July 21, 2010

My Filipino Ethnic Musical Instruments 101 Experience, Part 1: Joey Ayala

Last weekend, I had one of the most musically enriching learning experiences.  Bread Of Life organized a seminar on indigenous Filipino musical instruments.  This was held at the Crossroads 77 in Quezon City, and it was exclusive to Bread Of Life's praise and worship artists.  It was also a privilege to learn from certified experts on this field - Malou Matute and Grace Bugayong, faculty of the UP College of Music; and revered Filipino singer-songwriter Joey Ayala, who is best known for using ethnic Filipino musical instruments with modern musical styles.

It's an honor to meet and learn from the great Mr. Joey Ayala, who conducted the first half of the workshop.  Besides his status as a respected contemporary artist, he is also an educator and an advocate on social and cultural development.  Other that the obvious reason why we were there, which is learning about ethnic Filipino music and its instruments, Joey Ayala stressed on several topics, from history to psychology to philosophy.

Here are among the many things we've learned from Joey Ayala...

  • His pre-performance warm-ups - deep-breathing exercises (for "rebooting" our consciousness), lip bubbling (warms up the lips/voice), and the "inner smile" (for relaxation).  This warm-up routine may be more well-suited for vocalists, but the deep breathing exercise or meditation should be very helpful for me.  Thinking about the past can lead to anger, while thinking about the future can lead to fear.  Deep breathing should help me focus on the present.
  • "The things we can do with our voice informs our musicality."
  • What being indigenous means:  We ask the question, "Who are we?", and being indigenous starts within ourselves.
  • The Salundiwa (pang salo ng diwa) - a "mind-mapping" thinking tool.  In one Salundiwa activity, we were asked to respectively enumerate the things that come to mind when we think about our body (listing our race/heritage), music (listing the musical styles that influenced us), and our musical goals.  Then, we were asked to connect all these listed items together.  These reflect our roots; where we are coming from.  If there's anything missing in the musical styles, then we should ask ourselves, "What do I need to research?"  In regards to the musical goals, we should ask ourselves, "What are the functions that I want to achieve?"
  • Sining Bayan - "social artistry".  Four elements: sensory/physical (instruments, musical elements), history/psychology, spiritual (an element of the unknown), and myth (a calling; a sense of journey).  Art awakens our heroic/mythical sense.
  • "Science is the humblest of religions because it constantly invites challenges."
  • Classical thinking = function over form.  Romanticism = form over function.
  • "Music is a form of data compression."  In pre-literate days, music is used as a form of communication.  Examples given were Bahay Kubo (a folk song which actually "encodes" what farmers should plant depending on the season) and Pulis Sa Ilalim Ng Tulay (its simple melody is easily remembered and passed on).
  • In Filipino agricultural culture, farmers have plenty of free time.  So they had the time to carve instruments from wood.  Through the instruments, they imitate what they hear from nature, such as the sounds of birds, the wind, flowing water, etc.  Narratives are used, unlike structures on Western music.  The music is also close to Indian raga; starts slow, uses scales, then escalates using the same melody.
  • "Music is a vessel to deliver the content."
  • "Look at the essence/function, then look what is appropriate for your objectives."

These are just some of the things we learned from the profound and open-minded Mr. Joey Ayala.  Then he entertained us by singing a couple of his original songs, one using an acoustic guitar and another using his Hegalong.

To be continued...