April 25, 2009

Dio's Pops Stories #1: Sir Eli

Author's Note, 11 January 2017:

Sir Eliezer San Felipe passed away this morning due to liver complications.  Sir Eli was, and will always be, the heart and soul of the DLSU Concert Band/Pops Orchestra.  He was not only our head, musical director and resident conductor.  He was a dear friend and father figure to many of us, his "children"; his students in La Salle.  Sir Eli contributed and served for LSGH and DLSU for 30 years.

Sir Eli is the man who keeps the Band/Pops family together through all these years, regardless of batch, generation or ID number.  Even until these very last moments of his colorful life, he brought us all together.  As one very big Band/Pops family, regardless of the paths we took after our college years, whether we're here in the country or elsewhere overseas, we're all here to show our utmost love and support.  Thank you very much Sir Eli for the music and the memories.  Thank you for touching our lives.

On a personal note, thank you very much Sir Eli for being my musical mentor and friend. You were like a father and big brother to me and my colleagues. I have become a much better drummer and musician because of your training and motivation. Those years with Pops led me to a career as a professional musician.  Many of the things I learned and developed in DLSU Pops helped me prepare for the professional ranks.  Like what fellow drummer Junjun Regalado said when we visited you the other night, "Ser, dumami ang gigs ko dahil sa yo!"  I can't help but agree, for I feel the same way.

If it wasn't for you Sir Eli and Pops, I wouldn't have met all these amazing and talented people who are now in my network of dear friends and fellow artists.  Many of my lasting, life-long friendships were built within the walls of our fabled Band Room.  And ultimately, without Pops, I wouldn't have met my wife.  Anna and I owe you a lot.  We can never thank you enough.

As a tribute, I wrote this blog entry eight years ago, in time for Sir Eli's birthday that year. This is my humble tribute to the man we Band/Pops people love and revere.  Let this add to our collection of memories in honor of Sir Eli.

We love you very much, Sir Eli.  Rest In Peace (1952-2017).


Pops Stories are a series of blogs, depicting my life and times with the DLSU Pops Orchestra.

My first entry in this series is my humble tribute to Sir Eli San Felipe. I wrote this blog on his birthday Thursday last week, April 16.


16 April 2009

Dio's Pops Stories, #1: Sir Eli

Happy Birthday, Sir Eli!

I feel that it’s appropriate to begin my Pops Stories blog series with a tribute to the one man whose name has become synonymous with the DLSU Pops Orchestra. He is Maestro Eliezer San Felipe. Let me start by sharing some written details about Sir Eli, copied from a newsletter and souvenir programs from past concerts.


"A loving father? He’s the kind of man who would always listen, laugh at your jokes (maski hindi nakakatawa), and still manages to gain respect. Most of all, he always has a free hand to help us in all our needs (huwag lang sa utangan!).

Through these years, he became the prominent figure of the DLSU Concert Band (DLSU Pops Orchestra). Without him, the band would only be scattered pieces of notes. Sir Eli is the “band” and will always be. This was his dream… and this will always live on! Thank you for the TEN wonderful years which we will always cherish in our hearts! And to Mars Catan, thank you for bringing Sir Eli to us to share his wonderful dream!"

- From The Dream Lives On concert souvenir program (15 March 1997, Tanghalang Aurelio Tolentino of the Cultural Center of The Philippines).
[The Dream Lives On was the 11th Anniversary Major Concert, where the transition from the DLSU Concert Band to the DLSU Pops Orchestra was made. This was my first major concert.]


"…there is only one person who can actually make things right; there is only one person who inspires each musician and member of the Pops Orchestra… Maestro Sir Eli San Felipe! Dedicated to his work, he chose true love!"

- An excerpt from The King Of Pops, Bandelizing Vol. 1, Issue 2, January-April 1999 (yes, Pops had this humble newsletter/publication back in the day).


"It was in Cardona, Rizal where the Maestro of the DLSU Pops Orchestra was born. Even in his early years, he was destined not only to become a musician, but also a real artist at heart. Mr. Eliezer San Felipe was first introduced in his town band, Cardona Cinco “Balik Band Champion ‘81” as a trumpet and percussion player. He was also recognized for his excellence in arranging short musical pieces.

Later on, he shared his talents and skills with the Philippine Army Band for twelve years, earning gratitude, admiration, and awards. After which, he continued his expertise at the University of the Philippines for a special course in Music Theory. He graduated with flying colors as he received the Dean UP College of Music Certificate of Merit. And being the topnotcher of his class, he had nowhere to go but to move closer to success.

He has attended numerous seminars in music arranging and conducting. He played with the Metro Manila Symphony Orchestra as a percussionist. He joined La Salle Greenhills in 1983 as an assistant conductor and arranger. He has also been a part of the Metropolitan Brass Choir and acted as an arranger. He is currently one of the Board of Directors of the Philippine School Band Conductors Association. Eventually, he became the resident conductor and arranger of the De La Salle University Concert Band, now known as the DLSU Pops Orchestra.

Sir Eli, as how the members address him, is the most vital and prominent figure of the DLSU Pops Orchestra. A great musician, conductor, and arranger, he has been producing all sorts of quality music ever since the start. Aside from his expertise and capabilities, he has a good sense of humor, wisdom, and sensitivity. He laughs at the corniest jokes and he often pretends that he never hears anything. But contradictory to what everybody is thinking, Sir Eli knows everything about the ins and outs of the Band Room. He can definitely finish the pages of the logbook, from cover to cover, just by writing facts and blind items. He’s the wackiest conductor ever. But what’s conspicuous about Sir Eli is that even if he creates an atmosphere where we’ll all feel comfortable, he still manages to gain the respect he deserves.

In addition, our conductor is always there to give us a helping hand. If we ever need anything, Sir Eli is the person to look for. He’s complete with the things we need in school. Name it and he got it. As long as we are sure to mention what color of scissors, pen, clips, etc. we are borrowing, sor Sir Eli has a wide array of colorful stuff in his drawer. However, he’s not just a walking National Bookstore, but likewise a father, a friend, and an advisor to all of us. He is our motivator, for Sir Eli inspires us to be the best that we can be. From being a caterpillar to a fully-bloomed butterfly, he has shown the greatest and inspires us to strive for the finest. The Maestro has provided for the orchestra for many years now, yet he has not stopped pouring his distinctive music, undying care, and most of all, his unconditional love to the members ad to the whole DLSU Pops Orchestra. He was the man, he is the man, and forever will be the man!

Sir Eli, we’re nothing without you. Thank you and we love you!"

- From the On Cue concert souvenir program (17 March 2001, St. Cecilia's Hall, St. Scholastica's College Manila).


It’s a pleasure, an honor and a privilege to know Sir Eli.  He is not only a resident conductor, arranger, and overall excellent musician. He is also a friend, father, brother, guardian, mentor, adviser, and drinking buddy to Pops members past and present. I am proud to say that Sir Eli is my mentor and friend.

What amazes me up to this day is even with his greatness, his achievements, and all the wonderful things he did, Sir Eli remains to be a simple, humble, and down-to-earth man. When I was a freshman, auditioning for a drummer spot for the (then) DLSU Concert Band, I was expecting a tough audition with a tense and uptight atmosphere. But as I entered the Band Room’s rehearsal area for my turn to audition, it was far from what I expected. The old members were mostly in a loose and pleasant mood. And I was expecting Sir Eli to be a strict head; but he was not. He was smiling the whole time. I guess Sir Eli has something to do with the pleasantries inside the Band Room.

And so, I got accepted (thank you Lord!).  During my first few weeks, I began learning more about Sir Eli through my new ates and kuyas in the Band. They told me their Sir Eli stories, where I got to know the man better. I began appreciating the environment in the Band Room during non-practice times. It was always fun and cheerful. I notice old members casually hanging out around Sir Eli’s desk, sharing jokes and stories. If Sir Eli’s got the spare time, he would hang out with members during lunch and merienda breaks. When he’s not so busy, he’s just walking around the Band Room, checking on things and observing what the members are doing (yes, Sir Eli is very observant). It’s also funny that Sir Eli keeps various school supplies, coming in assorted colors ("Anong kulay ng gunting gusto mo?"). He is also infamous for his occasional disappearing acts (oftentimes, nobody sees him leave the Band Room). And before he leaves the Band Room, he’s often seen grooming himself, combing his hair, straightening his polo shirt and all that ("May date kayo, Sir?"). I’ve never seen nor met a band leader this cool!

Though Sir Eli can be funny and playful, he takes his music seriously. When he’s working on his music pieces, he does not want to be bothered. Though I think some members can get away with disturbing Sir Eli, even for just a short moment. The Band Room is also our tambayan. People come in and out, to practice and make music (or noise), to study, to rest, to hang out and goof around with friends. It can be a very distracting workplace for a musical genius to work on his music sheets. But somehow, Sir Eli knows how to manage, and he is a very patient and focused man.

It’s a pleasure to witness Sir Eli create a new musical arrangement from scratch. It usually begins with Sir Eli listening to a song he’s planning to write an arrangement for (or a number of songs, if he’s planning to make a medley). While listening, he'll begin writing his notes. Later, he’ll be working on a keyboard. Then, he’ll be writing pieces for every musical instrument. Many times I’ve witnessed the genius at work, and it’s nothing short of inspiring. I wish every Pops member has witnessed Sir Eli create his pieces and arrangements.

When it’s practice time, Sir Eli is also serious, especially when there are tough pieces to nail down. Yet, Sir Eli somehow makes the rehearsal atmosphere loose, with his timely jokes and hirit. And those fingers of his have a life of their own. When Sir Eli calls for somebody’s attention, “Kayong dalawa dyan…”, he’s got like three fingers pointing to somebody else! Sir Eli is really funny. He has this ability to make us laugh even during times when we need to be serious. Yet, we must never forget the two rules.

RULE NO. 1:  The conductor is always right.

RULE NO. 2:   If the conductor is wrong, refer to Rule No. 1.

Sir Eli can be brutally frank at times. When he’s not happy with our performance or with what we’re doing, he’ll let us know about it. I always hear it from him whenever my tempo is off, or when I’m too loud, or when my playing is weak. But of course, it’s not discouragement. Sir Eli wants us to grow and improve into better musicians. He has his ways of pushing, encouraging and motivating us.

Sir Eli’s motivational skills go way beyond the rehearsal room. He’s also an adviser to most members, especially when it comes to love problems! Knowing Sir Eli’s wisdom and his rich experiences in life, many members seek for his advice. Sir Eli is a witness to numerous links and couples that began in the Band Room. And who could forget his famous blind item questions – “Sino ang crush mo sa Band/Pops, at bakit?” Oh yes, those Sino’t Bakit questions which make Pops life so crazy, colorful and interesting!

Though we shared plenty of fun and happy moments, we were also together with Sir Eli during rough times. Sir Eli is human too, and he can feel bad too at times. He loves and cares for Pops so much, he’ll somehow find ways to make things work. Somehow, he has this positive outlook, and he’s a very unselfish person. He’s like, “Whatever happens, don’t worry about me”, as long as Pops is alright. I remember when I was President, and I had some problems during my term, Sir Eli and I talked a lot, and I cherish those times. I bonded more with Sir Eli that year, and I owe him a lot for helping me get up again.

Some of you may not know it, but Sir Eli is originally a drummer. We’re both drummers, maybe that's why somehow we got along pretty well. Anyway, his first instruments are the drums, and he’s really good with it. During my early years with Pops, they used to have this faculty band, where Sir Eli is the drummer and his bandmates are DLSU faculty and staff. They would rehearse at the Band Room every week, after office hours.  Some of us would stay and hang out to watch and listen. It was quite funny because it seems like Sir Eli’s the only real musician there, though it’s understandable that his faculty bandmates play music as a hobby or a part-time thing. There was this one time when the faculty band did an intermission during one of Pops’ shows inside the campus. Sir Eli can lay down a nice, tight groove. I would love to see and hear him play the drums again.

Another highlight was this one weekend when Sir Eli invited us to Cardona, Rizal to watch his hometown band Cardona Cinco's anniversary concert. I went there, together with a good number of Pops members and alumni. Before the concert, Sir Eli invited us to his home for dinner, which was an honor. It’s great to be able to visit the town where he grew up; and his home, where he and his family served us great home-cooked food. Sir Eli showed us his home theater system (which he often talked and bragged about haha back in the day), where he had his monster sound system, and two different disc players – one for originals only and another for pirated discs! We met Sir Eli’s parents and some of his siblings, including Sir Rey, who is a great timpanist and has guested on numerous Pops concerts. While we were there, I tried to find out what year Sir Eli was born by asking his folks (his birth year is a secret). However, they said they can’t remember (nice one, Sir Eli) haha! After dinner, we took a short walk going to the town plaza for the concert, and it was one heck of a musical experience. It sounded huge; there were plenty of brass! And there's these two very young clarinetists (who were not yet in their teens) who played a duet solo.  They were so good that they can already go pro! And their percussionist was killer! He’s the most amazing and most entertaining showman I’ve ever witnessed. And of course, Sir Eli conducted, and he’s brilliant as always.

I can go on and on, and tell more about Sir Eli. Anyway, here are a few more Sir Eli trivia:
  • His signature/autograph resembles a G Clef.
  • He used to drive a white 1980's Ford Lazer hatchback for many years. I still remember the plate number and some of its details.
  • He goes home to Cardona everyday. Imagine his car's mileage, going from Cardona to DLSU-Manila, and back, and doing that almost everyday. Now that's love, hard work, and dedication.
  • His future marriage date remains a mystery, and it changes from time to time (!).
  • He was often teased and linked with female CAO directors/coordinators, faculty, and other women Pops has worked with.
  • He is an outstanding trumpet player. We used to jam "Feels So Good", and the high notes are nothing to him! It's a piece of cake for Sir Eli.
  • He is a gadgeteer. Sir Eli keeps all sorts of little gadgets, and he has owned several mobile phones (and had different phone numbers as well).
  • During outings, he always wears his famous malong.
  • Somehow, he can drink warm beer. And he has his sneaky little tricks so that he won't get drunk fast!
Sir Eli, you are a blessing from God. Thank you very much, and we love you. Happy Birthday! Cheers!!

* Photos grabbed from the DLSU Pops Orchestra's Multiply Group site.