were you from? I’m lucky Arkaira got me, really. It changed my life. hehehe…

    Thanks for dropping by, Annie. 😀

  10. dennis lacuna says:


    i was reading with interest your blog regarding arkaira, and i must say i am impressed.the reason im trying to be up to date with the group is because of the upcoming arkaira anniversary concert this feb 19th. are you still a part of it? i was an arkaira member until around 1992, and me and the other arkaira alumni have always talked about having some sort of reunion concert. imagine my surprise when news of this anniversary concert popped up on facebook.
    so, i think i will be there, and i hope to meet you and the current members of arkaira, so maybe we can do something worthwhile in the future.

    always, more power!

    Thanks, Dennis! Even though we lost (haha!), my year with Arkaira was one of the most fulfilling experiences I’ve ever had. After the competition, I continued giving singing lessons pro bono, but after a few meetings with only having 3 or 4 people in attendance, I gave up. I was willing to give my time freely if they were just as committed. But then a couple of members told me that they wanted to sing for fun and the singing lessons, as any discipline required, made it seem like work. I understood that, because of all the plates they have to do, they just wanted to hang out with their org mates and sing for fun. They didn’t need me for that. So we parted ways without any feelings of ill-will.

    I do hope they push through with that concert. Unfortunately, I am no longer residing in the Philippines and won’t be able to attend. That, and they never invited me. Hahaha! Hope you have fun, though. Thanks for dropping by. 🙂

  11. dennis lacuna says:

    by the way, did the group ever explain to you where the name ARKAIRA came from?

    I think they did but I have forgotten where exactly. I seem to remember it being a derivation of a Greek word, but my husband, who was a member long ago, insists it isn’t. Maybe you can tell me. 🙂

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