Fields of Gold

A few weeks ago, we visited a friend’s farm where they are experimenting if they can grow rice here in Iowa. In case you don’t know, we don’t plant rice here. The farms here in Iowa are mostly corn and soybeans. Though rice is grown in a few southern states of the US.

The rice that they are trying to grow here in Iowa is a different type of rice though. As you can see in the picture below, it is not growing in paddies that we Filipinos are more familiar with. This variety of rice is more sturdy to the cold weather and does not need irrigation or much water. Of course the part owner of this farm is a Filipino. As we Filipinos loves rice, where ever part of the world we are.

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Back in the Philippines, even though I grew up in the city, we went to my father’s province quite regularly when I was young. Their ancestral home was by the edge of a rice field. We spent many hours watching farmers work on those fields. We sometimes played in those fields too, hunted for palakang bukid (frogs) there, and even played tag with my cousins while running in the pilapil (dikes).

During harvest season, it was beautiful to see the palay (rice) with their golden grain swaying and dancing as the wind blows through them like the waves of the sea. I miss seeing those fields of palay.

In 1993, one of my favorite singers, Sting released the song “Fields of Gold.” The song opens and ends with these words:

You’ll remember me when the west wind moves
Upon the fields of barley
You’ll forget the sun in his jealous sky
As we walk in fields of gold.

Sting found inspiration to write that song as his house in England, a 16th century Wiltshire manor house, was surrounded by barley fields. Even though I am not familiar with fields of barley, I can somehow relate as I have seen “golden” fields of rice, which I believe has the same poetic appeal.

If Sting lived in the Philippines, he could have sung: “You’ll remember me when the west wind moves, upon the fields of palay.” And if he grew up in the Philippines, his name may not be Sting, but it could be Pagi (stingray), or Putakti (wasp), which we know can sting bad. Sorry I digress.

By the time the song Fields of Gold became popular, it was the time also that I left the Philippines. You could say that I left my native land in search of some greener pastures and in pursuit of “fields of gold.”

When I came to America, the first couple of CD’s I bought was albums of Sting. For several months, during my lonely moments, Sting kept me company. I listened to his melancholic songs of Fragile and They Dance Alone, and also sang along his upbeat songs like All This Time and If You Love Somebody Set Them Free. Sometimes he even serenaded me to sleep.

After living here in the US for some time, and after moving from New Jersey, then to New York, then to California, then to Florida, and finally settling here in Iowa, I believe I have found what I was looking for. I can even claim now that I am literally looking at fields of gold. With autumn season upon us and with changing fall colors, even the fields here are turning gold, signifying that harvest time is near.

Below is a picture of a ‘golden’ soybean field.

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I may have traveled long and far in pursuit of my dreams, but at least I can say that it brought me to my own fields of gold. I am not saying that I own those soybean fields. I don’t own corn fields either. I am not even talking about the soybeans, or cornfields, or even those rice fields. What I’m saying is this – what I own, is the realization of my dreams.

As I was running the other morning near these golden fields, the song Fields of Gold was playing in my mind. And if I may borrow from the lyrics of Sting, albeit with some changes:

Many years have passed since those summer days among the fields of barley palay
See the children me as I run, as the sun goes down up among the fields of gold.

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(*photos of soybean fields taken during my morning run)

 

Tuyo Na’ng Damdamin

Habang ako’y bumibiyahe patungo sa aming outreach clinic noong isang araw, na isa’t kalahating oras ang layo sa aming siyudad, ako nama’y nagsa-soundtrip ng mga kantang Pilipino na aking kinagisnan (OPM Classics).

Habang tumatahak ako sa kalagitnaan ng mga bukid at parang, ang aking sasakyan ay tumatakbo ng siyento-bente kilometro kada ora, ngunit ang aking isipan ay lumilipad ng dos syentos kada ora.

Sumalang naman ang kantang “Tuyo Na’ng Damdamin” na orihinal na inawit ng APO Hiking Society. Ni-remake din ito ng Silent Sanctuary at ni Noel Cabangon.

“Minsan kahit na pilitin mong uminit ang damdamin
Di siya susunod, at di maglalambing
Minsan di mo na mapigil mapansin
Na talagang wala nang naiiwan na pagmamahal.”

Habang ako’y nagmumuni-muni sa lumang awit na ito, ay nakakalungkot lamang isipin, na maaring humantong pala sa ganito ang isang relasyon. Wala ng init. Wala ng paglalambing.

“At kahit na anong gawin
Di mo na mapilit at madaya
Aminin sa sarili mo
Na wala ka nang mabubuga.”

Wala nang maibubuga? Isa lamang masakit na katotohanan ng buhay. Lahat kaya ng bagay dito sa mundo ay may hangganan? Wala ba talagang forever?

“Parang isang kandila na nagdadala
Ng ilaw at liwanag
Nauubos rin sa magdamag.”

Upos na kandila? Hindi ko alam kung ano ang dahilan kung bakit isinulat ito ni Jim Paredes, o para kanino, o anong tunay niyang tinutukoy. Pero may alam akong makabagong paraan ngayon para makaangkop sa ganitong masaklap na kalagayan. Marahil wala pa nito noon nang isulat ang awiting ito.

“Di na madaig o mabalik ang dating matamis na kahapon
Pilitin ma’y tuyo na’ng damdamin.”

Kaibigan, huwag kang nang malungkot. Mayroon ng Viagra!

******

(My APOlogies to APO if I totally misunderstood and misinterpret the song.)

Malayo Pa Ang Umaga

Dito sa dako ng mundong kinaroroonan ko ngayon (sa northern hemisphere), dahil pumapasok na ang tag-ginaw, ay maikli na ang oras ng liwanag at mahaba na naman ang gabi. Hindi tulad sa Pilipinas, dahil malapit ito sa equator, halos parehas lang ang haba ng araw at ng gabi sa buong taon. Pero ibang haba ng gabi ang aking tatalakayin sa sulating ito.

Bata pa akong paslit noon, nang pinadagdagan ng isang kwarto ang aming munting bahay sa Maynila. Maliit man ang kwarto na ibinigay sa akin ay sarili ko naman iyon. Mahigit lang ng konti sa isang dipa ang kitid, pero malawak na iyon para sa akin. Katunayan, may maliit pa akong basketball goal doon. Iyon ang unang pagkakataon na matulog akong mag-isa.

May isang gabi akong natatandaan, na hindi ako dapuan ng antok. Dahil sa madilim at mapanglaw ang gabi, ay pumunta ako sa kwarto ng aking nanay at tatay. Matapos akong patahanin ng aking nanay, ay pinabalik na akong muli sa aking sariling silid. Sa aking pag-iisa, totoong naramdaman ko noon na napakahaba ng gabi. Nang kapanahunang iyon, hindi pa naisusulat ni Rey Valera ang kantang “malayo pa ang umaga.”

Fast forward natin ang kwento ng mga ilang taon. Unang salta ako dito sa Amerika. Kauna-unahang pagkakataon na totoo akong mapalayo sa aking pamilya. Ang pinakamalapit na kamag-anak ay libo-libong milya ang layo sa aking kinalalagyan. Hindi lang pamilya, kundi iniwan ko rin ang aking nobya sa Pilipinas noon. Tunay na ako ay mag-isa na.

Mga ilang araw pa lang ako sa Amerika galing Pilipinas (may jet-lag pa), ay nasabak na agad sa trabaho. Ayos lang dahil iyon naman talaga ang ipinunta ko rito, para mag-training at mag-hanapbuhay. Sabihin na natin na maganda ang aking edukasyon mula sa UST at St. Luke’s, pero iba pa rin ang sistema sa ibang bansa.

Ang kauna-unahang rotation ko bilang medical intern ay night float (pang-gabi).  Ang oras ng night float rotation ay mula 10 PM hanggang 7 AM. Lahat ng pangangailangan sa ospital, maliit man o malaki, ay ako ang unang tawag. Kapag hindi makatulog ang pasyente, o sumasakit ang tiyan, o may chest pain, o kaya’y hindi makahinga ang pasyente, ako ang unang tinatawag. Siyempre may back-up pa ring mga duktor kung kinakailangan. Ngunit bilang intern, ako ang unang sundalong susugod sa guerra, ika nga.

Hindi tulad kapag pang-araw, maraming mga co-interns, senior residents, at mga attending physicians na kasama mo at madaling mapagtatanungan, kung hindi mo alam ang gagawin. Kapag night float, ikaw ang naiiwang bantay na lumalaboy-laboy sa ospital, habang ang lahat ay natutulog. Parang “you against the world,” ang pakiramdam.

Nang kapanahunang iyon, naho-homesick na ako, nangangapa pa (hindi dahil sa madilim kundi dahil baguhan pa sa sistema) at wala pang alam, nag-iisa pa sa trabaho, baligtad pa ang oras ng aking tulog at gising – doon ko na naranasan na tunay na ako ay nag-iisa. Idagdag pa dito ang mga isipan na hindi ko alam ang magiging bukas sa bagong yugto ng buhay na ito, kaya’t aking nasasaloob na napakahaba ng gabi.

Bilang night float, ay aking inaabangan ang pagdating ng umaga at ang ang pagsikat ng araw. Sapagkat ito’y nangangahulugang tapos na ang aking mahirap na duty, at nariyan na ang aking relyebo. Ngunit maraming pagkakataon noon, sa malamlam na gabi ay aking inaawit: malayo pa ang umaga.

Hindi ako makapaniwala, dalawampung taon na pala ang nakalipas mula noon.

Totoo nga’t marami pang yugto ng buhay na madilim at mahirap na akin pang pinagdaanan mula nooon. Oo nga’t may mga panahon pa rin ngayon na aking nasasaisip na malayo pa ang umaga, lalo na’t busy sa gabi na ako’y on-call. Oo nga’t humahaba ang gabi sa aking kinaroroonan ngayon habang papalapit na ang winter’s solstice. Ngunit hindi na ako nalulungkot. Hindi na ako nangangamba sa dilim. Hindi na ako nababahala kung ano ang hatid ng bukas. Hindi na rin ako nag-iisa, kapiling ko na ang aking asawa (dati kong nobya), at mga anak.

Sa mga nagpapagal sa mahabang gabi (hindi lang sa mga night shift workers); sa mga nag-iisa, nangungulila at malayo sa pamilya (hindi lang sa mga OFW); sa mga nangangapa sa dilim at nag-aalala kung ano ang hatid ng bukas; sa lahat ng dumaranas na “malayo pa ang umaga,” maging fans man o hindi ni Rey Valera – tayo’y manalig na kahit malayo pa, ay sigurado namang darating din ang umaga.

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bukang liwayway sa aming tirahan

Forgotten

I admit it. You’ve been out of my mind lately. Or more accurately, you’ve been out of mind, for a long time now. I’m sorry. I’ve been busy.

It’s not something that you’ve done. And no, it’s not that I’ve found someone new either. It’s just that I’ve lost that certain feeling. That certain enthusiasm. That’s certain thrill. Somehow it’s different now.

Then I saw you the other day. You seemed abandoned. You looked pleadingly into me, as if you’re begging me to hold you again. Longing for my touch. Imploring me to carry you in my arms once again. I know you felt forgotten.

I can only vaguely remember that we spent long hours together before. But we had so much fun together then. I have almost forgotten that once upon a time we made beautiful music together. Those were the good times. No. Those were the best of times. But that was many summers ago. That was when I was much younger. Now I hardly know you.

Again I’m sorry. I am really sorry. It’s not you. It’s all my fault.

But something sparked inside of me. I am again inspired. Maybe I still have it in me. Maybe I still have that touch. Maybe I can awaken that enthusiasm once more. Maybe I can relived that thrill once more. I know I may be rusty. I know I have lost my dexterity and virtuosity. But I know also that I can hone that mastery again.

I am looking forward to caressing you and lifting you into my shoulders. I would like to rest my head on your well-figured body. I would like to run my fingers in your long neck once again. I am excited to lovingly stroke your strings again. And maybe, just maybe, I can make you sing once more.

It would be such a delight to hear your voice again……..my forgotten violin.

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my forgotten love

Farewells and Chickadees

“Five little chickadees resting at the door, one flew away and then there were four.” (Nursery song)

If there is one party that I am not fond of, it is farewell parties. Yet we attend them, for it is part of the fabric of our lives. Nothing last forever, and nothing is unaffected by change. Good times end, people move on, friends relocate to ‘far away” places. Being left behind is such a fact of life, that even our nursery rhymes sing about it.

Last weekend, we hosted a farewell party to a family in our church who will be moving to Washington State. It was for a “dream job,” was their reason for moving. This family of four, came to Iowa a couple of years or so, after we moved here. Our families became close and we became good friends. The mother, became my daughter’s first piano teacher, and she formally introduced her to the wonderful world of music. Over the years we shared a lot of common bond, interests, activities, and time together.

“Chickadee, chickadee, happy all day. Chickadee, chickadee fly away.”

Many farewell parties (or what we Filipinos call Despedida) that I have attended before, it was me or my family that were leaving. My friends gave me a simple Despedida party when I left the Philippines. Same thing happened when we move from New Jersey, from New York, and from Florida. I sorely miss all of those friends.

When you are the one leaving, the emotions are mixed. You are sad to leave a place that became your home and friends that your life have been entwined with, and yet also happy and excited to move to a new place, meet new people, and meet new challenges that awaits you.

When you are the one being left behind, the emotion is pure sadness. No happiness. No excitement. Just real unadulterated sadness.

So this is how it feels to be left behind.

A couple of years ago, one Filipino here in Iowa that we became friends with, moved away to another place. Even though we have only a few Filipino families here, we have a close-knit bond. Of course we hosted a Despedida party for her when she left. During the party, we sang Raymond Lauchengco’s “Farewell,” a song popularized in our younger “Baget’s” days. Boy, that song brought a lot of memories. It also brought tears to our eyes when we sang it, for many other reasons. Singing it out of tune is not one of them.

Who like farewells anyway? But we have our own lives, our own happiness, and our own dreams that we pursue. And in our pursuit of those dreams, it is unavoidable to leave our known homes, known friends and families. The good thing about this is that we can maintain those ties even though we are hundreds of miles apart. And farewells give us a chance to form new ties whenever and wherever we are, in this ever-changing world.

In a few weeks, another family in our church will be moving yet to another state. It is also because of a “dream job.” This family have been here in Iowa when we moved here. Our kids played and grew up together.We spent a lot of good times and memories with them. Now, two of their three kids will be in college, and their family is moving on to a new stage in life.

“Four little chickadees sitting in a tree, one flew away and then there were three.”

three black-capped chickadees feeding in our front tree

In a few years from now, my kids will be in college too and will be moving away. I don’t even want to know how it will feel like.

“Chickadee, chickadee happy all day. Chickadee, chickadee fly away.”

With all these farewells, it is really hard to be happy all day. I guess I am not a chickadee.

Sa Ilalim ng Buwan

“O maliwanag na buwan,
Nakikiusap ako,
Ang aking minamahal,
Sana ay hanapin mo.”  – Filipino Folk Song by Levi Celerio

Isang gabing bilog ang buwan, ako ay lumabas at naupo sa aming bangko, doon sa harap ng aming bahay. Sa halip na ilaw ng poste ng Meralco, ay liwanag ng buwan ang tumatanglaw sa aking buong kapaligiran. Maaaninag din ang mangilan-ngilang bituin na kumikinang, kahit pa nasasapawan ang kanilang ningning ng maliwanag na buwan. Hindi mga dikit-dikit na bahay at lupon ng mga taong tambay ang aking tanaw kundi malawak na bakanteng lupain at mga punong kumakaway, ang sa akin ay nakatambad.

nagbibilad sa liwanag ng buwan (photo taken of the Supermoon 5/5/12)

Ibang iba na nga ang aking paligid, kumpara sa kinamulatan kong tahanan doon sa Sampaloc.

Imbes na maalinsangan na ihip ng hangin ng Maynila, ay malamig at sariwang simoy ng bukid ng Iowa ang humihimas sa aking buhok (may natira pa naman), mukha, at mga braso. Hindi masangsang na singaw ng nakaimbak na basurang hindi nakokolekta ang aking naaamoy, kundi samyo ng lilac at halimuyak ng bagong tabas na damo. (Hindi damo na sinisinghot ang aking tinutukoy.) Pero kung minsan ay nalalanghap ko rin ang hindi makakailang amoy ng mga baka at kabayo sa hindi kalayuang lugar mula sa aming bahay.

Hindi mga nag-kakaraoke na nag-iinuman sa kanto ang gumagambala sa himig ng gabi, kundi mga palakang naghaharana ang aking naririnig, habang  sumasabay din ang mga kuliglig sa kanilang pagawit. Hindi rin sigaw ng naglalako ng balut, kung hindi hiyaw ng kuwago ang paminsan-minsang bumabasag sa katahimikan ng aking madilim na paligid. Pero sana nga may mag-babalut na maligaw dito…….. Ipagpaumanhin ninyo, naiba ako.

Walang mga lasing na sumusuray-suray na dumadaan sa aming kalye, kundi mga alitaptap ang mga kumukuti-kutitap na nagsasayaw sa aking bakuran. (Meron ding “Alitaptap” doon malapit sa amin sa Sta. Mesa, na “patay-sindi” ang ilaw – pero ito ay beerhouse.) Walang mga tricycle na umaarangkada kahit malalim na ang gabi, kundi mga racoon at usa ang paminsan-minsa’y tumatawid sa aming walang kibo na lansangan.

Bilog na naman ang buwan. Alam kong maraming mga magkasintahan ang magkasama at nagbibilad sa liwanag ng buwan. Sila ay magkahawak kamay…..nangangarap…..nagsusumpaan…… sa ilalim ng buwan. Marami rin ang nabibigo, nababaliw, at sinusumpa ang buwan.

Nuong minsan, maraming taon na ang nakalilipas, ay dumadayo ako doon sa may Metrica, na bahagi pa rin ng Sampaloc. Dinadalaw ko doon ang isang magandang binibini. Hindi ko inaalintana ang mga panganib sa dilim ng gabi, dahil sa pagnanais kong makita ang dilag na naroon. Walang tambay, lasing, adik, trapik, prosisyon, mga demonstrador, brownout, ulan, bagyo, baha ang nakakaawat sa aking pagbisita sa magandang dalaga. May buwan man o wala.

Minsan din sa liwanag ng gabi…… sa lilim ng mga yero, linya ng Meralco, at mga sampayan doon sa Sampaloc……..sa magulo at masikip na kalye ng Metrica….. habang ang aming pabulong na usapan ay nilulunod ng ingay ng masalimuot na siyudad ng Maynila……doon kami ay minsan ding nangarap at nagsumpaan……..sa ilalim ng buwan.

Ano na ang nangyari sa magandang binibini doon sa Metrica? Narito, akin nang kaulayaw sa aming matahimik na lugar dito sa Iowa. Kasama ng aming mga anak. Sa ilalim ng buwan.

lover’s moon

Pagmumuni-muni sa Himpapawid

Nakatanaw ako sa bintana, habang tumatahak kami sa mga malabulak na alapaap. Isip ko ay lumilipad patungo sa isang lugar na matagal-tagal ko na ring nais balikan. Ako ay hinehele ng mga kantang sariling atin na aking pinakikinggan habang ako’y naglalakbay.

Tulad ng isang ibon, tao ri’y lumilipad.

Pangarap ang tanging nais, na marating at matupad.  (Tao, originally by Sampaguita)

Parang kailan lamang ay palaboy-laboy ako sa mga kalsada ng Maynila. Parang kahapon lamang ay kasa-kasama ko ang aking mga barkadang kinalakihan. Parang kailan lang ay mag-kakakuntsaba kami sa aming mga batang kalokohan.

Ngunit nang kami ay magkagulang na, kailangan nang salubungin ang mga hamon sa buhay. Namulat sa mundong malupit ang atas, at mabangis ang kumpetisyon. May mga panibagong mga resposibilidad na sa amin ay ipinabalikat. Kailangan itong tuwangin at harapin.

Dapat ka bang mangibang bayan?

Dito ba’y walang kang mapaglagyan?

Bakit pa iiwanan ang lupang tinubuan, dito ka natuto ng iyong mga kalokohan.

Baka akala mo’y ganun lamang ang mabuhay sa ibang bayan.  (Pinay, originally by Florante)

Matagal-tagal ko ring pinagtuos-tuos ang mga katagang iyan ni Florante. Ngunit dahil na rin sa mahigpit na pangangailangan, at sa mga pangarap na nais habulin, ay napagdesisyunang makipagsapalaran sa ibang bayan.

Magkahalong saya at lungkot ang aking nadama sa aking pag-alis. Saya, dahil mararating ko ang kabilang ibayo ng dalampasigan ng mundo. Ngunit lungkot, dahil kailangang iwan ang mga pamilya’t kaibigan at ang lupa kong kinamulatan.

Ngunit ika’y maalala, sa mga kwento mong madrama.

At hindi malilimutan ang iyong mga kalokohan.

At ika’y pag-uusapan at pagtatawanan.

Ngunit mangungulila, sa iyong paglisan.  (Ang Buhay Nga Naman, Noel Cabangon)

Lumipas ang mga maraming taon ng paninirahan sa ibang bansa. Subalit kahit sa pagdaan ng mahabang panahon, lagi pa ring sumasamagi sa aking isipan ang lupang aking sinilangan. At sa pagkakataong katulad nito, ay hindi pa rin maiiwasan ang lungkot at kurot sa aking puso na maalala ang mga iniwang mga kamag-anak, kabarkada at bayan.

Kamusta na kaya ang aking sambayanan? Saan na kaya ang aking mga katoto’t mga kaibigan? Tutuong pinakupas na ng panahon ang aming pagbubuklod. Kupas na rin ang aming mga kwento at alaala. Nalimutan na rin kaya ng kahapon ang lahat ng aming mga pinagdaanan at pinagsamahan? Huwag naman sana.

Lumilipas ang panahon, kabiyak ng ating gunita.

Mga puno’t halaman, bakit kailangan lumisan?

Panapanahon ang pagkakataon, maibabalik ba ang kahapon. (Kanlungan, Noel Cabangon)

Kailan ko kaya makikita muli ang aking mga iniwang mahal sa buhay? Kailan ko kaya muli makakasama at muling makipagtawanan sa aking mga kaibigan? Kailan ko kaya muli masisilayan ang lupang Pilipinas? Kailan kaya ako magbabalik sa ating bansa?

Heto na ako. Nasa himpapawid. Lumilipad, lulan ng eroplano. Bumibyahe pabalik sa aming tahanan.

Huwag sanang hadlangan, ang aking nilalandas,

Sapagkat ako’y sabik sa aking sinilangan.

Bayan ko, nahan ka, ako ngayon’y nag-iisa,

Nais kong magbalik sa iyo, bayan ko.  (Pagbabalik, originally by Asin)

Sandaling oras na lamang ay matatapos na ang aking paglalakbay. Ilang oras na lang ay lalapag na ang aming eroplano. Sandali na lamang at muling tutungtong ang aking mga paa sa lupa. Tatapak na kaya akong muli sa aking lupang tinubuan?

O hindi! Hindi pa rin pala! Sapagkat tahanan pala sa Iowa ang destinasyon ng eroplanong aking sinasakyan.

Sana naman, sa susunod kong paglipad, Pilipinas na ang aking lalapagan.

*****

(*thoughts from 30,000 feet during our flight from Boston to Des Moines)

(**all songs are quoted from Noel Cabangon’s album, Biyahe)

Somewhere Over the Rainbow

Even when I was much younger, I am used to having music on most of the time. In my room in Sampaloc, when I was in high school thru college, I had a small stereo radio with a cassette player that sits near my bed. It played instrumental music or light jazz when I am studying (I avoid music that will cause me to break into a song or make me sing-along when I am reading for that will disturb my concentration), and soft mellow music when I am ready to sleep.

If I am not studying or sleeping, my music can range from folk, rock, country, pop, gospel, and OPM’s (to which I freely sing-along). The music will drown the noise from our street, and most of the time, I would fall asleep with the radio on. The radio playing did not bother me at all, in fact it lulled me to sleep, especially during nights when sleep did not come so easily.

I don’t sleep with the radio on anymore. I have to consider the one I’m sharing the bed with now. My wife is a light sleeper and she easily gets awakened with noises, and a radio on will not let her sleep at all. Too bad she has to sleep with the noise of my snoring though. However, there are still nights that I cannot turn off my mind, or I can become restless, and sleep will not come to me. On these occasions, I put my earphones with my i-Pod or i-Phone on, and listen to my favorite music that will transcend me to La La land.

For a very long time, it has been observed that music can affect human behavior. In Biblical times, it was recorded that King Saul would call for David to play him his harp to soothe his troubled spirit.

In more modern times, research has shown that music with a strong beat can stimulate brainwaves to resonate in sync with the beat, with faster beats resulting sharper concentration and more alert thinking, while a slower tempo promotes a calm, meditative state. Music therapy is a growing field in health care and had been used in pain management, children with Attention Deficit Disorder, and even in ICU to help pacify patients. For some reason music appears to calm my restless leg syndrome as good as medication.

Not too long ago, I heard a version of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” sang by this certain singer, that I really like. Then when we were in Hawaii several months ago, the tour guide mentioned this singer and I learned that he was from that island. He is Israel Kamakawiwo’ole (yes, that’s definitely an Hawaiian name).

It was sad though to learn that he passed away at an early age of 38, in 1997. He had health problems stemming from his weight, which at one point was more than 750 pounds. But that did not stop me from downloading his songs in my i-Phone. His “What a Wonderful World” is another favorite of mine, and he now sings me lullaby when I cannot sleep.

More recently, I heard from the radio a version of “Fields of Golds” that was an original song of Sting, who by the way is one of my favorite singers. But this specific rendition of the song captivated me, and so I looked for it and downloaded it also in my i-Phone.

I was intrigue why I have not heard of this female singer before, so I searched for her other songs in i-Tunes and I found most of them were really beautiful. Then I also found out that she had died back in 1996 from a malignant melanoma at such a young age of 33. Her name is Eva Cassidy.

What’s with me and dead singers? We’ll I guess I just like their songs, and it does not matter whether they are dead or alive. Eva Cassidy also now rocks me gently to sleep in my restless nights.

Here is Eva and Israel in their different versions of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” Yes, both of them are really somewhere over there.

(videos from youtube)

From Barok to Baroque

I am not much fan of classical music. Maybe I am not cultured enough. I grew up in the rough-and-tumble streets of Sampaloc, Manila. I am not saying that it is impossible to have a highly cultured person in Sampaloc who loves classical music. I am not just one of them.

My choice of music is more of folk, rock and country. I grew up listening to Pinoy artists like Asin, Mike Hanopol, Florante and Freddie Aguilar. Sometimes I would also listen to Yoyoy Villame and his “Barok” and other quirky songs.

My daughter is quite the opposite. She is entranced with classical music and only listens to this kind of music. When she hears a classical piece she even knows whether it was composed during the Romantic era, or Classical era, or the Baroque (no, not Barok!) period, or whatever. She also has a gift of absolute or perfect pitch, the ability to identify a note without any reference point. I wonder where she got this gene.

Last week we watched a string quartet concert. It was sponsored by The World Food Prize, whose headquarters is in Des Moines. This is an international organization that recognizes, “without regard to race, religion, nationality, or political beliefs, the achievements of individuals who have advanced human development by improving the quality, quantity or availability of food in the world.” It was founded by Norman Borlaug, who was awarded in 1970 the Nobel Peace Prize for a lifetime of work to feed a hungry world.

The concert was a part of the 25th anniversary celebration of the said organization. They invited the Tokyo String Quartet, a world-renowned and considered one of the best, if not the best, chamber ensembles in the world. This group was founded in 1969 at the Juilliard School of Music, and has performed all around the world. Even though the group was officially formed in New York City, the quartet traces its origins to the Toho School of Music in Tokyo, thus their name.

Tokyo String Quartet (image from New York Times)

The members of the group are highly accomplished and distinguished musicians, as well as professors, as they conduct master classes in North America, Europe and the Far East. If the musicians are not impressive enough, the instruments that they are using are more than spectacular. The ensemble performs on the “Paganini Quartet,” a group of renowned Stradivarius instruments that was once owned by the legendary virtuoso Niccolo Paganini of the 19th century. So from the violins, to the viola, to the cello, they are all touched by master Paganini’s hand, and are all original Stradivari’s handiwork, probably costing a few millions of dollars each one of them.

There were lots of very important people (national and international guests of the World Food Prize) in that concert. Lots of high society crowd too. And I brushed elbows with them. (Though, I still feel somewhat out of place.) Since my daughter is a member of the Des Moines Youth Philharmonic Orchestra, we had an insiders’ invitation, though the concert was open to the public.

As I sat there in the concert hall (we were less than 20 feet from the performing musicians that I could almost smell the Stradivarius), and listened to Franz Joseph Haydn and Antonin Dvorak compositions, I reflected on how far I have come. I still like my grass-root music, but I am starting to appreciate this classical music genre. And what was the best deal of this concert? It was totally free.

What’s next? The Opera? (Never been to one.) But first, I have to learn Italian.

Sing Me Back Home

(The following article was published in Manila Standard Today, in Diaspora section, on August 22, 2011)

Last month, a choir from the Adventist University of the Philippines—The Ambassadors—won the title “Choir of the World” in the 2011 Llangollen International Musical Eisteddfod in Wales, UK. This is the oldest and the most prestigious choir competition in the world. Last year’s winner was another Filipino choir, the University of Santo Tomas Singers. I could think of my possible links to both of these choirs, like my beloved alma mater, or my church affiliation, or being a choir member once, but nothing closer than just being a Filipino.

We know that Filipinos love to sing. If you give a man a guitar, whether in a barrio or in the city, he would sing the whole night and serenade the moon. In our culture, we sing when we court somebody, also called the “harana”. We sing when we are heartbroken. We sing when we are planting rice. We sing when we are harvesting rice. We sing when we put our children to sleep. Others’ singing make people unable to sleep—think of the “tambays” drinking on the street.

Our religious traditions also involve singing. We sing in church. We sing in religious parades. We even have the “pabasa” during Lent. I remember when I was young and we would spend the holy week in our province. My grandmother’s house was near a small “bisita” with its bullhorn blasting loudly all night with the singing of the “pasyon,” much to my dismay, as it was impossible to fall asleep.

And of course, we sing for entertainment. If you visit a Filipino home, especially here abroad, it is not considered a true Pinoy home if it does not have a magic mic, or magic sing, or a karaoke, or a videoke, or some sort of sing-along system. Our parties are not complete without sing-along. Our town fiestas have singing competitions. I grew up watching singing contests on television, like the “Tawag ng Tanghalan,” (excuse me, that was before my time) and the “Bagong Kampeon” and “Tanghalan ng Kampeon” (these were more of my generation). These original talent search contests were way before the franchised Philippine Idol and Pilipinas Got Talent.

We have many individual singers who broke into the world-wide scene like Lea Salonga, Charice Pempengco, and Arnel Pineda. And when they perform, whether at home or outside of our country, they make us all proud.

But a choir or choral singing has a different charm. A choir’s repertoire is so much diverse, ranging from the classical, to religious, to Kundiman, to folk songs, and even pop songs. When a Filipino choir visits a Filipino community outside of our country, they bring with them a certain nostalgia. They bring with them a part of the Philippines that expatriates like me painfully yearn for.

Back in 2000, we were still in New York at that time, and I was in transition (okay, jobless), as I just finished my training and was waiting for a change of visa for me to start work. My family and I were homeless and were squatters in our friend’s apartment. The AUP Ambassadors came to town and toured New York City.

The choir members were divided among Filipino households for accommodations. Two male members stayed in the apartment where we were staying. As you can imagine, the NYC apartment was very small, and with already two families consisting of 4 adults and 3 kids, there was not much room for our guests. So they slept on the dining room floor, which they said they really did not mind, as we Filipinos are used to that anyway. Since I was not working and had nothing to do, I became the official driver of the choir’s van for the three days they stayed in NYC, bringing them to their concert venues and taking them home.

More recently, the University of the Philippines Madrigal Singers, after winning the 2007 European Grand Prix for Choral Singing held in Italy, toured the United Sates. One of their stops was Iowa, where I am now residing. Again the accommodation of the choir members was divided among the Filipino households in the area. We had two female members who stayed in our home for a couple of days. This time, I had a bigger space to accommodate visitors, and they slept in our guest room rather than on the dining room floor.

During their visit, we were held spellbound with their singing. From the liturgical “Pater Noster” (Our Father), to the folksy “Leron, Leron Sinta,” and to the children’s song “Tong Tong Pakitong,” it was simply enchanting. But the songs that brought me back to another place in time, were pop songs sang in choral arrangement, like “Kailangan Kita” by George Canseco, and “Bituing Walang Ningning” made popular by Sharon Cuneta. (It may be hard to admit, but I miss Sharon Cuneta.) These are familiar tunes that have mass appeal. And when they sang “Bayan Ko,” I almost stood up and raised my hand in a fist.

When the choir members left, they took my heart with them. I felt so homesick that it shook the foundations of my purpose, and I again questioned my reason for not going back home to stay. For several nights, I felt such a void, and the Madrigal Singers (through my iPod) lulled me to sleep. They sang me back home. In fact, even now, when the wave of homesickness surges, I would play their songs, and I would be transported to that land of coconuts, warm breeze and jeepneys.