Category: Musings

New Beginnings


Actually the beginnings to which I’m referring are not that new, since I’ve now been part of the team at The Canales Project for about three months, but there is much, much more journeying to do in this unfamiliar world. Last year, despite not having a clue what to do with myself, I decided to suspend my academic aspirations temporarily in favor of something a little more novel and real-world; I had every intention of going back for a DMA/PhD in 2017, but… I am enjoying the arts administration life too much—not to mention I’ve written more music in the last few months since graduating than in my entire second year at Juilliard, so I think I’m in a good place.

Earlier this month at the LaGuardia Performing Arts Center we wrapped up the first in a series of shows called “Between Two Worlds,” the idea of which is to feature a motley group of artists who, in one way or another, work between different levels of cultural or professional identity. I’m not heavily involved in the next one on December 4 at New York Live Arts, since in the days leading up to it I’ll be in Houston for a performance (more details another time!), but it will feature my good friend and collaborator Drew Forde.

My work with TCP has pushed me to think more about cultural advocacy, the social impact of the arts, and what it means for us creative workers to engage the wider world around us. Do I really know about these things? No. But I think these are questions that are better acted upon than asked verbally, and now is a great time to be acting upon them indeed.

What is music for?—and some new videos

No, really: what is music for? What’s the point? In light of the many recent goings-on in the world, this question seems to sting anew. But the more we insist on asking it, the less it becomes clear that there is in fact any point. Maybe it’s the wrong question. It’s like asking: what is anger for, or fear, or joy, or excitement? Music is is how I react to things; I can’t quite help it.

I was recently able to gather my thoughts and sit still long enough to write a brief essay in which I explain why I compose—instead of dumping it all on this page, which is really supposed to be for “news,” I have put it in the “About” section of this site as a kind of personal or artistic statement. For now, it represents the best attempt I can make to make sense of this ridiculous activity to which I, along with many others, have come to devote myself.


And lest I forget, not too long ago I finally received videos from Ensemble Gô’s Yokohama tour in the summer of 2015. Here are their performances of Cariñosa and Heavenward. Enjoy!

World Premieres with the Juilliard Orchestra

Mount Mayon erupting, 1928

Check out this article on the Juilliard Journal about the upcoming Juilliard Orchestra concert featuring new music by four Juilliard composers including myself. As with all things of this nature, there were a few inaccuracies in the first version of the article, not the most surprising of which was my real last name being misspelled—which is precisely why I’ve discontinued using it for publicity. That error has since been corrected, but there remains another, more complex one that I’m not quite sure how to deal with: a supposed connection between my piece and the “concept of home.” When you’re in a foreign land and trying to create an identity, any connection to a home tends to get amplified. Yet, while I took inspiration from a story from my birthplace, it’s been a long time since I sincerely thought of my birthplace as home, and I approached my source material more as a fascinated outsider—except I thought my sheer irreverence legitimized somehow by my heritage. Hence, for better or for worse, you will hear no Philippine tunes, no deliberate indication of anything Asian in my piece, unless you choose to hear it—there’s nothing to stop you; that’s the beauty of it all.

In any case: the concert will be on Tuesday, April 28th at Alice Tully Hall, with Jeffrey Milarsky conducting. I’m equally excited to hear the music of my wonderful colleagues here at Juilliard; you should be too!

Here’s the program note I submitted to the publicity folks:

Magayon means “beautiful” in the Bicol language of the Philippines, and it forms part of the name of Daragang Magayon—literally “beautiful maiden”—the central character in the origin myth of Mount Mayon, an active volcano that overlooks my birthplace: the Philippine province of Albay. According to the myth, Magayon, having previously rejected many powerful suitors from distant villages, was set to marry the chieftain Ulap. But as preparations began for a grand, feastly wedding, the jealous hunter Pagtuga intervened, holding Magayon’s father hostage and setting off a brief but deadly skirmish.

When all of the main characters died—most tragically Magayon herself, who was hit by a stray arrow—the entire village went from celebratory anticipation of the wedding to mourning. The maiden was laid to rest on a grave next to her husband-to-be, which the villagers were alarmed to find rising higher and higher each day, accompanied by earthquakes and muffled rumblings of the earth. At last a crater formed, spewing hot ash and rocks.

My piece is concerned less with depicting the myth in its entirety and more with the emotional journey that the story evokes. I kept in mind Mount Mayon’s near-perfect cone in shaping the piece: its three sections (fast–slow–fast) are of roughly equal length and form an almost symmetrical arc, flowing seamlessly from one to the next. I also place less emphasis on the tragedy of the myth, and more on my own sense of wonder toward the mythology of my home country; hence, the piece, though brutal at times, ultimately comes to a triumphant close.