HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes Updated January 25, 2009 12:00 AM
In my more than two years of writing this column, I’ve hardly written about music. Considering that music has been so much a part of my life and has given me a life of some privilege, fame and some wealth, I sometimes wonder why it is one of the last topics that enters my mind when I think of what to share with my readers. Perhaps it is because music is so much a part of me I can hardly separate it from myself. How can one point externally to something that lives internally in oneself?
Ever since I can remember, there’s been music in my home. As a three-year-old, I had the luck and pleasure of having at my disposal a phonograph and quite a number of records. To my young readers, records are those black vinyl discs made from petroleum that was one of the marvels of the analog age. They were the main medium of portable music then. Cassettes (do you still remember what those are?), floppy discs, USB drives, CDs, MP3 players were still to be invented.
The records I played were the 78 rpm (revolutions per minute) variety. They were brittle records and sounded very tinny and, as my parents and elders recall, if I did not fancy the sound that came from them, I would break them on my head! All those songs on those broken records must somehow have entered my brain and contributed to my extensive memory of songs.
Music is something the family has always enjoyed. My brothers and sisters liked to sing with a guitar. My dad liked to play the piano. I remember seeing my mom smile when we would all break into song at home. My sibs and I were like the Von Trapps, the Osmonds and the Jacksons — without the intense dysfunction — but with the same great love for singing. We would sing on every occasion and at a drop of a hat. When there were visitors in the house, we would somehow always manage to hold a concert. During long drives in the family car, our blending voices filled the airwaves in place of a car radio.
I can only be grateful for such a childhood. If not for my brothers and sisters who loved music and bought the records that made up the soundtrack of my youth, I would not have been exposed to great musicals like West Side Story, Oklahoma, Carousel and The King and I, or musical talents like Danny Kaye, the Kingston Trio, Gogi Grant, Debbie Reynolds, Elvis, Bing Crosby, Chet Atkins, the Beatles and many more.
As I got older and became a gangly, sensitive, introverted teen, music saved me from the hostilities and turmoil that kids my age imagined or actually went through. Music was a soothing hand on my chest, or an embrace that made me feel okay when raging hormones brought me to the brink of despair or to moments of teen angst. It was as if music was the very sound of my own feelings. My guitar was my weapon that could transform me from being just another insecure kid with pimples to someone cool on campus, at parties or gatherings.
Nothing got me more excited than learning a new song or discovering a new chord. Everything made sense only when seen through the prism that was music. I saw people as having moods that were just like songs. My experiences were carried in the soundtracks of songs I liked.
I remember writing my first song at age 13. I was on a bus going from school and I was totally ecstatic at my newfound ability to create my own songs. It would not be an exaggeration to say that the feeling was one of a primal spirituality, as if something in me was awakened to the potential to do wondrous things.
I practiced and played and explored music through my guitar at almost every waking hour. In high school, I loved to play in front of my classmates and, after a while, I got together with some classmates who comprised the early APO, including Boboy Garrovilo. I was quite unstoppable.
I remember writing a song with Danny at a time when we had both broken off with our girlfriends. It was a sad, maudlin tune and probably not one of our best songs. But creating it had a healing power over our broken hearts. It filled the chasm that the split-up created. It gave purpose to the pain of being left behind. Art, I discovered, had the ability to convert pain into beauty.
One of the most dramatic times I felt the power of music was in 1990 when I attended a workshop in the former USSR. I was among a contingent of international artists and we were tasked to perform each night to entertain the participants. I, together with a pop star from Moscow named Andrei Makarevich who hardly spoke English were assigned to perform on the last night. We were dumbfounded about what we could sing together. After a little jamming, we decided to sing a solo song each. I sang Batang-bata Ka Pa and he sang one of his big hits. We were received quite warmly. But to cap the evening, I suggested we do some Beatle tunes that he knew how to sing. When we started to play Can’t Buy Me Love, to my great surprise, the international audience got excited and began dancing and singing along. It was fantastic to realize that even with the language barrier, we and the audience shared a love for the music of Lennon and McCartney.
“Music fills the infinite between two souls,” as Rabindarath Tagore, the Indian poet, rightly put it. Indeed!
Nowadays, I write essays more than I write music. I seem to be in some transition. But when I need to, I can still whip up a more than decent tune. Writing, whether it is music or the written word, involves an internal exploration into one’s secret depths. One delves within to pull something out.
It is, I suppose, very much like a birthing. I tell people that my songs are like my own children. I really have no favorites even if some children can seem more charming than others at certain times.
Comparing our creative work with our children is the most appropriate way to describe them. Why? Because as writer Lawrence Durrell puts it, “Music is only love looking for words.” And like our children, our creative output is only love set free.
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Announcing the 44th run of Tapping the Creative Universe (TCU), a cutting-edge creativity workshop.
This seminar will run from 7 to 9 p.m., Feb. 16 to 20, concluding on Feb. 23. The venue is 113 B. Gonzales, Loyola Heights. Cost for the workshop is P5,000, inclusive of materials and merienda.
A workshop six years in the running, TCU has helped hundreds of students with its transformative, practical concepts that help unleash the creativity and joy of all who attend. If you are in between dreams, goals, careers, loves, lives and in need of a jolt or a nudge to get you out of a rut, this is your chance. It’s a new year. Time to get a new you going!
Warning: If you are looking for an easy workshop where you can choose to attend or not attend the sessions, or you do not want to be challenged, TCU is not for you.
For the syllabus, questions or reservations, e-mail me at email@example.com, or visit http://tappingthecreativeuniverse.com. You may also call 426-5375 or 0916-8554303 and ask for Ollie.