Category Archives: frustration

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.



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

Paper Perfect

I’m back.

I had to go on a blogfast recently (about two weeks) because of piles and piles of paperwork.  I’m the only music teacher in our High School and we recently just finished the first grading period.  I had to check 800 test papers, fill in 11 grading sheets, and encode 800 grades one by one using this archaic grading program which is tedious and mind-tiring.  I swear, I almost came out of it cross-eyed.

The grades are just part of the paper work:  I had a blacklog of lesson plans. 

Now, before you teachers start tut-tutting and shaking your heads, I have a valid explanation for it but I’d rather not go into it.  I do acknowledge that I slacked off a bit on that department, especially with my school work demands.  While I was busy hitting the piles, I had this idea of writing about my being a perfectionist and how it interfered with aspects in my life.  I should have immediately written the witty words in my mind on paper but because of my self-enforced blogfasting, I held the idea off and am now certain will not sound quite as fetching.

Here goes anyway:

I am a perfectionist.  I think.  I remember writing an essay in elementary and crumpling my paper everytime I made a “mistake”.  (The quotation marks are there because these mistakes are often imagined.)  My seatmate made a wise comment: “Just go on with it.  We have to pass it soon.”  I didn’t listen and true enough, 5 or more crumpled papers later, our teacher asked for our papers and I got a zero for not being able to submit it.  It wasn’t that I didn’t have something to say.  I did.  I loved essays and was never daunted by writing them.  But I got a zero because I couldn’t take a slightly askew handwritten word or a letter ‘i’ with its dot out of place.

Another instance: I was in college taking up Forms and Analysis.  Music.  I was no dummy in it.  But we had our midterms and I had a feeling I did terribly on it.  I had no proof since our professor didn’t return our paper until AFTER the final exams.  I just had a feeling I didn’t do well — so I slacked off.  I cut classes.  In my mind, I can no longer get a perfect grade so I dilly-dallied.  At the end of the semester, I got my mid-term paper: I had one mistake.  I still could have gotten a 1.0 (our highest) had I not slacked off after the mid-terms, but I did.  So, naturally, after all the classes I cut, I did poorly on the finals — for real, this time.  It was a miracle I still got a 2.0 and didn’t flunk the course after messing up.

This is my problem and I’m dealing with it.  I’m quite sure being a perfectionist results in procrastination.  My brain is still too fried from work to really make an in-depth inquiry about this so I’ll leave this for a while and tackle the issue once I get my brain bearings. 

It’s good to be back, though.  See you around, peeps.


Take Care

WordPress has been glitchy of late.  I just wrote an entire post and it came up blank after I clicked “Save and Continue Editing”, so take care.  Don’t end up frustrated like me: copy-paste your text before saving or publishing your entry.

me.jpg <– Totally not smiling right now.  Sigh.