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.

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:

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.

An Unexpected Surprise: Fanboy Elation

Lunchtime around this period of my life consists of a single cup of homemade Greek yogurt mixed in with honey and some sugar-free strawberry preserves. As I was eating my lunch and reviewing my GuitarZoom transcription work, I get this friend request from Michael Shawn Turner. After accepting it, he suddenly tells via a private message something like, “Hey are you the guy who wrote this? ” And then I realized I was talking to one of my heroes: Battery’s Mike Turner!

I was very much surprised. I never would have thought one of my heroes would start to speak to me, let alone read my blog! Anyway, to cut the somewhat long story short, it was a very pleasant exchange. He even wished me well in my search for a new drummer. Afterwards, he explained the reason why Battery ceased to exist: he flew to Los Angeles. It was as simple as that!

I remember saying in my blog that I regret not purchasing any of Battery’s albums back in the day. Mike Turner revealed to me that all of Battery’s songs are available via his Reverbnation page: http://www.reverbnation.com/michaelshawnturner/songs. Now I know that I can enjoy Battery’s music via the web.

I cannot thank Mike Turner enough for being an inspiration and for giving me a fragment of his time.

Before I end this piece, I’d like to share with you folks Mike’s latest project called booRADLEY. They started an Indiegogo campaign, so please visit the page and offer your support. I’m very sure that it’s a decision worth taking into consideration:


Philipperc: New FREE Philippine Percussion Library from Detunized!

Hey folks! Before anything else, I want to greet everybody a happy New Year!

Now that we’ve got the 2015 greeting out of the way, I just would like to post about something I’m really excited about: It’s the new Philipperc Ableton Live and Kontakt percussion library from Detunized!

The story behind Philipperc is this: I’ve always wondered about how I can get Philppine indigenous instrument sounds into my compositions without actually owning those instruments. For one thing, instruments such as a Kulintang set are expensive. Just so you would have an idea, in cultures such as Maranao and Maguindanaon, Kulintang sets are properties of the wealthy, treasured heirlooms that can be used as dowry for weddings! To be frank, I don’t have the money to purchase a set of babendil, agung, gandingan, and kulintang for myself. But then I had the good fortune of being enrolled in the Philippine Women’s University School of Music where I’m finishing my master’s degree of music education. It just so happened that it had the perk (pun!) of getting access to the musical instrument museum where they have this awesome collection of Philippine indigenous instruments. I spent one Saturday afternoon sampling a set of agung, gandingan, dabakan, and a kulintang. I also recorded a number of tongatong samples for good measure.

I sent these samples over to my good friend, Stephan Marche, CEO of Detunized, and asked him the favor of developing the samples as a virtual instrument. He went on to do this and developed versions for Ableton Live and Native Instruments Kontakt. He then asked me to go write some demos. To cut the long story short, it was awesome!

What is Philipperc really? It’s a sample-based virtual instrument for Ableton Live and Kontakt that features samples of Dabakan, Agung, Gandingan, Kulintang, and Tongatong. This instrument is intended to be used by composers, music producers, and music students, especially those who are studying indigenous Philippine music. At this point, Philipperc is available at no cost whatsoever! Therefore, I would advise you to get a copy now as this is, I believe, the first Philippine percussion sample library ever developed in history. I’d love to say it’s sort of groundbreaking in a sense. Should Philipperc take off well, we could probably go on and make a more comprehensive library with more Philippine instrument samples like kudyapi, bungkaka, kubing, etc.

To download Philipperc, just go to https://detunized.com/downloads/philipperc/. The prototype version I’m currently using is laid out as a drum rack, so if you have something like an Akai MPC or a Roland Octapad MIDI Controller, it will be great.

Now, what does it sound like? Here’s the demo I wrote for the release of Philipperc. It’s called “Where Coast and Mountaintops Meet.” Enjoy!

Some Musings on Education, Creativity, and Music

I have always believed that there is something miserably wrong with education, especially here in the Philippines. Growing up, I had to go to school every day, wear my uniform, pin my ID in a very specific manner, and keep a hairstyle exactly as described in the student handbook for discipline. The one thing that baffled me was why did I have to look like everybody else in order for me to have a good education? Does that exercise in conformity lead to anything beneficial? I have always thought that the answer was no. I have always thought that such rules were of no value and they only contributed to a superficial sense of order and discipline. A prescribed haircut never contributes to knowledge within my head or the life skills that I should possess. Matter of fact was it even encouraged me to rebel, seeing how utterly useless such rules were. Looking at the bigger picture of things, it seemed to me that schools (yes, even private ones with expensive tuition fees) are hell bent on producing “cookies”, mass producing students who eventually become part of a grand industrial assembly line. This cookie-cutter-style education, as Sir Ken Robinson puts it, kills creativity.

I can remember how many times I’ve heard something like I should be this or I should be that. It can become really frustrating because many people try to put you in a mold where you don’t really fit. I’m guessing all would agree that with the exception of art schools, the arts (music included) are of a low hierarchal standing in many educational systems. It’s good that we do have to place good regard for math, the sciences, and language studies, but shouldn’t we put the arts in equal footing? It’s really sad to see in this part of the world where I live that music is lumped together with other arts and physical education into a single subject. It’s just wrong! What happens in the end really is that these schools produce students who have some semblance of athletic ability, standard curriculum knowledge, zero knowledge about and appreciation for art, and almost nothing about music except some form of dancing to it and barely carrying out a tune. It really is sad given that one of the primary ways of learning is through listening, the primary sense that music appeals to. By lumping all of the arts into a single subject called MAPE and then placing it at a category lower than all other subjects, the present education system in the part of the world where I live is indeed killing creativity.

One thing that I have to say, however, is that in order to translate creative ideas into tangible output, discipline still is necessary. I remember my classical piano training in that regard: I would have to say (without any offense to my wonderful piano teacher) that it is the farthest anyone can go from exercising creativity in terms of music. It’s the kind of training that expects you to become as accurate as a MIDI player, and unfortunately I don’t seem to be very good at it. You have to follow the whims of the composer almost 100% of the time. One thing I would appreciate about it, however, is that it builds the skills that are necessary for me to be able to execute or communicate to others my own musical ideas without needing the assistance of a performer. Even something as free-spirited as jazz or the Blues requires knowing how to play a pentatonic scale. While the creative impulse has to be fed, it still requires discipline to execute properly.

The discipline we get out of schools is much appreciated, but if we lose touch of any attempts to become creative then such discipline is worthless study. The discipline and order we get out of education should go hand-in-hand with exercises in creativity, and therefore education shouldn’t be a lopsided affair where we push math, science, and linguistic studies to the top and regard music, dancing, painting, sculpture, etc. as mere extracurricular activities. It is true that you cannot produce creative output without the means to execute it. It is also true that without any semblance of creativity, all those means of execution obtained from rigorous discipline is unusable.