Spotted in Manila, 2014

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

up the mountain!!

I'm so so so excited that I have returned to one of my favorite places, the Philippine High School for the Arts (PHSA). It is tucked away at the top of Mt. Makiling in Los Banos, Laguna just a few hours outside of Metro Manila. Even though I only spent a few days here, the rest of the team will be here for two weeks and will spend weekends at the Cultural Center of the Philippines in Manila.


The campus was hit hard by the most recent typhoon, Glenda. The storm impacted PHSA so much that the school evacuated all the boarding students and shut down for 3 weeks, losing precious class time, and only letting students return a couple of weeks ago. Now, the campus runs on a powerful generator during limited hours of the day, allowing classes to continue. We are also seeing the effects of the storm, as our living quarters (on campus) have limited water and no electricity. It has tested our patience, since the heat is uncomfortable, and the sun sets around 6pm, shortening our work days by several hours. But it is truly serene and therapeutic to live completely by candlelight.

(What would usually be completely masked by jungle, this view has been cleared by Glenda. The positive is that it is an insanely beautiful look over Los Banos)

The students at PHSA come from all backgrounds from across the Philippines to study their artistic specialization. Brian and I worked with the 22 very gifted music students who study violin, viola, piano, voice, flute, and guitar. It is a challenge for me to work with students who don't play my instrument. But I have found that some of the best musical advice I have received was from teachers of other instruments, and since the students already study privately with professionals from Manila, I thought Brian and I could still offer something new.

Their private lessons happen every weekend when the whole student body is transported to Manila to stay with host families and continue their studies in the city. During the week, the students take academic classes from 8am to 12pm and have arts classes in their discipline 2pm to 6pm, with occasional rehearsals 8pm-10pm. For the musicians, the afternoon hours are spent doing supervised practicing, and once-a-week theory classes. So Brian and I had the luxury of borrowing them for 4-6 hours every day! We split our days like this:

2:00-3:00 Lecture or group activity
3:00-3:45 Chamber music masterclass
3:45-4:00 Journal reflection
4:00-6:00 Thirty-minute private lessons. Students sign up for a time and others on that instrument were to observe.

Since these musicians are already so strong on their instruments, we wanted to do work that we knew they weren't getting already. This included studio classes, masterclasses with comments from their peers, written self-reflection, and time to ask us questions. Brian and I also chose our lectures and activities with this in mind:

Monday: Introduction to aleatoric music, group reading of Terry Riley's In C. 
*Assignment: compose a short piece the uses aleatoric elements and can be played by all the musicians at PHSA.

Tuesday: Mock audition, each student had 4 minutes to perform a solo and receive written comments.

Wednesday: Group readings of aleatoric compositions, and introduction to minimalism.
*Assignment: compose a short piece for yourself that only uses the pitch A. Use dynamics, octaves, tempo changes, and articulations to be expressive and evoke a mood.

Brian will continue this kind of exploratory work after I leave tomorrow with soundpainting, improvisation, and more composition. I also hope he will send me quotes from the students' journals while I am back in the US, because these students are so inspiringly in touch with their musicianship! Here are some of my favorite journal quotes so far:

"Music will be my tool of communication, a bridge to the unspoken ideas just waiting to be heard or shared. I would like to perform until the day I die. Music will stay with me for it is not just a tool which I use for expressing myself, but also a portal for me to a completely different world." -Lyon

"When I was introduced to the guitar, a whole different world opened up to me. I knew there was nothing else I wanted than to be able to share music with the world the way it has made me a better individual. When teaching and performing, money, or not a single penny, I will play. I'd also like to save Mother Earth with music. Is that possible?" -Marlee


"Imagining my life in 10 years without music would be like imagining myself without an arm or something!" -Micah

"Music will be the one I run to at any time. But I don't want to be selfish with my music. I want to share with everyone and let them express their feelings just by listening. I want to help and heal them." -Janna



"I love to play music because it's been with me my whole life. It's like my girlfriend, hehehe!" -Adrian

"Music is a home for me because when I am outside, honestly I am not able to express my emotions abstractly. But when I hear sounds that make music, I could almost feel that I'm home because I could express my thoughts all throughout." -Ian


These articulate, gifted young musicians have been the best way I can think of to end my 4 weeks in the Philippines. It's time for me to head to the airport to catch my flight back to Texas tonight! It's sad, but I'm ok, because thanks to them, I have enough artistic inspiration to last a very long time. 


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