Some 200 young musicians take to the stage during the Summer Out There culminating concert
Investing In Music
Gideon Isidro (The Philippine Star) - July 1, 2018 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — To increase the productivity of a city, the usual strategy would be to invest in sure return projects like hard assets or infrastructure, or to strengthen existing industries native to the city.

The City of Candon, Ilocos Sur broke from conventional wisdom and invested in the art of performing classical music; even as far as making it their goal to become “the music capital of the North.”

Cherry-Lou Jasmin Robledo, the Candon Musical Project coordinator, explains the rationale for their ongoing 10-year project. “With regards to tourism, in Vigan, they have the Heritage Village. In Candon, we don’t really have any place to show, aside from the beach, and our culinary traditions. We, however, have this manpower. So our goal for tourism is to use manpower... we’re going to use music. It is what will make Candon a tourism spot.”

Starting from scratch was not easy. Congressman Eric Singson, the representative of the 2nd District of Ilocos Sur, recounts their humble beginnings.

“The first time I invited a soprano and a tenor, among the most popular tenors and sopranos at that time in Manila, they performed in front of the church. We only had 50 people watching them… What (the audience) wanted was the rowdy music. That’s what they knew,” he relates. 

American violinist Noel Martin mentors students in Candon City as part of the MSO Music Academy summer camp faculty.

“When you go into classical music, they seem to be surprised. ‘What is this music the congressman is talking about?’ But later on, the second one, we had two hundred. Then the third one, a thousand. So now people are appreciating classical music in Candon.”

To boost musical literacy, the city of Candon sponsored music scholarships. Singson tallies, “We have seven graduates from St. Paul University. They completed a course on music and returned.”

Among those who have returned are Jedessa Calacday leading Candon City Children’s Choir and Regine Garabiles leading Candon City Chorale.

Aside from sending people outside for training, Candon City also invites musical institutions to form joint programs with them, especially during summer. The latest one was the 2018 Manila Symphony Orchestra Summer Out There: Ilocos Music Camp, a 5-day workshop in partnership with the Manila Symphony Orchestra Music Academy (MSOMA).

Candon City allowed the use of their facilities like the Candon City Cultural Arts Center, their Civic Center and sponsored the use of the Parthenon of Vitalis Villas. In return, MSOMA provided top notch faculty that would ordinarily not be available in Candon.

I was able to join some classes and observe how the faculty taught. There was a common culture among the MSOMA faculty. They knew their musical goals well and were able to bring their students to where they were supposed to go musically.

Whenever the students made mistakes, their rebukes were honest and stern, but kind. They expected perfection from their students, but they had the patience to bring their students to perfection.

Congressman Eric Singson (left) with Candon scholar Christian Geo Molina, who is now a cellist with the Manila Symphony Orchestra and Manila Symphony Junior Orchestra.

Candon City’s students had a lot of novel experiences. They were able to see the superb players of MSO’s junior orchestra in action, playing the difficult pieces of Bach, Mozart or Beethoven.

Alfonso Encina Jr., a violin faculty of the workshop, explains, “The camp is a way to motivate the kids. When they see the advanced players they start to think that they would eventually be able to do the same.”

The camp culminated in a concert with students from Candon’s Chamber Orchestra, the Manila Symphony Junior Orchestra and Training Orchestra forming the night’s string orchestra. Candon’s guitarists, children’s choir and adult choir joined in to form a total of 200 performing musicians. This army of performers applied all they learned from the past five days into one spectacular night.

The grand performance is only a taste of things to come as Candon’s next project is to develop 500 local violinists by 2020. “Candon City is builidng a sports complex and we plan to have the violinists play for its opening. We will do barangay-based and school-based searches to look for the 500 potentials,” says Robledo.

As for the audience, while they did not have the same vigor as found in rock concerts, you could see that they were very focused on the performers.

Childhood favorites like “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” played by the little kids were met with ecstasy. Medleys based on Filipino folk songs made the audience listen more intently. What wowed the audience most were the pieces performed by the advanced players. Bach’s “Concerto for Two Violins” in particular stunned them.

Nandyan si ate oh (Elder sister is there)!” the kid beside me pointed as the choir entered the stage. The orchestra started to play the instrumental of Bach’s “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring.” Once the choir began to sing, I couldn’t help but cry. The music was so heavenly and beautiful.

After the culminating concert, I asked how some locals felt about the performance and Candon City’s music program. One local responded, “The show was OK, but the songs were not my type… However, I believe the program should continue because it’s good for the children.”

Others were very appreciative of the performance, “I’m willing to listen to more music of this kind.”

Another said, “The show was beautiful. Candon City should continue playing this kind of beautiful music.” It was from these responses that I was able to see that Candon City made the right decision to invest in classical music. Just give the city a few more years, and they could indeed be a tourist destination for classical music.

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Those who wish to be involved in Candon City’s music program may email

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