Tillie shares her gift of song
Dot Ramos Balasbas-Gancayco (The Philippine Star) - September 25, 2012 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines - Tillie Moreno may have left the Philippines 31 years ago, but those who were in their prime years in the country during the ’70s will always remember her electrifying voice and presence.  

For those who were then aspiring to sing professionally, she was our idol — practicing to get that “negra” sound of hers and trying hard (but miserably failing) to imitate her “kulot-kulot” ad libbing. Those of us who had extra allowance were her groupies, following her to different music joints during weekends to be enthralled by her captivating performances. And for some of us who experienced agonizing heartbreak, she became a part of our lives while we listened repeatedly to her song Saan Ako Nagkamali as we wallowed in tears.

Her decision to leave the country in 1981 came as a shock to her fans. But four of her siblings were already living in the US and she intended to try out her luck there, the proverbial greener pastures.  Not only did she find a great office job and concert bookings, she also found someone to love — Monty Filsinger (whose surname Tillie jokingly shares as what she took as the sign that he would become her husband).

In Nebraska where she lives, she follows a typical American schedule, working hard not only in the office but also at home doing household chores, such as cooking for her husband, younger daughter Maggie (older daughter Jennifer is based in Chicago) and her mother-in-law. But even with a tiring schedule, she continues to sing — mostly before Filipino communities, always believing that God gave her a gift to share and delight other people with.

It is true that she has been endowed with so much talent but Tillie stresses that she became the singer that everyone admires by no easy means. At a very young age, she knew that she wanted to be a performer and had her parents enroll her in piano lessons; guitar-playing was self-taught.

As a teenager, she formed a singing group named Take Five with her St. Theresa’s College classmates; subsequently, she was with a band, Ultimate Jury, composed of her brother and two cousins where she not only played the keyboard but also taught her co-members harmonization. She painstakingly listened to and studied the records of singers who impressed her.  Finally, while in college, the big break came when she auditioned for the Circus Band, where she joined forces with other music greats Jacqui Magno, Pat Castillo, Basil Valdez, Hajji Alejandro, Pabs Dadivas and Richard Tann, among others. When the Circus Band broke up, she had a short stint with Lovelife (with Basil and Hajji) until all three became solo artists. Aside from the hit song Saan Ako Nagkamali, she recorded Umagang Kay Ganda and Beginnings, two ’70s duets with Ray-Ann Fuentes; these have remained standards to this day.

Tillie (center) with former Circus bandmates (from left) Ding Mercado, Jacqui Magno, Pat Castillo and Eugene Villaluz

Like many Filipinos now based overseas, Tillie pines for the Philippines very much. She especially misses her now ailing mother and three siblings who have chosen to stay in the country. It is for this reason that she comes home at least once a year, and every time she does, she never runs out of invitations to perform. Several shows have, in fact, been lined up for her since her arrival, including the much-anticipated reunion concert with former Circus bandmates Jacqui and Pat. Expected to showcase songs that will bring back memories, the show titled The Circus Divas will be held on Sept. 28, Friday, 8:30 p.m. at the Teatrino, Promenade Greenhills. (For tickets, call Ticketworld at 891-9999.)

Asked for her advice to young, aspiring singers, Tillie readily shares the following: 1. Always sing from the heart; this is the only way by which you can convey the message of your song to the listeners.

2. Never come unprepared; study and do your homework. “My training with different bands built my confidence, honed my vocal skills and developed me into the versatile singer that I became,” Tillie explains. “The easier you get to the top, the faster you will fall.”

3. Keep it simple because less is more. “A good singer does not really have to try hard to show that he or she is good. There is no need to always scream or belt out or do ad libs in every song. If you do the same thing over and over again, the listener will definitely get tired of you,” Tillie adds.

No wonder, from the ’70s until today, Tillie Moreno is truly one singer that we can never get enough of.

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