On QC roof deck, sounds of a conservatory

BLITZ REVIEW - Juaniyo Arcellana - The Philippine Star
On QC roof deck, sounds of a conservatory
Erehwon, the in-house jazz band, on Behn Cervantes Roofdeck amid mural art by Leeroy New.

Sometimes first lines come to you, out of the blue and walking straight up with a greeting like a long-lost friend. Call me Ishmael. Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendia was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice. The novel is dead, this is its resurrection. Near paraphrase, of course, of Melville, Garcia Marquez, Ruiz Aquino.

In this case, one involving a certain roof deck in Quezon City, any first line might have to do with sounds of a conservatory, the UP College of Music, where a walk past it during childhood would bare multiple diverse sounds as if harboring within its walls a secret garden: cellos and violins being tuned, piano runs like ragtime, clash of wayward cymbals, practice plucking on classical guitars, an ingenue soprano doing the scales in customary fashion, hahahahahahaha, seven has a warmup to my favorite things. Then, the Abelardo Hall, where recitals were held, and the first exposure to visiting conductor Helen Quach tapping any listener’s hidden herbolario, as well as jam sessions of a fledgling UP Jazz Ensemble. Actually, a veritable forest for the auditory senses.

Same with the roof deck of the Erehwon Center for the Arts in Old Balara, since renamed Behn Cervantes The Roofdeck, after the late theater director behind countless productions in the university, also the cult hit from the mid-‘70s Sakada, which screened in a movie house along Avenida and the character played by the actress Rosa Rosal gunned down while holding a sundang in the sugar cane fields of Negros, her body still lying between the kiosks selling magazines and rare cigarettes when you walk out at twilight.

No word yet if an elevator has been installed to get to the fourth floor of the center, to accommodate the arthritis stricken, but up there, the statue of Behn waits to greet you more than any long-lost friend, the first signs of life post-pandemic. Folksinger Heber Bartolome inaugurated the roof deck as outdoor folk house two months before passing on. Was followed by the rock icon Mike Hanopol brought in on a wheelchair but still laki sa layaw as ever. Then in order of more or less haphazard appearance: actor Cesar Montano with no naked lady making a cameo behind him, saxophonist Tots Tolentino in a throwback episode from conservatory days, a jazz night featuring a “sultry” vocalist, an opera night where one might expect to hear O Sole Mio echoing in the sprawling Quezon City night, the ongoing hubbub of LRT 7 construction a stone’s throw away, as planets align and the conjunction auguring better things to come for live music. On the drawing board as future guests are Joey Ayala for posterity of a Cheshire grin and never-ending farewells, and Jim Parades whose hiking society might serve in good stead.

Been there some three or four times before it was named Behn Cervantes, and the magic hour looking out to the expanse of Quezon City is like no other. The only other comparable experience of twilight at the roof deck is nightfall on the sundeck of an inter-island ship on the way to the Visayas, passing by the Panay islands lying like kraken in the blue, and one by one, the lights of the fishing boats turn up with the whistling of the wind.

In such a reverie, we were taken on the roof deck, with a calf roasting nearby, when an elder frat bro suddenly barked at us to hurry up and finish our beer.

Other projects include a link up with the Cultural Center as progenitor of cultural events, establishment of a museum of Philippine-American art, dance studio and scholarship and an in-house jazz band, as well the aforementioned film arm.

Kiray Celis was spotted on the roof deck along with fellow actors surveying the place for a possible shoot.

Sky’s the limit for the center, only that it can be difficult to find and those with poor sense of direction will most likely need a map to get to Don Francisco Street, Villa Beatriz, but you don’t have to abandon all hope once you enter the maze of streets of old Balara, if there’s a will, there’s a waze.

On a book launch years ago, which coincided with a fiesta in honor of the gallery owner Raf Benitez’s birthday, the mayora, who at the time was a vice mayora, was espied through a glass partition so clear you could almost walk through it. In her hands a book with an inscription, for the city of our childhood. Could be a paraphrase like the sounds of a conservatory, seven has a warmup to something resembling music.

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