HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) | Updated October 25, 2015 – 12:00am
I can’t ever recall a time when music was not part of my life. My siblings like to recall that when I was as young as three years old, I had my own phonograph record player. That’s what it was called then. It was a crude one made by an uncle of mine. I am not sure if it was given to the family but I pretty much claimed it.
I played my favorite records throughout the day. Records then were of the 78 rpm (revolutions per minute) variety. They were crisp and breakable. When I did not like a record, they said I would literally break it over my head.
We were also a family that loved to sing. When I turned five, we had a new hi-fi set. Recording by then had evolved a bit. Records sounded better and they came in two varieties: the 45 rpm singles, and the 33 1/3 rpm long-playing ones (LPs). Vinyl had become more pliant. It was no longer crisp and hard. The records bent a bit. And the music contained in them sounded much clearer.
My sister Tictac loved to buy records and we played them over and over again until we had memorized them. Note that during that time, people listened actively to music. We pretty much sat around the hi-fi set and did nothing but listen. There were no distractions like texting, surfing and the like. We just listened attentively.
As a young boy, I loved every record we had. I especially remember the West Side Story album, Tubby the Tuba, The Kingston Trio records, Gogi Grant, and a few more Broadway albums.
My siblings and I would sing quite often. My mom and dad took pride in our singing especially when we had visitors at home. One of our favorite songs to sing then and up to now was the song Oklahoma from the Broadway musical. We as a family still sing a lot when we get together.
When I was in grade seven, my sister Tictac gifted me with a guitar. That literally gave me my direction in life. It was a turning point. Learning to play it was like discovering a new powerful language for the pimply, troubled, insecure young man I was then. With the guitar, I could dive deep inside of me and express my true feelings. Discovering chords was so amazing to me since I felt that they could express all that angst I had then.
It also helped me in my social life. During class breaks, we would regale our classmates with songs and we would be the center of attraction in class. It was a great feeling. Girls were also always attracted to guys who could play instruments. At parties, we were a hit.
I was with the APO Hiking Society for 41 years from 1969 to 2010. In that period, we wrote a lot of songs and performed many, many times all over the world. I was always amazed and thrilled that I was actually writing music, performing songs and making money from them. I could not think of anyone as lucky as we were since we did what we loved to do and were receiving generous remuneration for it.
Sometimes, music would slip back into the background when I would become very interested in reading books, meditating, diving and writing. But even then, I could always hear music playing even when it seemed I was preoccupied with other things. Songs were always marinating inside my head and would suddenly come out as complete works. Many times, I did not feel I had to “fix” them. They were pretty much complete and polished when they revealed themselves to me.
I have been recording a new album for a few months now and I am thrilled about how it is turning out. It is my third solo project. My approach has always been to come from what I am hearing inside of me; I do not like to be influenced by what’s playing on radio or what is selling. I just want to come from a fresh feeling that leads me to where it wants to go.
Music, after all these years, is still magical to me. I guess it always will be. The songs I have made which have become famous still excite me when I hear them. I am still thrilled to be singing them. I look at pieces of music as unbelievable creations that can take an audience to parts unknown in the geography of feelings and emotions. A good song will involve a listener, engage him and give him a thrill, even if just for awhile.
When I listen to or make music, I actually “see” it as different shades and colors in my head. When I write a sad love song, it is a somber gray to dark blue. When it is a fast, happy song, it is more like orange, red or yellow. The colors dominate scenes that play out in my head.
I feel that the ability to create or even enjoy music is one of the most special things about being human. With music, you feel a sense of order and harmony. It also feels like there is an exploration, an archeological digging up of one’s emotions going on. You are seduced to let go of your “self” and allow your emotions to be opened. You become vulnerable and surrender as the song takes you where it wishes to go.
The beat becomes your heartbeat. The rhythm, melody, lyrics and arrangement move and take over your entire being.
Music also brings back memories, deep feelings and a sense of being alive. It awakens them and connects you to where you are now. It makes you measure the distance you have traveled in life.
I am open to all types of music, but I am least interested in what the most current or most promoted songs are. I do not enjoy videos generally. I am a snob in that way. I like to discover music from unknown sources and be touched by authentic voices and musical expressions.
In a sense, I can say that music has made me a more sensitive, and honest person even if the fame that went with it often pushed me in the opposite direction. Luckily I like music much more than the trappings of being popular.
In short, music has kept me sane, balanced, creative, expressive and, yes, very much alive! As the old Tower Records slogan used to say: “No music no life”! That is certainly true for me.