420 concerts in 10 years – Ingrid Sala Santamaria marks milestone | Lifestyle.INQ

OCTOBER 27, 2022

Ingrid Sala Santamaria could have chosen to reserve her concerts only for elegant evenings of classical music. Now 72, she is a gem in an elite league of internationally acclaimed Filipino artists.

But Santamaria had different plans. It did not matter to her if she had to transport her own piano up to places like Banaue. Or play on any available piano  set in a gymnasium, on a basketball court, or at a municipal hall outside Luzon. She was set on sharing her music with people all over the country.

Thus, since 2001, she has logged some 420 concerts, mostly all over the country from Aparri to Zamboanga del Sur.

“I just kept on going and going, rehearsing and preparing, planning and praying that I would finish the 10-year tour,” says Santamaria, who is now actually on her 11th year of touring.

She played to and mentored interested members of the audience after the concerts, whether students, teachers, community workers, nuns, priests, doctors or businessmen.

She did this together with her own lifelong mentor, Filipino maestro  Reynaldo Reyes, who committed to her to come home to the Philippines twice each year from Baltimore where he is based.

The concept for the concerts, called the Romantic Piano Concerto Journey (RPCJ) Tours, was born after another 10-year period of challenging herself to do more for others.

At 50, the beautiful and regal Santamaria already had numerous musical accolades, including prestigious awards given her by France, such as the Chevalier dans L’Ordre Nationale Du Merite and the Chevalier, Ordre des Palmes Academique, for her significant contribution to cultural progress in the Philippines.

Civic work

But it disturbed her immensely that the buds of philharmonic music were nowhere in her birthplace of Cebu.

“We could not even spot a single violinist, guitarist or pianist of performance caliber there at that time,” she recalls.

For any well-meaning and accomplished citizen, doing civic works, such as setting up the foundation for a philharmonic orchestra from scratch, may seem to be a matter of course. But in a case like Santamaria, changing one’s tack, from being a celebrated pianist used to polished command performances to becoming a ground mover, called for a different level of sacrifice.

She knew, however, that if she set her mind on it, she could make a difference and enable talents to grow.

“I knew that to have a measure of success, I would have to play, only in relation to the task of pursuing the program,” she says.

It also meant being away from her Manila-based family, save for occasional visits. She says it helped that her children were pretty much set as young adults.

“It was a very difficult decision to make. I was also unsure of my health. It was so presumptuous of me to plan that God would give me another 10 years of good health to finish the program in Cebu.”

It took her a year to decide before eventually setting out for Cebu. Under the Salvador and Pilar Sala Foundation Inc. (SPSFI), which she set up in honor of her parents, she cast her sights on a scholarship-based performing orchestra.

“You can imagine the patience that was required of me. I had to content myself with strains of ‘Twinkle, twinkle little stars’ and the ‘ik ik ik; sounds from the instruments of children we taught,” Santamaria says with a hearty laugh. “But we saw progress as the years went by.”

Her husband Joe was struck by illness and passed away two years after her relocation.

Regaining her bearings after a period of grief, she refocused on her goal. Some 100 students in a full-scholarship development program benefited under SPSFI. In partnership with select universities, qualified SPSFI scholars were also able to earn other academic degrees.

First concert

By 1995, the Cebu Youth Symphony Orchestra had rendered its first concert. Santamaria says she worked very hard in those years, getting other teachers and supervisors interested, soliciting from benefactors and donors to keep the program going.

She prayed even more to God to let her have that first concert. “I thanked Him so much when the first concert took place,” she says.

The concert was timed with the birthday of her mom, Pilar Blanco Sala, under whom the young Santamaria obtained her Bachelor of Music degree at the Battig Piano School in Cebu City.

When the concert finally happened, “I was so thankful that I told God, ‘Lord, You may take me now. Ok na gyud. I am Yours to take.”

Countries like the Netherlands, France and Japan were among those that provided assistance to the foundation. Thus, when the orchestra evolved into a more mature group in later years, Santamaria decided to rename it Peace Philharmonic Philippines (PPP), bearing in mind music as a bridge between cultures.

More musical milestones in Cebu followed. A grand all-Filipino concert for the Philippine Centennial in 1998 took place at  Cebu Waterfront Hotel, with documentary coverage by Japan’s NHK TV network. The PPP music extension program and the PPP Junior Ensemble group were also launched.

It was mission accomplished for the virtuoso.

Still, her sharing spirit was undiminished. Thus, Santamaria embarked on another 10-year program – the country tours.

A regular two-piano concert format which she and Reyes brought all over included two concertos of select composers such as Beethoven, Brahms, Chopin, Grieg, Liszt, Mendelssohn, Rachmaninoff, Schuman and Tchaikovsky, plus two Filipino pieces – often Buencamino’s “Mayon Fantasy” and Santiago’s “Souvenir de Filipinas.”

Some 200 of these performances, including the lecture part, have been uploaded on YouTube. Santamaria wants to make these available to anyone who would benefit from the coaching and the inspiration.

New charity

This December, she will hold an intimate concert as a tribute to friends and benefactors. Proceeds will go to I Love My Faith Foundation, a new group that supports projects of healing priest Fr. Fernando Suarez.

For Santamaria, the invitation to be the first featured artist of the foundation was auspicious. She, with the help of family friend Joey Stevens, had just finished the first part of a museum-like display of her life’s mementos in her home.

Her first visitor was Reyes. Next was Father Suarez, who came on a Saturday morning last month and blessed the arrangement of awards, citations and photographs, along with fascinating miniature pianos she has collected through the years.

“I am so honored to help Father’s healing ministry through a concert,” says Santamaria, adding that the concert is also an offering fit for the many graces she has received from God on her outreach missions.

Santamaria says of her Catholic faith: “I settled that early. No questions asked. I believed. That also allowed me to focus on His gift of music and developing it.”

Santamaria was allowed by her mom to hold her solo recital at age 10 at Battig Piano School; it was an event that was usually staged by others in their high-school years.

She became the first-prize winner in the talent search of the Jeunnesse Musicales in 1962; Ten Outstanding Women in the Nation’s Service in 1981; a Hall of Fame awardee of the Crestwood Performing Arts League in Florida, US, in 2000 – among a host of citations.

Meanwhile, the 20th RPCJ Tour is set to take place early next year as Santamaria’s tribute to Maestro Reyes.

She’s been on a tribute blitz, thanking the people who have mattered in her life and her music.

And, yes, she is not done yet with her plans about further sharing through her “pedagogy.” She has bound a collection of 30 notebooks legibly filled with notes on piano and particular pieces she has mastered. These, she says, she intends to upload online for any student of music to benefit from.

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