Saturday, April 28, 2018

The Mighty Ukulele

I almost learned how to play the ukulele. As a teenager, I tried to strum along on a cheap ukulele that we bought in Cebu, Philippines. Back then, my father used to blast Don Ho’s “Tiny Bubbles” and the “Hukilau Song” throughout the house. The ukulele reminded me of Hawaii, of its gentle breeze, of ocean air, of swaying palm trees, and of graceful hula girls. Portable music on the go; instantly bringing you to a place of simple, happy tunes.

The mighty ukulele fascinated me; just a diminutive instrument that did not scare me like the guitar did. I told myself, "I can do this this". Just four strings... not intimidating at all. The ukulele is folksy and carefree, innocent but exotic. The sound is described as “chunk-chunk” but the instrument is much more welcoming of someone like me with chunky fingers. Even Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam took a fancy on the ukulele and called it “less strings, more melody”.

Don Ho- “Tiny Bubbles”

Just recently, I heard that distinctive sound of the ukulele again. Instantly, I remembered that long-ago moment in time, with my father’s music as we both swayed to the music of the “Hukilau’ song, grass skirts and all. In my later years, I now understand that the ukulele is not just for Hawaiian songs; that it is actually versatile and can sound just as good in any kind of genre. Albeit a nostalgic reminder of my father's music, the mighty ukulele has retained its magic and its carefree appeal.

The ukulele brought a new discovery for me. Renee Dominique is an 18 y/o Filipina musician who weaves magic with her ukulele and her airy, soothing voice. Her songs are eargasmic pudding in the brain. She is proficient on different musical instruments, but she exerts a compelling presence with her ukulele as she croons oldies and contemporary songs with a combination of pixieness and sultriness.

Renee's original songs are beautiful poems sung with her unique sound, part-millennial, part old-soul. Her videos have metamorphosed into stunning visuals and that soothing voice of a woman with her mighty ukulele.

And then there are more ukulele sensations:

Jake Shimabukuro went viral (before the word was invented) with his rendition of the Beatles’ “My Guitar Gently Weeps”.

Israel Kamakawiwo'ole- The Iz- 'Over The Rainbow' & 'What A Wonderful World'

Zooey Deschanel & Joseph Gordon-Levitt- “What Are You Doing New Years Eve?”

Uhm, I must confess, I still have not learned how the play the ukulele. It's not the chunky fingers; I just don't have rhythm.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

My Top Eleven Favorite Duets

“Perfect” is my latest LSS (Last Song Syndrome). Like pudding in my brain, this earworm has taken a special place in my cerebrum, helped as well by the constant rotation in radio airwaves. It is the latest hit from British singer-songwriter Ed Sheeran. My obsession with the song grew when I saw the video of an orchestration of Sheeran’s duet with Italian tenor THE Andrea Bocelli.

Wow, simply "Perfect". Pop blended with opera in a magical rendition of a love song. The look of awe on Ed Sheeran's face as he listened to greatness- Precious. Just like Andrea’s wife who closed her eyes to listen to the Great One’s voice soaring up to the heaven above, I was transfixed. Andrea sang in Italian but I understood the emotions behind the words. ""Tesoro, sei perfetta stasera". I was dreaming I was the woman dancing in the dark with someone’s arms around me. Sigh.

Ed Sheeran and Andrea Bocelli- "Perfect" (2017)

I am fascinated by song duets. There is something special when voices blend in harmony, when singers become one. Even though some celebrity pairings are unexpected and surprising. Sometimes from different genres, and even singing in a different language, and yet the singers connected to each other on a different level.

In no particular order, here are some of the duets that resonated with me and had even been my LSS at some time:

Michael Jackson and Justin Timberlake- “Love Never Felt So Good” (2014)

The King of Pop with a hugely talented dude named Justin. The song was written by Michael Jackson with Paul Anka. It was released posthumously and Justin gave it an airy, sweet, and funky sound. I found it nostalgic and quite sentimental watching MJ’s dance moves. Justin is a heck of a dancer himself. No wonder the song was a huge hit.

Bette Midler and Wynona Judd- “The Rose” (1997)

Pop diva meets Country Diva. A powerful duet that gave justice to a great song. I have always loved these lyrics from Amanda McBroom.

Some say love, it is a river
That drowns the tender reed
Some say love, it is a razor
That leaves your soul to bleed
Some say love, it is a hunger
An endless aching need
I say love, it is a flower
And you, its only seed

Lea Salonga and Brad Kane- “A Whole New World” (2015)

In 2015, the original singers of the “A Whole New World” reunited on Good Morning America. Twenty-three years after Aladdin’s magic carpet ride, Lea and Brad sounded incredibly the same. It’s a different world now, but their crystal-clear voices still soared, tumbled, free-wheeled, still with excitement and youthful exuberance.

Here’s the original recording session in 1992. I dared to close my eyes, and Wow! Still the same magic.

Tina Turner and Cher- “Proud Mary” (2008)

Okay, what excuse does anybody have not to be as fit as these two ladies? In 2008, they were already in their 60’s. I guess all that rolling and shaking do wonders to the abs. Living legends, indeed. The Ultimate Divas. Showmanship at its best.

The Voice Teens Philippines Battle Round: Christy vs. Mica – “Ave Maria” (2017)

This will not appear in any music professional list, but I love the raw talents of these two young contestants from Voice Teens Philippines. Their coach, my favorite Lea Salonga, was beaming with pride as her two charges sang pop and opera flawlessly at their young age. The future looks bright for Mica and Christy. A few years from now, they will meet again, in a bigger stage, no doubt about it.

Bruno Mars and Red Hot Chili Peppers- SuperBowl XLVIII half-time show (2014)

I admit I know nothing about football. Sorry, but I only watch the SuperBowl for its halftime show (and commercials, too). When I joked on Facebook why there is a sports game in Bruno Mars’ concert, I was almost stoned /bashed to death. But Bruno Mars gave an energetic, sweaty performance with the hyper-active Anthony Kiedis.

Harrison Craig And Tim Moxey- “You Raise Me Up”, The Voice Australia Season 2

Breath-taking duet. Two beautiful voices. Just watch the rapturous faces of the judges. So worth it to see Seal in ecstasy.

Charice and Celine Dion- “Because You Loved Me”, Madison Square Garden (2008)

In 2008, Charice Pempengco from the Philippines shared the stage with THE Celine Dion to sing a beautiful and heart-felt tribute to her mother. Oprah paved the way for her to sing with the international superstar. It was a goosebump-inducing moment for the audience as we saw the young singer hold her own with Celine. It was a masterful performance; something that her fans will always remember, even though Charice is now known as Jake Zyrus.

Claire Ryann and Dave Crosby- “You've Got a Friend In Me” (2017)

A heart-warming father-and-daughter moment as they shared their love of music. And to think that Claire was just four years old when their video went viral. When dad Dave joined the music contest The Voice, Adam Levine recalled how he connected to their video after the birth of his own daughter. Define adorable.

Marcelito Pomoy- “The Prayer” (2016)

Technically, this is not a duet. Just listen and pick up your jaw from the floor.

Monday, January 1, 2018

Self-reflection, Day One 2018: My Two Buckets

Day One… it just seems so apropos to pause in meditation. A time for self-reflection and a time to give thanks… for the blessings of the past year and in anticipation of more gifts from the Lord for this year 2018.

With the 10-degree frozen world outside my window, I am warm and toasty inside our house. Warm for a little bit until I have to venture out for a church activity, all worth it because I have been truly blessed. So thankful for a life well-lived.

It has been my personal tradition to look at two buckets… my bucket of thanks and my bucket of to-do list.

My bucket of Thanks:

1. Vacation 2017- a chance to hug my mother again, to visit my father’s grave, to hang out with my family and goof off in Art-in-Island, to play tourist in beautiful Philippines (Vigan and Ilocos), to go on food trips with family (so happy that my dollars went a long way), and to go on a side trip to South Korea. Bonding with my Philippine family and with my son/travel buddy.

2. My job- being in charge of my own ED where I can leave my stamp of leadership. Applying what I've learned from leaders who had mentored me to be a role model and to lead with heart and emotional intelligence. Work accomplishments I am proud of. One of my someday dreams came true.

3. My home- after all these years, finally being able to afford home improvements. First project was my kitchen with the dark cabinets, backsplash, and new oven. Not that I plan to start cooking again.

4. My family and friends- what matters most and what keeps me going.

My bucket of To-do list:

1. European reunion trip with my college classmates
2. Red front door and hardwood floors
3. New car? Or maybe not. I really don’t want to shell out a monthly car payment any time soon.
4. More writing. A new book.
5. Finish what I started in 2014.
6. Present at a national conference
7. Lantern award for the ED
8. Clean up my room :(
9. Be financially savvy
10. A healthier, leaner me.
11. Pay it forward (do more)

“O, my Father, I now deeply meditate
On the blessings You give day to day
Truly, you have never failed to care for me.
And You provide my every need.”

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Better Late Than Never: Coming Late to the Game of Thrones Mania

I have poor timing. I am a latecomer to the Game of Thrones mania. Imagine being hooked to a series at episode 4 of a seven-episode Season 7. It's like catching the tail-end of a parade. And I have to wait one year for the next and final (ever) season! Talk about withdrawal syndrome.

My reluctance to join the Games of Thrones fanbase could be explained by my irrational (for some) preference of books over movies. Most of the screen adaptations have frustrated me, so I have always been loyal to the original books. I was spell-bound with the writings of JK Rowlings of Harry Potter’s wizarding adventures. My imagination soared with the Hunger Games book. These books whetted my appetite for the movies, so I promised myself that I will read the books before I see the movie versions. Also, I did not have the time to read any more fantasy books.

I had enough escapist ventures to keep me satisfied, well away from epic fantasy productions such as GoT. Such was my immersion in Harry Potter that I mistook Gandalf for Dumbledore during a Lord of the Rings movie. I blurted out “Dumbledore” inside the movie theater. My son slid down his chair in shame. He said it was a blasphemous moment in a roomful of LOTR fans.

I managed to live through six years of GoT-fanaticism from my niece who swore that this is the best show EVER, despite the excessive violence, blood and gore, gratuitous nudity, incest, and sexual abuse. I was horrified that she obsessed over a show that glorified treachery, lies, and greed, all to capture the Iron Throne. Besides, I was not in a mood for dragons, direwolves, and the undead. My niece could not believe that I didn't keep up with the hype. Pop culture be damned.

Then, I got hold of George R.R. Martin's best-selling book series "A Song of Ice and Fire". I discovered that audiobooks are wonderful creations to keep one engrossed through the long drive home. The world of Westeros and fire-breathing dragons beckoned to me. It was a rare reading/listening experience. And I was hooked and addicted. I must, I must, I must watch the GoT HBO tv series and see what the hoopla is all about.

Facebook was afire with all the dire warnings of “Winter Is Coming”. I overheard some of my staff enthusiastically rehashing the twists and turns of the latest episode. When I finally watched episode 4, I regretted the time I wasted in watching some of the mundane and insipid shows on tv.

David Benioff and D. B. Weiss did an excellent job in adapting Martin’s book to the small screen and created what would be a global phenomenon. The Game of Thrones is superbly written and produced. It is a compelling, must-see television with each episode a water-cooler event, or rather a world-wide viewing party, with both gen-x'ers, millenials and baby-boomers engaging in twitter-frenzy celebration.

The four episodes I saw left me reeling and wanting for more. The climactic ends made me looking forward for Sundays. Did I mention I love Tyrion for his cunning and wit? I was not shocked nor scandalized by the coupling of Jon Snow and Daenerys. Pssst, they didn’t know that they are related. I am hoping that somehow Rhaegar Targayen was really a bastard and not a brother to Daenerys. And maybe, everybody will live happily ever after (fingers crossed).

Yes, I'm late, but better late than never. I am emotionally invested, and addicted. I cannot wait for Season 8. Meanwhile, I will pass the time away reading all the books (five more books to go) and binge-watching all the episodes (64 eps more) I missed.

Winter came and the Wall has fallen!

Friday, August 25, 2017

Da Coconut Nut

Over a month ago, up in the skies on an Emirates flight, a group of men went “NUTS”.

No, there were no security concerns; just a delightful impromptu performance by a group of young men from the Baylor University School of Music Men's Choir returning from a chorale competition in Kenya. The upbeat melody and the group’s infectious joy and energetic choreography caught on. The video clip went viral when the airline proudly posted it on the company Facebook. As of today, the video had garnered 14 million views. That’s nuts!

The “Da Coconut Nut” song started from across the ocean, in a land where the slender trees tower over rice fields. The dwarf trees reach up to 20 feet and the tall ones grow up to 98 feet. The song was popularized by Smokey Mountain, a group of young singers from the Philippines in the 1990s. The song written by Maestro Ryan Cayabyab, songwriter/arranger/musical director has since become a favorite piece in chorale compositions around the world.

Cayabyab himself marveled how the song that he wrote almost thirty years ago as a novelty song has become the most popular song he has ever written. He disclosed that he had consented for his song to be played in American choirs since 2008.

The acclaimed composer wrote the song “to channel master songwriter Yoyoy Villame's spirit and style.” The "Da Coconut Song" conveyed exactly that, a joie de vivre, an exuberance for life. It is a proclamation of the Filipinos' love for music and the simple things in life and their resilience for whatever life brings, just like the resilient coconut trees which can live up to 20 years, even 100 years in the wild.

The coconut (which is a fruit and not a nut) is versatile. It can be used as milk for exotic dishes, flakes, jam, cooking oil, firewood, shampoo, and even beauty products. The husk can later be saved to polish the wooden floor (done that). The tree can be used to build a small house, and also as “cannonballs up against the eaves” (will never try this one).

The song celebrates the many uses of the coconut, which is "a coco fruit from the coco tree of the coco palm family". If you drive along the Philippine countryside, you can see kids scurrying up and down the tall trees with the prized coconut which they will then present to a thirsty tourist with a straw for the cool juice, and maybe, a plastic spoon for the fresh white meat, all for less than a dollar. The kids made cracking open a coconut look so easy.

And please, just watch out for the falling coconut. Concussion beware.

How to crack a open a coconut? How about "clumsily"? As my own son showed in this video (psst, he's the young man in a tan shirt at the 0:47 mark).

"Da Coconut Nut" song through the years...

Original version, Smokey Mountain

The coconut nut is a giant nut
If you eat too much, you'll get very fat
Now, the coconut nut is a big, big nut
But it's delicious nut is not a nut

It's the coco fruit (it's the coco fruit)
Of the coco tree (of the coco tree)
From the coco palm family

There are so many uses of the coconut tree
You can build a big house for the family
All you need is to find a coconut man
If he cuts the tree, he gets the fruit free

It's the coco fruit (it's the coco fruit)
Of the coco tree (of the coco tree)
From the coco palm family

And behold, there are several You tube versions of the “Da Coconut Nut” song as performed by Filipino choir groups as well as by other international choirs who were bemused by the light-hearted song about the coconut fruit. This song has crossed over to the prestigious world of chorale music.

The University of the Philippines Madrigal Singers is one of the world’s most awarded chorale group, and the first choir in the world to win the European Grand Prix for Choral Singing twice. Their repertoire includes folk music like “Rosas Pandan” (another popular chorale composition) and of course, the “Da Coconut Nut” song.

Philippine Madrigal Singers

RCHS Chamber Singers

The St. Mary's Varsity Ensemble

Festival No.6 2013 presents The Brythoniaid Male Voice Choir - 'Chic - Good Times'

Moana version

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Music is Universal, Di Ba?

I’m not a linguist. And definitely not a singer. But how wonderful it would be to sing in different languages. What’s even more amazing is that a listener like me can be touched by music even if I do not understand the lyrics. Truly, music transcends the barrier of language.


A month ago, in one of my infrequent forays in the subway, I heard a most beautiful rendition of Nella Fantasia. The music was incongruous with the singer. The man’s face and clothes were covered in grime, but he sang so beautifully in a language I didn’t understand. His baritone voice rose above the din of the subway train. He was in a world of his own, for once he had an audience who appreciated him. I fought the tears as I just listened and imagined that he sang of hope and peace. The words “Nella Fantasia” remained with me.

As soon as I got home, I came upon Sarah Brightman’s performance of this Italian song. "Nella Fantasia" ("In My Fantasy") is based on the theme "Gabriel's Oboe" from the film The Mission (1986). The music was composed by Ennio Morricone with lyrics by Ferrau.

In my fantasy I see a just world
Where all live in peace and honesty
I dream of souls that are always free
Like clouds that soar
Full of humanity in the depths of the soul


The Youtube views of the La Vie en Rose English versions of Louie Armstrong and Daniela Andrade are staggering with more than 26 million views each. Edith Piaf wrote both music and lyrics to what will be her signature song.

But the French version by Laura and Anton of the Foxtails Brigade is spellbinding. It has a sexy vibe to it.

Hold me close and hold me fast
The magic spell you cast
This is la vie en rose
When you kiss me, Heaven sighs
And though I close my eyes
I see la vie en rose


This is the Queen of the Night's Aria from Mozart's The Magic Flute opera.
The English lyrics are dark and foreboding, but they don’t take away from the incredible vocal acrobatics. Mica Becerro from The Voice Teens Philippines earned the four-chair turns from the judges. Just seventeen years old, she’s my bet to be the grand winner. I don't even care what the song means; I'm just flabbergasted at how the song soars into the unknown.

C'EST SI BON- French

C'est si bon is a French popular song composed by Henri Betti with the lyrics by André Hornez. Eartha Kitt’s version was so sensual and seductive that you could almost hear the purrs in her voice. Romance in a candle-lit room. Sultry music delivered by a charismatic singer.

It's so good,
Just wandering around,
Arm in arm, arm in arm,
And Singing songs.

It's so good,
To whisper sweet words - ,
Little nothings,
But little nothing that can be
said again and again.

"THE PRAYER"- some verses in Italian
Written by David Foster, Carole Bayer Sager, Alberto Testa and Tony Renis.

Just listen and remember the name Marcelito Pomoy. It's a tour de force performance. Celine Dion and Andrea Bocelli who? (just kidding). Oh, yes, he sang in Italian, too.

La luce che tu hai
(I pray we'll find your light)
Nel cuore resterà
(And hold it in our hearts)
A ricordarci che
(When stars go out each night)
Eterna stella sei
Nella mia preghiera
(Let this be our prayer)
Quanta fede c'è
(When shadows fill our day)

DAHIL SA IYO- Tagalog (Filipino)

Dahil Sa Iyo" was composed by Mike Velarde, Jr in 1938 and has become a classic Filipino love song. The song was translated in several languages: English, Spanish, Japanese, Chinese, and the local languages of the Philippines. A certain First lady with the thousand shoes loved the song.

The American great singer Nat King Cole lent his smooth vocals to this song. He crooned his way to the hearts of the Filipino people.

Because of you, I yearn to be alive
Because of you, ‘till death (you) must realize
In my heart I know there is only you
And ask my heart, you’ll know that this is true

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Songs of Praise

Even in quiet reflection, my heart swells with love and inspiration when I listen to songs of praise. My voice may not soar with a melodious tone, but my soul is energized by the music and the lyrics. These songs of praise bring comfort and hope. Several years ago, in a time of personal turmoil, these songs strengthened me and reminded me that I have God by my side. The spiritual gifts are heaven-sent.

How Great Thou Art by Anne Murray

How Great Thou Art by Sam Santiago

The Prayer by Yongxin Chen

You Raise Me UP by Jai McDowall & KHS

You Raise Me UP- Jeffrey and Celine Tam

Hallelujah by Pentatonix

Hallelujah by Renee Dominique

Amazing Grace by Home Free

Amazing Grace by BYU Noteworthy

Gethsemane by Claire Ryann