Music to my shopping ears

WRY BREAD - Philip Cu-Unjieng (The Philippine Star) - April 4, 2015 - 10:00am

The concept of mall music blaring from overhead speakers of elevator muzak, or “shopping music,” are time-honored traditions that are regularly the butt of jokes or derision. This is because, more often than not, the most bland of pop hits, or the most unchallenging and ambient of music genres, are selected to make up the playlist. It’s pretty much music that stays in the background, and deservedly so. It’s the kind of music that if you had to characterize it as a color, your inevitable choice would be Dull Gray. And yet, the concept persists because it would seem not many malls are ready to up the stakes in terms of offering a more creative alternative. But a few out there are more adventurous — like there’s a jazz quartet playing during the weekend lunch hour at one Makati mall. And on a big scale, Ayala Malls is now collaborating with the almost 180-year-old Manila Symphony Orchestra, to make light classical music that much more accessible to Ayala Mall shoppers all over the metropolis.

As both the Ayala Malls and the MSO are about enriching the cultural life and leisure options of the Filipinos, the unprecedented collaboration has the Ayala Malls opening up one of the rooms on the top floor of Glorietta 5 to be a regular rehearsal hall for the orchestra. These rehearsal sessions now spill over to the Glorietta 5 activity center, making some days a virtual look-see into the behind-the-scenes trappings of a musical ensemble — highlighting the talent and dedication of the Filipino musician. During the launch event, the horn section was strategically placed at the corners of the second floor inner balconies, making the music sound positively celestial. And the string section then performed on the activity center’s stage. While it may have been sunny outside; the music brought a special ray of sunshine and warmth into the mall, making it “sunnier” inside!

Last March 21, in commemoration of Johann Sebastian Bach’s 300th birthday, the MSO performed his fugues and canons at Greenbelt, TriNoma, the Alabang Town Center and Glorietta. Truly exciting and innovative is what they’ve planned for summer — workshops of three-hour sessions open to children, where members of the MSO will act as instructors, introducing lucky children to their first feel of a violin, or other classical instruments — and who knows where that will lead to! This kicks off on April 12 at the UP Town Center, then moves to Fairview Terraces on April 19, Market! Market! BGC on April 26, at the Alabang Town Center on May 3 and culminates May 17 at Solenad in Santa Rosa, Laguna. Come June, a series of performances by the MSO with the visiting renowned Harvard Orchestra happens at Greenbelt and Glorietta malls.

Via this support for the MSO, Ayala Malls has turned the shoe notion of background mall music on its head, giving us quality musical respites — truly “music to our ears,” in ways that go beyond compliments or good news. At these malls, the phrase isn’t just a metaphor; but something lead by a metronome.


House Guests

The three novels today revolve around the concept of home and who we let in. With Beha’s novel, it’s reality TV and our celebrity-obsessed culture that we invite into our homes. Gamalinda is a Filipino published in the US, and by that fact alone, should be welcomed to our home libraries. Waters’ novel is set post-World War I; short listed for the Booker, it revolves around a family of women taking on boarders.

Arts & Entertainments by Christopher Beha (available on A wonderful comedic satire of our celebrity/reality show culture, and how things can be manipulated and controlled for our entertainment — pushing real life and values aside. The protagonist is a drama teacher who once had a fling at acting, while being boyfriend to a then struggling actress, now big star. Married and childless, said drama teacher is compelled by his wife to find a financial solution for their fertility clinic visits. With a school friend who’s now a Web impresario, our hero thinks selling a sex tape of himself and former girlfriend will solve his problems. The mayhem that ensues brilliantly encapsulates the absurd lengths to which people will crave fame or notoriety, and how we, the public, are such willing “followers.”

The Descartes Highlands by Eric Gamalinda (available at National Book Store) Two men, separated by time and space (one in the US, one in France) share a common legacy — sired by a father who was an American hippie living in the Philippines during the advent of martial law, and “sold” his sons via illegal adoption. Surreal, as if within an existential cloud, the stories of the three individuals are brought to us in alternating chapters that are written in a wistful language that always seems to be in danger of evaporating. The desperation of poverty, the quandary of identity and provenance, the vicissitudes of love and life, they all share the spotlight in the form of a novel that at times reads like a mystery or film noir. Visceral and desperate, almost suffocating, this is one powerful story.

The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters (available on It is 1922, and Frances and her mother Mrs. Wray, have had to take on boarders at their home in the suburbs of London. Lilian and Leonard Barber, a young couple, have responded to their ad. Here’s a novel about class differences and prejudices, about submerged and deviant/illicit desires, and about loneliness. Waters excels in describing the minutiae that envelope ordinary life, while turning her story into a page-turner of sorts. The blossoming of a lesbian relationship is at the core of the first half of the novel. And what transpires one fateful night has the story shift gears into one about guilt and culpability, a death by misadventure, and the living that has to go on after the said demise of one of the main characters. Ponderous yet rewarding.

Novels that bear warning labels for what we allow into our homes!


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