Tuesday, February 16, 2010


SONGS IN THE KEY OF LIFE. A Kapampangan girl takes a break from her piano lessons to pose before her imported piano, a status symbol for many Pampanga homes. Ca. mid 1920s.

For many affluent Kapampangan homes at the turn of the 20th century, the piano was a must-have musical instrument cum furniture piece, and owning one became a status symbol—and more. A child’s mastery of the ivory keys reflected the level of culture a family has attained, his skills a statement of his refined upbringing.

Families went looking for the piano of their dreams at the Philippine Music Store along Carriedo, operated by the Kapampangan Quisons. There were German-made brands like “F. Weber” and “Hermann” as well as the English “Robinson” or American "Steinway” and "Baldwin" pianos, all available in convenient monthly installments.

Schools like the Assumption Academy in San Fernando took advantage of the growing demand for piano lessons by offering Musical Sciences, major in piano. But for those who wish to study at their own leisure, one could hire private tutors. In the 1930s, Angeles kids went to the home of Isabel Mesina, who advertised her services in local papers."Tuturung tigtig piano”, she described herself. “Matula nang paquilala ing pegaralan na quenumang bisang agad mabiasang tigtig piano. Abac at gatpanapun ing pamanuru” .

Through the years, a number of Kapampangan pianists have attained national and global fame with their musical wizardry. One artist who gained wide exposure on Philippine TV is Amado Pascual of Arayat, who, at the age of 9, was tutored by his father. By 16, Pascual was a professional pianist for a band which got assignments at Clark Field.

Moving to Manila in 1947 to expand his musical horizons, Pascual became an arranger and a musical director. Pascual became a freelance performer both here and abroad but he is best known as a resident pianist for ABS-CBN from 1957-1972.

Internationally-acclaimed classical pianist Cecile B. Licad (b. 11 May 1961) , whose family roots are in Lubao, started as a child prodigy, tutored at age 3 by her mother, Rosario Picazo. She made her debut as a soloist with the Philippine Philharmonic Orchestra at age 7 and was taken in eventually as a student of Rudolf Serkin at the Curtis Institute of Music.

In 1981, Licad received the prestigious Leventritt Gold Medal, one of the youngest artists in the contest’s history to be recognized. She has performed with the most renowned orchestras of the world, from the Chicago Symphony, Boston Symphony, New York Philharmonic, London Symphony, Tokyo’s NHK Symphony and regularly records for Sony.

An accomplished chamber musician, Licad has also graced the major concert halls of the world—from Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center, Chicago’s Orchestra Hall and the Kennedy Center. She has a son, Otavio Licad Meneses, who is also a musical artist. Cecile Licad is set to treat her kabalen in a special homecoming concert scheduled for 2011 at the Holy Angel University Auditorium in Angeles.

Making waves for many years now in Europe is Conrado del Rosario (b. 21 Aug. 1958), based in Germany. Angeles-born “Titus” spent much of his young student life in the city schools where he first gained attention by winning regional musical competitions in the 70s. As a University of the Philippines scholar, he moonlit as a professional pianist-arranger in the commercial music industry.

Eventually, he won a Young Artists of the Philippines Foundation Scholarship that took him to Berlin, where he studied composition and orchestral conducting while mastering the flute, alto saxophone and exotic Asian instruments like the kulintang and gamelan. Known in Europe as Titus Chen, he made his mark by winning international competitions (1st Prize at the Hambacher Competition in Germany for his piece “Darangan”, besting 300 contestants from 32 countries, 2nd Prize at the Hitzacker Composition Contest for his chamber ensemble work “Yugto”).

In 1991, he was picked by the Berlin Senate for Cultural Affairs as one of 5 young composers to write a piece for the Scharoun Ensemble, performed in Salzburg and Berlin. His music has been heard not only in Germany but also in Zurich, Paris, Katowice, Melbourne, Budapest, Amsterdam, Tokyo, New York, San Francisco, Toronto, and Tel Aviv.

As a teacher, he has taught piano and piano improvisation. And, as founder-pianist of the Berlin Improvising Composers’ Ensemble, he has gone on international tours and done recordings on CD. Titus has also dabbled in films, appearing as an actor-pianist in a few movies like “Company Business” (1991) starring Gene Hackman. This Kapampangan virtuoso is into jazz music these days (as a jazz saxophonist, he is known as Titus Chen), playing regular gigs with his band, but he hopes to go back to composing.

The piano has lost much of its appeal to Kapampangan youths of today who are more into band music that calls for electric guitars, drums and synthesizers. But one need only to look at the stellar achievements of Pascual, Licad and del Rosario, to be convinced of the priceless rewards that the gruelling years of piano training have brought to their lives as creative artists. In an extraordinary way, the ivory keys that they passionately touched and played, became the very same keys that unlocked a world of untold opportunities, paving the way for their conquest and triumph of the global music stage.


Anonymous said...

nice post. thanks.

Bonnie Blue *Sam* said...

Wow! I never knew Cecil Licad has Lubenian blood, until I read this post! (I also happen to be from Lubao). Thanks po for posting this.

alex r. castro said...

Thanks for visiting.

Anonymous said...

Amado Pascual was a very dear family friend and neighbor. As a favor to dear friends, he played at my wedding reception for free. He was a very kind and generous soul. Unfortunately, according to my parents, he passed away last week after a long illness. He was 82.

Thank you for such a lovely post about him and his fellow Kapampangan musical artists.

- RV

alex r. castro said...

Yes, I learned of Mr. Pascual's demise, and he leaves this world with a rich legacy of music that touched many Filipinos..

nd said...

Yay Titus! So proud of you, pangunakan!