February 2018 (Issue 18)

Introduction by Jude Ortega

FILM
Jamir, a screenplay by Genory Vanz Alfasain
Kuala’s Song,” a poem by Gerald Galindez

MUSIC
Kastifun,” a song by Silek
Two Songs by Kim Nathaniel Tan
Frédéric,” an essay-and-short-story by Kurt Joshua Comendador

VISUAL ARTS
Susi, a painting-and-poem by Aldrick Lawrence Velasco
Minsan sa May Bagsakan, photo poetry by Hajar Kabalu
One More Customer,” a poem by Paolo Concepcion
If Curiosity Kills,” a poem by Jermaine Dela Cruz

THEATER
Hapagkainan, a play by Jim Raborar
Hikbi ng Batang Matador,” a poem by Dan Joseph Zapanta Rivera
Ang Bida,” a poem by John Dominic Arellano

SPOKEN WORD
Pangatlong Mata” by Hannah Adtoon Leceña
Ako si Dan” by Dan Joseph Zapanta Rivera

Editors and Contributors

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Introduction

It’s National Arts Month, and in this issue of Cotabato Literary Journal, my co-editor and I aim to show you how literature is made richer by other forms of art, specifically film, music, visual arts, and theater. This issue contains two kinds of literary works. One is literary works that are entwined with other forms of art. These works, such as screenplay, lyrics, and play (written), are meant to be performed; they are mixed with other elements and then presented to an audience. The other kind is literary works that are meant to be read only, such as poem, essay, and short story, and inspired by works from other forms of art, such as film, musical composition, painting, photograph, and play (staged). It’s a headache to classify the works—the forms of art have such a complex interrelationship—but we tried, and here’s the delectably psychedelic results:

We were able to gather two film-related works—the screenplay Jamir by Genory Vanz Alfasain (Alabel, Sarangani Province) and the poem “Kuala’s Song” by Gerald Galindez (Tacurong City, Sultan Kudarat). Alfasain wrote, directed, and edited Jamir, a short film, which tells the story of a Moro boy facing a dilemma that even adults would not know how to deal with. The screenplay is deftly written; the dialogue is cut down to the minimum, and each scene is essential to the story. Galindez wrote “Kuala’s Song” after seeing Tinimbang Ka ngunit Kulang, a classic film by the late National Artist Lino Brocka. Kuala, a main character in the film, is mentally ill. In his heartbreaking melodic poem, Galindez retells how the woman is treated in her town and what has made her lose her mind.

Under music, we have lyrics from Silek (Tampakan, South Cotabato), lyrics from Kim Nathaniel Tan (Koronadal City, South Cotabato), and a hybrid work from Kurt Joshua Comendador (General Santos City). Silek, composed of six Blaans who play indigenous and modern musical instruments, shared with us the lyrics of their most popular song, “Kastifun,” which literally means “gathering.” The song calls on Blaans to end conflicts among themselves and unite. Tan, a young singer, songwriter, and guitarist, often performs in local poetry readings, where his Filipino love songs elicit bittersweet sighs and generous applause. He shared with us the lyrics of his songs that deal with social issues. “Philippines, My Homeland” is about love for country, and “The Jam Man” is about armed conflict and religious tolerance. Comendador, a pianist since he was a kid, shared with us the piece entitled “Frédéric.” It’s an essay about the writer’s experience of listening to Andante Spianato et Grande Polonaise Brillante in E-flat Major, op. 22, by Frederic Chopin, and interspersed in the essay are scenes from the life of the Austrian pianist and composer.

Under visual arts, we have Susi, a painting-and-poem by Aldrick Lawrence Velasco (Tantangan, South Cotabato), and Minsan sa may Bagsakan, a set of photographs by Hajar Kabalu (Cotabato City). Velasco, a self-taught artist, often creates paintings that have accompanying poems, mostly about nature and faith in God. Susi is a typical example. Kabalu’s photographs were taken in the public market of his home city. They form what may be called wordless poetry or photo poetry. The word bagsakan literally means “where goods are unloaded,” but there are no goods in the photos. Instead of showing us the usual hustle and bustle of a marketplace, Kabalu directs us to its humdrum and bleak edges, giving us a wider and deeper view of things, as what a good poem does. To illustrate further how photography and literature may intersect, we asked a few writers to create ekphrastic poems on the photographs. Paolo Concepcion (Koronadal City, South Cotabato) chose the photo of a man leaving a store, and in “One More Customer,” he tells us the life of the vendor. But he doesn’t stop there. He gives us a grimmer—and truer—version. Jermaine Dela Cruz (General Santos City) chose the photo of a cat walking on a pavement, and in “If Curiosity Kills,” she makes us reimagine the captured moment by examining the details.

Our theater-related works include a full-length play by Jim Raborar (Koronadal City, South Cotabato), a poem by Dan Joseph Zapanta Rivera (Koronadal City, South Cotabato), and a poem by John Dominic Arellano (Tacurong City, Sultan Kudarat). Raborar’s Hapagkainan is a rambunctious story about a family and their friends as they prepare for a wedding. Rivera’s “Hikbi ng Batang Matadero” is based on Eljay Castro Deldoc’s one-act play Si Maria Isabella at ang Guryon ng mga Tala, which in turn was based on Dean Francis Alfar’s short story “The Kite of Stars.” In a local production of the play, Rivera himself played the butcher boy, one of the two main characters. The story and his experience inspired him to write the poem, which many would find more poignant than either the adapted play or the original short story, for the butcher boy’s heartache is greater than Maria Isabella’s. Arellano’s “Ang Bida” is about a stage actress, her fantastic role in a play, and her staid role in real life. He wrote it after seeing some plays that were staged late last year by Apat sa Taglamig, a Koronadal-based theater group.

We classified the works according to “disciplines” enumerated in Presidential Proclamation No. 683, series of 1991, which designated February as National Arts Month. Also in the list are dance and architecture, but alas, we were not able to find works that may fall under the two. Spoken word is not in the list, for it’s not as established as the others, but we deem it worthy to be added here. We have two spoken word poems—“Pangatlong Mata” by Hannah Adtoon Leceña (Kiamba, Sarangani Province) and “Ako si Dan” by Dan Joseph Zapanta Rivera. Leceña’s poem is about unrequited love, like most works by young spoken word performers, but by using folklore, she creates something new and interesting out of the worn-out theme. Rivera’s poem is addressed to Filipinos, especially his fellow youth, who seem enslaved by social media and have misguided views on political issues.

This may be the most beautiful issue of Cotabato Literary Journal, and this became possible because we now have a good number of regular submissions and the region has many emerging writers to solicit works from—a step forward from months ago, when we could barely find works to fill an issue, and a far cry from a few years ago, when we seemed to have an arid literary landscape. It is evident in the fifteen works from thirteen artists that the arts and letters of Cotabato Region is starting to have its own identity. The works follow outside trends and traditions but speak to the local audience. The themes are universal, but the setting and characters are specific. The concerns are national, but the sensibility is regional. This National Arts Month, we are glad to participate in the countrywide celebration, and we are glad that we can do it not by blending with the rest but by highlighting our own.

Jude Ortega
Senator Ninoy Aquino, Sultan Kudarat

Jamir

By Genory Vanz Alfasain

(The short film made from this screenplay was screened at the 2014 SalaMindanaw International Film Festival in General Santos City and at the 2014 Mindanao Film Festival in Davao City, where it was a nominee for the Best Film award. Portions of this screenplay were altered or excluded during the shooting of the film.)

1. Ext/Day—Outside the Classroom

Jamir is in a hurry to go to his classroom. We see that he is the only student who is still outside the school.

2. Int/Day—Inside the Classroom—Cont.

Jamir is late for his class. We see that the class is in the middle of a discussion. When he steps into the classroom, we notice the grade vi–sampaguita signage. The teacher stops talking. (We also notice the poster of former president Fidel V. Ramos above the blackboard). She looks at Jamir. His classmates also look at him.

Jamir
Good morning, ma’am. I’m sorry, I’m late.

Teacher
Good morning, Jamir. It’s OK. You may sit down.

Jamir sits down beside Ryan, his best friend.

Ryan
Nganong late man ka?
(Why are you late?)

Jamir looks at Ryan and smiles.

3. Int/Day—Inside the Classroom—Cont.

The teacher resumes talking to the class. Jamir listens to her attentively.

Teacher
What do you want to do in life? What’s your ambition?
Please raise your hand if you want to answer.

Almost all of the students raise their hands to answer the questions.

Students
Ma’am! Ma’am! Ma’am!

Teacher
Yes, Leonard?

Leonard
Gusto ko maging doctor, ma’am.
Gusto ko po kasing gamutin ang mga may sakit.
(I want to become a doctor, ma’am.
I want to treat sick people.)

Rashid
Ma’am!

Teacher
Yes, Rashid?

Rashid
Ma’am, ako gusto ko maging politiko para mapatubigan ko ang aming purok.
(Ma’am, I want to be a politician so that I could put up a water system in our purok.)

The teacher continues to recognize her students.

Ryan
Ma’am! (Ryan raises his right hand.)

Teacher
Yes, Ryan?

Ryan
Ma’am, gusto ko maging sundalo.
Gusto ko po kasing ipagtanggol ang naaapi.
(Ma’am, I want to become a soldier.
I want to defend the oppressed.)

We notice that Jamir is really thinking hard about the answer. While his classmates are enthusiastic to answer the questions, Jamir seems deaf.

Teacher
How about you, Jamir? What’s your ambition in life?

Jamir stands up. He cannot look directly at his teacher.

Jamir
Ahmm . . .

The class falls silent. They stare at Jamir, waiting for his answer. Jamir looks tense and confused. He cannot utter a word.

 4. Ext/Day—On the Road Going to Jamir’s House

Jamir is walking to his home. He sees a group of military men chatting with one other. He stops walking, hesitant to continue. We notice that he is sweating. Jamir stares at the military men for some moments more, and then he avoids them and takes a different route.

5. Int/Night—Jamir’s House

Jamir is studying his lessons in front of a kerosene lamp. The house is lighted by these lamps. He reads aloud the words in the book. In the background, we see the (6R framed) photo of his father on the wall. Aya, his mother, is busy preparing supper. Jamir stops reading. He looks at his mother and hesitantly asks a question.

Jamir
Ina, aden den balita ke Ama?
(Mother, is there any news about Father?)

Aya freezes and becomes contemplative. She walks to the table and sits beside Jamir. She puts her hand on Jamir’s head and touches his hair. There is silence. Aya looks at the framed photo of her husband on the wall.

6. Int/Day—Jamir’s House

Jamir folds a shirt and puts it on top of other folded clothes. The clothes are small, an indication that they are his. He takes the clothes to a cabinet. As he puts them inside, he sees the uniform of his father for the Moro National Liberation Front. He takes it out. He scans it. He pauses. He puts the uniform down. He stares at it for a moment. He sighs. He puts the uniform back inside.

7. Ext/Day—At the Gate of the School

Jamir is standing in front of the school gate. He sees a schoolmate with his father. The father is fetching his son. Jamir stares at them. The father touches the hair of his son. The son is happy to see his father. Jamir stares at them until they are gone. Ryan comes to the scene and taps Jamir on his bag.

Ryan
Dali na.
(Let’s go.)

8. Int/Day—Jamir’s House

Jamir arrives. Aya is busy preparing for lunch. Aya wonders why her son has come home early.

Aya
Mibpanay ka lagi? Da klase na nu?
(Why are you early? Don’t you have class?)

Jamir
Da teacher nami. Minuli ko den mapanay ka abpangagi ko.
(We have no teacher. I decided to go home early to study.)

9. Int/Day—Jamir’s House—Later

Jamir is reading his book in his room. He stops reading and goes to the kitchen. He gets a glass of water. Aya is washing the dishes. As Jamir walks back to his room, he notices a booklet on the table. The booklet is about the Moro National Liberation Front. Jamir stops, he looks at it for a second and then goes back to his room.

10. Ext/Day—Outside of Jamir’s House

Jamir throws the garbage at the back of their house. He notices the booklet on the ground. He picks it up. He wonders why the booklet is in the garbage.

11. Int/Day—Jamir’s House

Jamir is reading his book. Aya is busy preparing for lunch. Abdullah, Jamir’s uncle, is at the door.

Abdullah
Assalamoalaykum!

Aya
Waalaykomossalam!

In his right hand he is holding a plastic bag with rice inside. He gives the plastic bag to Aya.

Abdullah
Nya, bagas.
(Here is the rice.)

Aya
Shukran, Dullah.
(Thanks, Dullah.)

Jamir stops reading. He stares at his uncle. His uncle notices him.

Abdullah
Nya ba si Jamir? Masala na ged pakiwatan ku.
(Is this Jamir? My nephew has grown.)

Aya smiles at Abdullah. Abdullah comes closer to Jamir. He puts his hand on Jamir’s head and tousles his hair.

Abdullah
Munot ka sa laki? Lu sa kampo?
(You want to come with me? In the camp?)

Aya’s face looks irritated.

Aya
Dullah!

12. Int/Day—Jamir’s House—Later

Jamir is busy doing his assignment at the table. We can see that Abdullah and Aya are talking outside the house. Jamir cannot concentrate on what he does because he can hear their conversation.

Aya
Anden den su balita nangka ki Rasul?
(Do you have news about Rasul?)

Abdullah
Da pan ba. Paglidu ginawa nami kung na kwa o minatayan sa kanin sa sundalo.
(So far none. We are worried that he might have been captured or killed by the military.)

Their conversation continues. We notice that Jamir looks worried. He stops doing his assignment and fixes his things. He goes into his room.

13. Ext/Day—On the Road

Jamir is walking to school. He sees his uncle approaching him. The man is accompanied by two other men. Jamir stops walking.

Abdullah
Jamir, amag ha.
(Jamir, see you tomorrow.)

Jamir has no reaction to what his uncle has said. He just stares at him. His uncle and the two other men walk away hurriedly. Jamir looks at them for a moment. We see that his face looks pensive. He then continues walking.

14. Int/Night—In Jamir’s House

Jamir cannot sleep. He is staring at the ceiling. Beside him, his mother is asleep.

15. Ext/Day—The Meeting Place/In the Road

Abdullah is smoking a cigarette. He looks at his watch to see what time it is. He looks impatient. He looks again at his watch.

16. Ext/Day—In the School

Jamir is walking. We see that he looks worried.

17. Ext/Day—The Meeting Place/In the Road—Cont.

Abdullah puffs his cigarette, which has been reduced to a stub. He looks again at his watch. He throws the cigarette.

18. Ext/Day—In the School—Cont.

Jamir is at the gate of his school. He pauses. He looks at the gate. The gate is closed. He looks back at the path that he has taken. He looks again at the gate. He sighs, and then he opens the gate. He goes to his classroom.

Kuala’s Song

By Gerald Galindez
Poetry

After the film Tinimbang Ka ngunit Kulang by Lino Brocka

She buried herself in scorched earth
And heard the voices from the sun
She let the voices into her
And welcomed everyone
She came across on every street
They called her by her name
Kuala! Kuala! Kuala! The insane

All day in her ramblings
Her laughter never ceasing
The church and his half-hallowed halls
Has heard her rattle ringing
In dusty pathways and hilly passes
Her thrones are always found
Scattered on the lonely hills
And cogon-covered mounds

Her locks are all adorned
With crawling things that bear—
12345678More crawling things that
12345678Kiss the skull and gnaw the open sores
Her skin reflects the light of day
She drinks on putrid springs
When into town she wears the gown
That gives her fancy wings

Her eyes, they don’t settle
Her tongue, it doesn’t stop
From singing a song
Of a more colored past
When Cesar her love
When they rolled on the hill
He kissed her with fire
That was so hard to kill
Then when on a tree
A fruit came to sight
Her Cesar dissevered the box of their child

And that’s where Kuala started to sing
Her sorrowful song in the heart of that hill
Where she buried herself in the foot of a tree
With a rattle in hand
In perpetual glee.

Kastifun

By Silek

(This song has been performed in numerous events. Kastifun literally means “gathering.” The song calls for the Blaan to set aside their differences and work together, for they are of the same blood. “Deen to baling suteh, nawan di banwe,” the most repeated line in the song, is asking why the members of the tribe are fighting one another.)

Gel guh salek ti kalbong
Tubed Blaan di banwe.
Git lito guh samfo yo gamo
Guh samfo guroh.

Deen to baling suteh, nawan di banwe.

Kelen kafnge tu ron kastifun kasafye Blaan.
Kelen kafnge lite a Blaan maloh di banwe.
Afnaloh labeh,
Afnaloh tase kastulen.

Kelen kastifun am e lito Blaan,
Kamom ti baling sakla dalan.
Beg ata stabeng di kafye banwe,
Neng ato baling sahal kiyeh.

Deen to baling suteh, nawan di banwe.

Kelen kafnge tu ron kastifun, kasafye Blaan.
Kelen kafnge lite a Blaan maloh di banwe.
Afnaloh labeh,
Afnaloh tase kastulen.

Kelen kastifun am e lito Blaan,
Kamom ti baling sakla dalan.

Beg ato stabeng di kafye banwe,
Neng ato baling sahal kiyen.
Kelen kastifun am e lito Blaan,
Kamon ti baling sakla dalan.

Beg ato stabeng di kafye banwe,
Neng ato baling sahal kiyen.

Deen to baling suteh, nawan di banwe.
Deen to baling suteh, nawan di banwe.

Two Songs

By Kim Nathaniel Tan

 

Philippines, My Homeland

(Performed in a Bonifacio Day poetry reading organized by the writers group in South Cotabato Province)

Look up!

Three stars and a single sun over there.
Blue and red are the colors of our history.
Our flag signifies redemption.

We are Filipinos, Filipinos,
nowhere to run when our man’s down,
for that’s what we are.

We fought for the freedom of our nation,
fight here fight there for our nation,
but I guess we all forget this now,

For other Filipino people only care about their selves,
and there are some
killing each other for the opinions about their selves.

The blood of our heroes
who claimed the land from the enemy who tried to take our land’s
now wasted.

Philippines, Philippines, my homeland!

Walls painted red,
our life’s held by Death.
Sky’s no more blue,
and the sun’s stopped shining through.

The stars from above,
well, nowhere to be found.
I don’t know the reasons for the fights between opinions,

For other Filipino people only care about their selves,
and there are some
killing each other for the opinions about their selves.

The blood of our heroes
who claimed the land from the enemy who tried to take our land’s
now wasted.

Philippines, Philippines, my homeland!

 

The Jam Man

I am the Jam Man
Singing about my life and the
Place I belong is
Is a place of killing in sight.

Walking along the highway,
I met people and they
Told me if I could make a song about what’s going on,
And I said yes.

Tears drip out while blood splashes on the wall.
They say they don’t want this, they didn’t ask for this.
Parents and their children have nothing to eat, but
Still want guns and ammunition,
Try to feed a gun instead of belly situation

That aches
That aches

Praying for blessings
But still pointing guns to have it,
And the faith they’re saying
Is a faith that’ll lead to a fight.

Walking along the highway,
I met people and they’re
Trying to argue about this so-called belief and faith.
Well that’s why

People will forever and ever hate their race
Because of forcing beliefs on other men
Keep on preaching but don’t mean teaching
Trying to educate but only mean to convince the state.

I am the Jam Man
Singing about my life
And this is the story I wanna sing
To the world.

Frédéric

By Kurt Joshua Comendador
Essay and Short Story

It’s a cold night. I’m left alone as my family has gone for a visit to a relative’s house. With nothing to do, I rummage through the pieces strewn all over the face of the piano: Scott Joplin, Beethoven, Mozart, Bach, Clementi, and many others. Deep into the layers of printed pieces, I come across Frédéric Chopin’s Nocturne in E-flat Major, op. 9, no. 2. I pull it out and try sight-reading it. Many wrong notes later, I decide to stop and listen to it. Again. After so many times listening to it, I still don’t get tired of the music. Easy to the ears and easy to the mind, the music perfectly matches the ambience of the night. Before I know it, I drift to sleep, and then I’m awakened by an entirely new music.

The music begins to flow like honey: slow, fluidic, and tantalizing. A gentle cascade of poetically beautiful passages, as if performed by cherubs on their harps. It doesn’t take long for me to identify it: Chopin’s Andante Spianato et Grande Polonaise Brilliante in E-flat Major, op. 22. The music engulfs me, making me feel as though I’m floating on a clear lake, its glassy surface reflecting the serene light of the full moon on a cloudless night.

A nocturne. A lullaby. A blanket, soft as velvet, wrapping my very soul. Slowly, all my troubles, all my worries and anxieties, lightened. It is just me and the music, dancing and playing to the extremes of reality and imagination. It takes me to the time when innocence, hope, and dreams are synonymous to your very existence. Yes, like a baby in a cradle being rocked softly by the benevolent waves of the ocean we call life.

* * *

“Frédéric,” Nicholas muttered as he received the child from his wife.

“I did not quite hear you, Nick,” Justyna said as she propped herself up in the bed. Do you mind repeating what you’ve just said?”

“We’ll call him Frédéric,” Nicholas said in a more audible and distinct voice.

“Frédéric,” Justyna reiterated with an agreeing smile. “Frédéric Chopin.”

“Can I see him father?” said a young girl, tugging gently at Nicholas’s jacket.

“Definitely, Ludwika,” Nicholas said.

Ludwika slightly backed away as Nicholas lowered himself, carefully so as not to shake the infant. Ludwika tiptoed towards her now-crouching father and peeked sheepishly at Frédéric.

“You’re going to be a good sister to him, wouldn’t you, Ludwika?” Nicholas said, never taking his gaze off his newborn son. His face, as if painted by happiness himself, grinned from ear to ear.

“Yes!” Ludwika cried. “I will be a good sister to him, Father!”

Frédéric twitched.

“Now don’t speak too loudly or he might cry!” Nicholas said with a laugh.

Ludwika, as if instinctively, covered her mouth with both hands, putting them down immediately to resume talking: “I will take good care of him, Father! I will teach him how to write or maybe teach him how to play the piano. I will definitely be a good sister to him, Father!”

“Now that’s enough, you two,” Justyna interrupted. “Return him here. Frédéric and I could use some rest.”

Nicholas returned Frédéric to his wife and stepped back. “We’ll be back before dinner.” He kissed Justyna on the forehead and proceeded to exit the room with Ludwika skipping behind him. Nicholas opened the door and waved goodbye to Justyna.

“Goodbye, Mother! Goodbye, Frédéric!” bade Ludwika

* * *

The music flows continuously, like rain in a gentle torrent on a cold November morning. A kindle of curiosity arouses within me. A longing to know something, to discover something new. The music, like a hand, leads me on. The essence of curiosity prominent in the tranquility and warmth of the piece.  Curiosity—discoverer of gifts, revealer of talents, and leader of all willing to learn.

Like how the hammer inside the piano strikes the strings to produce sound, man and idea must collide in order to create a work of art. A child’s curiosity, coupled by the nurturing guidance of the parents, will create an entirely new individual: a child prodigy. The perpetual flow of gracious notes seems like a portal to the mind of a piano prodigy, enchanted to play his wildest fantasy and imagination, improvising and playing by feel. My mind is enveloped in a blissful feeling, swept by the cold serene river that is the music.

* * *

Frédéric watched as his mother played the piano. The way Justyna caressed the keys of the piano enthralled the one-year-old.

“Handsome boy!” said Justyna. “What’s the problem? Don’t you like the music?”

Frédéric let out a laugh and extended both of his hands in the air, begging to be picked up, giggling, cooing, and smiling.

“Oh, you want to sit with me? Is that it?” Justyna asked. She picked up her son and put him on her lap. “Now you behave, Frédéric, else you’re going to fall.”

Frédéric’s eyes lit up when his mother began playing, his head turning eagerly from side to side, following the hands of his mother. Frédéric clapped and giggled, as if he appreciated the music being played for him, to the delight of his mother. “Why do I have this feeling that you would be a great pianist someday, my little Frédéric?” she whispered to him.

And after three years . . .

“Justyna! Ludwika!” Nicholas called out. “To the music room! Hasten!”

“Is something the matter, Father?” Ludwika asked, Justyna just behind her, wiping her hands on her apron.

“Behold this!” Nicholas said. “Frédéric will perform Bach’s first minuet. I taught it to him just this afternoon, and now prepare to be amazed by the progress he has made.”

Frédéric sat on the piano and proceeded to play the heralded piece. He pressed the keys intently. His movement appeared to be effortless, with no wasted motion and unnecessary movements, his arms apart to the side of his body. Frédéric produced rich and elegant tones as though he had practiced the piano far longer than his age. His legs hung lazily on the bench as his legs were still too short to reach the floor. On and on he went. One-two-three, one-two-three, went the beat on Frédéric’s mind, careful not to disrupt the timing. The littleness of his hands made the last few measure difficult to execute. Nevertheless, he finished the piece, and it was a job well done, worthy of the applause of his family.

“Bravo!” said his mother. “Bravo, Frédéric!”

“Thank you, Mama!” Frédéric blushed.

“Well done, little brother!” Ludwika said. “Sooner or later, you’ll be even better than me.”

“Thank you, Ludwika,” Frédéric said. “I’m sorry, but I am certain that something smells burning in here!”

“I think it comes from the kitchen,” Nicholas said, sniffing the air.

Justyna stood still, her eyes wide open. “Oh no! My pies!” she exclaimed with a gasp and then promptly scampered to the kitchen. The rest of the family burst out in laughter. The newest member of the family, Emilia, watched from her crib, sucking nonchalantly on her pacifier.

* * *

The relaxing cascade of music comes to a temporary halt: no crash, no violent impact, and no sudden collision that perturbs the earnest meditation I’ve been thrown into. The music smoothly transitions—like a seasoned driver flawlessly shifting gears—into an entirely new character: a simple formal march with a distinct beat. The music carries a soothing air that further emolliates my mind and soul, taking me to a whole new scene.

The music carries nostalgia unto me, as it reminds me the very first time I played in public: the uncomplicated sound resembles an easy piece that new students learn for their first recital. There is something magical in it—something powerful, something sentimental, something appealing. Then again, who forgets their first? I close my eyes and imagine the first public recital of Frédéric when he was eight years old.

* * *

“How are you feeling, son?” Nicholas asked Frédéric backstage.

“I feel excellent, a little excited perhaps,” Frédéric replied.

“God bless you! I wish I had your confidence!”

The host ended his introduction and presented Frédéric to the crowd that had gathered to witness his first public recital. On the front row sat Frédéric’s mother and two sisters, Ludwika and Emilia. Nicholas scurried to his seat, bent as low as possible.

Frédéric walked to the center of the stage where the piano was placed. He stood still for a moment, briefly scanned his audience, took a bow, and then took his position on the piano. Frédéric’s professionalism and stately manners endeared him to the crowd, prompting an applause.

The clapping stopped, and the performance started. Here was the boy who had grown up in a musical family. Here was a boy proclaimed as musical genius by his first teachers. Here was the boy who, at seven, had published his first musical composition. This was his first public recital. Waltzes, marches, mazurkas—these were some of the music he played that day. The stage was his, and the crowd offered him their time and attention. Each minute increased the amazement of the crowd that, in the end, the place was about to crumble to the thunderous standing ovation the crowed bestowed on him. The cheers, however, were no greater than that of Frédéric’s family: “Bravo, Frédéric! Bravo!” they exclaimed in unison.

* * *

Tears begin to form on the corner of my eyes as the emotions begin to swell. There is sadness in its beauty, like a desperate plea for solace. It has a character of a swan song: a longing and questioning aura, a final offering before moving on to the next stage, a request for consolation. The music is a plea for a return to the past, to cherish loving memories once again, to be with loved ones again for even just a single day, to return to the place of origin, the place we call home. The music merely shows that life is indeed a fleeting moment.

The featherlike music wafts into my ears and directly goes into my heart. The piece’s subtlety carries overwhelming woes that pierce the soul, a proof that music is indeed a powerful being, able to carry happiness, relief, sadness, and pleasure through its nuances.

* * *

“It is time for you to leave, Frédéric,” Nicholas said. Justyna was standing beside her husband, sobbing silently, wiping her tears with a white handkerchief.

Frédéric stood up from squatting beside Emilia’s grave. “I just want to make sure I have spent some time with Emilia, Father,” Frédéric said with a sigh. He wiped the headstone, revealing the transcription:

She disappeared at fourteen
the spring of life
like a flower
in which beauty
the fruit flourished
hope.
April 10, 1827

“I am sure that Emilia would be happy for you, Frédéric,” Nicholas said. “I am certain she will watch over you.”

“I still have doubts whether I can endure being away from here, Father.”

“Nineteen years is enough, Frédéric. Poland is too small for you. We must go now. Everyone is waiting for you.”

Teachers, friends, and family had gathered at the toll gate to bid Frédéric adieu and wish him good luck.

“Oh, Frédéric!” cried Constance, Frédéric’s sweetheart. “You must remember us. Many others may better praise you and adore you, but none would love you stronger than we!”

“I will never forget you, my love!” Frédéric answered. “Nor I will forget anyone of you. For my heart will forever remain in here and my loyalty forever reside in this country. Farewell, Mother and Father! Farewell, Constance! Farewell, Ludwika! Farewell, Poland!”

As the coach carrying Frédéric started rolling down the road, the people behind started singing a song composed by Professor Elsner, Frédéric’s headmaster in the conservatory of music. Such a touching act caused Frédéric to weep bitterly.

* * *

The melancholic music fades away, just like the screams of an airplane taking off: before you know it, there is nothing you could hear. I want to chase after it, as though it’s a runaway kite, with the thread glancing off your fingers, but there’s nothing I can do but to long after it, wishing it would come back. What’s left is an obscure mixture of feelings.

All of a sudden, like a pre-invasion salvo of artillery nobody expects, the music comes alive. Like a team of stallions thrown into a gallant gallop by the crack of a whip by the coachman. Formal, noble, and energetic. A brilliant and majestic processional tune fitting to announce the arrival of a king. The music is so enthralling, it throws me into a fervor, making me move my head and hands unconsciously, mimicking the actions of a conductor as he directs an orchestra, feeling the music at the same time. It is magical, and from it I have no escape.

The opening barrage finished, the landing party follows. The music turns into a radiant and lively dance theme. It’s like watching an old master fill the canvas with colors, watching his paintbrush trail behind colors from his mystical pallet to create a masterpiece. I see a man dancing with Destiny in the form of a beautiful woman. The woman dances coyly, being elusive and playful as can be. Oftentimes, it appears the man has finally caught the woman, but every time, he lets her get away. The man knows enough that it has only begun—the night is young and so are they—and the music is far from over. He keeps on dancing. Just he and the woman. Alone in the cosmic parquet of life, sooner or later, he shall triumph.

* * *

Frédéric arrived in Vienna and immediately resumed his familiar life, taking no time to acclimatize to his current repertoire—playing in theatres and grand saloons, displaying his elegant techniques and expressive renditions of his pieces that were absolutely new to the people of Austria. Frédéric jumped from one saloon to another, from theatre to theatre, from one aristocrat’s lavish home to another. Chopin was leading a musician’s dream of fame and fortune, but it didn’t stop him from writing home as much as possible.

 . . . Luxembourg and Berlin. It is still not confirmed, but I might go to London one of these days. P.S. Send my regards to Mother and Father. Love, Frédéric

 Ludwika lowered the letter that she had read aloud.

“Good Lord!” Justyna said. “Frédéric must be really absorbed with all these travels!”

“It is no question, Justyna,” Nicholas said. “It has always been like that and always will be. Where were you when Frédéric played at almost every grand saloon in the country when he was young? Not to mention the times when he played for the royal families of Poland and Germany. The world is ready for our Frédéric!”

“I absolutely have that on my mind, but it just never fails to amaze me,” Justyna said.

“Don’t quarrel now, you two,” Ludwika teased her parents. “It would be better if you just pray for Brother while I write an answer to him. We must keep him updated of what is happening here.”

* * *

The music is a stark contrast to the youthful and lyrical character of the spianato. Highly dramatic, more technical and much grander in style. The entirely new music is a sound that comes from heartfelt rendering from the keyboard: feeling of despair, confusion, and self-doubt mixed into the fury of regal music. It is filled with angst and rage, with passages similar to asking questions. It is filled with rising and falling intonations, with masterful variation of volume and tones. It is indeed emotionally evoking. Such is the power of music when manipulated by a virtuoso.

* * *

“What am I going to, Tytus?” Frédéric asked as he shuffled across the room in his apartment.

“You must steady yourself, Mr. Chopin,” replied Tytus in a consoling tone. Tytus is a fellow student of Chopin, as what Frédéric is now referred to, at the Warsaw Lyceum.

“I want to return to Poland and fight with our brothers, Tytus!”

“You must remain here, Mr. Chopin. You are much too valuable to lose.”

“I am just a pianist, Tytus. I am no more special than the man feeding the dogs when it comes to serving the country.”

“You are not merely a pianist, Mr. Chopin. You are Poland’s future! The very embodiment of Poland’s spirit! You will support our cause through your music!”

Chopin sat on the divan, and not a moment passed when someone knocked on the door. “Do me a favor, Tytus. Answer the door for me, will you?” Chopin scowled, pressing his forehead with his fingers.

After a while, Tytus said, “It is a letter, Mr. Chopin.”

“From whom is it this time?” Chopin said, clearly distressed.

“It came from Poland. It’s from Constance. Constance wrote you a letter, Mr. Chopin!”

“Constance! I haven’t heard from her for a year. Quick! Give me that letter!”

Chopin’s enlivened mood didn’t last long. His body slouched as he read the letter.  “Oh God! No!” cried Chopin, bursting in tears. The outpouring sorrow could no longer be suppressed. Like a dam crumbling from the surmounting water, Chopin cried his heart out. “Why do these have to happen to me?” yelled Chopin bitterly.

“What is the matter, Mr. Chopin?” asked Tytus.

“Co-co-Constance will be married to someone else, Tytus!” Chopin replied, barely getting the words out of his mouth.

“Mr. Chopin, I feel terrible for you, but it would be her loss, not yours.”

“What have I done to deserve this, Tytus?”

“Mr. Chopin—”

“I shouldn’t have left! I shouldn’t have left! I shouldn’t—” Chopin paused midsentence, his mouth gasping for air, his movements erratic. He grasped his chest.

“Mr. Chopin!” exclaimed Tytus, rushing to assist the musician. “What happened? Good Lord!”

Chopin had dropped on the floor, moving spasmodically, mouth gaping, eyes wide open. Tytus was horrified.

Hours later, the doctor told Tytus, “He has gone weak. He needs to rest as much as possible to fully recover. I strongly advise him to refrain from long travels. As for now, he will be all right. Just don’t let him do anything that might agitate him.”

“What about concerts, Doctor?” Tytus asked.

“If he wants to be better, he must avoid it. He can still teach and play, but performing in a concert would be too exhausting for him.”

Chopin did exactly as what the doctor had advised. Secluded in his room, with his diminished health and with no other outlet to pour his grief, Chopin’s talents ripened. As Tytus returned to Poland to fight, Chopin emptied his sentiments on the piano, never once playing in public in his time of recuperation. On a warm day eight months later, he received a letter from François-Antoine Habeneck, inviting him to play in the Paris Conservatory.

“I must go,” Chopin told himself. “I am ready. I will go to Paris. I must perform even if it costs me my life.”

Chopin set out into his journey to France, together with his new companion, Simon.

“I really think I’m quite ready for this, Simon,” Chopin said, as their stagecoach rolled steadily to Paris. “But still I’m feeling uneasy”

“Don’t worry about it, Mr. Chopin,” Simon said. “I think you will do just fine.”

The day came for the concert. Chopin paced back and forth in the backstage of the theatre.

“What is the matter, Monsieur Chopin?” asked Habeneck, the mastermind of the event.

“I am excited, Monsieur Habeneck!”

“Oh, I thought it was something else,” Habeneck said. “You better steady yourself now, Monsieur Chopin. You’re going to be called out any minute now.”

The female host announced, “Mesdames et Messieurs, vous présentant l’immortel, Monsieur Chopin!”

“There’s your cue now, Monsieur!” exclaimed Habeneck. “Show them what music is all about!”

Chopin strutted to the center of the stage, gave the host a peck on each cheek, and assumed his position on the piano bench.

Chopin hovered his arms above the keyboard, like a heron’s wings preparing for flight. With a controlled drop, Chopin struck the first key perfectly, twitching his head as his ears registered the sound of perfection. All his pent-up emotions were relieved, all his experiences were incorporated into his music, and all his misery was exhausted on that concert. Chopin’s body language clearly signified his joy and displayed his ecstasy. Chopin took flight with the polonaise, like a stallion, running wild and free in the plains of the west. It was a majestic performance, evident in the thunderous applause of his audience.

“Fantastique! Excellent! Bravo!” the French shouted. Chopin basked in the glory of musicianship. Soon enough, flowers were delivered to Chopin by bouquets. It was a magnificent concert indeed, one which immortalized him to those who witnessed his greatness. It was the last grand concert Chopin would offer as he would never enter the concert platform again. Chopin fully reached his peak of his fully mature style—a style in which pianistic virtuosity was placed at the service of expression.

* * *

It has taken me a few seconds to realize that I’m clapping with the audience. Such is the power of Frédéric Chopin’s music, able to garner appreciation and acclamation almost two hundred years later. At the conclusion of the piece, the music is thrown into a frolic frenzy, a music of great gaiety, a music for the man who has finally captivated Destiny, the beautiful woman who initially eluded him.

The music ends, and so does my imagination. The music of Chopin has invigorated my spirit and my musical self. From a very somber beginning to a splendid ending, it has taken me into a journey of what may have been the musician’s life. With renewed hope and confidence, I return to the piano and attempted to play another one of his pieces.