Composing or Arranging is Like Running a Marathon


I’m in the final stages of working on my composition for Kulintang Ensemble and Symphonic Band, commissioned by the National Commission on Culture and the Arts. I was reminded of how composing and arranging can sometimes be like running a marathon. At the start, there is much elation and motivation. As the hours days or months wear on (depending on the scale of the project), the difficult middle miles sometimes make way for thoughts such as “Why did I do this?” It deteriorates further during the later middle miles. I know I’ve hit a wall sometime in September where I’ve stopped writing, completely. Good thing I got back up after a week of rest during the beginning of October.

Eight Stages of Running a Marathon


Where am I now? I think I’m in stage seven. In the video linked above, it’s called “affirmation”. Nearing the finish, and feeling something near defeat but trying to dig deep. I know I should be devoting all my time now to just finishing, but in a dark moment of the soul (admit it, composers/arrangers, you go through this too!), I took some time to view some of the sketches I’ve made since May 2013. Remembered the revisions/rewriting that this piece has gone through, and told myself that giving up now is not an option.


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Took time to revisit some of my research notes (aided by Tusa Montes) and the raw documentation clips of musicians playing at Aga Mayo Butocan’s house made by Lester Valle and Carla Pulido Ocampo..
It was an all-star kulintang ensemble.

During the fieldwork, I brought along Kakoy Legaspi, my bandmate and friend in Bamboo’s band. In the photo: Danny Kalanduyan on Gandingan, Tusa Montes on Dabakan.
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Aga Mayo Butocan on Kulintang, and Abraham Abdullah on Agong. Dex and my dad came along as well...We learned so much that afternoon, both from their playing and their answering our questions on the music.
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Here is the Kulintang they have helped me acquire. I learned a few simple pieces by heart so that my writing would develop organically. Also, playing the Kulintang can be a great stress reliever.
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I think my doggie loves what I’m doing.
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Theme From Ipis Man

Who is Ipis Man?

Ipissignal

http://benjvillena.multiply.com/journal/item/27 (image by Paolo Tiongson) To view all images, scroll down till the comments section.



At dahil idol ako ni Benj (hehehehe), ginawan ko siya ng theme. Based sa suggestion ng pinsan ko na si Miggy na gamitin ang Bahay Kubo sa theme. (Upon my cousin’s suggestion, I based this theme on a popular Filipino folk song, Bahay Kubo)

Download Theme from Ipis Man

©2009 Ria Osorio


P.S. Ginawa ko na rin siyang venue para ma-test ang mga bagong software na naka-install sa laptop ko - Kontakt 3, Stormdrum. Happy (I also used this as a venue to try out Kontakt 3 and Stormdrum samples converted from Kompakt)



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Gig With Bamboo at Lovapalooza


Ok, I don’t have any pictures to show for it yet (maybe I’ll just wait for people to upload videos and photos), but I had a great time playing with Bamboo at the 2009 Lovapalooza. I know I’m a full-time arranger/composer now, and I’m more into scoring, arranging for albums, writing for orchestra, than actually performing, but it’s really nice to be able to perform live once in a while. And I know that while my first love is jazz, I’m also into rock and pop. And I think I should explore.

I do miss playing jazz, and playing in a trio/quartet. Ever since I got my piano again (inherited it from my family), I’ve been playing at home a lot. Maybe it’s time to take my playing out on the road again.

Yeah, yeah, maybe’s, what if’s and wishes. “Well done” is better than “well said.” Let’s see if I’ll really do this.

I’ll leave you with a video of my last gig with Bamboo before this Lovapalooza event. It’s been two years since!





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Community and the Filipino, and Music

Did you know that there are some places in the Philippines where there does not exist a word that translates as MUSIC?

Some tribal groups don't have a name for it, because it is not something which is separate from daily social activity. Music is something they DO, not really something they perform while an audience merely watches. It’s not something you have to buy, or dress up for, line up for or purchase tickets for. It’s interactive, it’s a community activity and everyone can participate..

I think the practice of music as a community activity is not exclusive to the tribes in the Philippines. We also have that in the city.

Now we know where the Filipino’s love for KARAOKE stemmed from. :P




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Off to Hong Kong

In a couple of days, Dex and I will be leaving for Hong Kong, together with Gerard, JD, DJ and Jacky (and little Antonio). We will be watching Gerard Salonga conduct the Hong Kong Philharmonic for Lee Hom Wang's concert. I am so excited! I've just finished two of the three arrangements I'm making, and haven't been sleeping for the past week (I'm lucky to get 4 hours of sleep these days).

Lee Hom Wang is a performer of many talents. Aside from singing and dancing, he also plays Electric Guitar, Drums, Violin, and a lot of other instruments. I really like the songs that were assigned to me to orchestrate for his concert.

Will be updating when we get there. Happy
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Things I Learned in a Forum

I mustered up some nerve to post some works at the Sonikmatter forum. These are from an animated series, released somewhere in Asia. Have a listen to some of the cues if you like:

(Copyright Carmel House Studios)








I got some pretty straightforward and brutally honest comments. Yes, I think I needed to hear them. Being a musician whose specialty is writing for live players rather than working with virtual instruments, I suddenly realized that I need to put more effort into the latter if I am to make convincing mock-ups for film scores or whatever.

I posted the link here because this can be very beneficial for those who are beginning to work with virtual orchestras.

Visit the forum topic here

Musically, there was nothing wrong with the pieces, but the mockups do sound very MIDI, and not at all real. There is still so much more for me to learn with regard to MIDI orchestration, and though I did get some experience during the past few years, I am still a newbie at this.

If you read the advice, I guess deep down I knew I needed to work on those things, but many other projects needed attention at the time, so I wasn't able to improve on the mockups anymore. (Stop making excuses...) Most of my gigs are for live players. Still, working with a virtual orchestra is an art which I'd like very much to improve on.

Next thing I want to know is if there is an efficient way to automate samples using Logic, with the samples all residing in external PC's and their own standalone samplers - Gigastudio and Kontakt. As of now, I haven't stumbled upon an intuitive workaround. There are ways to do it but they're not that straightforward. Hmm. Maybe I need to buy new gear?

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Related Posts:
This Week's Tasks, Plus Some Tidbits About My Dad
Bob Aves Group @ Caylabne Resort Part 2
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You Know You're A Music Major If...

Got this from Teresa's Multiply.

The ones that are true for me (at least in my perspective) are in bold and my side comments are in italic


You know you’re a music major if:

*You try to talk to your non-music major friends about your classes but you give up because they just don't understand

*You had to convince your parents that your life would be ok if you majored in music instead of business - and to think my parents were both music majors! I had to convince them that I was really, really serious about it

*You're pretty sure you're probably going to be kind of broke for the rest of your life because you majored in something you actually liked - yes and I'm still ready to be if it comes to that

*You’ve ever had to sing to yourself in class to understand the point the teacher was trying to make

*Someone’s cell phone goes off in class and people try to name the interval, including the professor

*You took more semesters of keyboarding than you can count, and you STILL can't play the piano

*You're pretty sure it's going to take you more than four years to graduate college

*Everybody in your department knows everyone else, if not by name then at least by face and instrument

*Two people in your department start dating, and it’s all anyone can talk about for the next week - and I was even rumored to be dating guys I didn't date... too many times!

*You’ve ever turned down a good time because you had to practice - but many times, practicing/writing music IS the good time Happy

*You actually know what “juries" mean, and no, it has nothing to do with the law - NO I DON'T KNOW WHAT "JURIES" IS

*Recital attendance credit will be the death of you

*You actually have some classical music and show tunes on your iPod

*You know the difference in between baroque, classical, and romantic music, and that Beethoven did not write all three - But didn't Beethoven's music kind of overlap in these three?

*You know the beauty of manuscript of paper, one packet can last you for years - one packet didn't last me for long... Compo majors kami eh

*Your reputation has become defined by your instrument or voice part

*You understand there is a silent war between the vocalists and the instrumentalists - or many times it's between composers and performers

*You've wondered if God created more than one semester of music theory simply to torture you - I loved theory (but can't remember half of it now)

*Your classes are randomly interrupted by the sound of someone loudly practicing down the hallway - although I seldom thought of them as interruptions. Come on, it's a music school! Practice comes first!

*Someone says the words “sight-singing and ear training" and you feel a sudden urge to cry
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*Even if you try to stay under the radar, most of the professors in your department actually know who you are

*You decided to skip one your classes for the day, so you had to skip them all. They were all in the music building and you would get caught by the professor who’s class you were skipping

*You have more than one class with the same professor on the same day

*You've ever turned a pop song into an opera or classical piece

*You get excited when key modulations occur - only if they're done in good taste

*You know what a key modulation is

*You've ever had to write a paper that was more than five pages long on a freakin piece of music

*You feel like less of a musican just because you'll be getting a B.A. in Music instead of a B.M. in whatever - I got a B.M. but it does not make me feel "more" of a musician

*You understood what that just meant

*You're brave enough to eat lunch in the music building when you're skipping a music class to eat your lunch. You don't know where else to go.

*You've pretty much been in classes with all the same people since your freshman year - at least till third year

*You would count your private instructor as one of the people who know you best in this world - not really. But they have more insight into some important things about me that don't occur to others

*You've been in music history for a few semesters now and you still haven't bought those NAWM cds - eh ang mahal nun para sa student! Pag-iipunan ko yan pramis (gotta get the anthology). I still have the cassette tapes I copied from the library though.

*You know what NAWM means - no I had to google to learn the abbreviation.

*Sometimes you pretty much hate making music, but it's such a part of you that you know you're not changing your major

*You’ve ever gotten dressed, slept, or gotten busy in the music building

*You could consider the music building as one of your residencies - at that time, yes

*When you tell people you're a music major they give you a sceptic look and ask "What do you plan on doing with that . . . teaching?" If you say no, they look kind of sad for you - more commonly: People ask you WHY you need to study music in the first place, di ba basta may talent ka, ok na yun?

*You keep catching yourself randomly conducting music, even if it's "Money Maker" or "Bye Bye Bye" - yes even if I have bad conducting skills

*You've ever laughed at a really corny joke that used a musical term - Michael Williams's unintended SPORTS SANDO joke

*You've ever MADE a really corny joke that used a musical term, then actually laughed at your own stupid joke

*Meter changes in pop music make you cheer - if done in good taste

*You even realize a pop song just had a meter change

*The most common pick-up lines you hear are "You want to play a duet sometime?" and "Do you need an Aural Skills tutor?"

* You associate Beethoven Symphonies with certain moods during your day

* You laugh when TV ads come on that have instruments in them and you know that the person is holding it wrong.

* You know that the person on TV playing the music but rather, Joshua Bell, or YO-yo ma dubbed over the person. - exaj naman Joshua Bell or Yo-yo Ma, papayag ba yun sa ganun?

*You’ve ever spent more than an hour in the music reference/musical scores section of the library - yes, libre na, airconditioned pa

*You know where the music reference/musical scores section is

*You and your library’s local copy machine are very, very good friends

*There's all kinds of randomly assorted furniture around your department's building

*You own some type of clothing or accessory that clearly indicates that you are a musican: Anything with a musical note or symbol all over it, anything that says "Rock on," a guitar tshirt, and you're a freakin singer! - but most of them end up getting worn by my husband


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This is Fairly Accurate...
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Zhu Jia Jiao Water Village World Music Festival

Bob Aves Group @ the Zhu Jia Jiao Water Village World Music Festival




At the airport (notice all the junk food! Terminal 3 is relatively new, so there aren't many options yet)...

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Simon and Tusa...

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Shanghai is a 3-hour plane ride from the Philippines...


Zhu Jia Jiao is a charming old town about 2 hours away (on the road) from the main city in Shanghai.


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Like a lot of many other things in China, it is a mix of the old and the new...
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We went to a park...

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Busy town.
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This was our hotel (Zhu Ji Ge)

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Post office from the great Qin Dynasty...

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We tried to go about the small town by ourselves, sometimes encountering mishaps when ordering food and such. Ordering by guessing from the pictures has its disadvantages (sometimes it was too much for one person), but it was all good....


Sauteed scallops
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Pork dish with vegetables underneath (kind of like Laing in Filipino)
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On our first full day there, we played at the preview night of the festival, at the Wang Chang center...


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Up until this time, we had trouble ordering food and knowing where to go because few people spoke English. So it was a blessing to meet a fellow Filipino at the venue who offered to take us around Zhu Jia Jiao, since his wife grew up there, and can take us to the good places. Of course we took up on the offer, and I'll reserve another blog entry for it. In the meantime, on to the other photos from the festival...



Nah Youn Sun and the French all-stars. Nah Youn Sun does a mean scat, and her voice is clear. The accordion player was fantastic. It's my first time to hear jazz solos on the accordion, I think.

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Bassists co...
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Bob Aves explains his octavina to a fellow guitarist...

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(And it was during this time when I was carrying my laptop and wearing my thick glasses - that some people came up to me and asked if I was the band manager)


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-- - - - - -

More photos from the festival...




Brochures and posters.
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At the Gingko Plaza...

Some of the audience were people who lived in the old village, and some were tourists. On the whole, they were very receptive and appreciative of the performances.
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Ria Osorio
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Tusa Montes
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Grace Nono
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Bob Aves
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Jorge San Jose
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Simon Tan
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The group with Peter Lee (far left), festival organizer
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With some of the other artists.

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Some of the festival volunteers from various universities...
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(Photos courtesy of Tusa Montes, Grace Nono and Bob Aves, and some are from my camera)

Will be posting the photos from the tour with our newfound Filipino friend, so please stay tuned. Thanks!




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Zhu Jia Jiao Water Village World Music Festival
Bob Aves Group at Caylabne Resort Part 2
Bob Aves Group at Caylabne Resort in Cavite
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Kumpas

FILharmoniKa's Kumpas is out on the market! Go get yourselves a copy, and support Philippine orchestral music.

kumpas2

For only P285, you get all these cool tracks:
(side comments regarding the arrangements are mine)

1. Laki Sa Layaw - arranged by JD Villanueva
- elegant orchestration. Stravinsky meets Copland meets San Mig Light.

2. 214 - arranged by Ria Osorio
- with a hint of electronica.

3. Kanlungan - arranged by Marvin Querido. Featuring Noel Cabangon on vocals
- sentimental, very moving

4. Muntik Nang Maabot ang Langit - arranged by Marvin Querido

5. Tao - arranged by Marvin Querido. Featuring Sampaguita on vocals.
- one of my favorite tracks

6. Banal na Aso, Santong Kabayo (by Dong Abay)- arranged by Ria Osorio
- I really enjoyed making this arrangement because this song is one of my favorites. It's sure to become a classic Pinoy Rock song.

7. Ang Huling El Bimbo - arranged by Ria Osorio. Featuring Ely Buendia on vocals.
- Had a hard time with this one because the original is so deeply etched in my mind, as I've been a fan of Eraserheads way back, but I needed to make a new version. I tried to make the arrangement sentimental/nostalgic.

8. Paglisan - arranged by Marvin Querido

9. Salamat - arranged by Dennis Catli/Sharon Feliciano
- lively, good vibes

10. Himig Natin - arranged by Gerard Salonga. Featuring Wally Gonzales on guitar.

11. Next In Line - arranged by JD Villanueva

all tracks conducted and produced by Gerard Salonga

I really enjoyed working on this album. The songs which were assigned to me were songs which I already liked, and knew by heart, back in high school. So it was real challenge to get the original versions out of my head and try to make new ones.

Buy, buy, buy it! Happy

Here's a clip from IMEEM. You can also hear it played in NU 107.



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This Week's Tasks, Plus Some Tidbits About My Dad

1.) 37 Final Countdown plus 7 Showdown numbers for Singing Bee - due on Monday, July 21

Been writing transcriptions for Singing Bee for 2+ months now. For some reason, the load got doubled this weekend. It's probably because my dad, who is the musical director of the show, is doing other shows this month. My dad is the type to farm out his work to other arrangers when he wants to focus on certain projects, to churn out quality arrangements. He is heavily involved in the planning, writing, and of course, music, for Dolphy's show. He's the perfect choice for that show because he's a natural comedian.
(Sometimes I regret that I didn't inherit his showmanship or sense of humor, or ability to command the attention of whatever room he is in, with the least amount of effort. I'm more of my mom in personality, and many of my strengths are different from his, I think.)

My dad, Mel Villena, the Singing Bee Maestro, with the Bandble Bee. Photo taken from http://bumbleaidz.multiply.com/photos/album/34/Singing_Bee#3

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2.) 1 big band arrangement for The CompanY's album - due on Wednesday, July 23

This gives me two days to write it... Hope I do it well despite the time crunch! A big band arrangement is always a dream project for me - even if I do still struggle with the medium sometimes, what with me not being a wind player - but neither was Maria Schneider, Gil Evans, Angel Pena, Michael Giacchino, and a host of other arrangers I truly admire, who write for big band. In other words, no one should use that excuse to explain shortcomings in writing for wind instruments (that he/she isn't a wind player), he he.

The CompanY is coming out with an exciting album! I'll post more details as soon as the project is well under way (I don't want to post spoilers).

In the meantime, I'll leave you with a video of The CompanY performing an arrangement of mine - A Night in Tunisia for Big Band. (I wrote for the big band while The CompanY arranged all vocal parts)





3.) 2 medleys for Dolphy's upcoming show - due on Friday, July 25

I also have two days to do these numbers. Yeeee! Good luck to me.

Pressure is good, in some ways.

My dad will be musical director of this show. Do we smell some nepotism with regard to my current gigs? He he. Well, in defense of his choice of arrangers, I do believe I've earned a bit of experience to be considered his "colleague" (a newbie in comparison to him, maybe, but a colleague nevertheless). He did wait for me to get hired by other people as an arranger, before he decided to hire me in some of his projects, and before he started referring me to his contacts. I got lots of stories and funny incidents related to being the daughter of a well-known and accomplished musical director and arranger here in the Philippines. But I will save those for other posts.

The current onslaught of arranging gigs given to me by my dad - those that aren't related to Singing Bee - may be due in part to shared tastes in music. I grew up listening to his sounds around the house. We both love big band, jazz, world music, and any kind of pop which has some quirkiness to it - mixing genres, experimenting. He is particularly good at big band, soul, show tunes, and novelty or arrangements with a lot of character. His arrangements, more often than not, show an original and highly imaginative mind. He confesses to not being the most mainstream arranger, because his music often has more quirkiness to it to be really considered mainstream, but I'd say he's in a very good niche which not many people are in, and thus the jobs still flow freely. (But of course the real reason is God's providence, behind it all... )

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Are CDs Becoming Obsolete?



Here's a slideshow I found at Future of Music. There's not much I know about these things, but any revolutionizing forces which will benefit musicians and their listeners are okay in my book.

Notice that in slide 18, the Philippines are the second highest country in terms of downloading music without paying. China ranks first. But China's population (1.3 billion) is seventeen times that of ours (76 million)! No wonder nobody buys CD's here these days.

If there are countries whose music industries ought to shape up in terms of maximizing the current technology, and the thousands of social interactions on the net, we are first on the list.

In the light of these findings, how can our artists and music producers change the way the music industry markets and distributes music in the Philippines? Or whatever country you're from? Feel free to post your thoughts.



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Kung Fu Panda plus Thoughts on Music

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This has got to be my favorite movie this year - er, aside from Iron Man and Prince Caspian. Good story, casting, scenic landscapes, great camera action. I love the music on this one - by Hans Zimmer and John Powell.

The Music

It incorporates a lot of oriental elements - Chinese gongs, drums, maybe even an Erhu here and there. What makes it extraordinary, aside from the excellent themes, is the seamless blend of orchestra and electronic elements, which I think is a specialty of the two composers involved. I thought I could hear some Stylus RMX samples in the background (?). The film has everything you'll look for in a Hollywood score - superb action sequences , humor, big festive sequences, grand and sweeping music for the scenic landscapes, a bit of drama/sentiment (the music for Oogway Ascends had a solo violin, played Asian style, it made me cry - but then again it might just be hormones too)...


My Thoughts on Asian Music in General...


Chinese music, as well as many other kinds of Asian music have a very distinct stamp, that even non-Chinese composers can make their compositions acquire the characteristics of that music. Moreover, their traditional music is very much still alive and well-supported.

I know that Filipino traditional music - gongs, chants and drum music of the North and South regions also has its own intricacies which cannot be found anywhere else. It just makes me sad that this aspect of our culture is not something which permeates our daily consciousness. Or should I speak for myself - Filipino traditional music is not something that comes naturally to me. Because of the minimal exposure that I have towards it, if I'd need to create a score or an arrangement which should sound "Filipino", it will take more effort for me to come up with one, than if I were just to make a regular score.

But I don't think it's too late to delve into it, in my case. It's really my long-term goal to immerse in these traditions, and come up with music - whether compositions, scores, or arrangements - that will be influenced by these traditions. Bob Aves, a superb composer/arranger/guitar player has made it his life's work, as well as Angel Pena.

Though I don't know yet how far I'd like to go into it, I just feel that I don't want the traditional music to go to waste. I'm also not ascribing any notions of nobility into my individual venture. I just really want it to be a major influence.

The thoughts I've mentioned above were for me as an individual composer/arranger. As a group, though, FILharmoniKa, with a lot of help from the best people (you know who you are, he he) has taken a very big step towards that goal - with the recent recordings and performances featuring Filipino works, a lot of which feature Filipino folk songs and traditional music. With those alone, I think we're all in for a brighter future for Filipino music.



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Hurrah for Guitar Hero

I failed to mention in my Bio that I also love playing Guitar Hero during breaks. Hubby Dex bought it for me last Feb 2007, in time for a visit from my childhood friends/bandmates Peewee, Kris, and Lawrence (who's now also a session musician). Was on my way to mastering the Expert level, but the controller broke a few months ago and I'm too lazy to have it fixed, so no Guitar Hero for now. I want to get Rock Band, only problem being we don't know where to put the extra instruments.

Anyway, I just wanted to share this interesting post from Future of Music, one of the blogs I read. The guy behind it is currently the vice president of Berklee College of Music, and one of the co-developers of MIDI. Click on the link below:

Video Games Prove Positive for Rock Acts

Now I wonder if anyone will come up with a Jazz Band video game? That would be interesting. Or a World Music Hero game with Kulintang controllers? Orchestral Hero with violin controllers? Hahahaha. The possibilities are endless.



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