The Return of eLf ideas

ideas of an eLven being in Canada

Tuesday, December 03, 2002

Play the Old Phonograph Once Again

(On a Page in the Diary of a Passionate Music Enthusiast)

n acquaintance of mine said, “What gives you the authority to write about music?” He was referring to my music column in Winnipeg’s local newspaper Filipino Journal. Considering that I’m neither a Music teacher nor a professional instrumentalist—in fact, I could barely read a sheet music or a musical score or play the guitar—my starting a music column, to some people, might really seem incredible.

The unexpected interrogatory remark made me question myself as well. Yeah, what musical capacity do I have to be able to write about music?

“Why not write an article that will give the readers an overview of who you are as a musical person?” He suggested. Brilliant suggestion, I said.

So now, here is my brilliant answer.

I consider my life not only a fantasy-fiction novel—which has its own maps, worlds, characters and creatures, history, languages and cultures—but also an epic movie—comprised by a complex plot that runs on a backdrop of diverse landscapes and has a soundtrack of its own. Yes, every chapter of my life has a corresponding theme song.

Our Phonograph. Since childhood, my life has already been musical; I can still remember, in the early 1970s, many of the artists and tunes that played almost every day on the phonograph in my family’s home in Makati City. Every morning, Mother would let me sit beside her in the living room as she listened to her favorite songs by The Carpenters, The Cascades, Engelbert Humperdink, Fifth Dimension, Matt Monro, Patsy Cline, Petula Clark, and The Ventures. When Father was at home, he would gladly have me as his audience as he sang along to the songs of ABBA, Barry Manilow, The Beach Boys, The Beatles,
Bee Gees, Elvis Presley, Tom Jones, and The Zombies. He would also delight in reading to me the notes written on the cover sleeves of the countless vinyl records that we used to have. From him I did learn the importance of knowing not only the titles of songs but also the names of the artists who wrote or sang such masterpieces. He used to tell me that without such composers and singers, there would be no wonderful music to listen to or to sing along with.  

When it was Grandfather’s turn to use the phonograph, usually in the afternoon when everyone else was busy with the chores, I would quietly sit by the stairs and listen to the wordless tunes that he used to play—Classical and Military music which I eventually learned were the works of composers like Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, Paganini, Rachmaninoff, John Philip Sousa, Tchaikovsky, and Vivaldi.  

On weekends, uncles and older cousins would play their kind of music—Country, Folk, Garage Rock, Psychedelic Rock, Progressive Rock—songs by Bob Dylan; The Byrds; Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young; The Doors; Eagles; Emerson, Lake & Palmer; Gentle Giant; Grateful Dead; John Denver; Nazareth; Pink Floyd; The Rolling Stones; Rush; The Steve Miller Band; Supertramp; The Velvet Underground; The Who; The Yardbirds; and Yes. Another uncle would also spin his own vinyl records—albums by Filipino artists like Anak Bayan, Asin, Florante, Freddie Aguilar, Juan de la Cruz Band, Maria Cafra, and VST & Company.

Our Jukebox. In the late ’70s to the early ’80s, we had a jukebox in the restaurant which my family used to own. That wonderful sound machine transformed many of my childhood nights into magical moments. I remember inserting one coin after another into the jukebox, pressing the combination of letters and numbers, and then listening in bliss to the songs that played in sweet succession. There even came a point when I was able to memorize most of the songs our jukebox played. Father and I would sometimes play a game—for every song whose title and artist I could guess correctly, I would win a prize.

From Phonograph to Radio to Turntable. In the early 1980s, my family’s radio became my usual companion. I discovered mainstream R&B and Pop music—Angela Bofill, Kenny Rogers, James Ingram, Madonna, Menudo, Michael Jackson, Olivia Newton-John, Phil Collins, and Tina Turner.

In the mid-’80s, a surge of new British and American music suddenly exploded worldwide. House parties powered by mobile sound systems were the order of the day. Some cousins and friends put up a mobile disco, and we got to provide lights and music for countless parties. While my older cousins were busy mingling with the party people on the dance floor, I was there manning the turntable. Overtime, I was spinning vinyl records with ease. With my discerning ears and eclectic musical influences, I developed the knack in categorizing songs according to style.

From Spinning to Singing to Writing. In the late ’80s, I and some likeminded schoolmates formed a band. We started with covering songs and soon we were composing our own. Invitations to perform at private parties graduated to public concerts, radio and TV guesting, and finally—in the mid-’90s—a recording contract! In those recording sessions did I acquire the ability to listen to music multidimensionally. It enabled me to mentally dissect songs into the different instruments and melodies that comprise them. It was also during this period when I started writing album reviews for a particular music magazine. Naturally I began collecting cassette tapes, CDs, vinyl records, and books about music. As the 1990s came to its end, the Internet has arrived. Among its many benefits, it has freed all kinds of music from the vaults of recording companies and record collectors all over the world. It let people discover and rediscover music that, without such technology, might have remained obscure and unheard of to this day.

And now, here in Canada, playing in a band, composing and recording songs, collecting records, and listening to music continue to be some of my hobbies.

Music soothes my spirit. It makes me feel young. And most of all, it can take me back to whichever chapter of my life I want to remember. Like now, I just close my eyes and I can see our old phonograph spinning a record…there in the living room of my family’s old home.

Final Note

One does not need to be a holder of a bachelor’s degree in Music, a Music professor, or a highly skilled musician to be able to understand the whole music phenomenon and to write about it. More than anything else, all one needs is a burning passion in listening to music and digging, understanding, and appreciating the roots and branches of its various genres.


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