Spotted in Manila, 2014

Friday, June 29, 2012

Mabuhay, Philippines! With love

As my final day in the Philippines comes to a close, I look back on today as a major highlight of the trip. As a final activity we held a mock audition for the students where they each had 4 minutes to perform a scale and a solo to receive comments from us. Everyone performed so well and despite my efforts to make it like a real “scary” audition, no one was impacted and everyone played with such expression.
One student in particular stood out to me. Yvette, the youngest student in the music division and a student at PHSA for only the last month had approached me last week begging me to give her some advice about performance anxiety. We worked with her and saw proof of her improvement because after her mock audition I thanked Yvette and said, “that’s all” and she left smiling and SKIPPING out of her audition. I was shocked. Brian and I turned to each other and laughed. But throughout tonight I’ve considered this moment and thought about how much it meant to me. I feel like her youthfulness and excitement about music very much represents the feeling many of us young professionals lose as we become jaded and stressed about how competitive the music business is. So why can’t we all just skip out of our auditions and be this carefree? I will strive for this from now on.
Immediately following the audition, the class hiked up the hill to the performance where we played “In C” while the dancers danced. Again, the performance was very well received and the students had a wonderful time. The night ended with certificates, remembrances, and hugs. I will miss my PHSA students very much. Back to America tomorrow!

Thursday, June 28, 2012


Today was our day off from PHSA and we traveled down the campus mountain to the local college, University of the Philippines, Los Banos. We did a day long workshop with the school’s freshman science majors who play in the school band simply because they love music too much to give it up. Throughout the day, I worked to find connections because life as a musician and life as a scientist to show that they can easily connect the two in their studies.
The day started with a lecture exchange between myself and the music instructor at the school. We both spoke to the full class of students (about 25 of them). Angel, the instructor introduced Brian and I to traditional Filipino music and the idea that rather than it being for performance, it is only used for prayer and connection to the spirits of nature. The was a whole new idea to me. Then, Brian and I introduced some American music and the idea of aleatoric composition by composers like John Cage and Terry Riley—a new idea for THEM.
The next part of our day incorporated the ideas we discussed that morning into a rehearsal of “In C” which we performed later for the entire university’s freshman class. From my observation, it seemed sort of therapeutic for the students to be allowed to play a piece in such organized chaos. They loved the freedom they were given with the piece and I could tell they were hoping to do more some day.
That rehearsal was followed by Brian and I joining in on a traditional Filipino dance-song used when a man is courting a woman. It was sweet, short, and therapeutic for ME.
This all culminated in a performance like I mentioned above. The audience was huge and loud which made me nervous, but sure enough, they were extremely respectful as we gave the Philippines premiere of Molly Joyce’s “Blending Music”. The theater was complete with bamboo wall decorations and smoke machines (!!) causing a blackout in the theater, but the show must go on!
I was so proud of the music students for letting their guard down and performing “In C” with such enthusiasm even though it was such a new concept of music. Also, I am pretty confident when I say today was the first ever performance of “In C” on traditional Filipino instruments. But they did it well!!

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Night at the Philharmonic

This entry has to be quick:
This evening, Brian and I had the night off while the dancers taught a workshop at the Cultural Center of the Philippines. We went to a performance of a ballet inspired by a Jose Rizal novel with music composed by a living Filipino composer. Then we switched theaters and went to the Philippine Philharmonic's "Madame Butterfly". Both shows were beautiful and full of real artistry. After the show I caught up with the principal bassoonist, Pong Mendoza who invited us out for beer and chicharon. But first we exchanged bassoons and reeds for a little!

Friday, June 22, 2012

PHSA routine

I have been teaching the music students of PHSA for 4 days now and I am so impressed with their talent and work ethic. There are no bassoonists here, but I'm excited for the challenge of having to give lessons for guitarists, pianists, flutists, etc.
We have the mornings free to rehearse and rest. But the afternoons we have split our 4 hour class with the students into 3 parts. For the first hour, Brian and I give a lecture. We have covered topics including performance anxiety and practice techniques. The second hour, we have a masterclass where 4 students play and receive comments from both Brian and I, as well as the students. For the next two hours, Brian and I are giving half-hour private lessons so that by the end of next week, we have worked one-on-one with every musician. It is going really well!
Like in Samar, our 2 week workshop here will conclude with a final performance. We plan on performing Terry Riley's "In C" with the dancers who are working with the Project Philippines dancers. Next week, we will use our lecture hour to have rehearsal of "In C". 

Sunday, June 17, 2012

We're on TV?!

The team just arrived at the Philippine High School for the Arts for the second half of our residency. I was sad to leave Catarman and all of our amazing students but it's not like we didn't go out with a bang.
Yesterday was our final performance to show the town of Catarman what we had done with the students in the last 2 weeks (and so all the townspeople could find out why they kept seeing a group of six white people in their town). The concert opened with Brian and I performing his arrangement of the Philippine National Anthem with all 110 of our students behind us singing with their hands across their hearts. It was very touching to make music with all of my kids at once.
At this point, the emcee, our beloved Brenfred (one of our 3 friends who had hosted us and took care of us our whole time in Catarman, the other 2 being Julius and Ray, our drivers) announced that right then, our performance was being broadcast on national TV! The students all panicked but with a pep talk from us realized how exciting and amazon that was, so the show went on, regardless of the brown out which had turned off the whole town's power for the entire day.
The concert had quite a variety of dance and music with the team performing on our own as interludes between the student performances. Brian and I performed the entire Poulenc Duo Sonata, and I performed a solo Mignone Waltz, both were received with enthusiasm from people who had probably never seen a bassoon or clarinet before.
Both schools each performed a dance and music piece and the performances could not have gone better. As I watched them each sing their hearts out and shake their instruments, I remembered back to two weeks ago when I first met them. Brian and I struggled to get them to come to the friend and say their names, but now, there they were, singing solos and duets for the entire town and country! I tried to hide my tears as I watched from the back of the audience. They had come so far.
The afternoon ended with an exchange of certificates, from us to each student, and from the school to each of us. It was a beautiful ceremony and a great way to say our goodbyes. Then as we tried to leave, every student had to come up to me, ask for my autograph and give me a "remembrance", a small piece of home made jewelry or a note so that I will never forget them. HA, yeah right!
This morning we rolled out of bed at 3am and headed straight to the airport to catch our flight to Manila. We were so surprised to see our students at the airport waiting to give us one last remembrance (a giant card they made) and to wave us off. I guess maybe we did touch their lives.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Teaching ups and downs

We have continued to teach the students basic rhythm notation and pitch recognition through songs and games. They continue to amaze me with how fast they improve and how much effort they give every day in music class.
However, we have had to work very hard to get to this level. For the past 3 days we have been without a classroom at SPED because they principal neglected to tell us that the auditorium we planned to use for class is occupied by all the teachers of Catarman and their convention. I've been working on my flexibility and patience as teaching outside in the dirt needs both. On top of that, since our lessons involve a lot of singing and clapping, we have been asked to relocate several times by the nearby teachers as our lessons are too loud and distracting to the kids. But we've made due.
Two days ago, we asked each student to bring an old bottle from home. Yesterday they brought them in and we made percussion instruments together! They decorated the outside and each made the choice of what to fill it with. Their options were: Sand only (for a shaker with a piano dynamic), sand and rice (mezzo piano), rice only (mezzo forte), rice and rocks (forte), and rocks only (fortissimo). The kids really enjoyed their shakers and using those shakers in a game of zip-zap-zop substituting shakes for clapping.
Also using our shakers, we've been spending a lot of time on our group song which we will perform this weekend at the final concert. The SPED students will be singing Gotye's "Somebody That I Used to Know" and the high schoolers will be singing a Filipino pop song, "12:51" by Krissy and Erika. I can't wait to show them off to the town!

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Weekend on the beach

The team had the weekend off so we could enjoy the beautiful sights of the Philippines. Our friend Eric, who we met through Kickstarter hosted us in his hometown of Polompon, Leyte, about a 4 hour drive from Catarman. There, he has founded an after school program where kids can go to take art classes--he shares very similar goals with Project Philippines when it comes to art education.
He rented a boat and took us to Kalanggaman, an island paradise and tourist destination for Filipinos. The water was clear and warm, the sand was white, and we ate the freshest fish I've ever had (so fresh that we ate a sea cucumber while it was still alive). The rest we cooked on an old sewer grate and I've never enjoyed a meal so much.
I spent the long car rides practicing my Filipino. I learned that the words I used growing up which I thought were just Samson-isms are in fact Tagalog. I was shocked to find out that I have been a lot more connected to this country my whole life than I thought.
We also planned our lessons for the next week in the car. This week we plan to kick our kid's butts as they prepare for their final performance next weekend. But the beach trip was a necessary rest day for the team. 

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Amazing Philippines TOO MUCH TO SAY

We arrived in the Philippines last week and I can't believe how wonderful the country is. After getting over the 12-hour time difference and catching up from the 48 hours of sleep I lost in traveling, I've really been able to enjoy the town of Catarman and my students.
Once we landed in Manila from Hong Kong, we had just enough time to shower and take an hour long nap before we were back at the airport to catch our flight to Northern Samar, about 2 hours away. We landed in the extremely humble airport of Catarman where the gate area is a wall of plexus glass separating its loch chair seats from the runway and the security is a police officer who smiles and waves you in.
I've had the most wonderful food, from fried eggplant to fried pork, from fresh fish to fresh mangoes, and rice on the side of everything. We're all trying to be careful not to drink the water, and sometimes we have to drink beer instead, but it isn't so bad.
We have spent 3 days with our students so far. They are so shy, but they're slowly coming out of their shells. Each day, we spend 3 hours at the Catarman Special Education School (SPED) where the students are between 8 and 12 years old. During these 3 hours, the students are split in half and rotate between music class and dance class. We do the same schedule at Catarman National High School where we spend 3 hours each afternoon. These students are between 13 and 17.
Our first class included my favorite game: Shabuya, a get-to-know-you game with singing and dancing. We continued with another rhythm game, Zip-zap-zop the incorporates rhythm with communication and team work. Then, we worked on writing out the rhythms that we used in Zip-zap-zop. The students at both schools are quickly catching on to the idea of quarter notes vs. eighth notes vs. half notes. I'm so proud of them!
Brian and I have also included a performance in each class. We have talked about how mood can express a mood or a story and have had the students actively listen for a mood and draw a story they hear when we are playing. We performed Brian's arrangement of "Appalachia Waltz", an American piece inspired by mountain folk songs. The students NAILED the task and all shared with us their colorful drawings of rice fields, mountains, and wind flowing through trees. Again, I was very proud.
Last night, we were the guests of honor at the governor of Northern Samar's annual ball. We feasted on pig and performed for the councilmen and the women in the running to be Miss Northern Samar. Brian and I performed "Appalachia Waltz" there as well and it was very well received.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Chicago -> Hong Kong -> Manila -> Samar

Brian and I spent the day spraying all of our clothes with permethrin spray to prevent mosquito bites. Now with our malaria medication and vaccinated bodies, we're protected and off to the Philippines! We have been waiting for this for months and I can't believe we will be there in just a couple of days. Until Catarman!