A Choral Arranger’s Experience at Musikapella 2017

It’s always a pleasure to hear musical ideas come to life. It’s something that gives me great joy as a composer and arranger.

Last October 2017, I got a call from the UP Economics Society (from the University of the Philippines, Diliman, Quezon City) asking me to arrange “Simbang Gabi” for unaccompanied SATB, SSAA, and TTBB choirs. The arrangement was slated to become the contest piece for Musikapella 2017, one of the hottest annual choir competitions in Metro Manila.

I said to myself that three arrangements of the same song for those ensembles shouldn’t be a problem but then UP Eco Soc said that they needed the arrangements within 3 to 5 days. After thinking about how great an opportunity this was, I told them I could do it.

Once UP Eco Soc knew I could work with a tight deadline, they took me in. I think they were already out of options, hahaha!

Remembering Symphony X’s “Candlelight Fantasia”, I went into making the score, and through God’s help I was able to complete the scores.

Fast forward to November 25, 2017, I hear my score come to life for the first time. It was astonishing! Here’s one of the Musikapella 2017 contestants, the UST Senior High School Chorale (Selah), performing my arrangement of Lucio D. San Pedro’s “Simbang Gabi”:

Lucio D. San Pedro’s “Simbang Gabi”, arrangement by Mark A. Galang for unaccompanied SATB choir:

This performance floored me! That’s all I can say.

I’d like to congratulate and thank Mark Agpasa (choirmaster) and the rest of the UST Senior High School Chorale for doing such an amazing job. I also would like to thank the UP Economics Society for entrusting me with such an important task. Perhaps this is a good start to really becoming involved with the Filipino chorale scene. Who knows, right?

There’s also an all-female choir version during Musikapella 2017. I thought St. Scholastica’s Academy Choir did a great job with my arrangement:

Lucio D. San Pedro’s “Simbang Gabi”, arrangement by Mark A. Galang for unaccompanied SSAA choir:


All of the 9 choirs that participated in Musikapella 2017 as well as family and friends made me feel like the biggest winner of the night. To them I send my thanks and my gratitude.

I also have to thank my vocal arranging mentor, Christopher Borela, for training me well back in PWU.

Now, time for me to go back to practicing my instruments, writing composition ideas, and all that stuff, a day before I go back to work on all things Freejazzlessons.com.

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Life as a “Single” Guy – Stories Through Musical Improvisation: XVI. “Elevator Jazz” Jam

A good way to spend a break from transcribing music to jam freely to some random backing track found on YouTube. It’s one way to have fun and try to develop/enhance chops.

Life as a “Single” Guy – Stories Through Musical Improvisation: XV. “Esperando” Suite

Waiting can be boring and tiresome, especially when you have to wait for hours. What’s an example of a thing I can do to make good use of time? Improvise a suite of solo piano music on my sister’s piano:

I. While I Wait for You

II. Rain in the Evening

III. While I Continue to Wait for You

IV. Just Messing Around

Life as a “Single” Guy – Stories Through Musical Improvisation: XII. “Genevieve Dances”

It’s been a while since I posted about my story as a “single” guy, and here’s one part of it.

Before I proceed, you should know the lady that has been for the most part the inspiration behind many of my solo piano improvisations from the past few days is NOT Genevieve. Genevieve is a friend of hers who, upon discovering that yours truly is a composer, issued a sort of challenge for me to write some music based on the name “Genevieve”. So, I went about figuring how to do it. I decided to use the name “Genevieve” as a melodic idea by assigning each letter notes or chromatic scale degrees. I made a diatonic and a chromatic version:

Letter Diatonic Chromatic
A 1 0
B 2 1
C 3 2
D 4 3
E 5 4
F 6 5
G 7 6
H 1 7
I 2 8
J 3 9
K 4 10
L 5 11
M 6 0
N 7 1
O 1 2
P 2 3
Q 3 4
R 4 5
S 5 6
T 6 7
U 7 8
V 1 9
W 2 10
X 3 11
Y 4 0
Z 5 1

After coming up with this table, I spelled out “Genevieve” with numbers from both diatonic and chromatic charts to come up with two tone rows:

G E N E V I E V E
7 5 7 5 1 2 5 1 5
6 4 1 4 9 8 4 9 4

The top row of numbers is the diatonic version and the bottom row is the chromatic version. I chose the chromatic row as melodic basis for my improvisation. To make things simpler for me, I used a C chromatic scale as a point of reference, and this led me to devise a melody that is based on both Db Major and Db Lydian, and so the melodic theme for “Genevieve” spells out F-Eb-Db-Eb-Ab-G(natural)-Eb-Ab-Eb. To get the mood of the piece right, I asked “Her” about a general overview of who Genevieve was as a person. She said Genevieve was a pretty girl, the heartthrob among her peers who was a ballet dancer. Genevieve was also described as nice but feisty and energetic. This made me decide how to go about the particular rhythms to form the melody and accompaniment for “Genevieve” as you will see in the video of my performance.

Oh, before I go off track, remember Genevieve’s lady friend? Things between us are going rather well. That’s all I can say for now.

Life as a “Single” Guy – Stories Through Musical Improvisation: VIII. “Looking Forward to Tomorrow”

There is always hope after emotional turmoil. While I am always unsure of whether or not I will wake up the next day, I always believe there is something beyond the here and now, something to look forward to. The future looks bright indeed. I suppose there probably is no better way to tell that story than through the power of the electric guitar.

I Wish Most Filipino Luthiers Were…

…able to create real, unique, custom instruments!

Please take note that I have deep admiration for Filipino luthiers. I am not insulting  or trying to offend such fine craftsmen. Their craftsmanship is superb. That I do not doubt. However, it seems to me that most of them are afraid to take up the challenge of experimenting and building unique instruments that will bring about new sounds that will bring about much needed change in the OPM scene.

I will admit I am crazy. I have this loony side. I like weird stuff, with weirdness that crosses over the border of becoming unique without sacrificing function. For years, I have had this dream or aspiration that one day, a Filipino luthier would be able to make the instrument/s of my dreams. Some of these instruments I dream of having include extended-range guitars (more than 7 strings) and a guitar that can function like a viola de gamba (arched bridge and fretboard). It feels very frustrating that these proud luthiers can’t build any of these. There are a number of things or reasons why these luthiers can’t make such instruments, and that would include lack of materials or a lack of knowledge.

One day, while I was on Facebook, I approached this luthier who had a substantial following. I requested from him to give me an estimate as to how much it would take for them to build it. He said he can’t do it because he doesn’t have existing patterns or templates for it. I said I’d take the risk of spending more just to make sure my vision is realized. Afterwards, he said he just can’t do it. A few months later, he starts spewing pictures of how he masterfully copied Taylors, Gibsons, Martins, and Fenders for his customers.

What does this tell us? Do we revel at the fact that we are good copycats? Why can’t we Filipinos aspire for bigger goals? Why can’t just try to change? Why do we have to stick to years of traditions that don’t push us forward?

Again, I am NOT trying to insult Filipino Luthiers out there. I am merely posing a challenge. Please build real custom instruments, not just copies of popular brands like Taylor, Fender, Martin, Gibson, Guild, etc.