Expressing oneself in an authentic way

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) | Updated June 29, 2014 – 12:00am

Screen Shot 2014-06-29 at 7.42.45 AM

I went to Cebu last Tuesday to attend the VisPop 2.0 songwriting contest. Together with fellow singer/songwriter Noel Cabangon, we took a flight to catch this musical event. As officers of the Filipino Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (FILSCAP), we went to see how our partners and colleagues were doing in their second year of running this songwriting contest.

VisPop stands for Visayan Popular music. It is the region’s term for the new music that young people are writing for themselves and their generation. As a speaker in the gathering described it, prior to the recent onset of VisPop, there seemed to be only old-fashioned music that was being written with topics either about extreme sadness or funny novelty songs. And he pointed out that songs still seemed to be written in the style of their grandfathers and grandmothers. In his words, it was “music for old people.”

The night started with a sumptuous dinner at the Radisson Blu with Cebu businessmen and women who were our co-sponsors for the project. We then proceeded to the venue, which was a theater in SM.

As we entered the theater and sat down, the tiredness I was feeling seemed to disappear. In place of it, I got excited. I sensed a strong creative energy in the room. What was about to come seemed like a new magical experience. It was quite exciting for Noel and I to be there and about to witness and listen to VisPop songs and performers.

The concert began with our National Anthem sung in Cebuano. I felt a strange sensation — actually more like an epiphany — as I struggled with the lyrics flashed on the screen. As I strived to read the words, which I barely understood, I tried to substitute them with the Tagalog lyrics of Lupang Hinirang to make sense of it. In the end, I came to the conclusion that the Cebuano lyrics were probably not a literal translation of the National Anthem as I knew it.

All languages have their own words, syntax, rules, and all these most likely came into play when they translated the song into Cebuano. Languages may seem to talk about the same thing but there are many nuances at play. In the end, the way it expresses the topic brings with it its own unique syntax, color, flair and local content.

At that moment, I realized how fellow Filipinos from different regions must feel when operating in a Tagalog world. I do not wish to open up a discussion over how and why the Tagalog-based “Filipino” medium of instruction and national language came to be; I do recognize, though, that the national language as it is has made great strides in being accepted everywhere. A big part of the credit probably goes to how news has been delivered in the vernacular for the past few decades now. It has also managed to incorporate many words from other dialects all over the country. One might say that Filipino has been successful so far and is becoming a common language all over the country.

Having said that, I also realized that night that the language and culture one is born and raised in will never, ever lose its meaning, relevance and intimacy.

As the songs were sung, I felt the pride in the audience and the singers. They were expressing themselves in the lingua franca they were intimate with. I could feel the heart and soul and the meaning of the songs even if the lyrics mostly eluded my full understanding. They talked about love, superstition, compassion, loss, caution, and a host of other things using their own cultural “operating system,”
so to speak.

There were guests who sang excerpts from homegrown musicals, too. It was thrilling to watch their impressive performances. I was imbibing everything. And even if I did not understand the lyrics, I certainly felt the emotions being conveyed.

That night I felt a familiar energy, something I had first sensed when OPM in Manila was just starting. There was that feeling of adventure and recklessness, of doing something entirely new, of entering, claiming and conquering unknown territory, a boldness in expressing oneself to the world in the most direct and honest way which is through one’s native tongue. I felt the magic in what was unfolding. New possibilities and potentials were definitely unfolding. It was no less than a breakthrough.

I came home that night feeling great and I am so excited to enlist Filscap in supporting the future VisPop songwriting projects.

To songwriters in the Visayas and everywhere in the Philippines, may you express yourselves in the most honest way you can — and yes, in the language that you feel conveys your message in the most authentic way.

Building a house

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) | Updated June 22, 2014 – 12:00am

It must have started sometime when Ondoy happened. The trauma of having my recording studio and office at the back of our home inundated with water was, to say the least, traumatic. The mold that stuck to the acoustic walls could not be fully taken out. A lot of the equipment, even if it did not get wet, had to be hurriedly disassembled and piled together. It definitely wasn’t the same creative playground I had enjoyed for many years.

Since the typhoon, we had largely left it abandoned and forlorn. The months and years soon passed by and the mold and mildew settled in permanently, making it unusable and unfit for human activity.

Prior to the typhoon, we had also been thinking of renovating our home, which had not had a makeover in decades. I told Lydia however that I did not wish to live in a house with workers pounding hammers everywhere.

It was Lydia who suggested we tear down the studio and build a new activity place for my workshops and other creative pursuits. Once built, we could use it as our temporary shelter while the main house was being remodeled. That was the plan.

It also happened that five years ago, we bought a huge 99-year-old house that was being torn down in Tiaong. We bid for all the wood, which was either going to be sold or thrown away. After purchase, we set it aside in the hope that someday we would build a small house on a small piece of land we bought on a mountain. But since that someday was not anywhere near the horizon, we decided to use all that wood instead and build the new structure where the studio and office were located.

Once we had decided, Lydia wasted no time. Soon enough, Lydia was talking to Edwin and Divina Mallari, our architect-contractors, and soon enough they were already drawing up plans and blueprints for a structure to replace the studio. The idea was to build an activity area for my workshops and creative pursuits.

But somewhere along the way, the planned activity area had become a full two-bedroom house and was suddenly going to become our new main home. Don’t ask me how that happened but that’s how the flow went.

We were excited. We had lived in other homes in the past that we had remodeled. It was the first house we were building from the ground up.

It is very challenging to build a house. It can get stressful. In our case, we zealously followed the rules in getting barangay and city permits, but the QC government was way too slow in granting them. It took close to four months to finally get the go-signal to build.

The workers who did the carpentry work were in awe at the quality of the wood. Yakal, narra, bulaong, mulawin and other rare, high-quality lumber were the materials they were going to work with. While the old, used wood was something to get excited about, we soon realized that there was a lot of effort needed in cutting the wood to the specifications for the new house we were building. Unlike when you order lumber pre-cut to size, these pieces had to be re-cut, resized and sanded. Since the house plans were to use wood, glass and steel with hardly any cement work except the foundation, it was a lot of work for the carpenters.

They were slicing, cutting, sawing, carving the wooden planks from scratch to fit into the design of a new house. Former windowsills became stairs, floors became walls, long ceiling beams were cut to fit whatever the plans called for. Whatever we had saved on wood went to labor costs.

Lydia and I watched in amazement as all that old wood that used to be part of an old house were being transformed into something that had not existed before. It was being made into an entirely new home.

When you are building a house, you rejoice when every stage of the construction gets done. We cheered when the foundation was put into place. The execution of the design had to be revised a few times because things depended on what kind of wood was available. There were always adjustments.

We felt good that we had hardly cut any lumber or new trees to build the house. We were recycling an old house into a new one. We felt creative and in line with our environmental views and convictions.

We also used the old windows grills from my former studio. We got carved decorative wood that used to belong to Lydia’s parents’ old home. Lastly, we built a huge dining table for 20 which was fashioned from two 16-foot-long planks which we connected using other pieces of wood that were there. It is a table so heavy, but the solidness and the design of old wood made it really beautiful. It is the centerpiece of our sala/dining area.

The house construction took long to finish — months overdue — but we are happy with the outcome.

A few nights back, Lydia and I moved in our bed cushion to the master’s bedroom and spent the night there. I hardly got any sleep as I stared into the ceiling and tried to feel at home in our new bedroom. I listened to all the new sounds, the pitter-patter of rain on the roof and the creaking of wood adjusting to the temperature. It was hard to get any sleep because I felt rather overwhelmed that all the effort, money we spent had paid off beautifully.

It’s a dream come true especially for Lydia who took charge of the whole project. I pretty much told her that she could do whatever she wanted so long as it fit the budget I had set aside. I have always been easy when it came to things like this. I hardly complain about anything. I believe that the person who spends more time in the house should have greater say about how it should look like.

This is the beginning of a new chapter in our lives. Houses carry certain vibes and dynamics. Right now, I already am noticing some of the characteristics of the new house. The old wood makes it seem comfortably lived-in. It does not have the stiffness and formality some new houses have. Rather it carries with it the statement of the people who made it. It has our eclecticism, creativity. It also has remnants of Lydia’s parents’ house. And all over, it has Lydia’s sense of style and elegance.

Slowly, our presence is making the house more animated and alive. What was once an empty space at the back of the house became a studio and office, and is now a new house. Very soon, it will be a real home with the character imprint of all its inhabitants.

We first dreamed about it, then conceptualized and planned it and then built it. Yet, despite our intimate involvement since inception, it still feels like a fresh discovery as I walk through the rooms of the house. It is like the word made flesh. It is imagination brought to fruition, inspiration made into a work of art!

May new happy memories be created here and inhabit our new abode!

Lessons I learned from my children

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) | Updated June 15, 2014 – 12:00am

Screen Shot 2014-06-15 at 1.16.56 AM
Illustration by REY RIVERA

Every Father’s Day, I joke about how this day of the year is probably the most confusing one for people like Erap, Ramon Revilla Sr., Dolphy, Lou Salvador and the many famous people who sired countless children. By the sheer number of offspring they have with different women, how on earth do they remember names, birthdays, the mothers and even the circumstances of how their children came to be?

While it is something said in jest, I know that being a father can be very confusing and challenging. One usually gets into the role with some preconceived ideas on how to be one. That’s how I initially approached it. But no sooner than you think the template you are following is a perfect one, the cracks on the wall appear. You may do some patchwork quickly and once again feel that things are hunky dory. But then, even more cracks appear until you are led to the conclusion that fatherhood will always be a work in progress.

It is never-ending. As long as you are alive, there is something to learn. And yes, one never stops being a father. You can’t help it.

Raising children is something no one will ever be completely prepared for. You will face a multitude of experiences from pleasant ones to the very difficult and painful. It will stretch you as a person in all ways. It will lead you to question not only your understanding of yourself as a person, a parent, a father, an adult, a provider, adviser, a disciplinarian, a role model but most importantly a human being who must learn love in its most unconditional form.

I do not joke when I say that my children have been some of my greatest teachers. I may have taught them their spelling, math, and many other things but in the process they taught me a lot and greatly shaped me as a human being.

Patience is a true virtue and is integral to being a father and a grown-up. When my children were young, I had to read over and over again the poems and stories they liked to hear before sleeping. I learned a lot of patience teaching them stuff, sitting down with them as they did their homework (especially math).

When they got to be adolescents, I learned to be even more patient as they went through their phases of being full-blown, angst-ridden, confused, inarticulate young people until they outgrew these periods. I had to learn to observe, withhold judgment, piece things together and make sense of what they were going through while being cognizant of their super-sensitive feelings. Having three children with four- and five-year age differences gave me the opportunity to know them individually as they went through their different stages.

Erica is the oldest and also the most energetic, impulsive child, and the one that challenged me most as a dad. She is very intelligent and talented. She excelled in gymnastics and even made it to the national team. But she was also a rebel through and through who liked to question conventions.

During her early teens, I saw her transform from a happy, normal kid to a detached and depressed one. She kept Lydia and me up worried many a late night as she went through her difficult phase of finding herself. At one point, she was doing quite badly in school. She abruptly wanted to change school in her third year of high school and transfer to one where she did not have to argue with nuns. It turned out to be a good thing in the end since she excelled in her new school and got into ADMU for college.

If life is a dark room where we as humans must enter and find our way without bumping into the furniture too much, Erica may have bumped the most among all my kids.

From Erica, I learned to set aside my preconceived notions of what children ought to be and accept what they are and work from there. I learned to let go of rigid expectations and simply allow her to become what she was/is to become. When she became pregnant in her mid 20s, I learned to immediately drop all emotional baggage that stood in the way and love her unconditionally and be supportive of her journey.

Erica is a survivor. She is a single mother to my grandchild Ananda. They are both very beautiful, most especially in the eyes of this dad/lolo. Both of them can brighten up any room.

She is fun-loving, although she has her serious side. She is a writer and writes her columns with great insight. I see more and more maturity and adulthood creeping in now that she is in her mid-30s. I can only smile.

Ala is our second child. She was always bright-eyed, and easy, although quite sickly. For a while we worried that Erica’s stellar athletic achievements would cast a heavy shadow on her. But early on, Ala made her presence felt as someone really different. She was calmer and quieter than her elder sister. She had a sense of wonder about everything. She had the sensitivity of an artist. I noticed that early on when I would see her cry to sad music. And she also loved to draw a lot. At the end of a school day, she would draw what happened in class on her diary in great detail.

Ala is also quite a determined person. When we moved to Sydney, she had decided to be an illustrator, went to school, topped her class and even got a state medal. She is one of the most hard-working, dedicated people I know who will do what needs to get done and excel. She proudly works long and difficult hours to support her artistic career. When she had her first exhibit last year in Sydney, I felt very proud of her, as she beamed while friends and strangers were in awe of her work.

As an artist, I often look up to Ala because I get reminded about the most basic things I need to do to be an artist. One is to keep showing up for the work and doing it with great dedication while learning along the way. I have also seen Ala grapple with the big questions of life and she has always chosen the noble path of what is right, kind and human.

Mio is “my only begotten son with whom I am generally well-pleased.” I like to kid him by saying this when I introduce him to people. Mio is a wonderful boy. He is bright, intelligent, curious, funny, charming and knows how to get along with just about everyone. Sometimes, I look at him and sing John Lennon’s Beautiful Boy, a song he wrote for his son Sean.

Early on, I noticed that Mio was not too fond of schooling although he liked to read and learn things outside the classroom setting. Mio can figure out anything he sets his mind on. I remember one night when he was 15 years old. At 11 p.m., he asked me to teach him the lead parts of the song Ventura Highway. He had just picked up the guitar that morning. I laughed and told him it was way too advanced for him. But since he insisted, I played it a few times as he watched very intently. Soon after, I said goodnight and went to bed. He woke me up the next day and excitedly played the song back to me flawlessly!

He plunges his whole being into things he loves. He likes to dismantle stuff and put them back together. He is also extremely creative and adept at action and time-lapse photography.

Today, he is a tall, lanky and handsome 25-year-old who drives a motorcycle. I worry about that often but so far, he has shown great responsibility regarding safety. I have seen him in his worst moods and in his best. As father and son, we share a special bond as the minority male members of the family.

What I learned from him is the art of letting go “without mercy” with regards to throwing away things. He saw me once struggling about which files on my computer I should trash and gave me that advice. I apply it now in many aspects of my life be it material, emotional, intellectual, attitudinal, etc.

From my children, I have learned a multitude of things. They are all different and I try to treat them as unique individuals. They all have their own pace of going about and figuring out life and what’s good for them. They are not static creatures, and their story is always unfolding. I thank God for that.

I read somewhere that in highly dysfunctional families, the narratives of its members never change. Once a loser, always a loser. Things do not change. No personal redemption ever happens. My kids are constantly learning and evolving and continue to surprise themselves and their parents.

As a father, I have also learned that love is only a concept until it is applied in real situations. My children have given me different situations to practice it often and in extremely challenging ways.

The one thing I still have a hard time learning is tough love, perhaps because no parent likes to be deprived of emotional connection from his children. But it is precisely because I love them that I must do it when I feel the need to.

One also learns how to sacrifice, to delay or even give up gratification as a parent. Sometimes, I feel fatherhood can be a thankless job. Rarely do children ask how their fathers are doing. Everyone can get too caught up in their own lives and get too busy.

Even if my kids are getting more independent, a big part of the money I earn must still go to the family’s needs. I can spend what is left after — that is, if there is anything left. Also, one must learn to be mature, to model what being a grown-up is like even if many times you do not want to behave like a grown-up.

Every parent strives to teach their children what love is about. But what we discover in the process of teaching is even a greater love than what we thought we already knew.

The Dalai Lama, when asked by a reporter what he thought of Mao Tse Tung (who was Tibet’s greatest enemy), once replied, “He is my greatest teacher.”

If raising a family were a school, I think I should be done with my PhD by now, considering what I have learned from my kids. No family is perfect. No father is, and I am the first to say I am far from being an ideal one. But even if there are still many lessons I must learn, I can say that the most important ones were those I learned as a father. Patience, love, affection, acceptance, sacrifice, forgiveness, integrity and being their constant cheerleader are some of them.

I may have thought I already knew these before I had my children. But it took being a father to make them very real to me.

Hopefully, this papa will never get too old to learn even newer tricks from his children as they continue to learn more from me, too.

Music is not free

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) | Updated June 8, 2014 – 12:00am

Screen Shot 2014-06-07 at 5.18.02 PM
Illustration by Rey Rivera

I was recently elected board member of the Filipino Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers, Inc. (FILSCAP), a non-stock, non-profit association of composers, lyric-writers and music publishers. It is an organization that licenses and collects royalties for the public performance of its members ’ songs, and promotes Philippine culture. Shortly after, the board elected me as vice president.

Since I took my office a little over a month ago, I have been so busy learning the ropes in my new responsibility. There is so much to learn about royalty collection and intellectual property rights pertaining to music, which is what FILSCAP is mainly involved in.

Time was many years ago in the ‘60s when composers and songwriters were hardly paid anything. They mostly got a one-time fee, a pittance which could be as low as P60 and a high of P120. Ownership of the songs usually went to the owners of recording and/or publishing companies. Some creators of music mostly did it for love. But some others did it out of desperation just to earn money.

By the time I started recording in the early ‘70s, the fees given to us had become P300. It was supposed to be an advanced royalty. Luckily I was wise enough to not sign away the rights to my songs and have kept ownership of them to this day. For all practical purposes, the P300 then was all we got from the recording companies for every song we wrote. We would get measly royalties, which no one ever checked or verified if they were accurate. For many songwriters, being played on radio was thrilling enough to keep us going and writing songs.

There are horror stories among many old and young songwriters where they signed away ownership of their songs and never got just compensation for them. So many known Filipino classics were purchased from them and because of the over-protectiveness of the new owners, and their lack of foresight, most of the songs were never heard again in any other new version. The owners simply did not allow other people to re-record them, or if they did, the price was too exorbitant.

Somewhere in the late ‘90s, things began to change slowly. New copyright laws were instituted and taken more seriously. Royalty societies abroad and FILSCAP forged closer relationships which gave us more clout with potential licensees and made the business of collecting royalties more global.

These days, FILSCAP is able to collect some performance royalties from various radio, television, concert outlets, and other users of music such as restaurants, malls, karaoke outlets, bars, etc. There are still so many outlets that are not complying with the law about paying royalties, and FILSCAP is trying to sign all of them up slowly.

The concept of recognizing intellectual property and royalty payments is still in its early stages in the Philippines. It was not too long ago when much of the broadcast industry scoffed at the idea of paying royalties. In their view, playing songs on radio was promotion of songs that translated to sales and thus helped artists in their careers, they argued. They failed to see that the whole reason behind their existence, and that was to play music, and yet they refused to pay for it. Nevermind that they spent millions on equipment just to be able to broadcast music. Content was free as far as they were concerned.

In the eyes of many Filipinos, music is free. Thus, illegal downloading, piracy, and use of music without permission is okay. Intellectual property and copyright are not requested.

But the truth is, music is NOT free. People make them and before the audience hears them, music creators have already spent for musicians, singers, technicians and paid artists to record them. A lot of time and effort has been given. And more money is spent to market these songs.

Furthermore, just because music is not something you can literally hold in your hands does not mean no one owns them. Creators own them. One can describe music as an aesthetically engineered aural experience that lifts the user/listener to an altered state or mood. Just like anything you consume, it costs something.

Composer and publisher members of FILSCAP now receive royalties for radio play, TV airing and when songs are sang or played in concerts and other venues, thank God.

While things have never been better for the Filipino songwriter in terms of royalty collection, there is still much to be desired.

We are still in the early stages compared to many of our Asian neighbors who collect millions more than FILSCAP does. There is still a lot of educating and convincing needed to be able to get all the establishments who use music to sign up, become licensees and pay.

FILSCAP collects royalties both domestic and foreign music for which it has been given authority to do. The way it stands today, the much larger share of royalties collected by FILSCAP (60.67 percent) still goes to foreign partners. This is an indicator that Filipinos use more foreign than local tunes. In Indonesia, the situation is the opposite where 80 percent of royalty collected goes to their own local composers.

Hopefully, someday soon, we can reverse this trend. It is only right that we as a people sing, dance, laugh, cry, love, live and enjoy life. But let’s do so with our own local music as the soundtrack of our lives.

* * *

A new exciting visual artist is having an exhibit called “Essential.” Michelle Perez holds an artist’s meet on Wednesday, June 11, at 5 p.m. at Now Gallery and Auctions. Please, R.S.V.P Mae Claudio at 555-0683 for your attendance.