Through music, the Makati City Youth Orchestra plays toward hope and harmony
Under white tinsel and blue Christmas lights, children bustle through the marbled halls of the Makati City Hall. Few are on their cell phones. Instead, they’re playing a mini-game of tag-you’re-it. A couple of kids are looking off into corners. They are singing—practicing melodies through their vocal cords.
Without a doubt, the shoot is not without a sense of chaos. The LIFESTYLE.INQ team, teachers, parents, city hall staff, and orchestra director run in circles scrambling to organize the 40-odd children.
This is the Makati City Youth Orchestra, where the feelings of young life resonate through the strings of violins, cellos, and violas. In a throng of youthful energy, there is a sense of happiness found in the shuffling footsteps and the sound of high-pitched voices
The Orchestra Prelude
It all began before the pandemic, with a vision to find an intersecting point of both passion and community. Mayor Abby Binay, inspired by the late arts patron Washington Sycip’s affinity for music, imagined a transformative project: a youth orchestra for Makati City.
After procuring a slew of classical string instruments, the City Hall reached out to Jeffrey Solares, Executive Director of the Manila Symphony Orchestra Foundation, Associate Conductor of the Manila Symphony Orchestra, and now Project Director and Conductor of the Makati City Youth Orchestra.
Guided by Binay’s vision, Solares crafted a proposal that laid the groundwork for the symphonic group.
At the time it was the tail-end of 2019. The project got revving, but as the new year rolled in, so did the pandemic. Of thirty children, only ten have stayed on, named the resilient “batch one.” The orchestra powered through by adapting, to online training till finally, face-to-face sessions that have steadily expanded into a larger, fresh ensemble of precious violins, violas, and cellos.
I have watched Solares in a rush-hour concert before at the Ayala Museum. Sometimes, in between songs, he pauses to involve the audience, giving a briefer on the composition. In a world where classical music concerts can exclude people, this pause for a little music lesson creates ripples that make it more accessible, increasing cultural and musical literacy in the Philippines. It then comes as no surprise that he has taken on this project to teach music to the youth in Makati.
A luminary born in Bicol, Solares has dedicated over 20 years to music in both the form of performing and teaching. As conductor of the MSO, the first orchestra in Asia founded 98 years ago, he tells us how it has grown, “We want the orchestra to be a means of livelihood. And has it achieved this?” Currently, about 40 of the senior members are on salary, becoming a source of viable income, while giving MSO members additional projects like teaching the Makati City Youth Orchestra.
Orchestrating Dreams for All
In a world where classical music is often reserved for the privileged, the Makati City Youth Orchestra is a rare beacon of light that allows opportunities for those who wouldn’t normally be able to learn music. Normally, training is accessible only to families who can afford the exorbitant fees of expensive instruments and 1000-pesos-per-hour lessons. Rarely do children appreciate it, and instead see it as a chore.
This project, supported by the city, opens doors for every child. Since none of the children can initially play, they are selected by musical aptitude tests—singing. The tone of a voice can uncover sensitive ears and mindful speech, nurturing potential that others may not see. “Out of probably twenty, five will be in tune,” Solares says.
Under the tutelage of Jeffrey Solares and a seasoned MSO team of seven to eight teachers, these specially chosen young musicians flourish. The teacher says,
“I’ve seen it in the first batch. They look different. They move differently…. You can see how it changed them to grow. Even in school, they’re more developed. Normally, the valedictorians and the top kids play music. I wouldn’t be surprised if they are at the top of their class dynamics.”
A Rhapsody of Growth
Solares teaches through the Suzuki method, a gentle yet disciplined philosophy that believes everyone can learn to play music. The sequence takes the same steps as learning a language with daily listening, constant repetition, praise, and encouragement. This nurtures a child’s natural, innate talent. The director tells us the kids practice pieces he wrote himself, as well as Filipino folk songs—although keeping classical music as the core of their studies.
As the children evolve in learning musical notes, they enrich not just their talents, but their character. Outside time in the classroom, the children spend hours working on their craft, fine-tuning the brain’s development, and cultivating a sense of discipline.
One student, Lindsey, stands with her cello. She tells us how she is part of the second batch. At only eleven years old, she is not in the least bit shy, but full of confidence and calm. As we move through the cobblestones of Makati City Hall, she is careful to take care of her instrument.
As the children journey from their homes in the winding streets of Makati or PEMBO, these educational after-school programs incubate holistic development beyond the classroom.
“Musical training like this develops not only music. It develops basic discipline, attention, learning habits, and then of course, character. It’s persistence, really.”
Ode to Tomorrow
In the complex tapestry of Makati City, the Youth Orchestra represents not just a symbol of musical excellence, but a catalyst of change. Beyond melodies, the children show that regardless of circumstance, the power of art and community can crescendo life into a better reality. It carries the collective aspiration of a city, echoing the belief that every child, regardless of their station, deserves the chance to compose a harmonious future. Director Solares shares how it changes the children’s daily life,
“They get to travel. It’s not their routine. You don’t get this in the normal school environment. And really, I think they feel empowered to have this talent and skill.”
The journey of the Makati City Youth Orchestra is a symphony of hope, a testament to the profound impact of nurturing talent through opportunities. Their future brims with promise, marked by excited performances and a plan to grace the Samsung Performing Arts Theater on December 20—a testament to their burgeoning talent.
The Manila Symphony Orchestra will hold a concert ‘Lisztomania!’ with pianist Michael Cu on December 30, 2023 at the the RCBC Theater. Contact 0962 087 6715 for more details.
The Makati City Youth Orchestra will hold a free public concert ‘Hatid Saya sa Makatizens’ featuring Manila Symphony Junior Orchestra, offered by Mayor Abby Binay on December 20, 2023, at the Samsung Performing Arts Theater Circuit Makati. Contact MyMakati for more details.
Photography by JT Fernandez
Cover and Creative Direction by Julia Elaine Lim
Production Supervision by Angela Go, assisted by Colleen Cosme and Martin Agustin
Editorial Supervision by Sophia Concordia
Produced by Ria Prieto