Sunday, November 12, 2006
BREATHING LESSONS — Part 1
Here in the Philippines, believe it or not, the malls would usually start playing Christmas carols through their PA systems in September. Meanwhile, certain sections of the selling floors would be gaily setup for artificial Christmas trees and assorted colorful holiday ornaments and dizzying lights. Private homes and public arenas have started as well to adorn their vicinities with all sorts of festive display of lights as a way to usher in the spirit of Christmas.
Such an early anticipation of the holiday season I can only experience in Manila. In New York, the Friday right after Thanksgiving — celebrated on the last Thursday of November — heralds the Christmas shopping frenzy. However, although a New York Christmas may be more picturesque and sometimes white, for those who grew up in the archipelago, there’s still nothing more heartwarming and joyful than a holiday season spent back home.
The eight of us kids grew up without the usual tradition of presents under the Christmas tree. The wrapped gifts often came from godparents; hence, we grew up receiving a gift of cash instead from our parents on Christmas day to buy whatever we wanted. And with such predictable Christmas gifts, imagine my great surprise one Saturday about two weeks before Christmas when I was thirteen years old.
This is the way it happened: After a movie and merienda at a Chinese noodle shop in Sta. Cruz, my father and I walked into a combination music and sporting goods bazaar near Avenue Theater in Avenida Rizal. This was where we bought the 45 rpm singles that my older siblings had listed the night before. And so on this particular Saturday, while the saleslady was bagging our purchase, out of the blue, my father asked if I wanted the set of drums displayed on the floor at the far end of the store. It was a beautiful set made by Pearl. I felt as if the air was sucked out of me; too stunned to reply.
Playing drums was what came to me naturally; I never took any lessons. I started with a pair of chopsticks and some newspapers and moved up to playing with my cousin’s set of drums on weekends. I also had a classmate whose band played cover tunes. He would sometimes invite me after school to sit in on their jam sessions whenever their drummer couldn’t make it (he was a rather incorrigible character always grounded by his parents). I somehow managed to do a decent job with time-keeping that I got invited repeatedly; playing mostly the music of The Kinks and The Zombies.
My friend’s house was in Santa Ana and my father would usually come to pick me up after work. My father was a music enthusiast who favored jazz and big band music. Gene Krupa, the legendary jazz drummer, happened to be one of his favorites. I was sure for certain that deep inside, he delighted in my skills in playing the drums. Thus, I was fully aware that he must have been greatly disappointed when I declined his offer to buy me that set of drums on that Saturday afternoon. When asked why, all I could say to him was that I preferred a set of Ludwig drums like what Ringo of The Beatles used. That was a lie.
As a youngster, when it came to my interest in music, it was my oldest brother Junior I felt most at ease to discuss such matters with. After dinner that Saturday evening, I told him what happened earlier at the bazaar, and when he asked for my real reason for declining, I told another lie — that I was afraid it might incite resentment from the other brothers. Although he somewhat agreed with me, it was obvious he was puzzled why I chose to forego such a rare opportunity.
After a couple of weeks, I did tell my mother the truth — what I really wanted was a piano. For a more dramatic effect, I added that God wanted me to play the piano because of the long fingers He gave me. She remained silent as she went on with whatever she was doing at that moment. I then told her that I had even picked-out the ideal piano teacher. Finally, my mother responded with what I was afraid I’d hear from her — that a piano and those lessons with a private teacher would cause a tremendous strain on the family budget.
My intuition proved to be correct and this was exactly the reason I couldn’t tell my father the real reason why I declined his offer to buy me a set of drums. Especially since it had to do with music, I knew it would devastate him not to be able to buy me that which I really wanted. Neither did I tell this truth to Junior, because he might only nag my parents on my behalf. Junior was a very quiet kid, which made my parents pay even more attention to him in those rare moments that he would choose to speak.
Despite that setback, my intense desire to play the piano went unwavered even as I got older; it gnawed at my soul. And no matter how impressive my achievements at work, it seemed as if I’d hear a voice asking, “but what about your music?”
There was also that time during my early twenties when as a rising junior executive at a leading publishing company in Manhattan with a powerful publisher as my mentor, I threw all caution to the wind and quit my job to follow my bliss — to get a job in the unstable music industry for less than half the salary I was making. Everyone was astonished and disappointed; suspecting I was on drugs or had gone mad. But what everyone failed to understand was that had I not followed my inner desire, my bliss, I might have drowned spiritually; becoming utterly miserable for the rest of my life.
The pay may be less than desirable but the fringe benefits were pretty amazing at the record company where I finally got a job. An entry level position was what I got; however, within six months I was promoted as the assistant to the vice president of merchandising, and thereby reaped further benefits for holding a higher profile position. I got invited to very exclusive showcases in which the audience was strictly music industry folks and artists only. It was indeed a heady experience to be seated within arms reach of rock stars whose music I’ve collected through the years. Yet, despite all that, after about three years, I handed in my resignation. I was sure my sudden departure gave the impression that I was offered a better position at a competing company. Truth be told, something inside had urged me to move on although I was dismayed upon realizing that my having worked at the music industry was not enough to appease my soul. Apparently, it turned out to be a mere phase of a long arduous journey.
Nonetheless, through it all I managed to remain true to my dream — to learn to play the piano. Eventually, through sheer determination and with the help of a patient music teacher, I did! The very first piece I learned how to play was Ave Maria by Bach and Gounod. After that, the blues captivated my fascination. Learning to play the piano at a matured age has great disadvantages; foremost, the loss of nimbleness with one’s fingers. However, with the advent of computers, sequencers and electronic keyboards, I was able to pursue making music, but this time, I shifted my focus more on composition and orchestration.* I was to discover later on that it was absolutely the loneliest endeavor in the realm of music making.
To this very day I am in awe of those proficient with a musical instrument. Percussions are quite easy unlike say, string and wind instruments that are more demanding — requiring their players to be knowledgeable with scales, key signatures, pitch, chords, harmonics, and etc.
Oddly enough, the most significant work that I had done with music and could brag about at heaven’s gate upon my death, so to speak, had nothing to do with the glamour of writing original music or doing live performances; it was of a more deeply spiritual endeavor. I had no idea whatsoever that I was heading towards that direction.
To be continued…
* The Atari ST - my blog entry of 11/04/05 about my private music lessons and online activities during the pre-Internet days.
posted by Señor Enrique at 9:43 AM
- ladybug said...
Wow! Hanga ako sa iyo. You left a high-paying job to pursue your dream. I could never be that brave. I'm glad you eventually learned to play the piano. Your story is really touching. Hope you have a nice Sunday.
- kyels said...
It's all about taking risks in life; whether we choose to take it or not. Arts is something some people would not give up their current job for but I do salute you Eric, for being so brave. Man, you're definitely a natural in playing the drums.
This is a nice post, very nostalgic, the feeling given.
- bugsybee said...
This struck a chord in me. :) I longed for a drum set when I was younger. My mom got me a second-hand one and my drum playing frayed everybody's nerves. Then I started to learn the guitar and forgot about my drums. To this day (even when I am already in midlife), I still long to play the drums. ... Looking forward to the continuation of this post.
- cruise said...
wow galing mo pala sa music. dream ko rin maging musician, i tried studying how to play the guitar, piano and drums but no success, hehe.
medyo parang late nga ang christmas sipirt dito sa pinas ngayon taon na ito, late ko na narinig sa mrt at lrt yung pagpapatugtog ng christmas songs.
- wysgal said...
You learned to play the piano as an adult? That's amazing!
I took piano for years as a child, and hated it most of the time, but became pretty good at it. Now that I'm a bit older (and theoretically wiser) I realize I miss it. And at home we have a piano that has been silent for many years.
- DOPS said...
- niceheart said...
There was also a time when Reggie asked if he could take piano lessons and I told him that we would then need to buy a piano and we just couldn't afford it. I did buy him an electronic keyboard later on but no piano lessons.
And this is also the reason I didn't want to dissuade him from pursuing a music course. Because I see in him that same determination that you had. I have a feeling that if he pursues another career of my own choosing, he'd go back to his own passion.
Thanks for sharing this. I'm also looking forward to the continuation.
- ipanema said...
I think there are people somewhere in the world who have other choices in life, if given the opportunity. I admire what at you did. It's tough changing from one career to folow your dreams. It takes lots of courage. What if I'll follow what I really want to do with my life? hmmm.
- houseband00 said...
Christmas really is just around the corner. My Dad has started playing his Streisand Christmas CD last weekend. It's the one with the fast and confusing "Jingle Bells."
I got my first and only guitar when my Dad brought one home from Cebu when I was 11. I thought that I could learn the darn thing but I found out that I neither had the patience nor the talent for it.
It's great you pursued your dream. I am in admiration, brave Eric.
- dave (",) said...
Since I came from a family with musical leanings, I can relate with your post. I got to pick up some knowledge with the piano and the guitar, but I never had the strong desire to master them. I also sing but my deep voice limits my range much to my disappointment. Perhaps I was discouraged by my relatives' mastery of musical instruments or their good voices, that I will never be able to reach them. That's why I pursued writing as my art form instead, since I know it's one thing I'm better than them. Still, there's that tinge of envy whenever I see them perform. Admittedly, it's easier to appreciate a musical performance than a written work. Perhaps, I should go into photography...
- manilenya said...
"Musika ang tunay na aking tinataglay..ito rin ang dahilan kung ba't ako naglalakbay!"
<<---ito pala ang kanta para sa yo :) ... wala naman sigurong dapat ipagsisi diba? nagawa mo minsan yung gusto mong gawin and after a while nagkaroon ka ng realization na kahit na iyon ang gusto mo hindi ibig sabihin para doon ka lang mabubuhay :)
- Senor Enrique said...
Living in NYC gave me the opportunity to meet various people, Ladybug. And those who seemed at peace with themselves were those who followed their bliss despite incertainty of the outcome. For the most part, they nspired me to do the same.
Thanks, Kyels. Nonetheless, this "inner voice" was a force of great stress as well, because human nature being what it is, no one particularly enjoys going through a major change. It can be unnerving :)
- Senor Enrique said...
Bugsybee, there are musical instrument stores here in Metro Manila (like in SM) who offer practice rooms complete with a drum set. You can rent it for like P120/hour
I did just that while in Manhattan -- rent a practice studio. I'd slipped in a CD, put on the headphones, and play along with a drum set provided by the studio. It was a lot of fun! I'm sure you can do the same in where you are.
The guitar is one fine instrument, Cruise, but somehow I never felt the urge to learn how to play it -- it seemed so foreign to me. I have cousins, though, who excel in it. The piano and drums, on the other hand, seem to me like had always been with me in previous lives.
- Senor Enrique said...
Sheer determination, Wysgal :) I really wanted to play it so badly you had no idea. You have got to go back and play the piano more often; it's a sure way to reach the realm of the angels, as many people claim!
Sorry, DOPS. I had to break it into two parts otherwise it'd be too long; thus, appear too boring to read. I'm in the process of editing part two and will post when ready.
- Senor Enrique said...
That was, indeed, very nice of you, Niceheart -- to allow your son to follow his bliss. I had said the same to Myepinoy when he mentioned that he allowed his son to study classical piano.
Athough I managed to do well in all the jobs I had in New York, the common critique from my superiors, though they weren't that blunt about it, was that I appeared "aloof." They got a sense that I seemed to be focused on another direction (which they couldn't figure out) instead of fully exploiting the opportunities awarded to me at those jobs.
That aloofness, was attributed to an inner calling that gnawed at me :(
There are trade-offs involved here, too, Ipanema. I was able to do what I did because I had to forego of certain things that could possibly anchor me down and prevent my pursuit of this inner calling.
But then again, I am one of those who believe that this is not the only life there is; therefore, those I let go in this lifetime, I can always have in the next :)
- Senor Enrique said...
I know exactly that Jingle Bell version, hb00! I'm not too fond of it, though :)
I feel the same as you with guitars -- they just seem so unlearnable for me. And I don't think I have enough intelligence to learn about its frets and chords. This is why I admire those who can play it no matter what level their skill is.
Thanks, hb00. But let me tell, it's not all that much fun, especially in the beginning.
I happen to enjoy your writings, Dave. You are, indeed, one fine writer. But writing is a solitary endeavor much like writing music, and maybe that is why we look at those jamming muusicians with a tinge of envy. Nonetheless, a written work turned into a movie can be something else as well :)
Tama ka Melai -- wala talaga dapat ipagsisi kasi ang pinakamahalaga ay tinumgo mo and daan na ikaliligaya ng iyong sarili. Pero hirap gawin ito sa Pinas kasi masyado din tayong "clannish" ika nga. Uunahin pa nating paligayahin ang iba bago ang sarili natin kaya daming lasing dito ... hahaha.
Meron palang kaibigan utol ko sa New York. Pinilit siyang mag doktor ng kanyang ina. Noong naging doktor na siya at lahat, naging miserable naman ang kanyang buhay hanggang naging addict siya sa pain killers. Iyon na din kinamatay niya -- na-overdose siya. Sayang, no? Hindi ang pagka doktor niya kundi ang buhay niya.