Category Archives: School

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.

The Role of Art and Design in Citizenship Education

              What does it mean to be a citizen?  Surely it entails more than being born into a country, or have lived there all one’s life.  During the French revolution, the people called each other “citizen” to signify their alliance with the movement.  If you were a citizen, you were for the people and believed, as they did, the means for change that they have chosen.  We’ve heard of the phrase, “citizen of the world” which hardly means that a person has a citizenship in every country.  It implies a sense of belonging.  Whether deeply planted or newly ensconced, it involves roots. 

 

            What does art and design have to do with citizenship? Every country has its unique sense of aesthetics based on its culture and history.  Indeed, even within countries you have a diverse sense of what is considered beautiful reflected in buildings, art, music, and even fashion.  We can safely say that art and design may be a reflection of citizenship, especially when the works were done by citizens themselves.  Art and design is an expression of belonging and of roots.   Paintings, buildings, sculptures, music, and dance can portray images that tell us about people, places, and attitudes, while also revealing ideas in a certain period of time.  Since this is so, art and design goes beyond its aesthetic intention and can be one of most solid ways to educate people about their country’s culture and history. 

 

            Art and design can be vehicles, as well, for teaching values.  Good citizens make for a better nation; and good citizens have values such as discipline, industry, and respect, to name a few.  All of these values can be gleaned from the process of making art and design.  Discipline and industry comes from the constant honing of one’s craft, be it in the visual arts, music or dance.  Perseverance and sincerity comes from never settling for a half-baked creation.  Respect comes from the appreciation of one’s creative process and of others.  If our youth are encouraged to make art, they will surely have a deeper sense of appreciation for hard work.  A better sense of accomplishment makes for a more sound self-esteem.  If a country’s citizens feel good about themselves, then surely they will be better citizens.  Today in schools, art and design have taken a backseat to subjects such as math and science.  They have been lumped together with other subjects (music, art, P.E., health, and computer) and are required to be integrated so as to fit in all the information in a 40- to 50-minute lesson.  Most schools, even the private ones, don’t have Art.  Public school students don’t have Music until they reach the fourth grade.  Math and science may be good vehicles for training minds to think logically, but art and design can also be used for this purpose as well as impart important values to citizens young and old alike.   

 

                   

           

 

Like Fish in Water

                    

I have to admit: I think I gained 5 pounds in the last couple of weeks dreading the start of this school year.  I had to take the 12 units I needed to get my Music Education degree, which included practicum and a special project, our department’s equivalent to thesis.  I also was going back to Immaculate Conception Academy to teach 18 sections in high school.  So, I spent my lst 2 weeks of summer vacation refusing to move (except to train for badminton) because I knew I’d be moving non-stop come June 10.

But my first day back in UP wasn’t so bad.  My college friends were there.  The campus was like a second home to me.  And because of teaching, I had gotten over the jitters young students usually would get when going to their classes for the first time.  So, *poof* went my anxiety over UP.

The next day, I had ICA to tackle.  I taught there for two years so I knew my way around the grounds.  Still, there were new things to get used to like the renovated faculty room and airconditioned third and fourth year classes.  I was really nervous, but it was more like the nerves one gets as the curtain rises before a performance.   As I stood in front of my new students, my mind twitched with the thought, “I’m going to make a fool of myself.”  But when I opened my mouth to greet them, I felt a warmth come over me as the words came out effortlessly.  To start off the school year right, I gave them a round robin activity called “Memorable Mosts”, something I cooked up so I can get to know them and their thoughts on music class.

 

 

Something I appreciated about my new girls: If you ask them to be honest, they will be.  Their candour affirmed my own thoughts about teaching music:

  1. It’s not at all hard to make them hate my subject. 
  2. Given a choice between a group performance for which they have to rehearse  and a 10-point quiz, they would rather perform.  And would always rather experience music than read or copy from the board.
  3. They don’t enjoy watching documentaries and would rather I “blab away” (their words) in front of the class.  This one was a real shocker. 

There were other revelations that were not pleasant to hear, but I welcomed them because pleasantries don’t always encourage growth.  One thing was obvious, though.  Just like me, the girls wanted music class to be fun. 

 

By the end of my seventh class, I walked back to the faculty room with a sense of peace.  I was back to earnest teaching, back where I belonged, and, like fish in water, in my element. 

 

A huge sigh of relief.

 

Now I can start losing all that extra weight.

 

 

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An Ode to John Keating: A Reflection on Dead Poets Society

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I was in third year high school when my brother and I discovered the Dead Poets Society.  He and I watched it over and over until we knew all the lines well enough to stage our own play version.  We pondered over John Keating’s words as much as his prep school pupils did.  Robin William’s character, this inspiring and creative imparter of knowledge, was my teaching muse.  He still is.

To say that Keating was not a traditional teacher is an understatement.  The film starts out showing the teaching styles of the other teachers in the school.  They epitomized the complete authority figure; their tools of the trade: rote, authors as indisputable sources of knowledge, and fear.  Then enters Keating, whistling Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture as if strolling down the park, caught up in an exciting world of his making.  Exactly then we assume that this is no ordinary teacher and we’re right to do so because in a few beats he brings his students to the school gallery and gives them the famous “Carpe Diem” speech.  “Seize the day, boys,” He said in eerie tones.  “Make your lives extraordinary!”

Keating’s methods were unusual.  They required a certain sense of boldness, a willingness to take the plunge or even act the fool.  But he didn’t appreciate the clumsy audacity, the crazy dive into the abyss.  He didn’t encourage the wise-crack remarks and antics of Charlie, especially when he pulled off the phone-call-from-God prank (“It’s God. He said girls should be allowed in Welton!”).  He wanted his students to be brave thinkers and thinking braves: to rip (-rip-rrrrip!) the pages off a book that boxed and judged poetry as one would a potential American Idol; to run in the field and recite a poem as strongly, and as passionately, as one would kick a soccer ball; to stand on the teachers table and view his classroom, and the world, differently.  His goal was for his students to experience knowledge and life.  Not all of his students appreciated it.  One of them, Cameron, couldn’t wait to get Keating into trouble in order to get brownie points from the headmaster.  Another, Todd, was so inhibited that he welcomed his teacher’s passion as much as he would a rattlesnake.  Certainly, his colleagues didn’t, except for the Latin teacher who eventually started holding his classes in the school paths, striding along with the rhythm of Latin words. 

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When I was younger, I passionately hated the close-minded headmaster and Dr. Perry, the uber-strict father of Neil, the student who joined the production of A Midsummer’s Night’s Dream.  My brother and I would snarl at these characters each time they appeared because they did nothing but disapprove and discourage.  But now that I’m older and, in the 5 years that I’ve been a teacher, have bore the brunt of disapproving headmasters (or nuns, to be more precise) and discouraging parents, I can say that I understand where they are coming from, and it is fear. 

People fear what is different.  Sometimes fear manifests itself as narrow-mindedness and self-righteousness.  In Keating’s case, his teaching method was deemed improper because it didn’t fit the defined cornered mold from which the faculty was modeling.  What was so wrong with holding classes outside of the classroom? Or asking the students to step on top of a desk to illustrate a point?  These were not corrupting activities.  They weren’t fatal or anarchic.  However, if one is encouraged to step off the gravelly path then maybe that person will eventually step further away and walk a different path or create paths of his own, or so Keating’s colleagues feared.  More than to keep order, rules, in essence, are meant to control.  If you allow a student to veer away from a rule, even in the slightest, they might eventually rebel.  In the conservative school administration’s eyes, any teacher or student who thinks outside the mold is suspect, therefore, to be feared.

Welton found a way to get rid of Keating because of Neil’s death.  Still wearing his Puck garland, he died by his own hand; although it may well have been Keating who pulled the trigger, if you ask Neil’s father and the headmaster.  His crime was that he nurtured the boys’ love for the stage and believed Neil when he said he had gotten his father’s approval.  Should Keating have pursued the matter and called Dr. Perry to verify this?  Would that have pacified the rigid father and stopped him from sending his son to military school, thus preventing Neil’s suicide?  We, teachers, should always do more than what our job descriptions ask of us.  Our contracts don’t ask us to wait with a student whose parents are late in picking her up, or lend an ear while another tells us about an argument she had with her friend.  These are not written in our contracts but they don’t have to be.  Good teachers do them for free because we care for our students; but in the end, we can only do so much.  We are not their friends.  We are not their parents.  We are responsible for their welfare only up to an extent, and beyond that hope that their parents and guardians are nurturing them well. 

Several times I’ve been paid a great compliment.  On separate occasions, a few of my students told me they reminded me of John Keating.  They might as well have called me “O Captain, my Captain”. In all those occasions my smile was a mile-wide.  There’s nothing more blissful than to hear my students tell me they think I’m doing a great job.  This wonderful benefit isn’t in our contracts either, and I’m glad it isn’t. 

When you’re a teacher, happiness is not always about money.    

Film poster and still from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dead_Poets_Society
The video clip from the movie is under fair use.

The Arki Files: UP Arkaira in Sonata Form

EXPOSITION

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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.

DEVELOPMENT

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. 

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

SOPRANO

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).

ALTO

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.”

TENOR

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.

BASS

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.

HONORARY CHOIR MEMBERS

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.

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RECAPITULATION:

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.

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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

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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, filipinowriter.com

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:
Quote:
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.
or
Quote:
Logic will get you from A to B. Imagination will take you everywhere.
or
Quote:
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

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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

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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