Friday, August 29, 2008

[Essay] El Sistema: The Music Of Hope

I first learned about this free music program when I stumbled upon Yahoo’s 60-minute series interview with Gustavo Dudamel, hailing him as the brightest star yet to shine in the music industry.  And after watching all the related video clips, I couldn’t help but ask for more! That is how simply brilliant the man is! Anyone could be easily addicted not only to him but to music as well. It makes you want to hold a favorite musical instrument and start playing. He has this effect of awakening your appreciation, passion and talent for music. And everything simply takes my breath away when you see Gustavo Dudamel conduct an orchestra with such verve. In one video clip of a practice session, he was inspiring, in the sense that he makes his musicians understand what the classical piece is all about, making them feel the emotions the music is trying to convey. He wants perfection and he knows how to get it without being too harsh or insulting. If he isn’t getting what he wants from his musicians, he describes it in a way that everyone can relate to and the result? The music becomes the greatest rendition ever. And that is because Gustavo Dudamel understands the message of the music and he makes sure his musicians understands it as well and plays it according to what he imagined it should sound like… breathtaking!

And just when I thought I’ve had enough of him, I’d be watching another video clip from the same series and I’d be hearing him talk about the Sistema. Founded by Jose Antonio Abreu inVenezuela, with the sole purpose of “…not creating professional musicians…but rescuing the children…” from poverty, violence, drugs, a life of crime. And like I said earlier, it is all for the benefit of underprivileged children of Venezuela and is absolutely free. Creating professional musicians out of these children can only be termed as the byproduct of the children’s hard work, dedication, and the determination to have a better life; and of the unfailing support and guidance of world-class music educators and musicians in lending a helping hand and their invaluable time to teach these children how to play such lovely and timeless pieces and “... research has shown that music has changed the lives of the children, of their families, of entire communities…”

I believe music does change lives and how I wish more than ever that the Sistema be an integral part of every nation and that something splendid like that be an integral part of the Philippines too. Welcome to Casa San Miguel, Zambales… home of the Bolipata siblings and their families of gifted musicians and artists in their own right. I heard about this twin sister of the Sistema, perhaps two years ago, when I was looking for an affordable music school to pursue my musical interests but sad to say, their website has to be taken down to cut down on operating costs because like the Sistema, the very reason for its existence is to help underprivileged children have a better future and like the Sistema, it has helped thousands of talented, hard-working kids become the best among professional musicians in the country and in a few years more, these kids will become the best Filipino professional musicians in the world. And that would be something to be proud of.

And since it seems apparent that the United States of America is taking a look at adopting the Sistema and integrating it into all public schools throughout the country, I pray this pushes through and that other countries will follow in the footsteps of their predecessor and likewise, I pray for the continued support and success of Casa San Miguel not only in Zambales but that it expands throughout the Philippines, helping more children gain positive life changes through music.

Related Links:
1.       Gustavo Dudamel, Jose Antonio Abreu & El Sistema >>
2.       Yahoo 60-minutes on Gustavo Dudamel >>
3.       Yahoo 60-minutes on El Sistema >>

Friday, June 20, 2008

[Essay] Immortality

Going to a wake does make you realize how real death is and no matter how invincible you thought someone is, they eventually leave us and die.

For others it takes a hundred years and for some, it takes less than the average lifespan.  So what is it about death that makes people shut up and make signs in the air out of fear?  And what is so fearful about death that makes people hunger for immortality, making people do an endless quest for the Tree of Life, the Fountain of Youth, which by the way the quest ends up losing more lives until they either give up and go home or they all die on the road?

While it is true that what we don’t know is what scares us the most, wouldn't it be better to look at death or the future as something of an adventure, something to explore with an open-mind and the excitement of new discovery?

There was a time I too was scared of death and searched for immortality.  I’m still scared of death but I’m coming to terms with the fact that each and everyone of us will leave this earth for a better place eventually but before that time comes, I’d like to ask you a question: Would you rather be physically immortal and live thousands of years like vampires or would you rather be immortal in the sense that a memory of you and your wisdom lives on forever and ever like Confucius, Beethoven, Mozart, Picasso, Michelangelo, Cleopatra, President Abraham Lincoln, etc.?

In an email I read a few days ago, I agree and it does makes sense that our life here on earth is just a testing ground for us, a place for us to learn and to grow into the likeness of God. Challenges are constantly thrown our way to strengthen not only our belief in our own capacity and physical strength but also to strengthen our faith in God and in others.  That God is more interested in our character more than anything else in the world and that He wanted us all to share in His glory in Heaven and He’s also interested in how we lived out our lives.  And we all know the story about how when we get to the pearly white gates of Heaven, St. Peter will be looking for our names in his big book before he directs us to God, who will then be asking us what we did on earth.

And we probably get sent back to go through another lifetime until we learn a lesson or change our ways for the better, hence the Law of Karma of what goes around comes around.  The more good you do for and think of others, the more blessings you receive and the more bad you do to and think of others the more hardships you get.

So if you really think about it, there’s no reason to fear death because we are already immortal. Our souls are immortal it’s just like changing the shell of our mobile phones when we come back to spend another lifetime learning life lessons to prepare us for our heavenly life. Changing for the better is not an overnight deal we set our minds at and make a go at it.  Rather, it is a series of life lessons and realizations that we ourselves make, agree to, and make a daily conscious effort to be a better person one day at a time.  Believe it or not, people do change for the better, at least for those who really made an effort and believed that they themselves could be a better person. Because no matter how many people say to someone that he could be a better version of himself if that person doesn't realize that himself and doesn't make a conscious effort to be that better version of himself nothing in the world will move him to be a better person if he won’t help himself.

So at the end of our physical life, people gather round your gravesite, offering flowers, candles and prayers in the hopes of a peaceful passage to the afterlife but at the back of their minds, or when the grief is gone, would you rather be remembered as someone everyone despised, hated or disliked so badly they say things about you with such contempt? Or would you rather be someone people remembered as good, kind, caring, a good friend, inspiring, someone who every body loves?

I believe that we should all strive to be the latter which is what real immortality is all about.  I’ve made my decision, so what about you?

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

[Book Review] Plain Jane by Fern Michaels

Plain JanePlain Jane by Fern Michaels
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Part 1: From The Book Cover

Back in college, Jane Lewis would have given anything to be like homecoming queen Connie Bryan. Instead, she was just Plain Jane – overweight, frumpy, and painfully shy. That was then. Today, a lovely and confident Dr. Jane Lewis has a thriving psychotherapy practice, her own radio talk show, a beautiful old Louisiana mansion, and her affectionate, nutty dog, Olive, to keep her company. The only thing missing is someone to share her life.

Jane has never forgotten Michael Sorenson, the boy she admired from afar in college. Now, he’s inspiring her to hope for a future together. She’s also never forgotten the brutal, unsolved attack that ended Connie Bryan’s life – and haunts Jane still. Suddenly, the present collides with the past, as she finds clues into the identities of Connie’s attackers – clues that send her into a world of risk and excitement, challenging her to become a truly extraordinary woman… if she dares.

Part 2: Recommendation

To be honest, for years, my mom has Fern Michaels in her bookshelf until she decided to donate her beloved copies to charity. I don’t know why I didn’t read her then but now, after having read Plain Jane, I’d say it’s a great, intriguing, and hard-to-put-down book – one that I very much enjoyed reading – because her style is a combination of two among a dozen of my favorite authors namely Danielle Steel and Sidney Sheldon.

It’s not too dramatic but at some point, it did brought tears to my eyes and it’s not too intense but just the same, it’ll make you wonder, think, and ask about the why’s, the how’s and the what happens next.

The story of Jane made me realize that in order to be who you want to be – you know, be like the homecoming kings and queens – you have to erase all self-doubt, all self-pity, and all negative perspective in yourself and embrace self-respect, self-confidence, a positive outlook and discipline in mind and body. You don’t have to undergo plastic surgery to look pretty or handsome. Training your mind to think positive thoughts about yourself and others, giving yourself a little love and respect, and persevering in a workout prescribed by your physician will give you that radiant glow from within that will be all too hard to ignore.

With all that has been said, done and read, I guess I’ll have to make room for Fern Michaels in my bookshelf.

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Tuesday, January 8, 2008

[Book Review] Beowulf by Caitlin R. Kiernan

BeowulfBeowulf by CaitlĂ­n R. Kiernan
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Part 1: From The Book Cover

Who will come to the aid of beleaguered King Hrothgar, whose warriors have become the prey of the vengeful outcast monster Grendel?

A grand and glorious story that has endured for centuries, the ageless classic adventure takes on a breathtaking new life in a remarkable new version for a modern era. Brilliantly reimagined by acclaimed, award-winning author Caitlin R. Kiernan, based on the screenplay by #1 New York Times bestseller Neil Gaiman and Academy Award-winning screenwriter Roger Avary, it is the tale of a noble liege and a terrible creature who has cursed his kingdom with death, blood, and destruction – and of the great hero, Beowulf, who is called to a land of monsters to triumph where so many have failed… or to die as so many of the brave before him.

Part 2: Recommendation

From the depths of my memory the name Beowulf rings a bell after seeing the movie trailer inside the darkened theater and I told myself that I’ll watch that movie when it opens in theaters but sad to say, due to time constraints (because I wanted to read the original epic translation of Beowulf first before watching the film version) I somehow missed it and worse, I couldn’t find the original epic book version.

But it looks like the heavens are with me because an officemate gave me this movie-tie in book version by Caitlin R. Kiernan as a belated birthday gift (to you who gave me this, thank you!). I was planning to read this last November 2007 but I kept putting it off maybe because it wasn’t the original translation and because I didn’t get to see the movie the whole three weeks it was showing in theaters.

It was only during the Christmas break that I finally got around to reading it because of the fact that I have nothing new to read and I remembered I still have Beowulf gathering dust as he waits for me to remember, go back to and get to know him.

Having zero knowledge about what the epic Beowulf is all about except for the fact that he is some country’s long forgotten hero and the fact that his song is in the list of the world’s best literature that my high school English teacher enumerated with such a brief description it completely slipped off my mind and was easily relegated to the darkest recesses of my memory. Of course, I’m too lazy to Google it at that time (because what I might read on the net might ruin the suspense for me) and, like I said before, I’d like to be surprised and be entertained when I read a story.

My journey with Beowulf started on December 28, 2007 and ended just last January 1, 2008 and though I could have read the novel in the span of one day, I didn’t gobble it up like I usually do and I don’t know why I prolonged the agony of suspense.

It was indeed a memorable journey for me because ever since my teacher enumerated that list of the world’s best literature, I wanted to own every book listed there and now at least two of them are mine now.

Beowulf is a Geat who sailed the seas towards the kingdom of King Hrothgar with fourteen men with him, warriors all of them, when it has been said that King Hrothgar’s kingdom is cursed by a demon. They journeyed on despite bad weather and towering walls of water in the hopes of finding glory if they survive because their names will be sung until the end of time or to die gloriously in battle and earn a seat at Odin’s Valhalla at Asgard rather than to die of old age.

Beowulf thought the real monster was Grendel but King Hrothgar, Queen Wealthow, and Unferth knew better and later Beowulf finally understands who the real monster is but then it is already too late for such realizations or regrets as it usually is the case with regrets always coming in the end.

It is a great story and it does deserve its place as one of the world’s best literature but then, I still wonder how did it all start – the part where it is said that the demon’s curse started since the time of King Hrothgar’s great ancestors and the curse probably ended with Beowulf but then the demon was trying to continue the cycle with the new king but he didn’t fall for it and it is said that the demon can wait for as long as need be and she can be very persuasive. I wonder if that last king of the Old Ways did finally succumb to her spell or was he able to resist her potent magic and ultimately prevailed and thus freed the kingdom of the vile demon and her curse?

With all these unanswered questions still buzzing around in my head, I hope when I get to watch the movie I’ll finally have my answers. If not, well, I can only imagine and I’d rather have a triumphant ending.

It is a great read and despite the holiday activities, I find it really hard to put the book down for an hour or two or more just to be able to finish my chores and errands and to rest my eyes and to sleep. Although this is not the original translation, I feel that the story of Beowulf was given due justice and the way Caitlin Kiernan describes everything truly brings Beowulf to life. The epic adventure of Beowulf teaches the readers not to underestimate anyone, whoever they may be; to be always prepared for the worst and best scenarios in life; and while it is alright to dream big and work hard for it, a person should know when to stop if greed is becoming your driving force to achieve your dreams; to learn from the mistakes of others; and to always keep in mind that by our own strengths will we achieve greatness and thus by our own faults our own downfall will be upon us.

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