Category Archives: meaning

The Grateful Dead

Me, that is.  Well, kind of dead.  Ok, more silent than dead.

I’m grateful to see that, despite my long silence, people still drop by to read my posts and even continue to comment.  This, and my best friend’s words of encouragement, has stopped me from deleting this blog completely.  To be honest, I no longer feel like writing about teaching because it just hurts that I can’t teach music for now (and for who knows how long).   So if ever I choose to continue this blog, it will need a radical revamp.  Possibly even a change of name.  Maybe I should focus more on music, rather than the teaching of it.  But the thing is, I haven’t been musically active or creative for the past few months.  I’ve too busy adjusting to this new life.

If you are interested, though, to find out what I’ve been focusing on for now, head on to Man Hands Lizzie.  Mind you, it’s totally different from The Music Teacher.  As one of my former students exclaimed, “Ms. C, I didn’t know you were into fashion!”  I’ve always been but my new blog isn’t just about fashion.  For now, I’ve been posting outfits and projects but I’m hoping it will evolve into something more holistically me.  Anyways, I hope to find you there. 🙂

And now, as I ponder this blog’s existence, I leave you with more silence.

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Celest

Celest 039

Celest is my babe’s guitar.  If you ask him about her, he’d mention things like the length of her neck, the tension of her strings, the acoustic wonder brought about by her sound holes, etc.

I’m a piano girl.  I don’t know about those things.  So let me just say that Celest is a shiny black beauty with deep tones and a teeny buzz.

I’ve always wanted to play the guitar.  Acoustic.  Nylon.  Steel is ok, I guess, but they hurt like hoot.  I love the acoustic guitar’s mellow and, compared to the piano, soft tones.  I love that you play it close to your body, as if embracing it and whispering to it secrets that you would only tell your diary or very best friend.

I was a freshman in college when my dad bought me my first guitar.  It wasn’t a good one since it was the cheapest he could get.  He believed my interest in it was a passing phase and ordered me to stick to piano.   But I badgered him and he relented.  I came home one day to find the very heavy, very painful steel stringed-guitar wrapped in paper in my room.  I appreciated my father even more for that cheap guitar because he got it for me even though he didn’t have to.  So I had to learn how to play.  I had to show him he was wrong about the passing phase thing.  It was summer so I had all the time to practice.  My fingers, and I’m not at all exaggerating here, would have  bled if it hadn’t been for the callouses that formed almost immediately to protect them.  My back, neck, and shoulders hurt.  I woke up in pain with my hands frozen like gnarled roots.  Again, I am not exaggerating.

Then summer ended and it was time again for school.  Piano was my concentration (which had more weight than a minor subject) and I was pretty serious about it, too.  But my teacher was shocked.  “What happened to your left hand?”  She said it was playing awkwardly and heavily.  She eyed it suspiciously and discovered the callouses at the tips.  “Aha!  You’ve been playing guitar!”  She said it like I committed a mortal sin.  She demanded that I stop playing guitar, “that is if you’re really serious about piano…”  So I made a choice.  I had to.  My left hand was never as good as my right but she put up a good fight and was getting there.  But guitar developed tension in her that made her pound the keys like a big bumbling buffoon.  The callouses made her fingers slip from the keys, and, worse, they made faint clacking sounds as she played.  So that evening I came home from piano lesson,  I told my dad I had to stop playing and propped my guitar against the wall until it gathered dust.

Then, after years of countless wonderful distractions, my piano started gathering dust as well.  I no longer practiced 7-12 hours a day.  In fact, 7-12 hours became my year’s worth of playing.  During this time, I rediscovered the guitar.  I had long given away my first guitar, the one with no name.  But a fellow I knew was looking to unload his barely-touched Yamaha C30, a beginners nylon acoustic guitar, and I bought it.  I call her Lizzie and I gave her a feather necklace to make her wholly mine.  She’s on her way to Georgia as I write.

I’m no rockstar who enjoys dangling his guitar while parading onstage.  I play the guitar as an introvert thing, almost a loner thing.  Give me an empty room, a guitar, and a little sunshine streaming in through the window, and I can stay there and play the whole day, or until my fingers bleed.

It takes me a while, though, to sing while playing the guitar.  Always, I start out singing ‘whisperingly’.  Hahaha.  Its soft strains embarrasses my voice and I always croak and choke, sputter like a car that’s been left alone for a long time.  I’ve gotten used to hiding behind my piano, physically and vocally, when I sing.  Singing with the guitar exposes my ears to vocal nuances and flaws I wouldn’t hear if I were singing with the piano.  My voice is more naked and, therefore, as embarrassed as a woman who realizes she’s been walking around the mall without a bra and walks on as if nothing’s missing to make the best of it.  I know the feeling from experience.

So, Celest.

She and I have gotten acquainted long before I met her.  In fact, I helped my babe choose a name for her after he bought her.  But our friendship started when I was online one day and miserably missing my piano.  Typing on the laptop keyboard reminded me of tinkering with Mildred’s keys (Oh, how I miss my clavinova!).  From the  other room, I could almost feel Celest say, “hey”.  Yes.  Nothing witty or wise.   Just… “hey”.   But she said it in a snazzy-friendly way, like cool and kindly stranger who takes pity on you because she notices you’re a bit sad.  So I trudged towards her and played the two songs I remembered from my short guitar venture.  Her strings really hurt and my fingertips doubled their size after a couple of minutes.  My back started aching after ten and my neck straining after 20.  But, boy-o-boy, was I happy.  I played those two songs all afternoon.

Actually, I’m getting a little tired of them.

It’s time to learn something new.

Hello from Georgia

So here I am in my babe’s office hoping he’d drop by from his class so I can ask where the computer center is.

Waiting and listening to the goddess Tori, I decided to look inside the boxes of books I sent him from home.  Some of them were mine and I was pleased to see my Neil Gaiman collection safe and intact.  Among the random tomes, I found, to giddy pleasure, a book given to me by my Glee Club.  It was actually a bunch of letters and miscellaneous comic strips and drawings sturdily bound and covered in plastic.  It’s title: Pumpkin Patch.  The cover was done by the budding artist, Meggy, who drew a Tim Burtonesque jack-o-lantern watering little pumpkins in his patch.  I guess the long-legged Jack is supposed to be me and my girls, the pumpkins.   It was charmingly creepy (or creepily charming) done in black and white because for some reason they thought I was into goth.

Digression:  On one of my birthdays, my club officers asked the girls not to wear anything colorful (a.k.a. only black) because “Ms. Cabel won’t like it.  She’s into goth.”  The truth is, I didn’t NOT like goth but I wasn’t into it as much as they assumed.  I wore mostly black because 1) it was sort of a UP College of Music performers’ uniform.  2) black was easy to mix with … black.   And when you’re a full-time teacher, you don’t have time to mix and match pieces from your closet when dressing up.  But me in black in ICA, it became my thing.  It was a piece of the Ms. Cabel puzzle along with my toy cactus, Pablo, and my ability to swing from one mood to another.

Alright, enough of that.

It’s been a couple of years since I read Pumpkin Patch.  I read it only twice since I got it because, even in my own company, I get very embarrassed when people say nice things about me.  I just go all squirmy and shy, wishing to just explode — poof! — into a cloud so I could hover away.  I know how to react to nastiness but niceness, not always.

I miss my Glee Club.  Those two years of moderating were the most exhausting, most emotionally-draining, and most gratifying of my time as a teacher.  I get teary-eyed just thinking about it.

You see, I’m no longer a teacher.

Here in Georgia, USA, I am not a teacher.  I am not a musician.  Not a writer.  Not an actress.  I’m not despairing, though, because I like where I am now.  I’m finally with my best friend and love and there’s no place I’d rather be.  But everything I was back in the Philippines is a memory for now.   I’m waiting to be who I was meant to be in this new and strange place.

I am in a cocoon and I’m waiting for wings.

Music as Journey

This is the first of a three-part essay I’m writing entitled “Finding the Meaning of Music through Metaphor”.  A recent consultation with my music mentor gave way to a more complicated web of ideas, thus stopping me from finishing the essay in order to ponder some more.       

Music is movement. 

Think of it as a journey that commences at its very first sound.  In fact, you can also consider that music begins even before you hear it.  Imagine the conductor poised with his baton before giving his orchestra the cue to begin.  Or think of your hand on the doorknob, pulling the door open before you make that first step outside.  The intention of leaving is there, just as the anticipation of sound is felt even before you hear it. 

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Once the music starts it’s all about moving, of going somewhere.  The destination, however, is never the point of music.  It can justify one’s steps taken during the journey but remember that the goal, once reached, marks the end of the trip.  So, it is not where one’s going that matters in music; it is how one got there that counts. 

When embarking on a journey, our movement makes sense.  Our steps are connected: where, when, or how we take our steps are consequences of the ones that came before it; we make our steps anticipating the ones we will take after them.   The same goes for music.  Its sounds and silences are born of intention and consequences.  No matter how haphazard sounds seem to have been woven, they are, each of them, like dots connecting to form a figure, and this formed greater whole is why the destination is trivial.  It is merely the last dot one needs to complete the figure.  It doesn’t make the figure, just as the last note or chord that signifies the end of music, whether in muted tones or in a grand bang, doesn’t hold the essence of what we just heard.

Music can be analyzed as steps that lead up to its destination; steps that make sense when you look back from where you are.  We can explore relationships between these steps and probably come up with patterns that can lead to structure to further make sense of what our ears perceived.   Surely we can make sense of our journey once we start walking, but can we find coherence in music while we listen to it, or is analysis a necessity in order for it to be understood?   And is making sense the same as having meaning? 

My composition mentor, Dr. Ramon Pagayon Santos, and I were just recently talking about his analysis of Nicanor Abelardo‘s kundiman, “Mutya ng Pasig” and were marveling over the late genius’ effortless coupling of words and sounds.  I wondered out aloud whether people who listen to his kundimans really hear the tone painting nuances Abelardo so ingeniously infused.  He said probably not because it would require a radical shift in how most people listen.

His response points to my first question.  Can we make sense of music in its temporal movement?  Not all people.  Not always.  I base these assumptions on the quizzical looks of my students, past and present, whenever I venture into the analysis of musical forms.  Granted most of my students are in high school, still their reaction mirror the perplexed adults’, even by music students in my college.  It’s true that the manner by which most people listen prevents them from hearing the essential elements that could point to the music’s rationale; but even the most sensitive and discerning of listeners still might fail to grasp it, especially during the first hearing. 

Think of your experience during a journey.  Although the steps you make are consequences of your intention to get your destination, often you don’t see the sense in them as you walk.  Why? Because the thought of reaching your destination propels you forward, leaving you to regard each step as you take them.  Isn’t this how we listen, too?  Although we don’t know what it is, we know that there’s an end in sight.  But even so, one doesn’t listen waiting for the end.  We listen from sound to sound, from moment to moment.  Music is a temporal art.  One needs to experience it while it is being realized, therefore, making concrete sense of it as we listen or experience it for the first time is a challenge.