Only in STAR: Starting ‘em young on orchestral music
Nathalie Tomada (The Philippine Star) - March 7, 2014 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines - As they say, start ‘em young. So, how do you introduce orchestral music to kids of the “digital generation” who get their entertainment from multimedia platforms?

Ever since the ABS-CBN Philharmonic Orchestra was born two years ago, it has been tirelessly reaching out to the masses, and it has come up with thematic, entertaining shows wherein they do both classical and pop to drive home the point that orchestral music, despite some misconceptions, can be appreciated by all. Recently, the orchestra launched Musicoveries, an outreach program designed to introduce orchestral music to elementary school students.

The STAR was able to attend one recently at Star City’s Aliw Theater at the Cultural Center of the Philippines Complex, which was jampacked with grades four to six students from 60 public elementary schools in Metro Manila. It was not just any show where the orchestra would bring out their instruments and play live symphonic music. It was incorporated with audio-visual storytelling, with the musical director-conductor, Maestro Gerard Salonga, acting like the teacher, interacting with the students and interspersing each piece with backgrounders on what the orchestra was playing. Each “family” of the orchestra — strings, woodwinds, brass and percussion — was also presented via brief solos so that the students, who only knew of these instruments from their textbooks (they said so when they were asked), learned what kind of sound they contributed to the whole.

It was truly educational, as it was entertaining. Students pulled out their digital/phone cameras and recorded away (they did away with the usual “no-cameras” restrictions in gala or matinee theater shows).

The free show was equal parts classical and pop, foreign and OPM music. It started off with one of the most popular amongst the classical canon, the March of the Swiss Soldiers, finale to the William Tell Overture. Originally composed for a French opera in the early 1800s, it’s more known now as the theme of Lone Ranger in movies and on TV. Another classical piece demonstrated how melodies tell a story, the haunting Danse Macabre, wherein the percussion instrument xylophone was used to evoke the sound of bones rattling. The orchestra also played the movie themes created by the legendary American composer-film scorer John Williams, from Star Wars to Jaws. Also performed were the theme songs of the hit teleseryes Be Careful With My Heart and Got To Believe. The show ended on a high note with a medley of the chart-toppers of 2013, from Katy Perry’s Roar to Whoops Kiri Whoops.

A portion was also devoted to the country’s foremost classical composers and artists, such as Ryan Cayabyab, Cecile Licad, Rachelle Gerodias and Jovianney Emmanuel Cruz, who is behind the Orchestra of the Filipino Youth (OFY) which is patterned after El Sistema, the successful youth and children orchestra program in Venezuela. Some members of the OFY also performed with the ABS-CBN Philharmonic in one number. The presence of young people alongside the seasoned ones was one of the most applauded parts.

Another highlight was when the orchestra featured Kapamilya heartthrob Xian Lim, who was promptly welcomed with deafening screams from the students. He played two pieces on the piano and encouraged the students to learn music as a way to develop discipline.

This was just the start and a great one at that, what with the positive reception of the students. According to Salonga, Musicoveries will be continuously fine-tuned so that it will become a more enjoyable at the same time enriching experience for the students.

Salonga revealed that in the late ‘70s to the early ‘80s, there used to be this kind of activity at the CCP. “I didn’t experience it first-hand, but many of the musicians here were members of the Philippine Philharmonic Orchestra in the ‘80s and in the late ‘70s. They have lots of these, free for children. It was just part of the program. (But) it just disappeared. I hope they bring it back. It would be good so the kids can go to the Cultural Center of the Philippines.”

He noted that in other countries, their orchestras “have a very aggressive approach to playing for kids and there wasn’t any aggressive approach here.”

“What is to blame for it, maraming dahilan pwede diyan, lack of funding is probably the biggest, because of course, someone has to fund it because the orchestra still has to play, still has to be paid. I think we’re very lucky that ABS-CBN is behind an initiative like this for us to play for kids,” Salonga added.

Asked on what he hopes kids will gain from Musicoveries, Salonga said, “As you could probably tell, they respond (to classical music) and it’s not just familiar. There’s a very well-known conductor in the States named Benjamin Zander and his opening statement in all his talks is, ‘Everyone loves classical music, they just don’t know it.’ You have to show them what it is. And also break down the boundaries and how they are played like pop stuff at the very end. It’s (Musicoveries) a mixture of different (things). Even Xian played a Mozart piece followed by a Vehnee Saturno love song (Be My Lady). It shows that there’s no difference. I don’t know who’s to blame for those boundaries in people’s minds. But they shouldn’t exist.”

The STAR also talked to Xian, who is a favorite guest of the ABS-CBN Philharmonic. “Music is my passion. It started with my mom, who was the one who taught me to play the piano. She’s a UP grad (not music) but she was interested in music, like when I was eight, she taught me to do a minuet. From then on, I continued playing the piano,” said Xian, whose favorite classical composers are Beethoven, Mozart and Chopin.

According to Neil Andoque, the PR specialist of the ABS-CBN Philharmonic Orchestra, Xian always makes time for them despite his showbiz commitments.

The actor explained, “I’m very thankful because not everyone is given the chance to play with an orchestra. I learned a lot like reading sheets. Last year, I did the trombone with them. They’re very cool, very open, very patient with me. This has always been what I wanted to do even before I got into showbiz. When I was still in the States and in a band, I always got the third chair, yung nakiki-harmony; I never got the lead sheets. But when I joined the Philharmonic, I experienced playing before students and that alone gives me so much fulfillment.”

Meanwhile, the ABS-CBN Philharmonic Orchestra will continue to be busy with its educational outreach, shows, concerts as well as gigs for the network. Officially established in 2012, the orchestra has since mounted major shows such as The Magic of John Williams (with a repeat), A Christmas Gift, The Pianist’s Pianist feat. Cecile Licad and The Magical Music of Disney, and was most recently part of Do You Hear The People Sing, Lea Salonga’s Playlist and Martin Nievera’s 3D: The Repeat.

Salonga, who said that the country actually doesn’t lack good musicians but there aren’t enough jobs for them, happily shared, “We’ve been very busy. What’s really wonderful with this set-up we have is that our board of directors and principal patrons, ABS-CBN and First Philippine Holdings, understand what it means to fund an orchestra. They’re not going to fall into the trap that (other orchestras) fell into. Expectations were wrong from the beginning. These people know what it takes to have an orchestra, what it means financially, what it means to their company, to the station — they understand all that. I see nothing but great things for us.”

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