The Year That Was 2012

How would I sum up the year 2012? I would say that it was blessed and fulfilling. A lot of things have happened this year, and I could go on to say that this was one of the most musically fulfilling years I have experienced in my life. More than that, I would go further in saying that I really am happy that this year will come to a close with a bang.

The year 2012 started to be a very challenging time for my small family of three. My wife was unemployed and freelance projects for me were slim. We were feeling somewhat desperate as it seemed like it would be a financially difficult year for us. However, I’m very happy and thankful that despite all that difficulty, God still provided adequately. We had no debts and we still were able to manage living a rather comfortable lifestyle albeit rather slim pickings. It was also this year that I decided to go work in music full time, and I’m happy that somehow my decision is paying off.

Blessings came in gradually this year. This started off with getting some funding to upgrade my home studio. Around the middle of this year, my wife also finally landed the job of her dreams: a stint as an operations manager in Accenture. I was able to play once more with the band of my youth (the formerly named Jacob’s Ladder) and got involved in some more music projects as well like a string of guitar tab transcription projects for GuitarZoom as well as some music composition and sound design projects on the side.

This year had its bittersweet moments as well. I was experiencing what I believe to be bouts of depression during this last quarter of 2012, October to be particular. My beloved cat Scheherazade gave birth to three healthy babies in June but then passed away 3 months later. Although it was a great learning experience, writing music for a7records turned out to be a bad financial decision. such things caused me to feel a lot of self-doubt and I questioned my competence as a parent, as a husband, as a musician along with everything else. God never left me though and gave me the strength to carry on.

I do think that the Lord had reserved the best for last in 2012. I was suddenly tapped to be the pianist for UCCP-MCD’s New Year’s Eve worship service! I was so surprised when I got a call from my dear friends, Pastors Chaz and Xiaui Romero, when they had indicated that they were in dire need of a pianist since their regular accompanist was unavailable. My pastor friends were telling me that the sudden unavailability of their regular pianist was no accident; it did seem like God wanted me to be there to play some music for the congregation. Over the past few days, I was not feeling confident about being up to the task but I did prepare to be at my very best. To cut the long story short, I was able to play through the entire 2-hour service. I would go to claim that it was not out of my own power and ability that I was playing. I feel certain that it was God that was utilizing my personal playing style to deliver music so that the worship service would be a success, the same way He did guide my band through last October’s fundraising concert. According to Philippians 4:13, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” By my own power, I will not be capable of anything, but it is He alone who has saved me from sin and gave me strength this day to share my faith through music.

In conclusion, I’m very thankful to The Lord for the year 2012. It was indeed a very good and prosperous year. I look forward to see what God has in store for me, my family, my band, and with all the other people in my life this 2013.

Happy New Year dear readers and I hope that next year would be a blessed one for you as well.

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Being Filipino: An Honor or Something to be Ashamed About?

I just found these definitions of “Filipino” at the Urban Dictionary:

http://filipino.urbanup.com/2315108
http://filipino.urbanup.com/1397824

I find these definitions to be hilarious. These also got me into thinking again of what really is a Filipino. Is it a state of being that I have to be proud about like many Pinoys would be? In a lot of ways I would not be. The damaged retrogressive culture that permeates into mind and soul of the typical Juan is something that I do not desire for myself.

Having vicariously (I say vicariously as I have never traveled outside of the Philippines) seen and experienced other Asian cultures, I would have to agree that Filipinos have little to do with being Asian. F. Sionil Jose even goes to proclaiming that the Filipino is not Asian. Culturally speaking, Filipinos have so much more in common with Latin Americans and the Spanish than with the Japanese, Koreans or even Thais. The sad fact is that Filipinos seem to have inherited everything negative about Spanish culture that keeps Filipino society from moving towards progress. Things like Mañana habit (procrastination), ningas cogon (the inability to finish what was enthusiastically started), advancement through connections rather than skill (Padrino system); the “pwede na yan” (that’ll do) mentality of mediocrity; the abuse of amor propio, delicadeza,and utang na loob (indebtedness); and the grip of Roman Catholicism all get in the way of progress of the Filipino society. Such culture has given way into the chaotic state that the Philippines is. Seems like the Pinoy is a creature and lover of chaos that is easily entertained and driven by emotion rather than the intellect.

If you go study the history of the Philippine Islands closely, you might arrive at the conclusion that the concept of being a Filipino originated from Creoles i.e. people of Spanish descent who were born in the Philippines. There are claims that these Creoles co-mingled with the dominant Tagalog tribe (and perhaps with some wealthy businessmen of Chinese descent), established their own government in defiance of Spain (getting inspiration from the French and American Revolutions), and placed their seat of power in Manila. Other tribes of the island could care less. There is one site in particular that goes to a great depth about this topic called “The Nation of Don Rafael Ibarra” if you’d like to read more about it.

It really appears that three centuries of Spanish rule have made Filipinos dumb to the point that there are claims of the Philippines having a collective IQ of only 87. It doesn’t really surprise me given the fact that during the last presidential elections, the Philippines elected a president based on sentiment rather than competence.

The lack of collective achievement as a people is bothersome. Apparently, this is due to having too much freedom with too little discipline, something that former Singaporean prime minister Lee Kuan Yew had said before. Having too little discipline is readily observable in the Philippines; just try driving at EDSA and the streets of Manila and you’ll know what I mean.

One aspect of Filipinos that continues to drive me crazy in this information age is the fact while Filipinos have admirable work ethic as a hardworking people, they do not appear to be smart about it. I am a freelance worker who’s registered at oDesk, and it appears to me that the trend amongst Filipinos is to drive prices down. It is what I call “nagtratrabaho ng palugi” (working at a loss). Granted that labor is supposed to be cheaper in the Philippines, should that mean that the Filipino’s way of competing with the rest of the world is just through low prices rather than competence? I believe that despite our flaws as a society, the Filipino in this global society are worth much more.

Allow me to give an example. I currently work freelance taking on music and audio jobs. Whenever I apply for a job, I occasionally look into profiles of other contractors. I have noticed that some of these other Filipino contractors price themselves at miserably low rates. I see Filipino freelance musicians at oDesk charging as low as $1.00 an hour for composing music or writing a jingle. This is lower than Philippine minimum wage! (around $1.50/hour) A service like writing music should cost much more than that given how taxing and mentally challenging the process is in the first place (plus the potential value of a jingle as intellectual property). How I thought that Filipinos are very proud of the fact that they are musically inclined! Shouldn’t they ask for more given the fact that they’ve got musical and audio production skills that can compete at the international level? Although it’s virtually unavoidable to take cheap jobs in order to gain higher feedback ratings (and higher rates eventually), why should such workers remain at such a miserable hourly rate? I’d assume that they don’t families to support and they’re still living off their parents. If you look into the salary trends in the medical/general transcription sector in oDesk, the rates are even more miserable.

Going back to those Urban Dictionary definitions, I would have to agree with one post that says “A hard working, industrious, and very strong family oriented people, but notoriously useless at organizing anything beyond chaos as a nation of people.” It hits the point right at home. As an example of that, take a look into Filipino fiestas. Many Filipinos would rather incur enormous debt just to host a party and look good in the community during feast days for pagan gods and goddesses, all of which have been draped with a “Christian” veneer as Santo this and that by the Roman Catholic Church. They’d rather keep on having sex and have as many as 10 children just right after hitting middle age despite lacking the financial resources to properly raise such offspring. No wonder that the Philippines has a collective IQ of 87. Is acting stupid a thing to be proud of? Apparently, many proponents of “Filipino pride” think so.

It’s very sad that Filipinos always think of themselves as small, the underdog so to speak that’s incapable of dreaming big. Despite all the negative things about the Filipino culture, I still would like to believe that Filipinos as a people should be capable of achieving greatness. Examples of these are the many Filipinos who have great individual achievements inside and outside of the country, all of which are mostly earned through a disciplined and frugal approach of living. My parents are a good example. Starting from virtually nothing, they worked their way to acquire assets that currently serve as financial security for themselves. I also happen to have an aunt who works two blue collar jobs in Australia, enabling her to invest some of that money into property and enjoy in the Philippines whatever is left over. Former waiter and security guard turned restauranteur Larry Cortez is another. My wife grew up from a below poverty state and is now making great strides up the corporate ladder at the moment. Why is it that such Filipinos are exceptions to the norm rather than the standard?

I would go to say that Juan has to change his way of thinking in order to succeed, to give value to competence and logical thought rather than emotion and mediocrity. I also do hope that some day this statement would true within the Philippines itself rather than just abroad:

“Most Filipinos are upper middle class. Day know how to budget der money and make lots ob sacripices like staying in da Naby por 20 years so day can get a retirement.” (source : http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=Filipino&defid=2315108)

It’s unfortunate that this kind of Filipino is more readily observable in the United States, Australia and anywhere else that has become locations for the Filipino Diaspora. Outside of the gated community where I reside, I usually see Filipinos who are living below the poverty line, incapable of budgeting given the fact that many are in debt, unable to make sacrifices because of the addiction to parties and entertainment, and would eventually retire with a huge debt and a mentality of mendicancy. The Philippines is really home to a fractured culture of people who claim to be Asian yet Hispanic in thinking and afflicted by still existing tribal divisions and a plutocracy that doesn’t care at all.

In a lot of ways I would be ashamed to be a Filipino. I often feel that I lack affinity with what a typical Filipino would want. I’m not a fan of Filipino cuisine, and I have no taste whatsoever for the mainstream OPM scene. I hate Pinoy telenovelas and noontime TV shows simply because they promote stupidity, mediocrity and mendicancy. I don’t watch local TV channels. Call it colonial mentality or whatever but if something is excellent, I have great appreciation for it, and for the most part a lot of things found overseas are leagues away from what is found locally in the Philippines.

However, whenever I see and hear about exemplary individuals such as my wife, my parents, composers Angel Matias Peña and Jose Maceda, restauranteur Larry Cortez and others, I appreciate the fact that Filipinos can be capable of breaking away from the typical Filipino slacker mentality.

Franck Hermanny of Adagio Provides Feedback Regarding “Nuit Blanche” Transcription

20121216-173636.jpg

I was experiencing a week without any sort of new project to work with. It was one of those times in a freelance “behind the scenes” musician’s life that is free. To occupy myself while in the middle of applying for and acquiring new projects, I decided to exercise my music transcription skills by going the Steve Vai route: transcribing a rather difficult piece of music and sending it to the composer himself. While Mr. Vai back in the 80s worked on Frank Zappa’s music, I decided to take on one of the songs by virtuoso bassist Franck Hermanny.

To anyone of you who are not aware of who Mr. (or should I say Monsieur?) Hermanny is, he is the a French freelance musician most popularly known as the bassist of Adagio, a progressive metal band. While Adagio’s music primarily sounds like Ludwig Van Beethoven and John Williams playing in a progressive metal band, Mr. Hermanny’s solo work has a great dose of jazz fused with Frank Gambale style sweep picking and neoclassical shred ON A SIX-STRING BASS! This bass player sounds like he can play anything under the sun ranging from Rocco Prestia funk to Geddy Lee prog.

Back to talking about the transcription itself, I decided to take on the song “Nuit Blanche” because I recently acquired a six-string bass myself and I wanted to learn more about Franck Hermanny’s technique and music. I spent nine work hours over a three-day period working on the score. If you have watched the video of Nuit Blanche, you’ll see and hear that it’s no simple feat to transcribe:

“Nuit Blanche” was just perfect because of it’s pedagogical nature, given that I usually transcribe sheet music for music education purposes (mainly guitar). After completing the draft, I had the “cojones” to send it to Franck Hermanny himself and ask for feedback. So what did the bass master say about it? Here it goes:

  • He appreciated the time and effort I spent working on the piece.
  • There were some mistakes here and there, which is a given because of the piece’s difficulty.
  • I should have written it with a doubled tempo (around 160 BPM in half notes instead of quarter notes). In this case, the note values will be doubled, making it easier to sight read (reading 8th notes at a faster tempo is easier than reading 16th note runs because of simpler beat divisions)
  • Overall, he said I did a really great job.

I’m quite happy with the notation I did for “Nuit Blanche” although I can still do better as he had suggested. Since I have an upcoming transcription project I need to work on this coming work week, I would not be able to perform the necessary edits for the Nuit Blanche score for now. If I get the time, I will edit the score based on Mr.Hermanny’s feedback.

So, for anyone who is interested in getting the sheet music for “Nuit Blanche”, feel free to contact me. Please remember, however, that this sheet music is still in draft form and is in no way final or official…that is unless Mr. Hermanny would ask me to create an official version with his guidance and blessing of course ; ) (and in that case, you would have to buy the score rather than get it for free).

“Archery” by Pixel Delight Studios, LLC Now Available

About a month ago, I was hired by Pixel Delight Studios, LLC as a sound designer for their latest game available for Android devices. This game is called “Archery – Shoot the Apple”. If you have dreams of shooting arrows towards a hapless individual with an apple on his head, this would fulfill such a wish.

The rules of Archery is simple: shoot an arrow towards an apple placed upon the head of a young man, and do your best to avoid hurting (or killing) said young man. As you advance in level, the distance between the archer and the apple increases.

To download this delightful game (and enjoy some sounds I had created for it), go to http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/archery-pixel-delight-studios-llc/1113938850?ean=2940043936332. It costs only $0.99 to download and be like William Tell.