Three things 9 – 27 February 2012

Since I discovered Twitter, I have found not watching the Oscars live a feasible thing. As I am posting this, we are inexorably heading toward a Hugo sweep of the technical awards (except for editing), and I wonder if one of the people behind Flight of the Conchords will win for a song for a movie featuring the group who should be hosting the Oscars. (He did! Brett MacKenzie won!)

Now on to three things:

1. No pictures available, but I finally visited the Salcedo Market. This is the place where the trend of food fairs and markets catering to a high-end audience really started, in my view. Even the likes of the Fort’s Mercato Centrale, for instance, owe something to the Saturday morning organic food market and veritable smorgasbord. It was an interesting half-hour I spent roaming about the stalls, and I am thinking of returning–because I saw mushrooms one could grow at home! And the Kashmir restaurant was represented with a stall. They have amazing vegetarian samosas.

2. I had one samosa at dinner after a very interesting gig at 19 East. This was the first time I visited this place, and I agree with the claim made by a number of friends in the music scene that this has one of the best sound systems of any venue in town.

The reason for my visit there (and hence my unfortunate avoidance of the Collective Art Fair) was a gig led by two Indian musicians and their friends, which included a couple of Filipinos who were in a band that plays Irish music at Murphy’s (that band’s next gig, by the way, may be the first time I will return to Murphy’s in Makati in nearly a year). And of course, there was this band and a keyboard duo I represent. (Since I do not talk about work a lot here… [tongue sticking out]) Here’s a shot from the night itself.

Sing India and friends performing "Must Must," a qawwali song, at 19 East. Photo by Ren Aguila

What I enjoyed about it was that all concerned were lively and enthusiastic about what they were doing, and I found the vibe very refreshing. But most of all, it was a celebration of music, and that is what is keeping me sane.

3. I was at yesterday’s matinee presentation of the cantata A Fire in the Soul by Vince Groyon and Von de Guzman, thanks to someone I met last time at the opening night of the wildly successful Battalia Royale. The production, directed by Peque Gallaga and with video projection work by a “translator,” is an interesting tribute not only to the De La Salle University’s centennial (it was first performed in June 2011), but also to a somewhat obscure act of terror that took place at the Taft campus’s chapel. I first learned of this story from historian Ambeth Ocampo, and the cantata quotes almost word-for-word from the only surviving Christian Brother who wrote a pamphlet Ocampo also quoted. The incident, which took place on 12 February 1945 during the so-called Liberation of Manila, involved the murder of 41 civilians, including 16 members of the FSC, by Japanese troops in revenge for an alleged sniper attack on the nearby Nippon Club. The brothers were allowed to keep La Salle open (as the Christian Brothers Academy) during the war, a distinction not shared by my old place, mainly because some of them were nationals of Axis countries. But even that could not save them from being killed.

The desecration of the La Salle chapel is one of the reasons I still find it scandalous when, say, a Japanese politician visits the Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo, or an Education Ministry bureaucrat approves history books that gloss over the fact that the Imperial Army had comfort women or a track record of atrocities. But the fact that it took place amid one of the worst and most ill-advised US bombing raids in the Second World War makes me shake my head at the people who unreservedly treat America as an exemplar for anything, even politics. In short, we do have to be fair, especially if we are caught in the middle of a conflict between Great Powers. And these days, we still are.

But enough about the (geo)politics. What I also appreciated about A Fire in the Soul is that it told me, as someone who is from what I called “the other place” over at La Salle, a bit more about what the founding order stands for, and what La Salle ought to be doing. Any judgment on whether they are is not for me to make, but I am grateful to our friends in Taft for what they have done in any case. After all, some of my friends are from the other place.

(Disclaimer: To be honest, I do not take the rivalry that seriously. It has become a musical, though.)

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Three things 8 – 24 February 2012

Today is a Friday, and I have one big decision to make. Actually two. Prayers requested.

1. After my last post on Shrove Tuesday, I made up my mind to go to the new Sipat Lawin production Battalia Royale which was opening that night. From what I have been reading, the enthusiasm around this production has been astonishing. So far, no press reviews.

But let me say this: a production that is clear about what it promises to do, delivers on it, and then does it well in spite of its shortcomings (like iffy acting on the part of some of the players, a large number of whom are from student companies) is a show worth watching. More importantly, it asks questions which are needed and valued–what kind of society do we have where everything, even war and violence, is turned into a spectacle? Then again, this was the situation in first- and second-century Rome, the time of transition between paganism and Christendom. This is yet another turning of the age, and oddly enough Battalia Royale is making a contribution to the prophetic voices raising queries about the way we live. (This would lead me to a discussion of why both the original–which I should get around to reading–and this adaptation both give away the game of the modern state and its monopoly of violence, but I will save that for later, probably around Holy Week.)

2. The day after, I went to Calamba and Los Baños, in the province of Laguna. This is the time of year that I visit Calamba for an errand having to do with a property in an undeveloped subdivision on the lower slopes of Mt. Makiling. First thing I noted was they had a football field in front of City Hall. Apparently they had a football event on those fields late last year, and a friend of mine who is into football told me he was there just last week.

My next stop, after a coffee break, was the University of the Philippines in Los Baños. I have rarely been there, except to the dairy, which was on the other side of where I was going. The occasion was a concert being given mainly for students by flutist Rodel Vidal, guitarist Nobel Queaño, and for the first time since getting her first Chapman stick in 2010, Fuseboxx frontwoman Abby Clutario. (DISCLAIMER: I am currently one of two PR officers for the band.)

I understand it was a success, and Abby reports that the audience last night was enthusiastic enough for the musicians to perform two encores. As for me, let me just say (since everything I have to say about the band from now on is as a consequence of my professional, not personal, relationship to them) that the concert was a good showcase of classical (mostly Baroque) music, contemporary “smooth jazz,” and the capacity of the Chapman as a basso continuo in, for instance, the “Arrival of the Queen of Sheba” by Handel.

But what moved me was the new arrangement of “Pagbalik” that the three premiered. The performance was also accompanied by a dance based on Ryan Woodward’s “Thought of You,” which the band overlaid with an edited version of their first single. The original song was The Weepies’ “World Spins Madly On.” Yes, this is one of the few creative decisions Fuseboxx made that I found kind of odd. I like “World…” and its theme of parting. But I did not bother with the choreography. I enjoyed how the song changed in a less loud arrangement, and if they get around to reviving the music gig series that changed my life, Abby should play.

3. Finally, a shout-out to momblogger Kenny whom I met at Batallia Royale, outside the rarefied confines of Geek Fight. And congratulations to my friend Twinkle Ferraren whose new collection launches tonight!

Three things 7 – 21 February 2012

Today is Shrove Tuesday, but I will save my shriving for later in the week. Lent is partly about penance, but also about asking what really matters.

I’m going to do my first book post today.

1. I stayed up all night–well, almost–finishing Jeffrey Eugenides’ The Marriage Plot. It is a story set in the early 80s that draws together the rise of literary theory in the US academe, mental illness, Mother Teresa, and a plot that, in outline, offers a twist on the idea of the novelistic romance. It is a book for the erudite reader. I found moving, though, the story of the manic depressive character–mainly because he reminded me of an old friend. The book quotes one of my favorite tunes, “Once In A Lifetime” by The Talking Heads, and even uses it as an epigraph!

2. Speaking of books and music, one Philippine author has got me cheering because she quoted an early Everything But The Girl song, “Each and Every One.” I must say that I have found good use for an e-reader as a way of reading books that I would otherwise avoid reading in public. Tweet Sering’s Wander Girl is the second of the local chick-lit genre I have gotten around to reading (the first was her sister Tara’s Getting Better, which UP republished in a compilation of Sering’s short stories). As a rule, I do not read chick-lit, though Helen Fielding’s adaptation of Pride and Prejudice (which was inspired by the BBC series) was a past exception. I needed to read Tweet’s book after Eugenides’s weighty story, and I enjoyed the book. It was a lighthearted romantic comedy with all the appropriate moments of drama and profundity. (Sering has written for film before.)

But the highlight is Sering’s soundtrack for the book, which is a blend of Eighties New Wave and the venerable then-adult-oriented contemporary band Everything But the Girl. (They went totally electronica in the late Nineties. In hindsight, and given Tracey Thorn’s brilliant 2010 album that sounds like a stylistic overview of EBTG’s musical trajectory, it was–how can we put it nicely?–a learning experience.) Tweet specifically cited the duo’s 1994 album Amplified Heart, which both fans and critics agreed was their best. And it is my favorite album too. I liked “We Walk The Same Line,” which was the first song played on my favorite station at the time.

3. Finally, in books I want to read, I have one particularly intriguing book on my wish-list. There is a new English translation of the Haggadah coming out, and this newly translated version by writer Nathan Englander (edited by Jonathan Safran Foer) sounded utterly intriguing when the translator talked about this on a recent radio show. I do hope it has an e-book edition. Meanwhile, with Lent coming up, I might re-read David Ford’s Self and Salvation. More precisely, resume re-reading it.

For those who observe it, and for those who should because it’s not all that bad, have a happy and holy Lent!

Three things 6 – 18 February 2012

Slightly longer entry tonight, because I have a little more to say than usual.

1. Just in time for my visit to Art in the Park, or more precisely just after I left the park, I finally saw my piece talking about the Vinyl anniversary. This is of course a much distilled summary of the two days that we encountered both Tara and Vinyl, and I enjoyed writing it. I also liked the way it began in its final form, and I must take note of that next time.

I chose some pictures from the photos Fully Booked’s PR people sent, and fortunately one of them was a crowd shot taken from a higher point at Vinyl. It has become common practice for me to take those shots every opening night, but tonight I am in no mood to put up a compilation, yet. Maybe after the next opening. I can tell you that the one for McPherson’s 2010 visit (see below) and the one for this year is somewhat the same in terms of volume.

Crowd shot taken from Vinyl on Vinyl balcony, 7 August 2010. Photo by the author.

2. Meanwhile, two reviews of the Philippine Educational Theater Association’s recent production of Haring Lear were visited by what seemed to be the same commentator, pointing out that the reviewers, one of whom was myself, did not “get” the ending–which was helpfully pointed out to be the last few lines of T.S. Eliot’s “The Waste Land.” (An online version from Bartleby’s can be found here.) We await the responses of the commentator, who unhelpfully refused to own one’s opinions by using their real name/s. I might as well declare this a policy on my site.

I might as well unpack one of my problems with the play, and after a conversation last night I had with someone who has worked with Padilla before, with the way the director proceeds.

The ending–and indeed the cabaret numbers which were all Noel Coward songs to my knowledge–had me wondering whether he was writing for an audience who were steeped in British literature and culture, or at least had a course in poetry where they read “The Waste Land.” To be honest, I cannot recall any English teacher ever asking me to read “The Waste Land,” though I will do so as a Lenten discipline, and my bias is for the “Four Quartets,” which has some choice passages, especially the one that begins “The wounded surgeon plies the steel…” and of course, its very last lines. I do understand that the director was trying to make a point, but it did not turn out well for me as a viewer.

Portia (the other reviewer) had a much sharper reply, and I agree with her on how “The Waste Land” did not work, but also on one key point. She has identified an issue that I feel should be understood by people in the performing arts scene–I can best summarize this in the Latin phrase from the Summa Theologica:

Quidquid recipitur ad modum recipientis recipitur.

In other words, what we receive is received in a way suited to the receiver. Edward Schillebeecx recounts that he gave this as an answer to a question asked by a devout Thomist about the meaning of hermeneutics. In reviewing a performance, the role of a reviewer is less about trying to discern authorial or dramaturgical intent (though a well-informed reviewer is aware that these things can be considered, but not always), but more about how a performance elicits certain reactions from people at the time. It is a question of how one reacts, to the best of their awareness.

I think it was David Edelstein, the film critic at New York Magazine, who put it best. In his year-in-review interview with Terry Gross on the NPR program Fresh Air, he said that when he reviewed a film, it was based on how he reacted at the time, and perhaps he would change his mind later, but the review stood. In short, a reviewer may show buyer’s remorse, but in the end must have no regrets. (I also have some things to say about the matter of criticism, which I can now disclose were written in the aftermath of Haring Lear.) I have something more to say about this soon, with respect to the music matters I have published.

3. We now go to Art in the Park itself. It is an affair I have positively compared to another art event that takes place later in the year, with its utter pretentiousness, etc. I met a lot of people I knew today, and in the case of two of them, I got to see them for the first time in a year–also at Art in the Park!

Affordable art is the name of the game here, and the upper limit is currently PHP 30,000 per piece or USD 714 roughly. But far from being a place to get cheap art, sometimes from the brightest stars in the local art firmament, for me it is a chance to encounter a much different crowd than what I am used to seeing. There were, of course, people I knew, but in many cases these were people I knew from different contexts.

But I did enjoy the art. There was, once again, the icons from Bohol finally on sale this year, but my favorite was not available. I also found Leeroy New’s new costume pieces interesting, and of course I must cite Veronica Laurel’s visual pun on books and wood that was sold at Art Informal. She is a relatively new visual artist; I first knew her as a writer. I am looking forward to her first show, which she told me may be most likely be in 2013.

Of course, by then, I would wonder how things would have changed  since 18 February 2012…let us all hope it would be for the better.

And for visitors to Art in the Park, what did you think of this year’s event?

Three things 5 – 15 February 2012

I must apologize if my last post in this series only came up tonight–I saved it as a draft by accident without publishing it. So on we go, without any technical hitches hopefully!

1. I am now listening to Forgiven Not Forgotten, the first album by the Irish pop group The Corrs. Why am I doing this? Simply put, I am trying to put away something I heard yesterday at the Alabang Town Center. Without giving too much away and without being needlessly harsh, let me just say that there are just some Corrs songs one cannot ruin. There were very good memories tied with some of those songs. Before I leap back into music, I will have my first food-related item in the series. I have been meaning to do that, actually…

2. Just after the Dialogues @ Starbucks event tonight, which was held at their Fort drive-through branch, I visited the nearby Army Navy burger and burrito store. (Link is down as of posting time by the way.) There used to be a branch much closer to home (which is up north and therefore far from the maddening crowd) but it closed because the market seemed not to enjoy, for instance, the breakfast burrito. It was as tasty as ever when I had it, and it was a quiet night there. The branch had a good view from the rear of the new football pitch. And the musical programming had taste. They played Fleetwood Mac‘s “Don’t Stop (Thinking About Tomorrow).” Unlike what I have to purge from my mind, wondering why the Philippine International Jazz Festival is too generous with its understanding of “jazz.”

3. This was a thought shared by an acquaintance I met tonight, who works for an online radio station and whom I have seen at some music gigs. She was one of the people I met, apart from two independent TV producers, some documentary filmmakers, a marketing intern, a multimedia strategist, the head of CSR for Starbucks Philippines and two people I also knew from the Ateneo de Manila. The occasion was Camille Faylona‘s star turn at the Dialogues @ Starbucks event. Camille was one of my colleagues at The Guidon, Ateneo’s student newspaper, and has been based in Singapore since 2003. Now she is a documentary producer, writer, and director, and her work has been shown on different cable television outlets. She was able to give a talk that was succinct and inspiring, and she also handled the open forum that followed with aplomb, which got everyone, myself included, excited about the possibilities of the documentary medium far beyond the usual brand prevalent in this country.

I did have one minor quibble though, and this had to do with her characterization of the ABS-CBN News Channel documentary series Storyline. Far from being the usual “expose of what’s wrong,” which she thought it was–though she admitted that her exposure to the local scene, and this show in particular, was limited–it is a show that tells stories. There are triumphant stories, and sad ones, and stories of what’s wrong and of what’s right. I have seen quite a few to know that the producers intended this series to be nothing more than a storytelling exercise, with the kind of breadth I have described. To be fair to Camille, though, it is the stories of the controversial, of what’s wrong, that tend to stand out. However, to be fair to Storyline, my favorite episode was an early one that involved the heartwarming story of single father Gabe Mercado, and it did not, by any means, aim to make a point other than that single-parent families are possible.

“…the helpless, the lonely, and the unloved…”

This phrase, which appears in a prayer I read many years ago, came to mind this morning as I was on my way out to run errands. Today, of course, is a day where these three groups of people are often forgotten in the celebration of romantic love, which, while understandably a good thing for some, is not quite the entire picture of love as we know it.

I came across this blog post yesterday in which the author addressed the way single people are treated in church contexts. This brought to mind a conversation I had two years ago with a church musician–a pastor in the United Church–who told me that he had difficulty finding assignments because he was single. Years ago, or even hours ago, I would have been overcome by bitterness on the subject, but then I was brought to mind of some of the people I knew who were single by choice. I met some of them almost three years ago. Still others were people who mentored me in school. I knew two more, both Episcopal priests, and both have been my mentors in theology. And then there were the nuns who used to live just across from my place. I sometimes wonder how they cope with the way society deals with single people, and persist in their calling.

I sometimes think that people who are single are witness in this sense to the kind of love which we ought to celebrate, the love that encompasses various states of live. It is a love whose fundamental commitment is to grow to one’s own fullness and to care for others’ needs as well as one’s own. And even, as I mentioned last year, we are not whole in other ways, we are witness to the generosity of grace that draws us together regardless of where we are. (I suppose I did mention that, but well, if I did not, I think you get the idea.) In other words, we witness to friendship.

I’d prefer to be surprised by the kind of love which makes me fall in love with someone else, not actively seek it. But I find more joy now, as I am learning to become more patient about some things, in the careful cultivation of love among friends.

In this sense, we remember those who are helpless, lonely, and unloved today because we believe it is through us that their hope, and indeed the love they need, can be found. There is a sense that being alone reveals one’s need for meaning; and there is a sense too that the resolution of that need is in the grace of friendship. So to those who are helpless, lonely, and unloved, I wish you love most of all.