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Art, Music and the Filipino Soul


  •   5 min reads
Art, Music and the Filipino Soul
By Leonor Magtolis Briones

Originally published in the Manila Times on February 24, 2024

I have written about those who help us survive the many challenges of our life journeys — family, including maiden aunts, bachelor uncles and kasambahays, and yes, our indispensable friends.

This time let us examine art, specifically music, and how it gives us inspiration, hope, and yes, courage. The recently concluded exhibit at the Innotech White Room Gallery is a wonderful example of how art can be a source of delight and enjoyment. With Sen. Sonny Angara as guest of honor and leading artists as exhibitors, the opening was a great success. They were joined by the resident artists known as Innotech 13+l. They are young emerging painters who are getting recognized for their art.

The exhibit was enlivened by songs rendered by the Manila Concert Choir, whose members had just returned from their tour of Berlin, West Germany, and Prague, Czechoslovakia.

Senator Angara spoke of the joy that art — whether painting, culture, theater arts and music provides us.

In my remarks (I am the Seamo Innotech director), I emphasized once more the inseparability of technology and the humanities.

Other art forms were featured during the exhibit: The Manila Concert Choir sang contemporary Filipino songs. There were sculptures and art installations as well.

Music as language of the soul

Perhaps it can be safely stated that music is the most loved art form by Filipinos. Every Filipino loves music. He or she can sing, whether in tune, out of tune or somewhere in between.

No festivity takes place without music. Fiestas feature amateur singing contests. Famous singers are brought in to perform in churches, plazas and schools. And of course, one’s final journey to the afterlife is always accompanied by music.

No self-respecting church, school or civic organization is without a choir.

Choirs

The best-known choirs are usually university-based. They participate in regional and global choral contests. They win major prizes. They get to see the world and sing for the world.

Church-based choirs and community choirs are also very popular in the Philippines, as well as the rest of the world.

One excellent example of a community choir is the Manila Concert Choir (MCC). At the same time, the members are in church choirs, either as conductors or singers themselves.

At 73 years, MCC predates many university and school choirs. Last October 2023, 14 MCC members sang in Berlin, West Germany, and Prague, Czechoslovakia, at the invitation of Filipino communities.

MCC has sung in practically all the provinces and major cities of the Philippines. It has embarked on Asian tours as well.

The MCC members are: Belita Reyes Alfaro, Glen Daplin Cantada, Philip Mark Quimno Cauba, Angelyne Opelac Ramirez, Christine Beth Lauron Salcedo, Elenita Olarte Salcedo, Lilibeth Lauron Salcedo, Jorim Dejano Sampayan, Ceres Joves Salvador, Ernesto Morales Tatco, Rovelita Protacio Vidanes, Edwin Balan Mariano, Grace Marie Alejandro Lopez and Ruth Rachel Agpaoa Visaya.

Wherever they go, they sing about harmony among people, peace in place of war, freedom, and of course, love. Most of all, they sing about God and his faithfulness to us.

Orpheus and music

As a grade school child, one of my favorite love stories was about Orpheus and his beloved wife, Eurydice.

The music of Orpheus was so beautiful that it could charm living things including stones, wood and animals.

When his wife died of a snake bite, Orpheus’ songs of mourning moved even the gods and nymphs to tears.

Orpheus descended into Hades to beg for his wife’s return. The rulers of Hades were so moved by his plea that they agreed to allow him to retrieve Eurydice on one condition: she was to follow him and Orpheus could only look back at her when they reached the outer world.

Alas, Orpheus was too eager, and he turned to look at his wife before she reached the outer world. She disappeared forever.

One of the most beautiful films I saw as a young person was the award-winning movie “Black Orpheus.” The setting was in Brazil with its famous Mardi Gras as backdrop. It starred two young black Africans, and the throbbing music of the Mardi Gras was fantastic.

While the book I read as a child did not make me cry, “Black Orpheus” and its music moved me to copious tears.

Black Orpheus is a 1959 romantic tragedy film made in Brazil by French director Marcel Camus and starring Marpessa Dawn and Breno Mello. It is based on the play Orfeu da Conceição by Vinicius de Moraes, which is itself an adaptation of the Greek legend of Orpheus and Eurydice, set in the modern context of a favela in Rio de Janeiro during Carnaval.

At present, we are debating about many issues. We argue about constitutional change, conduct endless hearings about the state of education, quarrel over the state of the economy and exchange harsh words about Israel and Hamas.

The film is particularly noted for its soundtrack by two Brazilian composers: Antônio Carlos Jobim, whose song "A felicidade" opens the film; and Luiz Bonfá, whose "Manhã de Carnaval" and "Samba de Orfeu" have become classics of bossa nova. 

How I long for the music of Orpheus to soothe our savage breasts and calm us down even as we are reminded that we are all Filipinos!


About the Author:

Leonor "Liling" Mirasol Magtolis-Briones was Education Secretary under President Rodrigo Duterte, Presidential Adviser for Social Development under President Joseph Ejercito Estrada and National Treasurer of the Philippines.

She is currently the Center Director of INNOTECH, a regional center on educational innovation and technology of the Southeast Asian Ministers of Education Organization (SEAMEO).


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