Reviving the Band Part V: The Outreach Concert

Last night, I was able to perform with my band at UCCP-MCCD in J.P. Rizal, Makati City. The venue was the main sanctuary of the church where a number of acts from nearby UCCP churches performed their guts out for the glory of the one true God. It happened to include us as a last act.

And so, having been censored to perform loud, high energy, virtuosic (I think) prog rock/metal originals, it was decided that we do some CCM covers (to my dismay). Regardless of my somewhat neutral and unenthusiastic opinion about the song choices, it was a good performance filled with interesting twists.

The cast last night (performing as Jacob’s Ladder) were as follows:

The madman behind the keys, yours truly.

On lead guitar, vocals and a fancy outfit, Pastor Chaz Romero.

On bass, newlywed Engr. Rodell Tolentino.

The life saver of the evening on drums, Erick Bejarin.

Now, to those very few who are familiar with the band (and again the very few who are reading my posts), Archie was expected to play with us that evening. Unfortunately, there were personal matters he had to take care of that night. It’s a blessing though that Erick attended the concert, and so we tapped him to play that night without any sort of rehearsal. It turned out to be amazing, granted the fact that he was never around during our rehearsals.

If things turn out well, my vision of a King Crimson-esque version of the band would come to life with two drummers/percussionists, sort of like the Bill Bruford-Jamie Muir partnership.

And so, despite all that turbulence going to and fro in preparation for that Sunday’s event, everything worked out nicely. The people enjoyed music from a variety of performers, and the artists were able to express their faith through music. It’s a testament of how music really is a powerful tool for sharing the good news of Jesus Christ to others. I do hope that this is the start of a wonderful musical journey for myself, but more importantly is that I do pray that my band’s music and those of other artists would pave the way to support local churches in sharing the Gospel to many.

P.S. I suggested the Greek term “Oruomai” to become the new name for the band. At this point in time, since there are already a number of bands calling themselves Jacob’s Ladder and Blue Fusion over the Internet, I felt that it’s fitting that we drop those names already and go out with something new. If you have any other suggestion, please feel free to send them in.

Reviving the Band Part IV: Rodell’s Wedding

I just got home from a special event in the life of a dear friend: my band’s bass player, Rodell. He just got married this afternoon in a very picturesque location, a colonial town called Taal, Batangas.

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I’m very happy for my friend as he had finally found someone whom he’d be with for an entire lifetime. Big things and big changes are really going to go his way as he’s on the road to building his own family. Here’s a fancy shot of some people with the groom:

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Here’s another fancy shot of our drummer, Archie, giving an impression of a despotic ruler of a third-world former Spanish colony with the groom:

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And so Rodell’s wedding is the primary event of the day. This day is indeed a wonderful experience given that there were other things that happened.

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Perhaps the next most important thing that happened is that we got to see Erick again. After a long, long time of being unable to respond to any of our messages, he finally showed up. I was mistaken that had lost any interest in our lives; it’s just that he was busy settling more immediate personal matters. For that I offer my apology for being rash about what I had previously thought of him. All that matters to me is that he’s happy and that he could rise above the challenges of a rather complex situation he is in, the details of which I’m at no liberty to disclose. Another thing is that he seems to be interested in playing with the band. If he could make the time, perhaps our band could be something like King Crimson: two drummers/percussionists similar to the kind of dynamic that Bill Bruford and Jamie Muir had during the “Larks’ Tongues in Aspic” era. Would that happen any time soon? I wouldn’t know yet.

Third thing that happened is a realization of sorts. I would even say it’s a humbling experience. I finally was able to perform again in front of an audience, namely Rodell’s wedding guests. Prior to the wedding, I had been preparing a number of songs, a few of which were supposed to be sung by Pastor Chaz. Most of these were covers of songs from other artists and another one was an original composition called “promises”. This day confirmed my suspicions: I could only focus well on one musical task at a time. While I could consider myself competent behind the keys, playing piano and singing lead at the same time is something I wouldn’t consider doing again.

Pastor Chaz’s vocal performance with my piano accompaniment was good in my opinion. My solo performance, however, was utter crap. If I had just played some instrumentals, it would have been better. I should have shut my mouth. You see, “Promises” is a complex vocal and piano piece. It features really busy piano work with stride/march-style left hand accompaniment, right hand leads plus vocals. I tried doing all of them this evening and it was a mess.

Yesterday, I had resigned myself to the fact that I wouldn’t be able to sing and that I wouldn’t get the chance to perform “Promises”. During rehearsals, Pastor Chaz was singing it, but he wasn’t confident enough to go through and perform it. Around that time, I thought the possibility of playing the song live was lost.

Moving on to the wedding reception, after having performed a song well with Pastor Chaz on vocals, I resigned myself to the fact that I’m not performing again that evening. That was until the emcee announced an event called a money dance i.e. some sort of waltz or sweet dance where guests begin sticking paper bills into the bride and groom’s clothing. The emcee called me out, to my surprise, and then Rodell started asking me to play “Promises”, a song I wrote as a wedding gift for them.

There were a few problems with this. “Promises” is not a waltz. Another thing is that the song originally had a virtuosic middle section with octaves, Phrygian scale runs, etc. which I conceived as a part of Rodell’s story during his time in the Middle East. Since I was put on the spot to perform it during the money dance, I wouldn’t sound right if I had played that crazy instrumental section.

And so, with no singer to sing “Promises”, I started to play and sing along. I was able to finish the song, improvised a somewhat generic sounding instrumental section that I thought would have been better for the money dance, and then play a couple of more improvisational passages just to keep the dance going until I got the signal from the emcee to end the set. Despite being able to complete the song, I knew very well that I messed up. It wasn’t the same piece I was rehearsing without the vocals. Maybe I should have just played a pure instrumental set for that money dance. I felt like a big joke afterwards.

Just as Pepe Manikan of Eternal Now fame told me some 12 years ago, I got to either stick with the keyboards or stick with vocals. This day’s performance mishap proves that he’s right. I was trying to do too much. I’m not impressed by my own voice (why o why did I get the idea to sing lead in the first place?) so perhaps it’s best to stick to my keyboards rather than try to do vocals, especially in a live setting.

Lesson learned? If I’m gonna do my best to revive the band, I better find a frontman/lead singer. Somehow, I’m imagining Pepe say, “I told you so.”

Despite stressing out myself and breaking into hives, I’m happy overall.

Reviving the Band, Part III

There’s a side of me that feels like a parrot when playing cover songs. It’s not my voice and it’s not my art. The art aspect of it only falls into place with my playing, and that aspect even suffers. My bandmates and Pastor Xiaui had noted my playing to be very mechanical and emotionless. I could nail the songs without a hitch. It’s just that as a composer, it’s really hard to try and put some emotion into performing a song I never had a hand in writing. I will still try to put on my game face to sort of “own” those songs, even if it’s just for a day.

I’m still very thankful that this opportunity came. Nothing could ever beat performing with a band regardless of whether you’re playing originals or covers. The energy between each musician is something you can never experience jamming with a MIDI file, audio track or sequence. You can expect me to perform at my best at our scheduled performance. Since we’re playing as a worship band at this point and NOT a prog band, you can’t expect me to pull out stuff like crazy synth solos. However, you can expect some piano and organ playing from me, maybe some occasional strings here and there, perhaps a harpsichord sound even.

Because of this event, talks between us band members about rehearsing for a PROG album are underway. We have two songs that we will be rehearsing and recording over the next coming months, and then I’ll continue to write music for the band as usual. I hope that this new project would push through.

We are currently rehearsing for a special performance on October 21, 2012, 6 p.m. at UCCP J.P. Rizal, Makati City. We will be performing a very short set with three songs. For those of you who are in the area interested in supporting a growing church, I’d like to invite you for that special evening of praise and worship.

Reviving the Band, Part II

Going back to our rehearsals, most of them have commenced with one or two members being absent due to scheduling difficulties. Some of the rehearsals have been in my home facility with Chaz and Rodell. During the times when I was unavailable, they were rehearsing with Archie and Mike. We were rehearsing and trying to polish original prog compositions here at home while at some sessions we were rehearsing some alternative plus praise and worship songs. This week was the closest I got to having a rehearsal with only one member not present. Yesterday, I was able to rehearse with Chaz, Rodell and Mike. Just this evening, I finally got the opportunity to rehearse with Archie along with Chaz and Rodell (Mike was away because of work).

This evening we were able to play a couple of alternative songs and then we tried working on our prog compositions, namely a rearranged “Ignite Your Fire” and a new one tentatively entitled “I Have Seen the Light”. The church’s administrative pastor, Chaz’s wife whom the band affectionately calls Xiaui, was rather quick to point out that there doesn’t seem to be any point at playing some prog songs for a Sunday evening praise and worship event. She said it would be very difficult for many churchgoers to have any appreciation for those songs. She remarked that the music would be too heavy and too aggressive for the crowd (take note that the heavy and aggressive aspects of the song are important for the points being described in the lyrics I wrote).

I am somewhat disappointed that the band gave in to the suggestion that we play some praise and worship songs instead (even though our prog songs have very overt Christian themes). However, she was also very much keen on telling us that at this stage, the church is still trying to win over the conservative crowd towards giving merit to songs involving contemporary instrumentation. After all, we’re playing a benefit gig, and (as they say) we need to try and pull in more members to our cause. I am still happy about the fact that I still got an opportunity to play with my band even though we’re no longer playing any of our originals. It seems like circumstances are pulling us towards playing praise and worship music a la Jacob’s Ladder rather than all-out prog a la Blue Fusion. It’s two sides of the same coin except that the face with the praise and worship set in 4/4 and 3/4 won in the coin toss rather than the prog face in 7/8, 5/4, 13/8 and all of those crazy time signatures.

Reviving the Band, Part I

Since the last week of September, I have once again started rehearsing with humans. Away from the metronomic precision of robots, I feel very alive as a musician. The last time that I was able to perform music with my band was back in 2000. It took another 12 years before I got the opportunity to make all of this happen.

It seemed like everything fell into place nicely for my group, the band formerly known as Jacob’s Ladder inside church walls and Blue Fusion outside of it. There are some people who would believe that it’s God’s will that it should happen. Some would say that the stars have aligned for us to start playing again. After having rehearsed with an almost complete lineup (as far as instrumentalists are concerned), I feel very excited.

If you wish to kind of look into the beginnings of the band, you can click on this link. It describes an abridged history of the band from 1995 to 2000 highlighting the band’s experiences and struggles. It appears that our history as a band has just opened a new chapter. The newly revived band consists of myself on piano/keyboards and vocals, Pastor Chaz Romero on lead guitar, Rodell Tolentino on bass, and Archie Padolina on drums. We’ll also be introducing Mike, a new lead singer for the group as I wish to concentrate on the keys rather than having split duties singing lead as well.

As much as we’d like to have him play along, Erick, our (now former) rhythm guitarist and drummer, has not kept in touch with us. It’s sad really that he isn’t returning any of our band’s messages. He even seemed to have ignored the invitation to Rodell’s wedding. I really do not understand what’s going on with him. As much as I don’t want make an assumption, it seems like he doesn’t want to have anything to do with the band anymore.

Memories of ROTC: A Big Waste of Time

I remember being a college kid once and also recall that much of the time I spent in the University of Santo Tomas was a big waste of time. One of the largest contributors to time wastage was a Sunday requirement called ROTC.

ROTC, short for Reserve Officers’ Training Corps, was a mandatory course when I was enrolled in the University. This was around 1997 so much has changed since then (especially after the Mark Welson Chua murder case). For two years, I had to wake up early Sunday mornings to get dressed in shabby military garb and run to USTs field for “training” regarding military discipline. What I did find out was it only took what could have been fruitful years of my life.

All 1st and 2nd year male students of the University were required to attend approximately 12 Sundays per academic semester. A relatively select few become involved in special units while the rest of us were treated like crap. And like crap, all that we learned was to stand up and sit down under the heat of the sun or the occasional drizzle of rain. For 12 Sundays a semester, our routine was to stand up, sit down, march around a little bit, buy crappy food, and (if we’re lucky, that is) be taught some ceremonial gun wielding. Combat skills learned: ZERO. Some military training huh? This is the “Bahala Na” (let chance take over), “Pwede Na” (that’ll do) mediocrity cultural  mentality at work.

ROTC’s intention was to supplement the military with pawns in case the Philippines was involved in a major war. It has that high and mighty aspiration that given the chance, you’ll be called out to fight for your country, be a hero and all that crap that politicians want you to believe. But what good does standing and sitting all day do to train good soldiers? We occasionally had calisthenic exercises for that matter but in my experience, I had not learned to handle a rifle in a combat situation during the time I spent at the ROTC. I have years of experience training in martial arts so I definitely know what it takes to train a warrior; ROTC in the Philippines wouldn’t compare to that. I have relatives serving in the Philippine Navy, and based on their stories about real military training, the kind of thing they hand out in ROTC is a big load of bull. In a real wartime situation, those drafted from the ROTC would be nothing more than mere human shields. This is what taking MS11 and MS12 (the subject code for Military Science) has taught me. Now you tell me if that isn’t a waste of time.

Fast forward to 1998 and I enrolled for MS21 and MS22. This time, I had the option of going for alternative units. Since I couldn’t get a slot to go for a unit called CWS, who were required to provide civil service for only 6 Sundays a semester, I was eventually placed in LES (Law Enforcement Service). This unit aims to teach students some things regarding being in law enforcement in the Philippines. Like the last year, I learned nothing.

So, what did we actually do in LES? Sit and lie down on the asphalt, have an energy drink, maybe a cup of taho (it’s watery silken tofu with caramel and tapioca pearls) and smoke our lungs out to oblivion. Did learn any facet of police work. Nuh uh! I did this for 24 Sundays of that year, but because the ROTC screwed up my records for MS22, I didn’t get a passing mark. So much for attendance.

Not passing MS22 gave me something to worry about during my later years in college as I would not be able to graduate without it. It’s a good thing though that when I was about to graduate, the policy was changed to what’s called the National Service Training Program (NSTP) which only required a year to complete. As a result of that policy revision, since I was “officially” able to complete more than a year’s equivalent of NSTP, I no longer had to pursue finishing MS22. My cousin wasn’t so lucky though as he had to complete his program in Fort Bonifacio prior to the implementation of NSTP.

So now that I’m a parent, I would make sure that my son, when he approaches that age, would not have to waste his time on such an utterly useless program. Might as well he go the CWS route to complete his requirements, but that would be in the next 8 years or so. A lot of things might change and so I’ll have to wait and see. Again, the bottom line is that in my experience, ROTC is a waste of time.

Kidoteca’s Magical Music Box: iPads and Android Tablets as Instant Mega-Music Boxes

Have you received a music box as a gift during your childhood years? Now you can go back to those sweet childhood memories filled with wonder and excitement through Kidoteca’s Magical Music Box. I would be quick to admit my bias when m writing this review (I worked on its music after all), but I just can’t contain my excitement over it. Truth of the matter is that I really love it, and I think most of you will too.

I just received a complimentary copy of the software from Stanislas Hauptmann of Kidoteca. As soon as I had it installed in my iPad, I couldn’t help but be filled with awe and excitement as all of the 16 piece of music that I arranged for this instrument came to life.

The present version of the Magical Music Box gives you a total of 6 different music box styles. Instead of a single diorama you might find in an actual music box, you can actually “dress up” your music box depending on your mood or whatnot. However, (again, here’s my bias going off), the most important thing about the Magical Music Box is the music itself.

I arranged a total of 16 pieces for this instrument. These piece range from the most serious of classical music pieces like “Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5”, children’s classics like “Old MacDonald” and others. Of all the selections in the Magical Music Box, “Swan Lake”, “Beautiful Dreamer” and “Invention No. 8” are my favorites.

One more great thing about the Magical Music Box is the interactive interface. Upon opening the music box, you can start cranking it up to produce sounds from it just like the real thing. If your iPad has a folder-style case, you’ll see that if you cover up the screen, the music box is going to stop playing. Again, this is the same as real music boxes where closing the lid would stop the mechanism from playing. If you’re not in the mood to crank up the music box, you could just press the gramophone icon so that it would play as if it was a player piano. Another cool thing about it is that you can access tiny bits of history regarding each piece of music in the Magical Music Box.

At the present time, there are two versions of the Magical Music Box. You can try out the Lite version for free before you decide to purchase a copy. I think you can get way more for your money if you purchase the full version, which is only $0.99 on the App Store at the present time.

You can get a copy of Kidoteca’s Magical Music Box through the following links:


iOS Users

Android Users

Some Thoughts on the Cybercrime Law Protests

Protesting against the cybercrime law is all the rage now. I found myself sympathizing to the protesters who had valid points. I even signed the petition at change.org since I believed that the law should be revised after having read it. However, this got me into thinking more carefully about all this hullabaloo. After growing tired from being bombarded by a barrage of announcements and what not, is there any worth to those posts at all? The crass language, lack of tact, and crudely written pieces (with grammatical errors all over the place) apparently seemed to be nothing more than fear mongering rather than statements that have valid, logical arguments.

Are all of these protests against the anti-cybercrime law just a phase or a fad? Obviously, it has become a fashion statement. The worst part about this is that should the protesters succeed in having the law changed, would it really improve the lives of Filipinos? Would poverty be finally eliminated? Would we see better job opportunities here in the Philippines as a result of all of these protests? Would we see OFWs finally going back to spend time with their families? Would the costs of utilities like water and electricity go down because of competition from a Foreign business owner. Shouldn’t we start focusing on things like getting the 1987 Constitution changed so that the economic policies of the Philippines would be competitive instead of protectionist? Are we really focusing too much attention of the Philippine government acting as the thought police? Somehow, this new wave of protests is starting to feel like EDSA 1, 2, and 3, and I am not saying this in a positive light.

I remember going to the said EDSA 2 revolution. People were all wearing black. The gullible sap in me told me to wear black and I tagged my wife and my sister along. Needless to say, I just found that EDSA 2 was nothing more than an excuse for a big street party. Did anything change by kicking out Erap? No. It’s the same thing with EDSA 1. The Philippines remained poor (and even got worse) after the Oligarchy-backed president assumed office. This anti-cybercrime law protest is becoming to feel the same way, except now it’s on what can be considered the EDSA of the Internet: Facebook.

I just realized that many Filipinos have a love-hate relationship with freedom of speech, a double standard even. Many Filipinos have a penchant for criticism and speaking out their minds aloud yet when they’re on the receiving end, their onion-skinned defenses couldn’t handle it well. Isn’t this what led to the insertion of the libel clause in the anti-cybercrime law? Given this particular cultural defect in Pinoy society, are the protests still worth the effort?

Perhaps there is still some worth into these protests. Laws are not perfect and should be subject to revision as we all live in a flawed society. However, perhaps it would be best if such attention should be focused to more pressing matters. For example, shouldn’t we rally for cultural upheaval instead? Shouldn’t we try to eliminate the collectivist mindset that is the root of the ills of Filipino society.? How much longer should we tolerate things the Padrino system, corruption, macho culture, “pwede na yan” mentatilty, mindless “pakikisama”? Why can’t we as Filipinos adapt the kind of discipline that have led to countries like Singapore, Japan and South Korea to change from barren wastelands to economic powerhouses. Perhaps these are the things we should fight for first rather than thoughtless protests against trivial matters that do not provide any immediate solution to the ills of Filipino culture.

Kidoteca’s “Magical Music Box” to be Released on Apple’s AppStore Tomorrow

About a few weeks ago, I was working with Kidoteca, a publisher and developer of iOS and Android apps aimed at children, on a project called the “Magical Music Box”. My job consisted of arrangement and transcription of various pieces of music from standard notation or audio and into a special worksheet that Stanislas Hauptmann (one of the top guys at Kidoteca) and his crew developed. I can’t wait to be able to try out on the iPad and hear for myself the results of my work.

To give more details about my experiences while working on this project, Mr. Hauptmann provided me with a list of various pieces of music that he wanted for the app to run. The challenge for me was to rearrange a variety of music with varying complexity into versions that would work for an instrument with barely 3 octaves in range (C3 to C6). This component of the job is indeed challenging, especially when I had to slim down complex pieces like Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake Act 1 Finale and Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5 into simple 1-minute pieces with a maximum of just 2 parts. It’s hard to do justice to such classics with those conditions, but I’m guessing I was able to pull that off.

The second challenge of the job was that I had to convert what I hear in my piano and read in the sheet music into Mr. Hauptmann’s specific code. He supplied me with a worksheet that essentially became a vertical step sequencer. I had to input notes according to scientific pitch notation, set a tempo and set a note value per beat. Seems easy on first look. The difficult part, however, was that I had no way of verifying by audio the results of my coding unless Kidoteca renders the worksheets as MP3s. I had to kiss the expectation of working like I do with FLStudio or Sibelius goodbye and instead try my best to accurately write down on the worksheet what I was hearing whenever I sight read or listen to the pieces that are assigned to me.

The third challenge was to curb my urge towards making complex arrangements. Complex arrangements do not work well most of the time when writing for the Magical Music Box as the notes tend to get muddy. There is a great emphasis on making the melody prominent and writing a simple yet driving bass line. There are at times when Mr. Hauptmann and I had a few differences over how the arrangements should go. Fortunately, we were able to settle things and figure out what works.

I also had the opportunity of writing descriptions for the pieces of music I arranged. It’s kind of like writing program notes for a recital except that this time it’s for an iOS app.

It seems to me that things are working out well as we’re going to see the release of Kidoteca’s “Magical Music Box” tomorrow. I just watched the YouTube promo video and it seems to have a really stunning interface. Of course, the music is *ahem* wonderful as well. Do check out the “Magical Music Box” by Kidoteca at the AppStore and Google Play. Turn your iOS and Android devices into a lullaby station or a mesmerizing kid’s music machine.

P.S. With this music box, you never have to wind it up to start playing plus it’s always at a constant tempo so the music doesn’t die down slowly.