Since my schooldays, writing has always been my chosen form of creative expression. I have come out with three books—two of poetry and one on my insights on God and spirituality. Writing essays on topics I find stimulating or socially relevant has also been a favorite preoccupation.
But I found out that changing creative gears from time to time can also be very exciting.
Early in our married life, my late wife put up a small preschool in one part of our house: Listening to the little children singing nursery songs in their sweet, innocent voices one day, I suddenly had the urge to compose a nursery song of my own. Although I loved to sing (I had been president of our college glee club), I had absolutely no formal musical background.
But a simple catchy melody kept playing in my mind. So I asked someone to write the notes on a music sheet, and I put in the lyrics. Everyone who heard the song loved it, and this gave me my first taste of small gratification as a “composer.”
That simple children’s song, “Playmates,” still plays in my mind today.
Fast-forward to about a decade later. In the late 1970s, Original Pilipino Music (OPM) was being vigorously promoted, and the annual Metro Manila Popular Music Festival (Metropop) was all the rage. With huge prizes for winning OPM compositions, entries were flooding in from professional and amateur composers. Again, impulse prodded me to join.
I had often wondered which came first in writing songs, the melody or the lyrics. In my case, the words led the way, but in the process, the melody and the lyrics helped each other along, and the resulting product was a song titled “Igagawa Kita ng Kanta.”
I asked a friend, Dennis Garcia of the popular Hotdog band, to listen to my composition and give his opinion. He liked it a lot and agreed to do the rough recording which would be submitted to the Metropop contest. The band’s talented vocalist, Ella del Rosario, sang the song very soulfully, to the simple accompaniment of a piano.
But the winners who eventually emerged were professional composers, and their submissions were fully orchestrated. The uneven playing field led the organizers to have separate categories for professionals and amateurs in succeeding years.
The bright side was that Hotdog obviously liked my song enough to include it in their repertoire of songs and album for the blockbuster Nora Aunor starrer, “Bongga Ka ’Day!” She sang the song in the movie, with the lyrics and tempo altered to fit the story.
Although I received a nominal amount for this musical venture, what gave me a kick was hearing the song being played virtually every day for months on a popular radio station.
From pop to classical
My last foray into the musical world was at the other end of the spectrum—from pop to classical.
By the early 2000s, the musical director of our Ateneo Alumni Glee Club was renowned composer/conductor Francisco Feliciano, taking over from Fr. James Reuter, SJ, who had led our group since its founding in 1953.
At one of my book launches, where our choir gave a performance, I noticed Professor Feliciano, our new conductor, intently poring over my poems, some of which were in Pilipino.
A few days later, he called me up with a request. Could I collaborate with him by writing lyrics in Pilipino for a musical composition he was about to create, to be sung by a mixed chorale?
Seeing this as an opportunity to gain experience in writing more formal music, I readily accepted. He said he would be staying in Korea, teaching there for several months, and we would be doing our joint work through email.
What followed was a challenging but enjoyable three months of back-and-forth exchange of correspondence. Apparently, Professor Feliciano did not yet have the music, but wanted the lyrics to lead the way, based on the theme of a forest with a waterfall being the source of inspiration for an artist to whom the work would be dedicated—painter Rafael Pacheco, the celebrated “father of Philippine finger painting.”
Starting from scratch, we agreed on the title “Diwata ng Kalikasan” (“Muse of Nature”), and I submitted the initial verses.
But as the music developed, the words and phrasing of the lyrics had to be constantly adjusted, with multiple options, to fit the evolving melody. It was an arduous process and it was like “flying blind,” guided only by radar. I only saw the whole picture when the song in four voices for a mixed choir finally emerged.
But what greater satisfaction can a writer of poems turned lyricist have than to hear his first and only collaborative musical work premiered by the world-famous Philippine/University of the Philippines Madrigal Singers (Madz) in a special performance? And what greater creative privilege than to have worked with an outstanding composer who has since been named a National Artist for Music?
All this became a reality because I did not stifle the inexplicable urge to leave my creative comfort zone and venture into the unfamiliar, a refreshing side trip from my usual literary sphere.
I have also learned that there is no age limit to discovering your creative bent even if you have suppressed or ignored it before.
I have a friend, a retired corporate executive, now 82, who decided to give in to his creative impulse and took up painting lessons when he became an octogenarian. Since then, he has joined several group exhibits organized by his atelier in prestigious galleries.
Imagine his exhilaration when he told me recently that he had sold his first painting for a considerable amount. Today, he has already sold several more pieces to complete strangers—a testament to his finally awakened talent. Judging from the fine quality of his work that I have seen, he can look forward to more years of self-fulfillment in his newly embraced art. —CONTRIBUTED
“The comfort zone is the great enemy of creativity; moving beyond it necessitates intuition, which in turn configures new perspectives and conquers fears.” —Dan Stevens, actor