MANILA,Philippines — I was intimidated at first, I must admit.
I was invited to attend a songwriting workshop by the Filipino Society of Composers and Songwriters (FILSCAP) two weekends ago in Subic.
I’ve attended many songwriting workshops as a teacher/mentor. Just three weeks ago, I was in Lingayen doing one for PhilPop were 30 kids attended.
But this invitation from FILSCAP was different. I was not going to be a mentor. I was going to be with some of the top songwriters in the Philippines and would collaborate with some of them during the workshops. Weeks before when I got my invitation, I already had my apprehensions and had voiced them out.
How would seasoned and successful artists sit down and collaborate when all of us already have our own tried-and-tested styles and ways of doing what we do? Most songwriters can be very protective o their secrets in writing good songs. Would people be able to set aside their pride and egos and work together and come up with something decent? I was not sure. Besides, some of us were meeting for the first time ever. Would we be able to establish rapport immediately to have enough time to do the work required?
It was called the FILSCAP Master Camp. Sixteen songwriters, plus staff, media to document the event, and officers of FILSCAP all met at Kamana Sanctuary and Spa in Subic. It was a great location to relax and be inspired. We would spend four days writing there. The first morning we all got together, Trina Belamide, a fellow composer and one of the proponents of the project, announced there would be four groups of four songwriters each and one arranger (tracker). For the next two days, each group was required to write and submit at least one song. If we were on a roll, we could write more.
The first group I was in had Yumi Lacsamana, Ebe Dancel, Herbert Hernandez and myself. Our arranger (tracker) was Marlon Barnuevo. We met at Marlon’s Casita by the sea after breakfast where he had his laptop and gadgets that could make any song sound decent enough for a good presentation.
I entered the casita with an open mind. I swore that I would be active but would listen to everyone. I was also a bit scared that these young people I was working with would find my ideas trite or passé. We started by focusing on what we wanted to write about. I suggested we write a love song but with an angle not yet too exploited. I suggested that particular, though random, experience where you have a five-second interaction with a stranger, that it can feel like an eternity has happened between the two of you. We talked about a setting like the Shibuya crossing where hundreds of thousands of people pass daily. Or a huge shopping mall filled with people on a weekend.
Immediately, someone suggested the phrase “Walang hanggang sandali” to describe that moment. We also adopted it as the title. Before we knew it we were throwing melodies and lyrics around, editing and changing words and phrases for better effect. It was an exciting process. We all felt open, and gave way to each other while, at the same time, we were all actively contributing to the creation of the song. Our tracker was playing chords as we were creating the musical phrases. It was like building something brick by brick. After about four or five hours, we knew we had a song.
Marlon played it on the piano while Yumi sang it. It was beautiful. We were all ecstatic. It was a good song. While Yumi was recording her tracks, we were continuing to edit the lyrics. The final outcome was more than wonderful. It felt and sounded like a great song with a powerful recall. We felt so proud and happy. We were even jumping with joy. We were thankful that we bonded well. We formed a group hug and our spirits did the same. Our hearts were full.
We had fulfilled the requirement. We decided to end the day and leave Marlon to arrange the song. There was enough time to make another song the next day.
The next morning, we followed the same process and wrote a fast pop song. It started with Herbert playing a few chords on the guitar and Ebe singing the first line. It was about a couple that can’t seem to get along even when they actually love each other. This one was written in less time. The title was Sige na, Oo na! Very catchy!
On the third day, we were reshuffled again and I ended up with Yeng Constantino, Edwin Marollano and Titus John Monterde. Our tracker was Paulo Zarate.
Again, we asked ourselves what topic should we write about. I told the story of a guy who had an affair that ran for 30 years while he was married. We decided to explore the point of view of the husband. The song would be about him talking to his wife and explaining himself. The title of the song would be Mali. We immediately came up with a melody and a few lyrics. Edwin and Yeng were concentrating on the lyrical phrasing. Titus was taking notes and running all the suggestions by the group. Everyone was excitedly pitching in.
After about an hour, Yeng had this idea and suggested that we change and turn the narrative around. We would take the wife’s position and she would be explaining to her husband why she had an affair. That was an inspired “a-ha” moment. We were getting away from stereotypes. We immediately changed course and came out with a poignantly beautiful song.
On the last day of the workshop, the 16 songwriters, staff and FILSCAP officials listened to all the songs every group made. There were 11 of them written in different genres, styles, and approaches. They were all good and quite outstanding. Everyone was so high after the listening session. There were hugs, tears, and affirmations going around and being passed on.
I was amazed that, in the end, all my apprehensions were for naught. Everything worked like a charm. Everyone just sort of slipped into the right vibe to make everything work well. We were open to each other. We left our egos behind. We were focused on writing great songs without having an attitude of personal ownership. We relinquished control to the collective. It was a group effort through and through. And we built new friendships and cemented old ones.
Between sessions, we would get into discussions about life, death, creativity, etc. It was fascinating to listen to fellow artists. We learned a lot from each other. Personally, I am thankful that opportunities like these are beginning to happen in the music world here. Rico Blanco, FILSCAP president, has pioneered a lot of projects that have given songwriters venues for self-expression. But this was his boldest, most successful endeavor yet. Congrats to the songwriters, FILSCAP, and everyone who was part of Master Camp.
Expect all of this to translate into great songs and music you will hopefully hear soon.