A life of music

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.

Do you talk to God? Do you think you are crazy?

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) | Updated October 18, 2015 – 12:00am

I am no stranger to solace. I like being alone. I like long walks where I observe, watch, look, see and wonder about things. It helps me ground myself and see what’s worth paying attention to and what is not.

I used to do a lot of Zen meditation. I felt solid when I was more consistent in my sitting practice then. I have been very inconsistent lately but intend to get back to it.

Aloneness is not loneliness. I learned this years ago. To be alone can give you a sense of self. To be lonely gives you a feeling that you lack something or someone.

Every day, the world tells us we are incomplete until we purchase and/or possess this or that. It convinces us that unless we have this person or thing, we will not be happy.

Spiritually speaking, the world is a liar and we must rise above it. But it does not mean we should deny it. However, we must, at the end of the day, be ready to choose to let worldly things go.

That’s what spiritual practice is all about.

At my age, I am called to more silence, serenity. I like being myself, and by myself, if you know what I mean. I am comfortable with being what I have become and appreciate the world through that. No defenses. I embrace who I am — warts and all.

While I work hard, push myself to learn and accomplish things, I do not stress too much about stuff that I have left unfinished or unaccomplished. I will get to them eventually but I do not wish to comply with the deadlines the world imposes on me. I work on my own time and luckily, my pace is not unreasonable.

Though I am still guided by schedules, I do not allow myself to panic when I am without anything to present a day before something is due. I am talking here about my writing. I trust I will always come up with something. And even if I do not, I will not fret or lose my equanimity. The spirit that moves me is a kind one who tells me that things will be okay eventually, no matter how bad things seem to be.

Lately, I have been visiting Adoration Chapels. I like being surrounded by the quiet, peace and reverence inside them. What I notice immediately when I settle inside is how restless and noisy my mind can get amid the imposed silence. I can hear my thoughts loudly, the constant yakkity-yak that goes on in my mind. Eventually, I quiet down and lately, I have been feeling the presence of — yes, I dare say — God!

Yes, I am squeamish about saying it is God. It has something to do with my issue of self-worthiness. Instead, I would prefer to describe a “presence” that seems like the center of love in the universe.

A thought came to me when I entered a chapel recently. I thought that I heard someone whisper in my mind that Jim Paredes was not allowed to enter. I smiled because I immediately knew what it meant: God is there and there should be no one else in the room. In short, I must drop my ego and dissolve into the peace and love inside that is God. This way, there is ONLY ONE, not two in the room.

In one of his books, the author M. Scott Peck asked, “If God talked to you, would you think you were crazy? Would you tell anyone?” I thought about that for a while, and I my answer was, “No, I wouldn’t think I was crazy, and yes, I would tell anyone who cares to listen.”

Throughout my life, God has been inspiring me. Proof of this comes in the songs I have written and the other creations I have brought to this world. I would not have been able to make these things if I was not somehow moved by this Being that is the center of love.

Lately, I have been feeling that when I pray to God, I actually hear an answer. We are actually talking! I am serious about this. Sometimes it is an actual conversation I am having similar to Neale Donald Walsch’s experience that he described in his series of books, Conversations with God.

Sometimes I have doubts and wonder if I am really just talking to myself. Maybe science will say I am. But I know from the depths of my being when it is real and when it is only my imagination. Furthermore, in the following days, I witnessed signs affirming what we had “talked” about.

I write this humbly and with great hesitation. I also write it at the expense of being called “crazy” or “messianic” by some people. I am not a religious leader with a message. I am just someone who believes that God did not stop talking to us centuries ago. He/she has been talking to us non-stop. I just woke up one day and finally learned to listen.

Doomsday, dancers and duos

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) | Updated October 11, 2015 12:00AM

Last Wednesday, another religious cult announced that the world would end on that day. I momentarily debated with myself the idea of whether or not I should still write a column, which was due the day after.

These “end of the world” warnings have been occurring throughout history. The earliest one may have been the Mayan prediction (predicting the end would come in 2012), which never came to pass.

I am trying to imagine how this misguided group is feeling right now. The day has come and gone. Today is the fourth day since the prediction. Nothing of the sort has happened. Is their faith shaken? Are egos bruised? Faces red? Do they feel sick? It is all of the above.

But seriously, if you were one of those doomsayers and truly believed it would be your last day on earth, what would you do?

Some would probably pray, or try to administer good works.

If I were a believer, I would get a phone book and start reading it. If it is going to be my last day, I want it to be as long as possible! And I might as well get to know as many people as I can!

* * *

I am happy that MMDA chairman Tolentino finally owned up to the Playgirl brouhaha. It was a stupid thing to do. But at least he showed some delicadeza by apologizing and giving up his Senate bid. I hand that to him. I am also happy that many men and women in the Liberal Party voiced their objections to the twerking show.

In truth, I am happy that the issue became a public one. The reality is that this kind of entertainment is standard fare during elections. Every party does it. Shows of this kind also happen in fiestas, company parties, bars, clubs, beer gardens, etc. And all the gyrating and sexual movements are not too far from what kids watch on TV. Now that this is out in the open, let’s lift the bar in the way we conduct political campaigns — and yes, that includes television.

A thought came to me when the news broke out. I put on my playful hat and tried to construct the most imaginative spin to explain what happened without ascribing malice: “The performance was actually a cultural one. It was, to be sure, a fertility dance whose inspiration dates back to the beginning of human life itself. It depicted variations on the act of procreation while celebrating the natal day of the celebrant. The active participation of some members of the audience gave it a semblance of spontaneity and realism while still maintaining its aesthetics and artistry.”

Yeah, right. For a moment, I felt like Kit Tatad talking about martial law!

* * *

Now that practically all the candidates for president and vice president have declared their intention to run, people are coming up with clever names for easy recall. Some candidates are lucky to have names that work out well with their partners. Others have to try harder.

For Mar Roxas and Leni Robredo: MarLeni, MarLen, RoRo.

For Grace Poe and Chiz Escudero: PoeChiz, GraChi.

For Jejomar Binay and Gringo Honasan: BiHon, BinGo, BiGo, Binayasan, Honanay, Binsan, JejoGring, JoNgo.

If Duterte runs and teams up with either of the two VP hopefuls who have sought him as a running mate: Rudy Duterte and Bongbong Marcos: RuBo, DutMar.

Rudy Duterte and Allan Peter Cayetano: DuterTano, DuterPeter, Ru-Pet.

Anyway, whichever team the nation chooses, whatever combination emerges in May 2016, I hope we get a good duo that will serve the country, not a “riding in tandem” combo, if you know what I mean.