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