It is easy to connect Calbayog City in western Samar with people in the seven arts.
Distinguished filmmaker Chito Roño is from this place. So is visual artist Raul Isidro.
Calbayog became a city on July 15, 1948, with a territory that included the former towns of Calbayog, Oquendo and Tinambacan by virtue of Republic Act 328 signed into law by President Manuel Roxas.
Show-biz personalities from Calbayog City include singer Nonoy Zuñiga, actress Tessie Tomas, entertainment writer Ricky Lo, TV host Boy Abunda (from Catbalogan and Borongan).
The most surprising thing is that, while Manila-based orchestras continue to struggle for financing, Calbayog City has managed to have a youth orchestra based in Christ the King College.
Unknown to many in the music circle in Manila, Samar composer José Cinco Gomez is considered the music icon on the island.
The island has its share of memorable songs, such as “Calbayog Ko,” “Lupad Alibangbang,” “An Iroy nga Tuna” and “Handum”; and native dances such as “Tiyadot,” “Aragoniza,” “Jota Calbayoguen” and “Curacha,” the latter figuring in the acclaimed Chito Roño film.
Soul of Samar
For now, I can say that the music odyssey of José Gomez reflects the soul of Samar.
Described by an American SVD father as “the music man of Samar” in an article in the Leyte-Samar Studies journal of Divine Word University of Tacloban City, Gomez was born on Feb. 27, 1911, in barrio Tabok (now barangay Obrero) of Calbayog—the eldest among seven children of Licarion Camilon Gomez and Benigna Camilon Cinco.
His early studies were at Colegio de San Vicente de Paul (now Christ the King College). His musical output included church hymns, guerrilla marches, graduation marches, and more than 5,000 songs, only 500 of which were properly copyrighted.
To preserve the musical heritage of Samar and Leyte, he organized the Cecilian Cultural Group (after the patroness of music St. Cecilia) composed of teachers, lawyers, priests, local journalists, radiomen and even a street-sweeper.
In September 1974, he won in Paligsahan sa Musika Songwriting Competition.
In 1974, he suffered a stroke, probably caused by the legal battle he filed against a recording company in Manila for the alleged violation of the patent right on his composition “Ahay.”
In the early morning of Feb. 2 of that year, Gomez died and got seven posthumous awards.
In a coffee-table book on Calbayog, Roño recalls the music of Gomez still rules the town plaza as his composition “Libakero” is passed from one mp4 player to another.
Fortunately, Gomez’s musical heritage is partly preserved with the existence of Christ the King College (CKC) José Gomez Youth Orchestra under Fr. Marlowe Rosales, a graduate of the UST Conservatory of Music.
Rosales is a virtual one-man music teaching force in CKC, where the orchestra was founded in 2007. The youth musicians number around 60, and as they play a local folk dance and a Bach piece in an orchestra rehearsal, one realizes music is still part and parcel, so to speak, of the Samar psyche.
A possible venue for chamber music is the Pastor Center of the Samar diocese under Calbayog Bishop Isabelo C. Abarquez, and the ballroom of the elegant Ciriaco Hotel in the city.
A source of rich history of the Samar diocese is the coffee-table book released by the diocese, “Diocese of Calbayog: History of the Local Church in Samar.”
The book isn’t just religious history; it also chronicles the struggles of the good priests of the diocese during the dark days of martial law when the Church could no longer turn a blind eye on human-rights abuses.
In the other coffee-table book, Roño pines for the good old days of Calbayog and recalls the small and quiet city his hometown used to be.
He writes: “At that time, one would be awakened to someone serenading a few blocks. One would also get to enjoy the tall tales of war from able-bodied adults who were actually in the war. Christmas songs were sung in Waray. The saints were all wrapped up in purple fabric during Holy Week. ”
But the observer can sense that the arts remain the soul of Samar. “The cultural scene may be rich from time to time,” Roño writes. “Still blessed with a multitude of artists writing, painting, composing songs, Calbayog can always claim to be the most artistic in Samar. However, we still have to learn, maybe poke ourselves in the eyes and see that these are treasures of our race. As such, these must not be allowed to vanish in time.”
If only to pay tribute to José Cinco, classical music should make a good comeback in Calbayog City.
Esmilla, Golez in Laguna
Violinist Joseph Esmilla and pianist Rudolf Golez will be heard at the Umali Hall of UP Los Baños in Laguna on Oct. 15, 7 p.m., and at the UP Diliman Balay Kalinaw Oct. 21, 7 p.m.
Program includes Brahms’ Sonatensatz; Strauss’ Sonata for Violin and Piano; three pieces from Gershwin’s “Porgy and Bess” transcribed by Heifetz; Kreisler’s Recitativo and Scherzo for solo violin; and three solo piano pieces by Liszt.
In celebration of National Music Week in November, 11-year-old Mishael Romano from Dipolog City will play at the UP Balay Kalinaw on Nov. 27, 4 p.m.
His program: Haydn’s Sonata in C Major, Hob. 3; Chopin’s Waltz in B-Flat Minor; Debussy’s “Golliwog’s Cake Walk”; Beethoven’s Sonatina in F Major; and Clementi’s Sonatina in C Major, Op. 36, No. 3.
He will cap the recital with Haydn’s Concerto in D Major, with Miracle Romano on the second piano.
Pianists Reynaldo Reyes and Raul Sunico and Rosario Licad have heard the boy and they all agree the boy has talent.