Sunday, October 27, 2013

Quotes that Keep Me Going

“Life keeps throwing me curve balls and I don't even own a bat. At least my dodging skills are improving.” ― Jayleigh Cape

I have talked and shared so many things about my past. All of my journeys, celebrations, shows, even my dramas and struggles. And with my life's journey I have learned that in trials, it is best to always consider yourself a survivor, never a victim in all tests in life. There are many people out there who are struggling way more than our own tribulations. I realize we all are swimming in the same body of water trying to just keep our head above it.  And I have learned that when we get tired and beaten up and stressed out, instead of holding onto others to survive which will at some point create a struggle to those people around you, it is best to relax, float, admire the great blue skies and just take it easy. When finding the right balance, try to look at everyone around you. Let go and be grateful that our head is still above water. Help others to do the same. Imagine everyone floating, holding hands, relaxing as the current pushes us all ashore. Many will survive. Sometimes, all we need is someone to hold our hand, make us feel they are there for us. And when we do, we only choose to keep going with all lessons learned.

Moving forward.

I am a performer at heart. But at a very young age, many times I used my younger sister Jing and my younger brothers, Karl and Mike, as my students as I acted as their teacher when we were living in Lutopan. We had this blackboard on our front screen door. I pretended to speak English and tried to teach them random things. I remember my brothers would get really frustrated for they both wanted to play outside with the other boys in the neighborhood. Point is, teaching was also a passion of mine. Mama always tells us all that what we all have is not ours to keep but should be shared. "What we are is God's gift to us, what we become is our gift to Him".  Mama is always right.

I feel blessed with all that I have and all that I have done in my life. I have explored the world by performing and working with so many passionate musicians and performers around the world. You have the choice to take this as bragging, or it is something that I want to share. For me, I am craving to share everything that I have learned to those who are aspiring to excel in Music. I am not saying I am awesomely successful. What I am saying is that I have been in that position of experiencing Music and it took me around the world and I met and worked with amazing people. And I am only here to share. I teach and I am also a student in life.

I can't please everyone. I have learned that while many people would admire my intentions, others will choose to hate, judge and misunderstand. Lesson: I can't please everyone. Gosh, I think everybody knows that, but it seems like everyone is having a hard time remembering it. So to those who choose the negative side, thank you for taking time reading this blog even up to this paragraph. Don't be hatin'. Just keep sharing what you have. Enjoy life, be grateful and there is nothing wrong when we acknowledge our weaknesses and admiration toward other people's strength and learn from them. At the end of the day, the important thing is we know ourselves and we are happy with what we have become. I always believe that if we choose to judge others wrongly, what we say normally is what we are. So I choose to be careful and mind my own faults and learn from others as well.

As I continue my life's journey, I still have the same passion, the same dream. MUSIC, performing, and teaching are 3 great things I will forever do. I have a wonderful husband who supports me. And we share the exact same dream. We will continue life doing it. It is our purpose. And everything we have is God's gift to us. It is not ours to keep. We only have tomorrow to look forward to.

"Strength does not come from winning. Your struggles develop your strengths. When you go through hardships and decide not to surrender, that is strength."

Sunday, September 8, 2013

"Nais Kong Maging Kasapi ng Katipunan!" - Oryang

I can’t believe it’s been a month since my last update.  I apologize, but I do have a very good reason!

In my last post I mentioned that I was rehearsing for a new, original musical titled, “Katipunan: Mga Anak ng Bayan” being produced by Gantimpala Theater Foundation.  Well, rehearsals have finished and we have already started touring.  This year is the 150th anniversary of the birth of hero Andres Bonifacio, so it is quite fitting for the debut of this show.  The show is directed by Joel Lamangan and Jun Pablo.  And I feel so grateful and thankful for working with them for the first time.

This is my first time to be involved with an original musical.  This makes for a very different experience than the other shows I have done here in Manila.  There is no original cast recording you can buy to study the songs.  We are the original cast for this musical!  Although “Katipunan” (written by Bonifacio Ilagan) was performed and produced by Gantipala 36 years ago, it was not a musical then.  When Direk Joel and Direk Jun mentioned that they were part of the original straight play as actors in 1977 (the year I was born!!), I knew they already had a clear vision for this musical version, aside of course from their very long, successful credentials as directors.  It’s so exciting to be a part of this living thing that can change from rehearsal to rehearsal.  With that comes some added pressure as we would sometimes get a song at the beginning of rehearsal, can listen 2 or 3 times, and then go immediately into blocking on the stage.  Keeping everyone on their toes is good professional experience though and I am always up for a challenge.

Upper left: opening scene; Upper right: Bows at the end of the show
Lower left: Full cast number; Lower right: Andres courting Oryang

On a lighter note, the part of the show that always gets great feedback is the love story between Andres and Gregoria.  The nervousness as Andres courts Gregoria, the wedding, and even fighting side-by-side.  As our audiences are primarily students, they enjoy the love story and it reaches the peak with the big kiss on stage!  I am so grateful to share the stage with such a talented, young actor, Sandino Martin, who plays the role of Andres Bonifacio.  At our first rehearsal I thought I would look more like his mother than his wife!  He is a great sport with the love scenes and is always asking me if my husband is OK with it.  And a favorite part of mine is when Gregoria falls in love; there is such a great melody (written by composer and actor RJ Jimenez) in the song “Puso Ko’y Lumilipad.”
The music perfectly matches the
light-hearted mood as I get to float
across the stage in love.

Poster for Katipunan Mga Anak ng Bayan
Our tour has been fun but also challenging.  Because there is travel to new venues in the province, sometimes our call time to travel on the bus is at 3am.  And our first show is usually at 9am, so our call time is 5:30am with a sound check at 7am!!!!  That part definitely takes a toll on the body and voice.  Singing and belting at 9am!  But we get to perform for great audiences of students who have really enjoyed the show.  The show is very intense and physical throughout so by the time we are finished we are dripping with sweat and I feel like I just finished doing an Insanity workout ten times.  The benefit is that I think most of us lost weight, but we always find ourselves hungry from       working so hard.  One thing we found as a cast is that we really enjoy peanut butter, from the times we started rehearsing, then touring. I definitely always make sure to pack those for snacks- good source of protein.

Various shots of the cast during our rehearsals.
We became one big, happy family.  Sugod mga kapatid!
I am so honored to have been able to be a part of this production with Gantimpala Theater Foundation.  I would personally like to thank Direk Joel Lamangan, Sir Jun Pablo, Cicey (stage/production manager, cast manager, and so much more), and my fellow cast and the hardworking production staff.  And also thank you to the students and teachers from the schools in Dagupan, Tarlac, and Pampanga who came to watch the show.  I made several new friends and this project definitely came along at just the right time for me.  Thank you all for the journey, you all don’t even know that you are saving me from insanity!  I can’t explain further but I can surely say that MUSIC and performing have always saved me from getting lost in all life’s challenges.  God is constantly great!  He orchestrates everything so perfectly!  So I must say, thank you to the many blessings, and even the challenges, in life!

Thank you Sandino for this artwork, honored to play Gregoria de Jesus (Oryang)

Friday, August 9, 2013

Coming Back to Manila

I have to start by apologizing that I am long overdue to write, but I have a good reason.  Since my last post, I have moved to Manila and started rehearsals for a new project.  I am working with Gantimpala Theater in Manila on an original musical titled, “Katipunan” which is the story of Andres Bonifacio.  The show is being directed by the legendary Direk Joel Lamangan.  I was cast as Gregoria de Jesus (Oriang), the wife of Bonifacio.  The role is about a strong, rebellious woman who stood up with her husband for what they believe in.  I feel like I can relate a little!

During a rehearsal break
I will start by saying that every project has its ups and downs.  The major up with this project is getting to work with Direk Joel and learning from him.  This show is also an original show, so it’s exciting to be a part of something new and being with that process.  But the downside is that it’s an original show and the creative process can sometimes be quite a long and winding road with a few detours along the way.  But all in all I am learning a lot and excited and honored to be a part of it.

Rehearsals are always interesting with Direk Joel.  He definitely is very strict and disciplined as a director.  Some might take it the wrong way, but for me it pushes me beyond my comfort zone in a good way.  The process is different than any of my previous theater experience, but in this I feel like I am more a part of the creative process.  Direk Joel creates a perfect picture in his mind, he dictates, we make it happen.. I am excited to memorize every experience, savor it so I can share this in the future. There is just so much to learn and so much to share.

The show will be playing later this month and throughout September as a part of a tour around the provinces of Manila.  It’s no surprise as the show is about Andres Bonifacio and will be playing during the celebration of the 150th anniversary of his birth.

One of the best things in this new journey is that Adam and I get to stay in Eastwood. Thanks to Kakki. I love that everything is only a 5 minute walk away: coffee, shopping, restaurants, laundry, and even church!  The downside though, is that the rehearsals are located in Luneta at Rizal Park. The drive to the rehearsal venue is long.  My car is still in Cebu so I am taking a taxi to and from rehearsal.  Some nights it’s a struggle just to get a taxi driver to take me back to where I am staying, others demand a surcharge, and then others demand a large tip. This makes me miss Cebu. If the fare is 195, in Cebu you get 5 pesos change, in Manila you give 250, the cab driver still gets mad. But recently I have been sharing the cab with Sandino Martin- the Andres Bonifacio! So all is good.
Having fun during lunch

I wasn’t really looking forward to being long distance from my husband.  We are approaching our one year wedding anniversary (August 21) and didn’t want to be away from each other.  When we were dating, we had to spend almost a year in long distance, so going through it again is not something we look forward to.  But last week he was able to fly here.  He has to go back to Cebu at the end of this week but will come back again soon. 

The reason he has to go back to Cebu is to pick up our new puppy.  We now have a 2 month old American Akita puppy named August.  We are already looking at bringing August to Manila while I am here.  I’m sure I will flood you all with photos very soon!

Another positive is that I am in Manila, which is a better location and access for work.  I enjoy being based in Cebu because that has always been home for me no matter where in the world I am working.  But Cebu has its limitations as a singer and performer.  Most of the time I would fly to Manila for work or appearances so this is making that part a lot easier.  And it allows me to see events that I otherwise wouldn’t see.

Gary V during his show at Teatrino
One of those events was this week when my husband and I were blessed with the opportunity to sit in the front row to watch the first in the series of “Live with Gary” shows with Gary Valenciano at Teatrino in Greenhills.  The show was so amazing and inspiring on so many different levels.  First, there is nothing better than seeing somebody on stage who absolutely loves being there.  There is nothing fake about the show, everyone on that stage is having a good time and as audience members we can’t help but feel the same.  Secondly, the level of musicianship and passion on the stage are second to none.  What better way to spend an evening than listening to Gary sing and have one of the most talented musical directors/arrangers, Mon Faustino, lead the band.  The guest artists were excellent in aka Jam and Julianne.  At this point in his career does Gary really have to do a bar tour?  No, but that’s what makes him Gary V, “Mr. Pure Energy.”  The shows are every Tuesday in August, so make sure you go check it out.

Genesis Family (with Jungee Marcelo and Martin Nievera)
There were so many other great moments that night: sitting at the table with Sir Jungee Marcelo (composer of the Daniel Padilla hit "Na Sayo Na Ang Lahat and many other great songs) and his wife Anna (he promised to write a song for me, I have witnesses!!!), catching up with a lot of old friends that I don’t get to see often (I’m afraid to start naming names because I know I will leave somebody out), and catching up with my Genesis family: Miss Gina, Miss Angeli (who was celebrating her anniversary, this is something that we have in common with the Valencianos as Adam and I were married on his birthday, too),  Miss Marinez, Chuck, the staff, and other artists like Quest (you have to check out his new music video Saludo), Julianne (she’s releasing an album next month), Jericho Rosales (who was glowing now that he’s engaged to Kim Jones), aka Jam (such tight harmonies), and others.

With Tito Ryan Cayabyab
Tonight was another great event, the Philpop 2013 mall tour.  Since we are staying in Eastwood, the concert was literally a 5 minute walk away.  My husband and I enjoyed dinner outside and listened to some of the finalists.  I got to see Tito Ryan Cayabyab again after the show.  The last time I saw him was when I was on the screening panel for Philpop a few months ago.  And this was the first time my husband got to meet Tito Ryan.  It was also great to see Quest there!

Now this next week is the big push to get the show ready to open.  It’s that pressure that every theater company knows.  I think as performers, we are perfectionists and always want “one more rehearsal” to fix this or fix that. The reality of a performer is that the product is never truly done, it can always be better.  But no matter what, I think we all will feel a little more comfortable having our first show done and then then we can enjoy performing this new show for the next 2 months.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Music is the Window to the Soul

Noel, me, and Adam: the 3 judges for the competition in 2012.

“Music is the window to the soul.”  This is an often-used quote I hear when people are trying to say how important music is to them.  But there is an event that I have been fortunate to be a part of that clearly shows how true this is.  Last week my husband and I had the chance to serve as judges for the annual Mandaue Persons with Disabilities (PWD) Talent Show.  This was the second year for us and both times have left us feeling inspired and wanting to do more with music in the community.  Thank you so much to Noel Seno (a schoolmate of mine from USJ-R, a colleague of the Dramatics guild, and now counselor of Talamban) and his sister for inviting us to judge.  It really has become one of my favorite events of the year.  Kuya Noel has always been promoting music and dance events in the city as well as many other community events and awareness seminars.  He is always concerned with the youth of our city and want to give them positive venues for them.

The inspiring young couple.   She is holding his lunch as he plays
Last year, Adam and I were a month from our wedding day and stressed out with getting everything done.  Every day was full of errands and meetings.  Judging the talent show was exactly what we needed.  Aside from the music, we witnessed a young teenage couple who were both blind.  The boyfriend played piano for nearly every singing contestant.  He would plunk a few notes to find the right key and then accompany the contestants with amazing accuracy.  A special moment was when he got to accompany his girlfriend, as she was one of the contestants.  She was amazing and went on to win the competition (even beating the boyfriend’s brother!).  The whole day we watched as they supported each other, the girl even held her boyfriend’s lunch as he has to play for an unscheduled contestant.  The whole time they were smiling and you could see true love.  Definitely inspiring to us as we were about to be married.

They taught me how to clap in sign language!
There is something special about watching a person with disabilities sing.  It is a pure and natural expression.  Music has a way of transcending life’s problems.  There is no pretense, no underlying motive; it is about the performer and the music.  There were some contestants who were not able to hold a conversation, but their face lit up while singing and they memorized the entire song.  My heart was touched watching all of the contestants cheer for each other.  When the winners were announced, there was no crying, no pouting, no complaining.  It was all smiles and congratulations to all the winners.  In my mind they were all winners!

I couldn’t help but compare this competition with many of the others I have attended.  In the usual singing competitions, the contestants who don’t win complain about the results and give a fake smile to the winner.  At this competition, you could hardly tell the winner apart from the rest as they were all happy to compete and proud of their accomplishments, winners or not.

No matter disability of not, people express what’s in their heart through music.  The lyrics are what’s in your heart and the melody draws our attention and makes us want to listen closer.  A good song tells a story and a good singer brings that story to life.  The disconnect between the lyrics and the performance are usually what makes the difference between a good singer and a great singer.

One lesson I learned is that life is what you make of it.  You have the choice everyday to wake up and realize your blessings or you can also choose to look at everything in life that you don’t have.  I was so amazed at this event both years, I see nothing but smiles from the contestants, the family and friends, and the organizers.  I learned it is physically impossible not to smile along.  They are so happy and content with their lives, I have no reason to not be the same!

At this year's competition held at J Centre Mall in Mandaue

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Where Words Fail, Music Speaks

This post is actually something of a request.  Even though we’ve only been married for 10 months, my husband and I have been through a lot together.  We have faced life-threatening disasters, business issues, and more.  I know that in the end all of the challenges make us stronger.  You can never really know how strong you are until you've been stretched and tested.  One thing we’ve learned is that no matter what situation we are put in, we have used music to bring people together and create peace and unity.  When we might be used and abused and taken advantage of, the more we rely on music.

In March 2012, my husband (we were engaged at the time), Adam, and I were working onboard the Azamara Quest, a luxury cruise ship.  Adam was the drummer in the ship’s orchestra, and I was a featured singer in the production shows in the ship’s theater.  It led to great opportunities to travel the world together.  But even onboard a world-class luxury ship, problems can arise.

Upper left: Adam, me, and Reese before leaving Hong Kong
Upper right: Guests trying to stay cool outside with no air con
Lower left: My makeshift bed on the open deck
Lower right: A Philippine Navy ship as our escort
The cruise started in Hong Kong, which was the last time we were to visit during our contract.  We were able to have lunch one last time with my brother Reymond, his wife Aissa, and their daughter Reese.  It was an exciting cruise because we were going to be docked in Manila for two days.  As with most cruise ships around the world, a majority of the crew was from the Philippines.  Seamen are gone from home for months at a time and the families only get a small glimpse into their loved one’s world through pictures.  This was a chance for family and friends to see the ship in person and even sign up to go onboard while the guests were off exploring the city.  My 2 bestfriends, Adrian and Jenny, and my sister Ate Maye flew from Cebu to see us.  It was Adam’s first time to visit the Philippines, even if for only 48 hours.

To make a long story short (ok, maybe just shorter), the day after we left Manila we were headed to Sandakan, a city on the Malaysian side of the island of Borneo.  But as we were at sea, a fire broke out in the engine room.  After performing a show that evening, we were relaxing when the emergency alarms were sounded.  We decided to head downstairs and already began to see this was potentially a huge problem.  Each step down the stairs led to a stronger small of smoke and we could see people being helped up the stairs to safety.

Shortly after the general alarm was sounded and everybody onboard the ship was ordered to go to their emergency stations.  This was like a scene from the movie Titanic.  My husband’s station was in the front of the ship and mine was in the back.  We had just spent nearly a year in long distance as we worked on different ships and I couldn’t hold back the tears as we had to leave each other.  But he assured me that everything would be ok and he would find me no matter what.  Like I said, it was like a scene from a movie!

My husband and me after a show during easier times
We did our jobs of making sure guests were accounted for and kept them as calm as possible.  While we go to the stations at least twice a week for drills, this was the first time in a real emergency situation.  My station was too close to the fire so we were moved to the middle of the ship.  I have to say I am very proud of my fellow crewmembers as we handled the situation.  The Captain continued to make announcements, he remained as calm as possible and was in control from the bridge.  His first announcement was honest, but did little to calm us, it was that there was a fire in the engine room and it had not yet been contained.  A fire is one of the scariest things onboard a ship.  There is not outside fire department to call to help you put it out, you have to rely with what is onboard.  Luckily an announcement came the fire was put out and cheers could be heard throughout the ship.  But our problems were far from over as the fire destroyed a lot of equipment in the engine room and we were without power.  A brownout is hard enough to deal with on land, but imagine on a ship.  No power means no lights, no water, no air con (this was March just south of Mindanao), and worst of all no engines to make the ship move.  We were stranded.

The waiting began and guests were given water and soft drinks.  I had an idea of how I could check in with my husband.  I got a garbage bag and started collecting trash.  As I finished with my station, I quickly went to my husband’s station.  I was never so happy to see his face.  This continued for a couple of hours when the guests were released to go back to the cabins.  Unfortunately for the crew, our cabins are located on the lower decks and the air was not safe enough.  We were allowed a few minutes to gather some things and then we spent the night on the floor of the theater.  It was hot and uncomfortable but at that moment we were happy to be alive.

My husband's sunburned legs
The next day was the first time in my life that I saw human beings go into true survival mode.  We didn’t know how much food there was or when we would be given our next meal.  Food was rationed and when my husband questioned somebody for taking 3 sandwiches, they almost started a fight with him.  We spent most of the day on the open deck because it was so hot inside.  Although we stayed in the shade, my husband got a 2nd degree sunburn from the reflection off the water.  Too put it simply, life was becoming miserable and anger was starting to flare up.  And it wasn’t our fault, but our department, the entertainment department, didn’t have work.  You can imagine the dirty looks we got from crewmembers who were working 16-18 hours a day under difficult circumstances.  With no power meant that the theater was not available.

Fast forward and after 24-48 hours they were able to get one engine working so we could finally start moving, but still no air con and no theater.  We finally made it to Sandakan for the most important repairs and then we would head to Singapore for 2 weeks of more repairs.  As we docked and before guests were off the ship, we did a show for the guests on the pool deck.  As much as we could, we tried to lift the spirits of the guests and help them take their minds off of what had happened.  This would give me an idea for later.

Things continued, the entertainment department still couldn’t work and other departments were being stretched beyond comfort.  But on our part, there wasn’t much we could do.  I don’t think they would want me to try and fix the engines.  Once in Sandakan, they were able to fix the engines enough to restore the air con.  But tensions were still high.  We could hear the comments and see the glares as we went through the food line.  I decided that we had to do something.

Our production cast of 8 singers and dancers from 6 different countries:
Philippines, USA, Canada, UK, Brazil, and Ukraine
I asked our cruise director if it would be possible to do another concert on the pool deck.  We no longer had guests onboard, but I thought it might help the atmosphere if we did a show for the crewmembers.  Maybe we could show them how much we appreciate their efforts through music.  He agreed and thought it would be a great idea.  My husband was my musical director and we quickly put together a show  and started asking other musicians and singers if they would perform along with us.  Most immediately agreed and gave 100%, some even going beyond and offering to add extra to the show.  But not all were as enthusiastic.  Some flat out said no, because they didn’t feel that they should have to perform if there were no guests on the ship.  Others said they would play, but it was obvious that they weren’t very happy about it.

Within the crewmembers there is usually something around 60 different nationalities.  It is like a mini, floating United Nations.  Even on a good day there can sometimes be cultural differences, but this was different with a fire, no power, long hours, and bad working conditions.  But that night it didn’t matter; music once again brought everyone together.  The show was a huge success!  We received a personal thank you from the Hotel Director and the Staff Captain.  I was so proud of what we were able to accomplish, especially given the circumstances.  After the show, the people who refused to participate said they wished they had perform.  They saw what we were able to do on that stage.  One musician who had to be talked into participating said he was so happy he did, he felt good about making a difference in the morale of the ship.

That 90-minute show was a turning point for the crew.  We no longer got the glares in the food line; we never heard another comment made behind our backs.  We still didn’t have 18 hour shifts in smoke-stained conditions, but at least our fellow crewmembers knew we cared about them and we supported them.  Music brought us together in a way that nothing else could.  And the timing couldn’t have been better, since we still had 4 weeks of hard work left to get the ship back and ready for guests.

I know that we are not done facing challenges in our lives.  Life is full of ups and downs, and it is in those down times that you can grow so much and learn what you are really made of.  When I was thinking of a title for this post I found a quote I knew I had to use.  The author Hans Christian Anderson said, “Where words fail, music speaks” and I have always found that to be true.  Whenever my husband and I face challenges we know that it will be faith in God and music that will keep us strong and give us everything we need.

The crew of the Azamara Quest, taken 3 months before the fire

Sunday, June 30, 2013

My Advocacy, My Calling, My Purpose

Advocacy.  Honestly the first time I heard that word was just a couple months ago and I even had to ask my husband exactly what it meant.  It was one of those words I heard about important people and important organizations, but not about normal people like me.  But over the last few months I’ve been learning more about what advocacy really means.

This post is really inspired by a friend and member of my support system, Tita Mary Anne Alcordo-Solomon.  Tita Mary Anne is known as an advocate in Cebu and beyond for cancer awareness, cancer survivors, and also children and children with disabilities.  She was the first person to ever ask me what is my advocacy and I’m so glad she did.

Technically speaking, advocacy is defined in the dictionary as “support for, backing of, promotion of, championing of; argument for, push for.”  To me it means, believe in a cause that is bigger than yourself.

"I Am Woman" Exhibit at Ayala Center Cebu, March 2013
After reflection, I realized I had been an advocate for a very long time, I just didn’t know there was a label.  Since I was young, music has always been something I have taken with me no matter where I am in the world.  More recently that has expanded to music and youth education.  Looking back, this was put in my system as a little girl growing up in Lutopan.  Both of my parents worked in the school, ASMS, and my Mama was the catechist and Christian Living teacher.  Music has always been common bond in my family.

Something I have learned by Tita Mary Anne is that everyone can be an advocate.  It doesn’t matter how much money is in your bank account, what kind of job you have, or your position or power in society.  What matters is that you find something that you believe in and support.

Becoming an advocate for something is an important stage in life.  It is a sign of maturity and realizing your place in this world.  As human beings, we can choose to be selfish and make as much money as we can.  We can set our goals to buy a bigger house, a fancier car, or nicer clothes.  But is that really the point of life?

I recently read an article online written by a nurse for terminal patients.  The nurse only worked with people who were in the final stages of life.  The number one regret from those patients was that they wished they wouldn’t have spent so much time at work and trying to make more money.  It’s understandable; most people spend more time awake at the office than at home so it’s only natural to focus on work goals.  But in the end is that what really matters?  In the end money means nothing.  Awards and material possessions will stay here the moment our Earthly bodies fail us.   Even if we selfishly stuffed our coffin full of our most prized possessions, it would make no difference in the end.  I have always believed that relationships and causes are the most important things in life.

After performing for ICanServe Cebu Advocacy Group
My advice to everyone reading this is to find your own advocacy.  Find something in your life that means enough to you that you want to support it.  It can be anything!  It can be your religious beliefs, an awareness or support organization, or even a sport or hobby.  But find something that is bigger than yourself and spend time there.  Start with something you enjoy and you never know where it might lead you.  It’s a great way to meet like-minded people who can become lifelong friends.

If you are scared, then you can start small.  Volunteer a few hours just to see if that is your advocacy.  Trust me, you will never regret it.  Even if people don’t understand you at first, keep at it.  In these busy times, it may seem tough at first, but when you really start giving, it’s funny how insignificant some things in life can become.  Do you really need to spend so much time online or watching TV.  Cut out an hour or two a week and just try it out.  Involve your family; there is no better way to bond as a family than volunteer together.

Next Saturday evening, July 6, I have the honor of performing for the Rotary Club of Cebu Fuente.  According to the website of Rotary International, the group’s motto is “Service Above Self.”  I was invited by Tita Mary Anne and there is no way I could say no.  This group inspires me every time I perform for them.  It is a room full of advocates who see this world as people who are connected together.  We need to support each other, love each other, and sometimes give a voice to those who cannot speak up on their own.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

The Family that Prays Together Stays Together

Family.  The word means something different to everyone.  For some people it’s merely a word, meaning a group of related people.  To some that word brings a sense of pride, for some a sense of responsibility, for others it means support, and maybe others it means pure love.  That one word can fill a person with hope, joy, peace, and love yet for someone else it can bring up feelings of hurt, pain, regret, and obligation.

Too often in our lives, we put our family in that left over space, after work, friends, church, errands, and nearly everything else in our lives.  For some, family means holidays and having to spend time with people they can barely tolerate.  I’m extremely blessed that my family is always there for each other and supports each other.  My best description of us would be perfectly imperfect.  I wish I got to spend more time with everyone, but distance usually keeps that from happening.  The last time we were complete was during my wedding last August.  While my siblings and I enjoy spending time together, I think what we enjoy the most is seeing our parents’ faces when we are complete.

Mama and Papa celebrating their
43rd wedding anniversary
My parents are celebrating their 43rd wedding anniversary this month and we were already starting to think about a way to throw a grand celebration for their Golden Anniversary in 2020.   Unfortunately, recently I have had several friends lose their parents far too soon.  So last month my siblings and I decided to make a quick change of plans.  2020 is too far in the future and we never want to live with regret.  We decided why not just celebrate their 43th anniversary with a big surprise.  This weekend, my brother Karl and his wife Joy flew from China, my sister Jing and her son Uno flew from Hong Kong, my sister Maye came with my parents from Leyte, and they joined my brother Roelan and his 2 children Reah and Christian , my brother Mike and his wife Leah, with me and my husband Adam as we pulled off a surprise party for my parents here in Cebu.  It was bittersweet, as my brother Reymond and family couldn’t come from Hong Kong, and not all children and spouses could make the trip so we were not complete, but we did the best we could.  It was a triple celebration: my Mama’s 70th birthday is also later this month, and Fathers’ Day is today.

Triple celebration: Mama's 70th birthday,
Mama and Papa's 43rd anniversary, and Fathers Day
Just like most things in life, everything didn’t go exactly as planned.   Our times got mixed up, I thought I was supposed to deliver my parents around 11:30-12:00, my brother and sister thought it was 12:30-1:00, which meant a little detour and pretending I really wanted to stop for pandesal.  We had hoped for bright shining sun, but it was a mostly overcast day with some rain since it is that time of year again.  We had planned on swimming at the pool in the subdivision, but it turned out that another family reunion had the same idea and when we arrived the pool was packed full.  But all of those things didn’t really matter.  We just moved back inside and guess what, we talked, we reminisced, and we do what all Filipinos families do… we sing karaoke together!  I think we learned a lesson that it doesn’t really matter what we do, the fact is that we were all together.

The Fegi Clan (missing Reymond): (L to R):
Karl, papa, Maye, Me, Mama, Jing, Roelan, and Mike
(photo from Jing Zoleta)
Today made me think about families in general.  We may not be perfect and things might not always go as planned.  We have our fights and our misunderstandings.  We have 7 siblings; it’s going to happen.  But what’s important is that the love is not just about the good side, we love and accept our imperfections as well.  We are honest, sometimes to a fault, but we have accepted that we can’t get rid of each other and we forever will always be family.  If we feel there is something we have to say we try to remember Mama’s rule; “always say it will love.”  And now the family just continues to grow, so I’m sure that means there will be more fights and misunderstandings, but that means more reconciliations and more love to share.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

I Am But My Own Voice

With All-Star students
before a show

How can I sing like Lea Salonga?  How can I belt like Regine Velasquez?  How about sing like Mr. Pure Energy, Gary Valenciano?  How can I sound like the Concert King, Martin Nievera?  The ultimate answer is that you can’t, so stop trying.  Does that seem harsh?  The reason I say that may not be exactly what you think.  The reason they are so highly looked up to is because they have become whom they are, they are unique, and they were able to find their own voice.  They don’t try and sound like other singers, they are confident in themselves and what they have to offer.

Two times in the past few weeks I have been put in a situation to give advice about singing.  To be honest, the first was unsolicited, but was posted on Twitter.  A young girl here in Cebu mentioned that she loved singing and wanted to take it up again.  But she was discouraged in listening to other people sing because she didn’t feel like she was good enough.  She said, “Even if I do my best, there are always some who are better.  How could I even excel?”  My response was that there will always be someone better than you out there in the world in almost everything you do.  If you focus on that, you will never live a happy life.  Be happy and confident in who you are and what you can offer.  You are the best at being you, actually you are the only person in the world who can be you!  I would never sing another song if I only thought about all the people who I consider to be better singers than myself.  But I know that I am the only person on this Earth who can sing like me and I take pride in that.
Performing with some of the kids of
The School of Rock

The second person is a friend and fellow USJ-R student who was not happy with the lack of his high vocal range.  He thought that he wasn’t a good singer because he couldn’t hit the high notes.  My advice to him was that maybe he wasn’t meant to sing those notes.  That’s not his voice.  Instead, find the songs that are in your own range that work for you.  We see it all the time in all of the television singing competitions; people don’t give themselves a fighting chance because they pick the wrong songs for their own voice.  Find what works for you and what showcases your own voice  If you have a great low range, then find a song that fits and go for it!  Don’t put somebody else’s standards to yourself, because you will never be in control of that.  Regain control and be happy with who you are.

Holding a workshop with students
Now that I am working with the next generation of singers at our school, The School of Rock, I am always telling our students to find their own voice.  In my first set of examples of great singers, you can learn from the singing of Lea Salonga, Regine Velasquez, Gary Valenciano, and Martin Nievera but that doesn’t mean that you have to sound like them.  When we are young and learning how to speak, we start by listening and repeating, but eventually we have to learn how to put our own sentences together.  The same should be said for learning how to sing.  When I was young, I studied the recordings of Whitney Houston, and I memorized every riff, every chorus, and every tiny quality of her voice.  But as I grew, I wanted to use what I learned and make my own.  We eventually stop repeating word for word and express our own ideas while speaking; if only it would transfer when people learn to sing.

Before a show with our students
Something else that I’ve learned while teaching is the importance of character and attitude.  This has always been my philosophy when performing, but it has been driven home now that I am on the teaching side.  I would always prefer to work with somebody who has good character and a great attitude than somebody who might be more talented but a real pain to work with.  I think this is something that younger performers don’t always understand.  It is NOT only about talent.  It doesn’t matter how talented you are, if you make people not enjoy working with you, they will never want to hire you.  Another thing I have to mention is the important of timeliness.  Showing up on time is something I stress to all of our students.  I must admit that it is something I picked up while working abroad, but I refuse to give in to “Filipino time.”  For me, time is respect.  If you show up late, you are telling the other people that you do not value or respect their time, that you feel your time is more important than theirs.  But anyway back to my main topic…

Me with Mr. C.  L: in early 2000's, R: PhilPop in 2013
If you are a person who wants to try something new, risky, or challenging, that means you seek for growth.  But on the other hand, if you choose instead to give reasons and excuses, then you will always just be stuck with where you are.  There are times in your life that you have to take a risk or else you may find yourself stuck.  I’ve always been a risk taker.  I’m proud of that fact and it has almost always resulted in personal and professional growth.  When I was 15 years old, my English teacher Mrs. Belleza encouraged me to take the bus from Lutopan into Cebu to audition for Mr. C.  I didn’t even know what the audition was for, but it eventually gained me a spot in Smokey Mountain and touring in Japan.  I experienced a lot of firsts at that time in my life: my first plane ride, first formal vocal training and workshops, which led me to my first time performing outside of the country.  It was actually during those vocal workshops that Mr. C passed along this same bit of advice on to me.  He encouraged me not to sound like anyone but me, because that is the best thing that I could offer the world.  At the age of 16, I was a skinny, curly-haired, brown girl from the mountains of Lutopan and I was on my first international tour.  Again in 1998, I took a risk of leaving in the middle of my studies at USJ-R in Cebu to move to Manila and pursue a singing career.  My dean, Dr. Mila Espina, encouraged me to go, saying that school would always be there when I wanted to go back (children reading this: School is very important and I did complete my degree.  Better late than never!).  That risk led to so many experiences and growth that I will never regret.
1994 Asia Music Festival in Tokyo, Japan with Chedi and Jason, as a member of Smokey Mountain

Every day we are given the choice to find ourselves and take a risk.  Or we can choose to stay in our comfort zone and just follow along with everyone else.  I would always encourage aspiring singers, or whoever for that matter, to always find yourself and find your own voice.  Embrace your uniqueness and what makes you different from everyone else on this planet.  I tell myself everyday that I am Anna Fegi-Brown.  Nobody else in the world can say that.  You might want to try it!  As soon as you wake up, say your name out loud, you are unique, you are one, and you are different and the world must know it! 
Performing at the Queen of Cebu pageant in Nov. 2012

Sunday, May 26, 2013

There's no place like home

“There’s no place like home.”  I quoted this on my last blog and it made me realize that it had been ten months since I last visited my childhood home of Lutopan.  So much has happened since that last visit.   I have to admit that lately I have been a little stressed, and the best way for me to de-stress is to go back to my roots.  People have different ways of dealing with stress, some picture the beach or an exotic location, but for me I always picture ASMS (now ASMC) in Lutopan.

There are many reasons I choose to always come back to visit.  I love to reminisce all the memories of my family, friends, and teachers and retrace those familiar steps.  We were very close when growing up; we played asin2x, patintero, tago2x, shatong, etc. together outside all day when we were not in class.  It makes me wonder if today’s Facebook generation will grow up with those kinds of memories.  Another reason to visit is that I get to see my humble childhood home.  There are seven siblings in my family and at one point together we shared one small room.  I get to see the place where I fell in love with music and first learned to sing.  My first voice teacher was my father and when I started in school, Tita Mila Loyola continued to guide me.  I also get to see the stage where I first performed and competed in so many minus-1 singing competitions over the years, even the time I lost to Malou Bandola and Arlene Pabroquez (who both deserved to win I must add!).
My first love: Dancing

One of the reasons that I have such amazing memories of my childhood is due to my incredible parents.  We thought we were the richest family around.  Every Sunday, my parents had one kilo of pork and one liter of Coca-Cola to divide up amongst the nine of us.  You can imagine the fights that broke out if the levels in our glasses weren’t exactly the same.  It was the best Coca-Cola ever, and it has never been exactly the same since!  But looking back, I can see the reality that we were by no means rich financially, but we all still believe we were so very blessed as a family.

Our favorite family pastime was singing together while my brothers played guitar.  We would fight over which song to sing; with seven siblings we had varied musical tastes.  Ate Maye would want something from Broadway, my brothers and Jing wanted Alternative, and I demanded Whitney Houston.  But in reality, Mama always won and we would sing “A Little Love” in perfect harmony.  Growing up with so many siblings led me to become who I am today and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

During this trip, I was able to see some familiar faces.  I first saw Mr. Tarsing Ruiz, the ever-popular shop teacher.   And who in Lutopan doesn’t know the ever-bubbly Monsignor Gerry Jumao-as?  I was so happy to see him healthy and smiling at mass, still looking good at 94 years young.  He gave Adam and me a blessing before we had to leave to drive back to the city.  So much has changed in the teachers’ compound where we grew up.  The paint on the houses might be faded, the mango trees might be withered with age, and the water tank might be a little rusted, but the memories are still all so perfectly clear.

Top (L to R): Tita Linda, Msgr. Jumao-as and me; School Seal; English Signs Everywhere
Middle: Mr. Ruiz and friends of Papa; Msgr. Jamao-as; My childhood home
Bottom: Sitting on the water line; my High School; Mt. Carmel Church

Friday, May 24, 2013

Around the world in 6 years

One year ago today, I signed off from my last cruise ship contract from Royal Caribbean International.  I left the ship in the middle of the French Riviera, flying from the busy airport in Nice, France.  Cannes Film Festival and the Monte Carlo Grand Prix were happening at the time.  Little did I know that as I stepped off the gangway of a luxurious international cruise liner, I would be re-entering this thing called the Real World.

Leaving the Real World was a decision I made on purpose back in 2006.  I was working in Manila since 1999 and was not happy with how things were headed.  I’ll spare you the details, but I was given the chance to sign a contract in 2006 with Hong Kong Disneyland to perform the role of Nala.  From the craziness of Manila, I basically entered a life of vacation.  I lived my everyday life where people plan and save for their family vacations.  I sang “Can You Feel the Love Tonight” for 2 years.  As you can imagine, there are only so many times a person can sing that song and keep their sanity.  In 2007, I decided to leave Hong Kong and finish my degree at USJ-R in Cebu.

Photos from some of the shows
on Royal Caribbean International
In 2008, I auditioned and was accepted for the cast of Royal Caribbean’s fleet of international cruise ships.  There I continued living in the vacation world.  I had no car, no cellphone, no rent, and no bills to pay.  My hardest decision each day was what time to eat in our crew cafeteria, also free, or what time to go sightseeing off the ship.  I did work, however, and the work was good.  I worked with very talented people and got to perform really great shows.

For four years I was able to tour the world with Royal Caribbean.  I will be forever grateful for the wonderful opportunities I was given.  I got to travel to over 40 countries on 5 different continents.  I worked in the theater with actors from both Broadway and West End.  And most of all, I met my husband during the second of four contracts.  We finished our cruising career with a world cruise from Europe to Asia and back.

Top (L to R): Makeshift bed; My sunburnt husband
Bottom: Sunburnt legs; Broken piano in a lounge
I feel that I do have to add that cruising wasn’t always easy and we endured two life-threatening events that changed our lives forever: a violent ship rocking off the coast of Egypt in 2010 and a ship fire near Borneo in 2012.  After the fire, my husband experienced second-degree sunburns because the ship was without power and sat, exposed to the brutal sun.  And after the repairs were finished during a drydock in Singapore, we had to travel through the treacherous Gulf of Aden and were approached by several small pirate boats.  I have all the respect in the world for my fellow Pinoy seamen, they risk their lives and go months without seeing their families, knowing their sacrifice will provide a better opportunity for their family.  They were my family on the ship, we ate pancit and sang karaoke together.  They watched out for me, especially when my now-husband and I started dating.  Imagine, he had to go through 50 fathers, mostly the deck and engine crew, who were there to protect me.  They initiated him with dilis and buwad.  For me, they don’t get enough credit for what they do all around the world.

Top (L to R): Egypt; Bethlehem; Church of the Nativity
Middle: Our home onboard; Taiwan; Japan
Bottom: China; Temple in Shanghai; Temple in South Korea
All in all, the experience was surreal.  I traveled to places I had never even dreamed of.  I tasted authentic food everywhere!  Crepes in France, kebabs in Turkey, gyros in Greece, Kobe beef in Kobe, and best of all pizza and pasta in Italy.  The taste of pizza fresh from the brick oven in Naples, Italy is an experience everyone should get at least once in a lifetime (however, Michelangelo’s Pizzeria here in Cebu is really close, and my husband and I go here often for dates).  I walked the final path of Jesus in Jerusalem, visited His birthplace in Bethlehem, saw the Pyramids in Egypt, experienced the samba of Carnival in Brazil, visited Evita’s Pink House in Argentina (while I was performing a Tango show on the ship), and got to visit ancient Rome and the Vatican.  My husband and I had our first date driving 4-wheelers in the beauty of Santorini, Greece.  That’s just a short list of the amazing places that I was able to see.   I'd put my travel list up against the richest people in the world.
Eating our way around the world.
Thank goodness we also had a gym!

But all good things must come to an end.  We realized we couldn’t go on living at sea forever.  We were married here in Cebu last August and we plan to start a family next year, God willing.  You can’t really raise a child in the middle of the ocean!

Some days are easier than others, but I think I am still transitioning back to a life on land.  When I’m spending time with family and friends, I wouldn’t trade going back for anything.  When I look into the faces of our students at The School of Rock (a music school my husband and I co-own here in Cebu), I am so happy to be doing what I’m doing.  But days of heavy traffic in the city, or the days when we pay the bills, or the days of budgeting and buying groceries I really miss the ship life.  We were able to travel, to save money, perform at a high level with amazingly talented people, and focus on our job in a way that is impossible on land.  I was guaranteed steady work every day for six months at a time.

I must continue to acknowledge missing my ship life, but it’s time to face the Real World.  Although we have closed the Royal Caribbean chapter of our lives and are moving on to the next chapter, we will always hold on to the many memories we made.  I am so grateful to God and I promise to share everything I have learned along the way.  But even while touring the world, there is a famous movie phrase that always plays in the back of my head, “There’s no place like home.”  For the first time in 14 years, I can say I am home.

Top (L to R): Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; Rhodes, Greece; Dubai, UAE
Middle: Kusadasi, Turkey; Jordan River, Israel; Disneyland Hong Kong
Bottom: Singapore; Taipei, Taiwan; Ephesus, Turkey