Political Tidbits is the prestigious column of Belinda Olivares-Cunanan that ran for 25 continuous years in the op-ed page of the Philippine Daily Inquirer, the newspaper that she helped put up with its multi-awarded founder, the legendary Eugenia Duran-Apostol, in December 1985, just two months before the EDSA Revolution.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Loleng Panlilio’s living room morphs into a “music hall’ for artists with rehab of her 116-year old Steinway Grand Piano. 17-year old Jeline Oliva, now training with Gilopez and Corazon Kabayao, amazes Loleng’s guests with her skill not only in violin but also in piano, playing tough pieces from memory despite four years of not having played on it. She’s preparing for live audition in Mannes in New York, with hope of bagging a scholarship--- another very gifted young Pinoy artist in great need of public and private support.

Loleng Arguelles, wearing a Valera gown, at her graduation recital at UST in 1946, accompanied by the 60-member PC Band.

Loleng Arguelles-Panlilio with 17-year old violinist/pianist, Jeline Oliva

T'is the Season of Grace and though it’s tough to feel good about many things e.g., the horrible traffic and the endless machinations of conscience-less  politicians---we look for ways to enjoy the blessings that come from the Lord and  thank Him for them.  As it’s only eleven days to Christmas, let’s set aside hard-hitting political fare and talk about things that lift up the spirit and lighten the heart.

For one, the annual Christmas Concert at the Manila Pen has become a beautiful tradition to look forward to. Last night's concert held under the splendid Malayan sunburst of National Artist Napoleon Abueva  was one of the best, with the Philippine Philharmonic Orchestra under the baton of maestro Ruggero Barbieri and a whole slew of singers led by sopranos Camille Lopez Molina (looking every inch like a “Wagnerian mother”) and the slender Ena Maria Aldecoa, the Philippine Madrigal Singers and the UST Singers providing music to cheer up the spirit. Popular pop singer Lani Misalucha was billed as guest soloist, but at the last minute she fell ill and songstress Kuh Ledesma gamely filled in, showing that Kuh is still very much in shape.  But lo and behold, Misalucha shows up in the end, so it was a double treat for the delighted audience.   

And nothing to clinch the mood for the badly-wanting-to-feel Christmas crowd can beat George Frederic Handel’s “Hallelujah” chorus in the second part of his immortal oratorio “Messiah.” Here the PPO blared trumpets and timpani, the oboes and bassoons, as the two choral groups boomed with “And He shall reign for ever and ever…King of Kings…Lord of Lords, for ever and ever, Hallelujah."  The audience rose to its feet---a tradition said to have started back in the mid-1800s, when King George II was so moved by this Chorus in its London debut that he rose to his feet and remained standing until its end.


The second part of this feel-good blog is about how a Steinway grand piano has recast a living room into what I call the “Music Hall” that has helped various artists.  Back in 1946, Dolores “Loleng” Arguelles,  an Associate in Arts  major in piano who trained under Prof. Lolita Erras, made her recital  at UST, as her St. Scholastica's College was in shambles like many other schools. As it was right after the war, a piano had to be trucked from Brixton Hill, which was then the Forbes Park of Manila, to UST and back to Brixton Hill. There was no decent piano available anywhere else. 

It was a full grand Steinway piano owned by Loleng’s elder half-sister, Pacita Arguelles LaO, the mother of lovely four girls who would eventually be married to four famous men: Nena Manotoc, Pacing Manglapus, Techie Velasquez and Chita Lopez. That piano is presently with Tommy Manotoc, former husband of Imee Marcos.

Even right after the war, recitals, as they are also now, were big events and for her recital Loleng Arguelles wore a white gown with emerald stones by designer Ramon Valera, dean of designers then. Elegance was fitting and proper, for accompanying her was the 60-member Philippine Constabulary Band under the baton of the famous Capt. Antonino  Buenaventura, while her accompanying voice recitalist was Moitoni Equarras.


Loleng Arguelles didn’t make a career of piano, and instead settled down to married life with a landed Pampangueno architect named Pablo Dayrit Panlilio and raised three girls and two boys.  But there’s the  story of another Steinway Grand which, as far as Loleng can remember, was acquired by her father,  Architect  Tomas Arguelles, way  before she was born;  a manufacturing date inside the piano reveals that it’s 116 years old. The piano sat in Loleng’s living room for years in a rather sorry state, until some months ago when  professional restorer Rey Lim brought the Steinway back to life.

Th repair of that second Steinway Grand was providential. One rainy evening at the end of last September, young classical violinist Joaquin Maria “Chino” Gutierrez and his distinguished accompanying pianist, Corazon Pineda Kabayao, needed to practice the night before Chino’s concert at Ayala Museum, but the grand piano that was being transported from across the city to the Museum got stuck in terrible traffic along EDSA in the heavy rain.  Only one thought entered our minds: could they rehearse with Loleng Panlilio’s newly repaired Steinway Grand?  

The lady of the house, now 94 years old but still every inch glamorous, spry and alert and oh so impeccably groomed, readily agreed and Chino and Corazon carried rehearsal late into the night. Everyone felt relieved. Loleng quietly sat across them, following every note.


That was the start of the new lease on life of the 116-year old Steinway, and the conversion of Loleng Panlilio’s living room into what I nicknamed the “Music Hall.” Chino and Corazon recorded some numbers and soon the Kabayao Family Quintet, led by virtuoso Gilopez Kabayao, his pianist wife Corazon and their three violinist children (Sicilienne, Farida and Gilberto) rehearsed for their celebrated CCP Little Theater concert last Sept. 28. Singers of the Philippine Opera Company, led by its indefatigable doyenne, soprano Karla Gutierrez, later staged a mini-concert with Hiroshima-trained baritone Joseleo Logdat, Karla’s lovely “Opera Belles,” a couple of budding tenors and a nervous but very gifted 13-year old singer named Rein Pineda. Included in POC's stable is Loleng's own soprano granddaughter, lovely 17-year old Gabri Dolor Panlilio.

Last month  Loleng Panlilio invited UST-trained magna cum laude pianist Corazon Kabayao to play some of her favorite piano pieces---predictably all by Chopin. namely, Etude in A Flat Major, Op. 25, Prelude in D Minor and the First Movement of the Sonata in B Flat Minor, Op. 35.  Loleng invited some friends and relatives to listen in and we enjoyed it immensely. Gilopez was just the dutiful husband recording history with his ubiquitous camera.


That same night the Kabayaos brought in tow one of Gilopez’s newest violin students, 17-year old Jeline Oliva who was once a NAMCYA winner but who hardly had any really formal training in both violin and piano. According to her mother, Judith Llorin Oliva, Jeline, who still wears braces on her teeth, is a very dedicated musician and gave most of her time to her violin practice since she started late in this instrument (which she does not own personally). She chose violin over piano and that night at the Panlilio "Music Hall" Jeline played the Concerto in G Minor for violin, Op. 26 by Max Bruch and Caprice No. 15 in E Minor by Paganini.

But while we were all making chika-chika, someone brought up the fact that Jeline can also play the piano well, even though she has no piano at home and hadn’t played on one for about four years. After initial shyness and a lot of coaxing, Jeline played the Third Movement of Moonlight Sonata by Beethoven, Revolutionary Etude by Chopin, and Un Suspiro by Liszt---all from memory and with a sure touch that impressed music and art critic Baby Orosa. 


We were, of course, all quite amazed. Mom Judith, a part-time elementary music teacher/tutor who resigned from a full-time job to help her daughter’s budding career, thinks she can make it in both violin and piano if she were to be trained by dedicated and caring teachers, as she now has in GiLopez and Corazon Kabayao.  Jeline applied last year at Mannes School  of Music in New York City despite  discouragement from her previous colleagues in music, and she qualified for video audition in December 2013 and then for live audition  in March this year. Two weeks later she was  given admission to Mannes---but without the scholarship she badly needs; she has not given up hope on it.    

Jeline's coming under the Kabayaos’ tutelage was something she and her mother had always wanted, especially after her piano teacher told Judith that she found the then 6-year old a very fast learner who could play advance music pieces. Judith confessed that she did not take  the opinion of her daughter’s teacher seriously--- until she brought her young daughter to St. Scholastica’s College music department, where the very first to hear Jeline were Gilopez and Corazon Kabayao. They wanted Jeline to be with them but at that time she was one  of the finalists of “Pilipinas Got Talent” of ABS-CBN and St. Scholastica’s music directress,  Sr. Placid, did not allow her to leave as she was then under the scholarship of PREDIS for pre-college. 

Sr. Placid assigned the young girl instead to two music faculty members: Gina Medina Perez in violin and Prof. Mauricia Borromeo in piano, who encouraged Jeline’s mother to make her join competitions at once. 


Jeline submitted her application for a  Bachelor’s Degree in Music to Colburn School of Music, Los Angeles' most prestigious music school, and Mannes in NYC, with the help of the Kabayaos---and hopes to get the critical scholarship. She has had intensive training under GiLopez Kabayao for two months, and her rapid improvement shows in her playing four virtuosic pieces for video audition. Judith Oliva acknowledges the huge help of the Kabayaos who are now preparing Jeline for another live audition in Mannes this coming February, ---that hopefully would come with the prized scholarship. 

As Judith put it, “Napakalaking tulong ang training under the Kabayaos. They are one of a kind. I truly salute them po at nagpapasalamat ako nang sobra.”

Cheers to those dedicated “Music Missionaries,” Gilopez and Corazon Kabayao, and much luck to Jeline Oliva as she tries out in the big league. She will need a lot of help in this endeavor, and I hope you my blog friends would come to her assistance.   This is also where some kind of subsidy from the State for very gifted young Filipino artists would go a long way---if only the people in government would realize this.