Some musical notes.

Okay. So, realistically, what have I been up to? Besides my day job (which is just half-a-day’s work) and the one day I need to actually be present for a class, I’m oscillating between planning a student conference, reviewing for a major exam and spending my nights reading. But, a night ago (or yesterday morning depending on how sleep tells me to look at it), I dug into my parents CD collection to look for songs and artists of my childhood who were forgotten or shelved when adolescence came rolling by. Sadly, a lot of disks have been lost along the way. If they weren’t lent or borrowed (with “indefinitely” written on the library card) then they must be somewhere in the house but not here. Recently, mom did some cleaning of her own and believe me, the way she does it, it’s always spring! She filed the disks and placed them in plastic boxes to be stored in an empty cabinet in my room. I would have protested the need for shelf space or actual closet space (since my one tiny closet is already bursting at their proverbial seams) but I cautioned against it because I knew that she was keeping something good here…something that would matter to me more than I could possibly imagine as a child growing up with my parents’ favorites.

Recently, on the drive back from Baguio, a friend of my parents gave them Yusuf “Cat” Stevens’ album An Other Cup. Since it was just a copy of the original, the car stereo couldn’t handle replaying so we had to play it once then keep hearing the songs over and over as we stopped along the way. Three songs into the disk mom and I had fallen asleep but on the second turn of the disk, I woke up to the sound of my dad singing along to this:

It’s a strange song for this album and it’s a cover too but anyway, dad was singing in his not-so-shy voice…I listened quietly, smiled and went back to bed. Some minutes later we stopped to have a meal and I told my dad that that’s how I remember him as a child…you know? In the car or in the darkroom with loud music playing and him singing along to whoever it was he was listening to. Of course later on I would discover that he was accompanied by The Doors, Cream, Jeff Beck, Gypsy Kings, The Beatles, etc etc.

At first he wasn’t amused and got defensive saying that it was the one track on this Cat Stevens album that he actually knew but mom was quick to say, “Yeah we get it but we like it when you sing along.”

And I really, really do. I also like being alone to listen, dance and occasionally sing along to these songs I grew up with knowing deep inside that even when my parents are long gone, it’ll be easy to think of them and their presence through music.

Then I started thinking really hard about all this. I thought about all sorts of music that I’ve learned to love. There’s a tradition you learn at home that keeps getting fed by more and more influences as you get older and when I finally went to sleep yesterday morning, I was in high spirits, swimming in the enigmatic cello playing of Yo-Yo Ma (whom I vowed to see live one day!) Then throughout the rest of the day I thought about classical music and how I didn’t really like it at first because I thought it would be rigid…so rigid as say the first piano teacher I ever had who kept telling me I got the notes wrong. But then I listened to it…it was everywhere! In Tom and Jerry (whose entire repertoire consists of dialogue-less antics and sublime musical accompaniments), on the radio as an adaptation and jingle, in my mother’s humming of what she didn’t realize was Bach before bedtime. There was so much music around and it became increasingly difficult to suppress it.

In high school they tried once again to rigidly “educate” us. We were forced to record onto little tapes various classical pieces in order to familiarize ourselves with music that I then thought I had already known…since I heard it everywhere. Yet we had to endure the sitting and the memorizing. It was silly of me to think it silly then because now I have an extra silly look when trying desperately to find those silly tapes. After high school, the silliness was replaced with a dogged sense that these things ought to be appreciated because they could disappear from our collective memory altogether. I mean seriously, at the rate we listen to other things (equally catchy and fitting for our generation), we really run the risk of losing this wonderful musical tradition that knows no bounds when communicating all sorts of emotions. I remember watching that award-winning film Okuribito a year ago or so and thinking, “Wow! The cello really adds so much depth to an already deeply moving film.” Then as I kept thinking about all these things it dawned on me that all sorts of music and not just classical music is in danger of being lost to us forever.

There’s another film that helped me realize this. It deserves its own post, really…and perhaps a greater audience other than just myself and a few friends in this country. It’s called Luminawa and it’s about those lovely people I met in that brief sojourn in Kalinga. Manong Sapi, whom I’m tempted to call Manong Mumu (to allude to his being like a spirit), loves to talk about how music can carry traditions and build bridges between peoples. What better way to take this all in that with Tito Mannix playing the guitar and singing? It was all very powerful. So powerful indeed that before he left, he sung one last set and I cried. Who knows why we do such sappy things anyway? I mean seriously, crying? Over a song? But yeah, we cry because something in the music is so compelling.

Maybe apart from dancing I should add a musical instrument or singing to the mix? It won’t make the neighbors angrier than they already are but it will make sense in the greater scheme of things to have some sort of way to engage this wonderful, wonderful world that suddenly becomes a wee bit more alive because of both the music we bring to it and that which is already here sustaining us.

(Quick note: It’s 4:40a.m. and I’ve been up all night listening to NPR’s Tiny Desk, endlessly clicking from one Youtube video to another…here’s a tiny set of what’s moved me so far.)

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