Written by CiH Deputy Director Danielle Kuhlmann
There was a bit of culture shock coming back to Manila after being on Culion Island for a week. We kept marveling at the luxuries that were suddenly available to us: electricity, flush toilets, espresso... But we got right back to work for our partnership with the Manila Symphony Orchestra.
We coached groups and taught lessons to musicians of all ages. We invited a violist from MSO, Jaydee De Ocampo, to join us for a performance of the Mozart Horn Quintet. We held masterclasses and prepared pieces to be performed at our culminating concert at the beautiful Ayala Museum.
The concert itself was electric. There were passionate performances intertwined with the Cartwheel Foundation's moving video accounts of our time spent with the Tagbanua tribe. The concert featured all of the CiH artists playing Filipino folk solos with the MSO. Directly before I performed Sa Ugoy Ng Duyan, a Filipino lullaby we had played in our concerts in Palawan, clips were shown of some of the Tagbanua musicians reflecting on our shared experience. Kennedy, a very quiet guitarist and singer, spoke intently as he committed to sharing his knowledge of music, and the passion of our exchange, with his children and the youth of the tribe. He said "Let us not be ashamed of our music and our culture." I was so moved by his words that I barely had time to wipe away my tears before stepping out to perform with the MSO.
Our grand finale was an arrangement for the MSO, CiH, and the MSO Youth Orchestra. We played the Tagbanua Paalam, or Farewell, that we had learned in Palawan. We created an arrangement for string orchestra in which the cellos slapped their instruments like a Tambol (drum) and the violins soared above the orchestra, playing the melody of Diostado's Flauta. The players were ecstatic and played with vigor while images of our time with the Tagbanua flashed behind us on a screen. We all turned to watch as we played the Paalam together for the very last time. It was such a joyous experience to share the music we learned in Culion with the musicians of Manila. I kept thinking about how much the Tagbanua musicians would have enjoyed hearing their song brought to life by a full orchestra. We all felt immense pride and fulfillment as the audience applauded and we realized our incredible trip was finally coming to and end!
On my last day in the Philippines, I said goodbye to the other three musicians traveling with me. Frank, Rebecca, and Kim were a real dream team. I could not imagine a more dedicated, passionate, talented, open, and kind group to have shared this experience with.
After their send-off, I had the pleasure of spending the day in the province of Batangas, south of Manila. Some of the musicians from the MSO, all of whom I coached in workshops, invited me for a day at the beach. I thought that it would be just a relaxing day trip, but it turned into one of the most poignant and meaningful days of my life. We throw out those kinds of terms often, but sometimes the experience truly rises to the meaning of those powerful words.
The trip began with a three hour drive down to the coast. We talked and shared stories and interests, and I really got to know the musicians on a personal level. We passed the city of Alfonso, the hometown of Sylvester, one of the trumpet players in the orchestra. We continued down a winding road with beautiful views of Taal volcano, which CiH visited in 2007, until we reached the town of Lian. We were invited to eat at the home of Arvin, an oboist from MSO. He has a rich sound and plays musically, with so much life. I was so honored to be invited into his home, where his brother had prepared a meal of prawns, grilled squid, and fresh veggies. Jedi, a close friend and violinist in the MSO, showed me the proper way to eat rice with your hands (scoop and roll the food in your four fingers, then push it forward with the thumb). We visited the local "wet market," or farmer's market, to pick out fresh veggies and fish to eat on the beach. On our drive to the shore, we stopped at the side of the road to cut a banana leaf to use as plates at our picnic (it had to be sliced in half to fit in the car...).
We arrived at a beautiful white sandy beach with clear waters and a covered area with picnic tables. Although the beach was amazing, it really served as a backdrop to the incredible experience we had together. I watched as the men prepared the dishes- a fresh Filipino-style ceviche, a vinegar-based soup filled with greens, beans, and onions, and whole grilled fish from the wet market. There was pineapple juice, and, of course, San Miguel, the local pilsner.
The best surprise was the mobile videoke (karaoke) machine that was wheeled out onto the sand. The Filipinos are the only people who actually love karaoke as much as I do! Though we were at a gorgeous beach touching the South China Sea, we spent most of the day at covered picnic benches, talking, eating, and singing videoke for hours.
We crooned American power ballads (a favorite in the Philippines) and I listened as they sang Tagalog love songs, which Jedi translated for me. After some prompting, they convinced me to sing Sa Ugoy Ng Duyan, the Filipino lullaby I had just performed with the MSO. It was really wonderful to sit with all of my new and old friends and sing one of their most beloved songs together.
Although many of our CiH interactions take place in formal sessions and workshops, sometimes the casual downtime can be the best time for trust-building and real cultural exchange. I learned so much about the Filipino culture, and the everyday lives of these musicians. We talked about different international cultures and what life is like in America. We talked about the differences in our cultures, and the things we respect or dislike from each. They asked me candidly about my impressions of the Philippines and its people. Our conversation went a lot deeper than the usual "They're so friendly!" We spoke about the mindset of colonization and how that affects the psyche of the Filipino. We compared the indigenous cultures of the Philippines to those of the United States, and discussed the ways that our societies interact with theirs. We talked about making a living (or trying to!) as a musician, and the different struggles we face. We talked about the nature of our own cultures, and how we each fit into them, or don't. And all the while we're snacking on fresh mango and dragonfruit and sipping homemade Sinigang soup.
At one point, Arvin, an oboist with the most warm and contagious smile, made this genuine observation about the Filipino culture: "We don't have many things- but we're happy!" Everyone was smiling.