Morality in Music

It annoys me every time I read or hear one of these things:

  • Christian Rock is depraved.
  • Drums and electric guitars are the Devil’s instruments.
  • Christian Hip Hop is inconsistent with scripture.
  • Contemporary Christian Music is evil.

These and other statements have that air of bigotry and intolerance. I really want to ask such people these questions such as these:

  • If a hammer can be used to smash another person’s head to smithereens, should the serious Christian avoid using a hammer in carpentry because a hammer has the potential to be used as a murder weapon?
  • If a match can be used to burn a house down, should a Christian freezing at the mercy of wintertime avoid using a match to light a fire and keep oneself warm?
  • If a depraved person can use a fork or a chopstick to stab somebody in the throat, should Christians stop using forks and chopsticks because they have the unchristian potential to harm another person?
  • If Handel’s big hit “Hallelujah” from the oratorio Messiah features a 4/4 rhythm and features fast scalar runs similar to non-Christian guitarist Yngwie Malmsteen, should Christians stop singing the song because it shares a lot of traits with the “music of the world”?

More often than not, people who appeal to such rhetoric are those individuals who tend to impose their own musical preferences on other people. If we were to accept the fact that the style of music found in traditional hymns is the only proper way to worship God through music, isn’t that just simply confining ourselves to a particular musical culture that came out of Europe? Are we therefore equating European sacred music as the only kind of music that could glorify God? Sounds very ethnocentric and bigoted to me. Such arguments fall along similar lines such as the Authorized King James Version is the only acceptable bible ergo archaic English is the only kind of language acceptable to praise God. Such is hogwash.

Every genre and style of music can be considered a particular language that reaches people both in the intellectual and emotional level. Do proponents of such a narrow-minded view say that only traditional hymns are acceptable music for worship? Doesn’t that eerily follow the same line of thinking that the Roman Catholic Church followed when they did not allow the Bible to be published in languages other than Latin? Do we mean to say that people from Africa, Asia, and the rest of the world will be in sin if they wrote and sung worship music in the particular style of their culture? I would strongly disagree to such notions. Where is it that we read in the Bible that we cannot use pentatonic scales, percussion instruments, drones, and other non-European musical techniques in worship? We read it nowhere! Matter of fact is if we read passages like Psalm 33 and 150, it seems to me that ancient Israel used music accompanied by stringed instruments, trumpets, timbrels, and dancing. Now tell me, does that look like a choir accompanied by an organ or piano? In my mind, it sounds more like a big band rather than your hymn-singing choir.

Psalm 33:3 (KJV) even reads, “Sing unto him a new song; play skilfully with a loud noise.” It doesn’t sound like somber hymn singing to me. If we are to be really legalistic about this, then church should be burning their organs and pianos into one big bonfire and start training musicians how to play the kinnor and shofar and teaching the congregation to sing songs  in Phrygian Dominant rather than the more traditional major and minor scales. You sure can’t find in the Bible that organs and pianos are the only instruments allowed and that electric guitars and drums are the Devil’s. If you really are dead set on thinking that drums are evil, perhaps you should rearrange Handel’s “Hallelujah” in a way that the piano doesn’t sound so percussive. Oh, and if you have an orchestra that will play it for you, forget about using timpani too.  If you’re going to say that music that tends to elicit certain emotions is not appropriate for worship, why not go for something emotionally neutral like 12-tone serial music? I will be the first to tell you that is a ridiculous idea.

Don’t get me wrong: I love playing and singing traditional hymns and I play such music every Sunday at church. The fact that I have a strong disgust for are these people who brand themselves as Christians  imposing their own tastes on others and declaring that to be holy writ. Such bigoted declarations on music are the laws of men rather than the word of God and are bound to cause division rather than unity. I have always believed that music for worship should be composed in an appropriate way, matching the content of the words with the expression of music, using a delicate touch when being meditative and expressing power when proclaiming God’s magnificence.

I would go on to proclaim that music i.e. the arrangement of sound and silences in an organized manner is amoral. It’s about as good as a hammer can be when used to build a house and can be as evil as the same tool when used for murder. We can only attach morality to music depending on how it is used. You would never expect me to write music reflecting God’s omnipotence using a sweet-sounding flute and light string arrangements; It would be all out bombast with drums, brass,  and a distorted guitar to demonstrate that.

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A Sequencer?

I like looking around music stores and testing their stuff. It’s like the equivalent of a candy shop for the kid in me. It also happens to be the kinds of places where I get all sorts of info regarding the local music scene, and so here’s one story:

There was one time when I was visiting one of my favorite music stores (Lazer Musical Instruments SM Bicutan), and the reliever for the store manager was there. We jammed a bit, talked about music, about performing, etc. and then he asked (I’m just paraphrasing here), “Nagsi-sequencer ka ba?” Now, for my non-Tagalog-speaking friends, the question seems odd. Bear with me for a little while and you’ll get the gist of what the question is all about. I thought that the guy meant, “Do you use a sequencer for live performances?” And so I replied, “Hindi, pero sa bahay may computer ako na ginamit kong sequencer.” (No, but at home I use my computer as a sequencer.) The ignoramus in me never thought that he was referring to a kind of musician.

So, since I’m rather ignorant, I ask what exactly is a sequencer the musician? From what I have deduced from my conversation with that guy, a “sequencer” is a pianist or keyboard player that plays cover songs in lounges or bars with a singer. From what understand now, “sequencer” is Filipino musician slang for lounge pianist or musician (which I am not) that specializes in performing covers of other artists. And so, when I Googled that up, I found terms like “sequencer band” or “sequencer duo”, all search results referring to groups of Filipino musicians. It must be like that because they’re supposed to sequence a musical program or perhaps sequence a musical program with real instruments plus a sequencer (the hardware). I’m not really sure if that’s how would you define “sequencer”.

And so, the lesson learned here is that if you’re going to talk to a Filipino musician, especially the kind that plays in cover bands or groups, and you’re talking about sequencers, clarify first what is his/her definition of the term “sequencer”.

How I Almost Got Scammed

About two weeks ago, in my thirst for higher education, knowledge, and credentials, I almost got scammed by an organization miles away from where I am. It’s a good thing that I had the presence of mine to have become alerted by what you would call “red flags” that would indicate a diploma mill. I thank God for having given me enough wisdom not to be ensnared by the Atlantic International University.

For those who know me, I only had private lessons as my formal training in music (piano and guitar), and everything else I know I have learned on my own through stacks of music textbooks, the times I sneaked into a music conservatory library, stacks of sheet music, numerous recordings, concert attendances, band experience, and experimentation. Such effort has led me to become the freelancing professional that I am now. However, I wanted to take this to a more advanced level, and so for years I had searched for ways where I can manage to get a conservatory-equivalent education while keeping up with the demands of daily life. Unfortunately for me, I stumbled across Atlantic International University. It was a regrettable experience to have crossed paths with them.

I made an inquiry about their online degree program in music via email. I never expected to get such a fast reply. I even received a phone call regarding getting admitted into their university. The admissions department of AIU called me up late night for an interview. What happened next made me suspicious about the organization. They said they were a university based in Hawaii.

I shot straight to the point and asked about fees, scholarships, and financial assistance. Ms. Meyers positively responded that they had a partial scholarship. What shocked me was the fact that they wanted me to either pay the program fee in full or go under a financing plan that required me to pay an enrollment/reservation fee within 24 hours to make sure that I can avail a scholarship of $1,500. They seem to be very hungry for money if they wanted me to pay immediately without any sort of competence testing for a scholarship or a more rigorous interview process.

I looked at their website and they are not accredited. I tried to see if they had a curriculum structure similar to what I see in reputable schools like Berklee; they had none. I did some more digging and I found out the sad truth: Atlantic International University is a diploma mill according to a variety of sources I have read. Its astonishing to see how easily I have been approved for a scholarship. Add to that the fact that the “university” is nudging me to pay them $150 within 24 hours sounds fishy.

To cut the long story short, I sent AIU an email stating that I wasn’t interested anymore.

If you stumble across Atlantic International University, FLEE IMMEDIATELY! You’ve been warned.

There are many times when we can get caught up in many things that we want along with the excitement that various prospects bring. Such elation can lead to rash decisions that we more than likely to regret some time later. It pays well to pause, step back, and then make a logical evaluation of things before making a decision. Most important of all is a prayer to God before making a decision. Proverbs 14:15 (KJV) says, “The simple believeth every word: but the prudent man looketh well to his going.” On a later chapter, Proverbs 21:5 (Again KJV) states that “The thoughts of the diligent tend only to plenteousness; but of every one that is hasty only to want.” We ought not to be hasty or be swayed by emotion; otherwise, we fall, and falling hurts really bad.

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 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.

The Music You Need, The Music You Want, The Music You Love

Is playing the music you love a worthwhile endeavor? The optimist musician would instantly answer a big YES! The pessimist would say NO. Both views have their equally valid points that are worth exploring. By evaluating such things will we find answers to what’s the kind of music a musician needs to write and perform and the sort of music he/she would want and love to write and perform.

Why do certain people such as myself become musicians in the first place? The first reason that comes to my mind is that music expresses what mere words could never express. The second reason is that music is universal. Life is simply dull without music. Can you keep paying attention to a movie or a TV series that doesn’t even have a tone or a chord hit of sort? Unless you are deprived of hearing, you would never even consider such media to be entertainment. Even some people who have been deemed clinically deaf like Ludwig Van Beethoven and virtuoso percussionist Evelyn Glennie have very deep appreciation for music. The third reason is that music provides both mental and physical stimuli that would excite any person on the planet. Even the most tone deaf of people love hearing a single song or two. You could easily say for these reasons and many more that writing and playing the music you love is a noble and worthwhile endeavor.

The deepest aspiration of every composer (such as myself) would be to receive appreciation for the work he or she personally believes is his or her real musical voice. The sad reality in this world that’s ruled by the whims of many is that only a very few could make a living off of it. More often than not, composers are forced to compromise their musical aspirations in order to be able to pay the bills. Otherwise, composers like myself would be the starving artists upholding Bohemian ideals. In many regards, ideals are worth holding on to but this nagging question still remains: What worth would ideals be when your stomach is rumbling from hunger?

According to Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, biological needs provide the groundwork for reaching higher goals and aspirations. This is pretty obvious. If you are undernourished, you will get sick and then die without even getting the chance to do anything else. You simply won’t succeed preaching to any person who is suffering from hunger. Satiate his hunger and he’ll probably lend you an ear or two. In a similar light, composers and all other musicians would face such problems too. It’s all good that you would want to be able to express your art, but if you don’t have the financial means to do so then how could you do it in the first place? From my experience, it is very common for many musicians to take on other jobs as an aid to express their art. I used to have a corporate job three years ago while trying to record what I thought for myself are my personal masterpieces of progressive rock and art music. Some would wait tables waiting for that big break to happen.

At the present time, I have all these musical ideas for original prog, classical, jazz compositions but I have to pimp myself into working music jobs that are  far from my ideals. I’m lucky that making music in the multimedia sector provides more freedom but it’s not the exact kind of freedom I would want personally as an artist. It feels like it’s close but no cigar. I got to eat, pay the bills and support my family and the chances of keeping my son from going hungry with the powers of progressive rock is very slim. I would think that many musicians think the same way and then go on to explore things like jingle making, writing the next big hit, and all those sort of commercial music jobs because of more immediate concerns than meeting lofty goals.

This reminds me of my first day training as an independent karaoke MIDI producer. Just a few hours ago, I was being trained by RJ Sy, bassist of the Karl Roy Band. It was a shock for me to hear that RJ never earned a single cent from playing with Karl Roy. With Karl Roy being a legend in the Philippine rock music scene, it is baffling and unfair. While the people who can’t even write a song earn millions with their second-rate versions of hits from the 70s, 80s, 90s and even up to the present time, bands like the Karl Roy Band are performing and writing music pro bono. RJ would admit that playing with Karl Roy was indeed musically satisfying, but it would never take care of his expenses. It couldn’t even pay for a bottle of beer he would enjoy in the venue where he’s playing.

I remember the time that I played with my old band known to UCCP Ellinwood-Malate Church insiders as Jacob’s Ladder and known to the outside as Blue Fusion. Back in the late 90s up until the last quarter of 2000, we tagged along with Filipino progressive metal kings Eternal Now for a couple of gigs. If my memory serves me right, audience numbers would never exceed 20 during those days! I remember having that disappointed look upon seeing how empty looking the bars were. Despite the musical joy and fulfillment playing progressive rock brings, nobody in the Philippines would give the genre the attention and respect it deserves. I still played the gigs just for the love and appreciation I have for prog. It is very likely that people both inside and outside the church have forgotten about Jacob’s Ladder or Blue Fusion or whatever name you would call those five teenaged musicians who thought that they were among the few who played prog rock in the country.

There are times that being coerced into having to write or play the music that you “need” is a good thing in certain respects. You get to learn a lot of things. MIDI production and music transcription provides excellent education by experience. I’ve learned a lot of things since I started transcribing for Kuya Cesar (Cesar S. Wycoco) and Tatay Romy (Romy San Mateo). My experiences writing music for multimedia applications were more than stimulating. I also think my ongoing training as a MIDI producer would add an irreplaceable wealth of knowledge to my expanding arsenal of techniques.

So, what would be the conclusion to all of my ramblings about music? I think that all musicians have to fulfill immediate needs using honest means whether it be in the music sector or elsewhere. It’s stupid to say that you don’t need to earn money. How else could you purchase your musical instruments and gear without it? More importantly, how can you keep yourself from going hungry without earning a single cent?

It’s also important to say that meeting those immediate needs would pave the way towards reaching any musician’s musical ideals. When you no longer worry about how to pay for your house, your car, your child’s college fund, etc., then of course you would be free to pursue writing that magnum opus you’ve been dreaming about. You could say that the Eraserheads would not have been able to write a concept album like “Fruitcake” without first recording “Ultraelectromagneticpop!”. The Who’s “Tommy” would never have come to life had they forgotten to write “My Generation”. Dream Theater would not have been able to write “Scenes From A Memory” without “Pull Me Under” opening up opportunities for them. You could say that it’s necessary to go and delve into the music you need before pursuing the music you want and love. It’s the bitter reality of life as a musician but the rewards awaiting those who persevere are sweet.

When will my reward come? That I do not know but I’m hoping it’s out there somewhere.

The Work-at-Home Homeschooling Dad

In this day and age, the Internet has made it possible for many people to work at home. Perhaps there already are a lot of people who know about the work-at-home mom. As a matter of fact, you’d get a lot of results for articles, job openings, opportunities and the like if you Google the term “work-at-home mom”. However, I’m in the opinion that the work-at-home dad is a less popular topic than a work-at-home mom, so I’m going to share you what a work-at-home dad is like.

In paternalistic, masculine, machismo cultures like the Philippines and Latin America, the concept of a work-at-home dad isn’t so macho at all. It effectively undermines macho tradition where the wife stays at home to do all that domestic stuff and the husband goes off out into the world doing all sorts of macho stuff, and that includes earning money. In a work-at-home-dad situation, I act as an entire office staff rolled into one person with parenting and other domestic responsibilities. If you think the work-at-home situation is as easy as slumping on the couch drinking beer and watching TV, you sure got it all wrong.

The concept can be best explained by illustrating to you dear reader my typical day. I wake up at 4 a.m. to feed the cats, wake up my son, and then go drive off to pick up my wife who’s working for a call center. I then drive home with my wife and son. As soon as we arrive home, I prepare breakfast, send my wife off to bed, and then eat the breakfast of champions with my son. After breakfast, I prepare for work while my son starts his going through his homeschool materials. I set up all my equipment, check messages, check my son’s progress every now and then, check the stay-out household help’s progress, and then start writing or transcribing music or whatever freelance job I got off or on the Internet. As soon as 11 o’clock hits, I then prepare lunch and have a meal with my son.

When lunchtime is over, I, the work-at-home-dad starts washing the dishes and and then start preparing my wife’s “breakfast”. The afternoon also involves going back to composing music or whatever freelance job I got and my son going back to his schoolwork. From time to time, I would check on my son’s progress. This also involves some verbal prompting on my part if I notice my son slacking off (which can be very stressful at times). There also are occasions when I have to check and grade test papers and do all of the administrative work involved in homeschooling.

As soon as my wife wakes up, I would offer her “breakfast” if I have prepared something. If I haven’t cooked up anything for her, we would then eat out just before I drive her to the bus stop where she would take the bus going to her office. My son and I then go home, eat dinner (if we haven’t gone out for it at that point), I resume work, practice piano and guitar (or whatever instrument I need to build chops for), remind my son to practice his violin, do other domestic chores and then go to sleep. As you would expect, the next day starts in the exact same fashion as described earlier.

On certain days, I would be interrupted from work when I need to drive my son to his Violin and Wushu classes. There are occasions as well when I have to drive and meet up with certain people for job opportunities, etc.

If you were patient enough to read all of this, you will know for sure that it takes a lot of balls to be a work-at-home dad. As a non-touring musician working at home, I’d have to live with the fact that I cannot afford to have an isolated studio space that separates me from the rest of the world. It just wouldn’t work. If I did, I’d be so lost in that world that I’d forget why am I working at home in the first place. It can be very frustrating for me having to deal with all of the other things surrounding me as I try to compose the greatest piece of music I can ever pull out of my ass.

Allow me to tell you though that my work-at-home-dad situation is worth all the trouble. I get to spend a lot of time with my son. I am able to directly supervise my son’s education and impart to him the Biblical values I hold on to. I am my own boss from a professional perspective. I am in complete control of my time, no matter how hard it is to manage. It doesn’t matter even if I just work wearing a sleeveless shirt and a pair of shorts. I also get to work on the things I am passionate about (this is very obvious).

Would I say that working at home would be a good deal for every man out there? Of course not. Working at home is not for everybody. But if you’re the kind of person with enough patience, dedication and the desire to have near absolute control over one’s life (Note: If you’re a Christian in the Biblical sense, God is in control of your life), then being a work-at-home dad may be a good option for you.

To cap off this piece, let me leave you with a relaxing piece of music I wrote a few months back called “The Water’s Embrace”: