For the past 94 years, The Manila Symphony Orchestra Foundation Inc. has been bringing the power of classical music into the lives of Filipinos from all walks of life. However, the current demands of social distancing and public health has forced us to redesign our usual concert format and adapt into the new normal by moving our concerts, performances and classes into the virtual media format.
Last March 2020, after the initial week of confusion and panic buying of food, medicine and re-organizing our lives to respond to the situation, we eventually thought of continuing our musical mission by using the digital media as a means to keep our music going and find ways to stay in touch with our musicians, students, teachers and our audience. We taught ourselves how to set up, compile and edit videos and upload these on Facebook and Youtube, using these means as a temporary substitute to live performances, recitals and face-to-face music lessons.
MANILA SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA’s “Tagpi-tagping Damdamin”
A Virtual Orchestra Video Series
Since there are no live performances allowed anywhere, we tried to prepare meaningful videos to help inspire and uplift the spirits of everyone fighting the virus. We requested members of the MSO to recreate an orchestral performance while having everyone record their own part from their homes. We came up with videos that we hope would inspire our people especially those working in the frontlines of our public health sector. We used some popular music, a Japanese video game soundtrack and some movie themes that will be familiar to our audiences. We also used the videos to appeal for financial help to keep our orchestra alive.
Our other online performances are: Tifa’s Theme from Final Fantasy VII by Nobuo Uematsu, Let It Be by the Beatles, and the Theme from Schindler’s List by John Williams. This last video was our way of commemorating a special event in the history of the MSO, when the orchestra performed a series of Post War Concerts for all the survivors of the World War 2.
In spite of this continued activity, the financial resources needed to maintain the regular monthly salaries of our 45 professional musicians and 10 staff members have to be temporarily put on hold. These musicians are currently on a “no work, no pay” basis and these video uploads for “Tagpi-tagping Damdamin” are on volunteer basis relying on donations from those who believe in the need to support the livelihood of these artists.
The MSO Music Academy ONLINE
The MSO Music Academy is our Foundation’s educational arm that seeks to impart the skills and traditions of playing orchestral music to everyone who want to explore their talents in performing musical instruments. Teaching musical instruments was also one of our ways we devised to help augment the income of our professional musicians. Since April we have shifted our regular face to face lessons that usually happen in our music studios around Metro Manila into the MSO Music Academy Online. Thankfully, over 70 percent of the paying students (total of about 150 children, teens and adults) have agreed to continue lessons online. We made this activity interesting and meaningful by organising online Zoom Recitals and Youtube Video performances featuring our students.
Developing Educational Materials to Enhance Online Music Lessons
The to keep high quality music education even through the online lesson format also pushed us to develop online teaching materials. This entailed extra time and effort from our teachers as well as investment in good video production equipment so we can self-produce these materials even at a home setting. Some of the online educational videos we developed for our music students include: Nanay, Tatay, Gusto Kong Tinapay, Manobo Dance, and a Pre-Twinkle Twinkle Little Star Demonstration.
International Collaborative Projects
We were also fortunate to be involved in a collaborative project with teachers and students from the Korea, USA, Australia and the Philippines. Our Academy has been using the Suzuki Method, a special approach to teaching music developed in Japan by Dr. Shinichi Suzuki and is now used extensively around the world. Our project was a video performance of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, the first piece in the Suzuki Method, demonstrating our unity and commitment to develop children into fine human beings using the vehicle of music, following the vision of Dr Shinichi Suzuki. In spite of the current challenge everyone is facing these days, we continue to find ways and means to instil various life skills and develop the character our children as we go on “twinkling” along, as one. We also collaborated advanced string players from the Korea Suzuki Association to perform with our students the “Allegro” by Fiocco, a piece from Suzuki Method Book 6.
The MANILA SYMPHONY JUNIOR ORCHESTRA
In the meantime, for our youth orchestra training program, the Manila Symphony Junior Orchestra, we tried to mount a series of weekly videos to help them continue their progress in spite of the fact that they have not been rehearsing and performing as an orchestra since March. We uploaded the videos regularly every Sunday, the day of the week when the MSJO would usually rehearse. Some of the videos were meant to uplift the spirits of our listeners while the others are more for pedagogical purpose of training them to keep their techniques and musicianship up. Performances by the MSJO include Panalanging Maging Bukas Palad (Prayer for Generosity), Bohemian Rhapsody, and Mozart’s Divertimento in D (String Quartet Relay)
Another performance, Bach 2 Bach: A Collaborative Video Between MSJO and Lourdes College Strings (video below) features a youth orchestra from Mindanao, two hours away by plane from Manila, who are also trained by MSO teachers since 2014. Despite the distance and the limited training time we have each year, Lourdes College Strings were able to reach a level of musicianship high enough to tackle complex works like this concerto by Bach and play it alongside their peers here in Manila who have the advantages of more regular training and lessons with us. The online platform opened the possibility of a collaboration which I have been dreaming of for a long time. Prior to making the video, I organised an afternoon ZOOM workshop with the participants to help them prepare making the video that featured J.S. Bach’s Concerto for Two Violins.
MSJO Days of Solitude- Solo Video Series
This program features one member of the MSJO each day playing an unaccompanied solo piece, as a way to encourage everyone to learn to treat the forced isolation brought about by the requirements of health in order to seek a deeper relationship to one’s spirit and grow in artistic maturity amidst solitude. Some performances can be accessed here: Day 5 with Clarice Michaela Coronel, violinist, Day 6 with Damodar Das Castillo, cellist Day 15 with Emanuel John Villarin, violinist.
The keyword for us to be able to move forward is “to adapt.” We are not sure when this pandemic will end but we just have to find ways and means to use whatever science and technology can offer us to serve our art.