Making Choices

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) Updated November 28, 2010 12:00 AM

Having the power of choice is generally good. To be able to choose one’s course in college, or one’s career, or one’s spouse is an exercise in freedom. Making a choice makes one feel good and powerful. It makes one feel alive and autonomous and responsible.

I often marvel at the many choices open to today’s kids. Their baby-boomer parents have made them the generation with the most alternatives and choices. Today’s kids have more choices about what they can eat and wear, how they look, how they want to be entertained, what educational path to pursue, and how they want to live their lives. There is no dearth of lifestyles they can adopt.

Many things that used to be inaccessible because of cost considerations are now open to them. They have easy access to cars, gadgets, computers, etc. Even in their love lives, the conservative norms and strict rules of courtship have been largely relaxed and kids have more exposure and interaction with the opposite sex than their parents ever did.

As an adult, my generation, too, has had more choices open to us than our parents ever had. We had generally better education, and had more opportunities open to us in ways not possible before.

And yet as much as I value the importance of having choices and making the right decisions, I have on occasion made the choice to put an end to the possibility of changing my mind in the future. One might say, I have made final immutable choices and I made them consciously.

Before I got married, I learned that a marital union can be annulled even years after if there was proof of hesitation in any of the spouses before they got married. I was told by an expert that hesitation, or doubt before getting married, could be interpreted as not having gone into the union with full consent, and therefore was not binding from the outset. It was not a union of free persons making free decisions.

Having heard that, I went to my mother the week I was to be married to tell her that I was so sure I wanted to marry Lydia and I wanted my mom to be my witness. In effect, I was closing any possibility of our marriage being annulled because there was full knowledge and full consent on my end at the time I got married.

I also made another decision that I thought would permanently seal my fate in some way. In 1989, at the height of the biggest, most dangerous coup against the Cory government, I went to the US embassy bringing my green card and those of my entire family to inform the US authorities that I was not interested in living in the US anymore. In effect, I told them I was giving up our green cards to live in the Philippines, much to their amazement since the officer who received the cards said these were much desired by many Pinoys.

I gave them the vague excuse that there were many things I needed to do in the Philippines at that time. But my real reason was I felt that as an EDSA1 veteran and a minor but committed player in the regime change that overthrew Marcos, I had to be like everyone else who gambled on our new democracy and hoped to make changes in the country. To my mind, there was something not right with the idea that I and my family had an escape hatch, so to speak, and could leave the Philippines any time things got out of hand. In effect, by returning our green cards, I made a major decision to simply stay put here through thick and thin.

Or so I thought.

Years later, when Erap won as president, I was depressed about it in a major way. I told my wife that if she was game, we could skip the Erap years and pick up our aborted plan of living abroad even for a while like we had planned on doing years earlier as a newly married couple. We were still young enough to do it. But EDSA 2 happened and that plan was postponed.

Years later, after Lydia’s bout with cancer and the death of her parents by cancer, we decided to finally migrate. It would be a perfect respite for her and an opportunity for the family to heal from all the sickness and death we had recently experienced. And so we ended up moving to Australia.

It is hard making major or final choices. But the way the world is now, deciding on something with finality is no longer as final as it used to be. Life continues to present choices even after we think we have made our final ones.

The ease of travel has made moving to another country less drastic, less “final” and thus much easier. With cable TV and the Internet, the Philippines is a click away. One no longer has to leave the old in exchange for the new. One can now have both.

But even so, decisions mean commitments we should honor. Making a choice makes us committed to one range of possibilities while letting go of others. The hardest thing to learn is which bridge to cross and which to burn, as writer David Russell pointed out. With many bridges come many decision points. I think of Ninoy who gave up the comfort of family life in the US to come home.

Sometimes, I wonder whether having choices is a blessing or a curse.

These days, my choices are getting simpler. I know I am probably in the last 20 years of life and I decide a lot of things based on that. On the whole, I choose to do things that matter, in line with what I believe in. While I haven’t lost the need to pursue and acquire material wealth, it is no longer as urgent and burning as it used to be. More and more, I find that teaching, mentoring, writing music, articles and books, spending time with family and friends are increasing in importance and even in urgency. On what causes to espouse, I tend to choose those that will leave a greater positive impact on the most number of people.

Albert Camus wrote that our lives are the sum total of our decisions. A life well lived is made up of good experiences, culled from the choices we make, even if, ironically, such experiences may have been the result of previous bad decisions.

The point is, even when we make wrong choices, or find ourselves in situations where we seem to have no choice, trust that there always is. We can always learn from everything. It’s our choice.

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My last workshops for the year.

Songwriting Class: Learn the rudiments of songwriting. Learn what makes a good song. And yes, actually write songs during the workshop and after. Dec. 4 and 5, 1 to 6 p.m. Student must play guitar or piano. Fee: P5,000. Call 426-5375 or 0916-8554303 or write me at

In Sydney, Basic Photo Workshop on Dec. 18, 1 to 6:30 p.m. at 4 Harcourt Grove, Glenwood, NSW. Call 98363494 or write for reservations, AU$100.

For info on all workshops I offer, go to

Great finds at a songwriting workshop

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) Updated November 21, 2010 12:00 AM

I am writing from Dumaguete where I have spent practically all my waking moments this week with young songwriters and my not-so-young colleagues who have gathered here at the Bahura Resort and Spa to conduct a workshop. It’s been quite a week.

Our wonderful benefactor, Jun Sy’s Taos-Puso Foundation, has picked up the tab for the entire project. 7101-Music Nation, the music arm of the foundation, thought of this unique workshop they call ‘”The 1st Elements National Songwriting Camp” that has brought young guns and accomplished mentors together to learn, enjoy each other’s company and be inspired.

There are 60 young songwriters who came from all over the Philippines, and two Fil-Ams. All were chosen after auditioning an original composition online before a screening committee. Aside from Ryan Cayabyab and myself, the mentors are Louie Ocampo, Jonathan Manalo, Noel Cabangon, Gary Valenciano, Gary Granada, Angelie Valenciano, JV Colayco, Ricky Ilacad, Quark Henares, Debbie Gaite, Jimmy Antiporda, Chito Miranda, Ebe Dancel, Gabby Alipe, Joey Ayala, Joey Benin, Yael Yuzon, Jungee Marcelo, Trina Belamide, Top Suzara and many others who talked about various aspects of songwriting. The topics included the history of the Kundiman, the birth of OPM, the elements of songs, the making of song videos, the legal aspects of commercial writing, electronic and digital media, and a whole lot more.

It has been a continuously fun and inspiring experience for everyone since the first day of the workshop. In fact, the camaraderie started immediately after our first dinner on the beach on Monday night when people spontaneously broke into dancing and partying accompanied by a percussion band. And the sessions had not even started yet.

When we got to the sessions the next day, things got even more exciting. The creative energy charged the room; the sharing of insights, the performances, the sincere interaction between people in the same profession just blew everyone away.

Artists can be fun, but they can also be perplexing. They can be magical and yet cynical, cerebral yet emotional, and quite moody. They can be light and funny, but can turn serious in a snap. They can be both generous and selfish. But I saw none of this duality playing out in this workshop, at least, not in any big or disruptive way. There were no oversized egos running amuck, not even disagreements that could tear the conference apart.

Many times, we found ourselves close to tears listening to each other’s songs. There is something so plaintively simple yet disarming about listening to composers sing their material in acoustic form. Songs that are usually heard in commercial CD form were presented in their naked rawness, devoid of the glitzy perfect sound of a full orchestra and great singers, accompanied only by a solo guitar or a piano. The sparseness was pure delight. I was watching something so natural presented in its basic truthfulness. Nothing added, no frills, no distractions, non-fat and sugar-free. No embellishments whatsoever.

In the presence of such magnificent talent, I found myself simply saying “thank you” for these moments of abundance.

It was like tapping into the very source of a power that, although high voltage by nature, embraces you without hurting you. Instead of a lightning flash that turns you into toast, it is a loving light that heals. And these artful emotional expressions culled from personal experience and often conceived, midwifed and paid for by their creators dearly, with pain and rejection, were performed unabashedly with full gusto and equally received with intense appreciation and gratitude.

In one exercise, the participants were told to collaborate with four other people and create a song in the genres assigned to them. They drew lots choosing among the categories of love songs, novelty, inspirational and nationalistic. They had less than 24 hours to write the melody and lyrics and rehearse to present a decent performance. Now, one thing I know is that it is difficult and thus rare for songwriters to work together in groups of more than two. A song is a living thing and it is takes extraordinary patience for a songwriter to get into primal creative mode while having to listen to other people’s take on how it should be done.

In a similar type of workshop I attended about 20 years ago at the Sundance Ranch in Utah where artists from all over the world were instructed to work together in groups, one artist expressed his exasperation by declaring, quite succinctly, “An ‘artist committee’ is a contradiction in terms!”

But things turned out differently in the Dumaguete workshop. Disparate people versed in different genres just naturally “volted in” and got the job done with a minimum of tension, while having lots of fun in the process. The final outcomes were pure ear candy. It was wonderful to hear great songs coming from group effort.

At mealtimes and during free periods, it was exhilarating to see the Manila artists, though more “polished,” more self-conscious and more famous, easily bonding with their fellow songwriters from other parts of the country.

But what amazed me no end was how many of these young artists had al-ready pretty much defined their sounds even before being signed by record labels. Their work sounded like it was created by people who do not listen to the radio or watch shows on the mainstream media like ABS-CBN. I mean this in a good way. Their music is not derivative of anything that has been playing on radio in the past 10 years, so different from the work of the commercial artists who have dominated the airways. Their music reflects the culture instead of subverting it, the way cutting-edge artists do.

Could it be that there are among this intrepid motley crew, “organic” artists like Bob Dylan or the Beatles were in their milieu, who will set the pace of culture instead of chasing existing trends? What an exciting thought.

Songwriting, in the entire scheme of all things cultural in the Philippines, is a hand we Filipinos have yet to play really well. Whereas in other more culturally enlightened countries, songwriters and composers are appreciated enough to be given their rightful material rewards, here, artists are just starting to get some recognition. I was already around when music originators were paid as low as P250 for compositions that they signed away completely and absolutely, never to receive any royalties from the work ever again. Many of the songwriters who wrote the soundtrack of our Filipino life and times have remained poor or died penniless despite their valuable contributions to our culture.

It is quite encouraging that things are getting better for songwriters. We now earn royalties in a more regular and systematic way through a collection organization called Filscap. Composers are starting to reap benefits that their predecessors never enjoyed. This is one reason I feel less guilty about inspiring young musicians to pursue their hearts’ passion, compared to how I felt years ago when things seemed dire and hopeless.

We have shown the world that we have some of the best singers on the planet. Everywhere you go, you will find Filipino bands playing in top clubs and they are generally considered to be very good. Perhaps it’s time to show that we have something more to contribute to world culture, apart from our musicians. I believe we have come of age and we should now be playing and singing our own songs, not only in our country but elsewhere in the world.

I just know that among these 60 songwriters, there are those whose songs you will someday hear being sung in places outside the Philippines. They are original and creative enough to make songs that will click with an international audience, the way other artists in other countries have made their music appreciated by the world.

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1) Basic Photography Class on Saturday, Nov. 27, from 1 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. at 113 B. Gonzales, Loyola Heights, QC. Cost is P3,500. Call 426-5375 or 0916-8554303 or write me at

2) Songwriting Class: Learn the rudiments of songwriting. Learn what makes a good song. And yes, actually write songs during the workshop and after. Dec. 4 and 5, 1 to 6 p.m. Student must play guitar or piano. Fee: P5,000. Call 426-5375 or 0916-8554303 or write me at

Some survival tips from a showbiz vet

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star)
Updated November 14, 2010 12:00 AM

A few weeks ago, I was asked by the staff of Sharon Cuneta’s new show Star Magic if I could make a guest appearance and give an inspirational talk to the young performers who were vying for the chance to be the Megastar’s own pick to succeed. I grabbed the opportunity since I have much to share with these young ones who are just about to embark on the exciting and crazy journey I began 41 years ago.

From the outside, showbiz seems like a glittering community of winners who have armies of adoring fans, make a lot of money and have an easy life. What I tried to tell these young performers is that this image is largely illusory. It is illusory in the sense that things do not necessarily come that easily to anyone, and that no one and nothing is preordained or destined to succeed. Things can and do go wrong. Not everyone is able to achieve what they set out to do. But great things do happen and have happened to “successful” stars, largely because they put a lot of hard work and good attitude into the mix.

I listed some rules on how to survive, succeed, thrive, and most importantly, remain sane in Tinsel Town where, from the point of view of many fans, the harsh rules of real life seem to be suspended and another set of magical procedures operate. If you plan to get your feet wet in showbiz, it would be best to know these rules by heart and heed them. They have worked for me over the 41 years I have been in the biz.

1) Accept that you will never stop auditioning. No one ever gets big enough to be rejected. While it may seem that shows and movies are made around certain big stars, there are instances when these same “special” people also face rejection. Leah Salonga and Charice Pempengco still audition. It is part of the job. The point is, you never stop proving yourself.

2) Be kind to people on your way to the top; they are the same people you will meet on the way down. I am talking of the scriptwriters, directors, production people, makeup artists, musicians, production assistants who bring you water and make life comfortable on the set, technical people, alalays, etc. — the mainstays in the business who see careers come and go and watch stars rise and fall. Someday, they will tell a story to other people about how you treated them. They will remember and talk about your acts of kindness as well as your fits of brattiness and ill temper, not to mention your delusions of grandeur and egotism. So be nice to them.

3) Practice, practice and never stop practicing until your performance becomes completely “accident proof.” It is tedious and hard work to keep doing the same songs through the years, but believe me, it pays off. Even performers who are less talented than others can make themselves more “accident prone” to perfection by simply practicing constantly. Practice makes you really good, even great. And great performers, even on a bad night, still deliver the goods.

4) Treat fellow performers with the greatest respect. But reserve the highest respect for your audience. Your audience is king. Always give your best. Your audience will appreciate the effort you put in and will be loyal to you throughout your career.

5) Continuously recreate or re-imagine yourself. That’s how to remain competitive. Always be ready to create and project “surprise and delight.” In showbiz, one who remains static cannot hope to be always employed.

6) The net effect of all performance is to take your audience to a place where they have never been. For a long career, make sure you take them to places they will want to revisit again and again. Take them through different emotional states with new songs, stories, ideas, revelations and engage them with topics that truly matter to them like the timeless mysteries of life, love, humor, sex, friendship, conviction, etc. Show them that your act defies the average and the ordinary.

7) Always be present and paying attention. The world is full of opportunities and things to exploit and transform into material to entertain. But be fully aware that a slip of the tongue or careless action can easily spread and ruin you, so watch yourself as well.

8) Always come on time. “On time” means 30 minutes before the designated time. If you make this a habit, you will be loved by production people and will earn a reputation of being reliably present. They will want to work with you again and again because you do not cause trouble and destroy schedules.

9) Say what you mean and mean what you say. It may not seem like it, but a lot of people inside and outside the entertainment world can and do detect bull**** when they hear and see it. How many corny birthday tributes have you seen on TV that really moved you? How often have you seen through the insincerity behind the “heartfelt” greetings delivered by showbiz people? In the same vein, accept that not everyone will like you. But act in a way where as best as possible, you are being true to yourself.

10) A truly great performance always comes from a true place. Be sincere, honest, and learn to express yourself in the best possible way. Honesty is always refreshing. How does one make an honest performance doing the same material over and over again? You do this by being present and adding a new element each time. It can be any small thing like adding a melodic inflection where there used to be none. You do this to make it “true” for you. The philosopher Heraclites said that you never cross the same river twice. He may as well have talked about performances. It’s a different audience each night. You can also project a different aspect of you each time.

11) Don’t believe your own press releases. Humility will always serve you well. Pride will ruin you. Be grounded. Many people get carried away by adulation and end up living a life of grandiosity of self that is nowhere close to what they are in real life. Know how to tell the difference between who you really are and what you are projecting.

12) Learn from every performance, your own and others’. Learn to be a good audience so you know what works and what doesn’t.

13) Take valid criticism graciously and learn from it. The only way to improve is to always be open to valid criticism and suggestions.

14) Know that nothing lasts forever — not fame, not wealth, not even talent. But know that this also applies to failure. You can pick yourself up when you fall. You will always have another chance. And when it is time to go, leave with gratitude.

15) When you sing, just sing. A performance is just a performance. This may be puzzling, but it is really simple. Don’t muddle up the task by trying to make it bigger or other than what it is.

16) Have a life outside of show biz. Many people I know live only in this crazy world and have no respite out of it. There is a bigger world outside that can ensure your sanity and remind you of more enduring values than what you live with in showbiz.

17) Save your money. If you can, set aside 60 to 70 percent of what you earn, and do this religiously. Nothing is sure in this business. You could be here today, and gone in 15 minutes.

18) Never do drugs. Stay away from vices. Some people think they perform better with drugs. That is pure delusion. They just feel they do but in reality, they do not. Avoid toxic people who do drugs.

19) Know when you are “on” or “off.” Showbiz is about performance and projecting to your public. That’s when you are “on.” But make sure you are not “performing” with friends and close relatives. No drama, pretension, affectation and projecting here. That can be annoying and disturbing to people who really care about you.

20) Always make time for your own personal enjoyment and rest. Everyone needs some downtime and privacy. This also means you must limit what you share about yourself with the public. You need your quiet private space to be able to discern what is true and what is not. And no, the public does not need to know your pap smear results, or about your toxic relationship with your mother.

21) Pray before every show and start the prayer by saying thanks for the last one. This was the APO’s practice from the beginning of our career until our last show in May. Praying centers you to the performance you are about to do and makes you perform better. And inviting Providence to participate in the show is always a great thing. And gratitude is always good.

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Please join me in these workshops I have scheduled.

1) Photography Workshop in Dumaguete on Saturday, Nov. 20. Meeting place at AVR-Grade School Dept. St. Paul’s University. It will be from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Fee includes lunch, certificate. Please call Chinky at 0916-4305626.

2) Basic Photography Class on Saturday, Nov. 27, from 1 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. at 113 B. Gonzales, Loyola Heights, QC. Cost is P3,500. Call 426-5375 or 0916-8554303 or write me at

3) Songwriting Class: Learn the rudiments of songwriting. Learn what makes a good song. And yes, actually write songs during the workshop and after. Dec. 4 and 5, 1 to 6 p.m. Student must play guitar or piano. Fee: P5,000. Call 426-5375 or 0916-8554303 or write me at

Following the bubbles

Following the bubbles
HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) Updated November 07, 2010 12:00 AM

Impulse is important. Following it can start you off in many directions. It is a spark that needs to happen if anything is to be done at all.

I have been impulsive a few times and it has led me to some good things. At 11, an older sister asked me what I wanted for my birthday and I answered, “Guitar.” I was really not thinking when I answered her, not in the way I would have thought out asking for, say, a tent or an air gun.

Normally, I would ask for something that I already liked or knew something about. A guitar was something that was cool. That was all. I wanted to be cool. I went on impulse.

It must have happened the same way when I woke up one day and thought to myself that I wanted to be a songwriter. It was a simple declaration. The next day, I attempted to write a song, and out came something fairly decent which got me so excited, it set me on my life path.

I also remember asking my girlfriend Lydia to marry me in an overseas call. We had known each other only seven months when she left for the US. After so many desperate exchanges of correspondence professing our undying love, I called her up and surprised her, and myself, by popping the question. When I thought about it later, it was not in my immediate conscious mind to ask her that. The desire may have been lurking somewhere and just suddenly bubbled up and took over during the call. And yet, when I asked her to marry me, I was sure it was what I wanted.

Impulse is desire unconsciously planned, but on some level, has been slowly hatching. We may not be consciously thinking about it, or at least it does not seem so. But somewhere inside us, there is a coming together of dreams, desires and visions that have been cooking in the cellar oven, way below the radar of everyday concerns. When the aroma of it wafts up to the upper chambers of our mind, we express a sudden desire for it, seemingly from out of the blue. And we are surprised since, although it may seem like the idea just popped into our heads, the schematic or “the plan” seems almost completely fleshed out when we express it.

Impulse is creativity expressed without having to defend itself in the court of rational thinking. It is the bright idea that suddenly lights up. One does not question it because to do so would extinguish it. One must go with it, even for a while, to see how far the light shines, or whether it is worth pursuing.

I imagine that abstract painters go through a series of creative impulses when making a painting. Does one deliberately think or rationalize what color, what line, shape or brush to start with? Or does one just start? What may seem like a series of random acts of madness has a method to it. Before one knows it, all the strokes come together to form a visual impact that moves both artist and the viewer in a certain way.

“The impulse to write a novel comes from a momentary unified vision of life,” wrote Sir Angus Frank Johnstone, author of The Wild Garden. Often, the writer’s day consists of simply writing. Often, it does not matter what you write but it matters that you simply write because somehow, by just doing it or even being close to one’s tools of the trade can help bubble up that “unified vision” that was already there but was just waiting for its time.

The writer has to be there when the book is written. And for the book to be written, the writer must be attentive to all the noises in his head, especially the ones that come from the cellar.My guitar is always in my room. Sometimes, it just lies there for days without my playing it, but it helps that I see it all the time. When the moment comes that a melody surfaces from the depths, I grab the guitar and use it to extract the song that’s been waiting to be expressed.

Impulses are not always pleasant. They can be incessant and demanding and they drive you to action. But impulse must be listened to. Can you imagine what the world would be like if people did not listen to the seemingly illogical or irrational “inner call,” the impulse to create, or pursue the itch that demands to be scratched? Darwin, Shakespeare, Picasso, et al would have been condemned to live dreary meaningless lives.

Should all impulses be listened to? There definitely is a dark side to all this. Nietzsche advised his readers to “distrust all in whom the impulse to punish is powerful.”

The power of impulse is strong, and like a drug, it must be used with care and moderation.

So how does one know whether an impulse should be followed? The answer is, one doesn’t. My advice is to just do it and discover for yourself whether you were right or not. But one thing I can tell you is, the more you do it, the better you get at determining which ones to follow.

Lately, I’ve been writing songs for a new album. I notice how attuned I am to recognizing the little impulses that, when paid attention to, pay back big-time in terms of what they can become as created works in final form. They are like DNA — tiny, seemingly insignificant, but packing wallops of life forms when developed into full living things.

In the bigger scheme that is my life, I also notice that clearer sketches and lines of a “unified field of vision” are coming together now more than they did five years ago. My instincts about life’s rules, and how my particular life force actually plays out in this world, are becoming more familiar and obvious to me and I feel good about that. My comfort with this is not because I have less doubt about the outcome of any endeavor. Uncertainty still rules my life and I accept that. That is how it has always been and that’s how it will always be.

What gives me comfort and a sense of purpose is the knowledge that I must simply do what I am called to do. And that may not have anything at all to do with the outcome.

I simply follow the bubbles as they surface.

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1) Photography Workshop in Dumaguete on Nov. 20. Meeting place at AVR-Grade School Dept. St Paul’s University. It will be from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Fee includes lunch, certificate. Please call Chinky at 0916-4305626.

2) Advanced photo class in Manila on Nov. 13. This will be held outdoors. It’s a walking class. Venue to follow. Call 426-5375 or 0916-8554303 or write me at

3) Basic Photography Class on Nov. 27, 2010, Saturday from 1 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. at 113 B. Gonzales, Loyola Heights, QC. Cost is P3,500. Call 426-5375 or 0916-8554303 or write me at

Please visit for all workshop syllabi, schedules and details.