Posts Tagged ‘Rey T. Paguio’

Tonight I am writing about a dog. Actually I am writing about two dogs. Two dogs and a new friend, who is now an old friend. Sometimes when life is going by, you are more of an observer than a participant.

Once upon a time, a long time ago, in a faraway land, I was a singer in a chorus. I didn’t do much else in that season. I certainly wasn’t getting good grades, I was lost and adrift. I was anchored to the singing group and the friends I made. I was very lucky, and the group was the UP Concert Chorus, and the conductor was the genius and angel Rey T. Paguio.

Now that I am fifty-two, I realize that life is an ocean and waves bring treasures from the deep. People I thought were washed into the past keep rolling up onto shore like rare seashells.

Back in 2005 I got out of the hospital and was driven to get in touch with my old friends who were in the area. We began the back and forth, tossing out possible reunion houses, and dates. One of my friends who lives in Kuala Lumpur nudged me to invite Norma Ramirez.

Norma was a jazz vocalist back in the day. By the time I joined the Concert Chorus, she had moved on to singing with a great band, Bong Penera’s Batucada. She had a hit, “Samba Song”.

Back then, I was an alto two who couldn’t read music, and Norma was a goddess. When I got the nudge, I hesitated because I didn’t know what to say. Would she remember me? So I picked up the phone and called her in New Hampshire. Her warm voice filled the space and I listened.

We had a lot in common because of our hospital experience. She had a rich and interesting life. Being wheelchair bound didn’t seem to affect her joie de vivre. I had deep empathy for her situation, and we made arrangements to have the reunion at Bugaboo Creek because it had handicapped access.

On the day of the reunion, she and her trusty sidekick, Sasquatch the service dog made a grand and merry entrance. Sasquatch trotted alongside the power chair. He settled under the table for the duration of the lunch. Oh, how the time flew. Such a beautiful day it was.

Not a week after we met, I got the news that Sasquatch was afflicted with a brain tumor. The news was so devastating, and I cried because it seemed so cruel that she would have to go through this loss. The news made me catch my breath and relay it to the kids in a panic. I was so shaken with the bad news.

The UP Concert Chorus family rallied around her and raised money for treatment and saw her through Sasquatch’s treatment and apparent remission.

This this spring sorrow came and Sasquatch succumbed. The whole story is on the blog http://newdogfornorma.blogspot.com

In the painful weeks after Sasquatch’s death, a grass roots fundraising campaign was set into to motion to get a new dog for Norma. The initial hurdle was $2,000, the necessary amount to open an account at NEADS (Dogs for Deaf and Disabled Americans). NEADS was founded in 1976, and is a top rated charity, certified by Animal Charities in America, and Best in America Charities). Their executive board is top notch, and their reputation is stellar. They are a beautifully run, professional non-profit organization that anyone should feel honored to support.

An anonymous donor gave a large amount. UP Concert Chorus friends jumped into action. Facebook opened doors. Friends of my effervescent daughter Mercy, Bud’s high school classmates, our neighbors here, and my online classmates gave money. It added up and in no time we were at the necessary threshold of $2,000.

Then, this week, the good news came. A new dog had been found for Norma, and the match was perfect. Just like that, the sorrow has receded, and I could sense joy in my friend’s voice.

Now that NEADS has matched a dog to Norma, the fundraising will continue until the necessary $9,500 is raised. Donors can give at the site, and be assured of seamless recording of donations at this top rated charity.

Please visit Norma’s new page at NEADS and give if you are inspired to do so. In a world where so many things go wrong, it is good to know that places like NEADS thrive and match service dogs with people who have lost a lot, but who have not lost hope.

Hope has four legs and a wagging tail. Check out this wonderful organization, and donate if you can. Donations begin at $10.00. Here is Norma’s NEADS donation link http://neads.org/about_us/client_view.php?id=180

When my adventure with Norma began, I had no idea that sadness was just around the bend. I had no idea that I would be stretched and tested in my abilities to pull rabbits out of hats, to keep calm and hopeful and believe that the money would come in. We achieved our goal and then Cozy, the new dog, came along. Thanks to everyone who helped, and thanks to those who will be inspired to help in this new phase. God Bless us all!

Meet Cozy!


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A most extraordinary Saturday afternoon. Old friends converging from all over New England. All of us were members of the University of the Philippines Concert Chorus under the late Rey T. Paguio. Cindy & Dan, Babe and Keith, Ram, Bert, Kate, and me. Keith and Bud are Chorus spouses. The last time I saw most of these faces was in 1978. Bert and Ram I met on this day. This meeting was not easy to coordinate. American life has a way of eating up schedules. There were family and job and kid commitments and surgery to heal from. On the day itself, two parties hit traffic, one got lost, our main family car went into the shop. Ram had to schedule a special van. But we made it!

These dear people’s faces were as well known to me as my own siblings. We sat together for years, on Monday, Wednesday and Friday afternoons at Abelardo Hall from three to five o’clock in the afternoon. Hedy would play the piano and Sir would coax, cajole, mix our voices like fine ingredients. Over and over we would go over a passage. SATB. “Basses! Altos! ” He would persuade, needle and then proclaim with exasperation, “Sopranos! Tenors! ” Again, and again. Such are the hours that make a life. In the midst of martial law, in an outspoken country without a free press, a country on the verge of one of the great peacetime diasporas in the history of the world, we would sing, and then sing again. In a way, the most real thing we had was the music.

We had a two tables pushed together at the restaurant on Saturday. There were photo albums, brought by Cindy, Dan, Bert & Kate, going around the table. Years crammed into photographs. Husbands, babies, children, first communions, beaches, houses -Life. Kate sparkling even more than I remembered. I had forgotten how pretty she was. When you are at singing practice, everyone is just there. It’s an ordinary afternoon. I had forgotten how much I missed them in a place deeper than words.

Cindy smiling next to Dan. Just like decades ago. I’ve never thought of them as seperate people, always Cindy and Dan. Life not only goes on, but goes on with exuberance. So much I wanted to know. How was it for them in the space of time when they were separated by an ocean and a continent, when Dan was in Manila and Cindy was in the States? That was before the Internet, cell phones, digital cameras? How did they bear the distance in that time before they were together again? No matter, here they were, still Cindy-Dan. Danny was taller than I remembered, and so distinguished looking. Brilliant and pretty Babe with her husband Keith. Keith is a joyful person. That is precious – to be joyful. It stands out immediately in a dour world. Babe’s young appearance makes you look twice before you remember her weighty credentials. Look at them! No years have passed on their faces save what wisdom can impart. I missed their weddings! What was I doing? I don’t know, but it couldn’t have been more important than staying in touch. I make a mental note to stay connected now.

This is the part where we hang on for the long run. The older we get, the harder it is to explain ourselves to new people. Yet, to share ourselves is the essence of life. We must hang on to those precious comrades of our shared history.

What fun to see Babe! I can’t think of Babe without thinking of her big brother Pohns, known to his family as Kuya Sammy. We all prayed Pohns out of the hospital last fall as we did all other Chorus close calls. Here she is a Ph.D. She was the girl with the richest low alto that was as smooth as dark chocolate over a low flame. God bless her and Keith who made my kids smile long after we all said goodbye. Next time we will sing!

Then Ram, with her trusty sidekick, Sasquatch. Unimaginable overcoming of challenges. True grit with a big smile. We talked about a time when she fell in the snow and Sasquatch wouldn’t leave her. Sasquatch redefines doghood. He sits under the table and puts his head on your lap with the biggest, most soulful eyes. Ram talks about her ordeal of healing and coping and completely redefining her life. It’s mind boggling, but here she is a powerhouse of personality.

Bert looked distinguished. He brought along photos from the early 70’s. Time lines stretched. Stories from all of the Concert Chorus batches. Different tours, different destinations, but all marked by the association with Mr. Paguio. Ram said that when they were at UP, they would steal away to the movies and Bert could instantly replay the movie themes by ear. That’s how it was at the College of Music. It still must be that way.

At times like these, memories tumble out at the same moment we are talking about our current lives. There just isn’t enough time! I remember a trip to sing for Professor Lucio San Pedro at his hometown of Angono, Rizal. We sang at an outside amphitheatre for the people of Angono. It was beyond beautiful to stand in the late afternoon tropical light and sing his music for him. Afterwards, we gathered at the esteemed professor’s house and listened to stories. Dr. San Pedro’s sister talked about World War II and how people took bancas across Laguna de Bay during the Japanese occupation.

Such opportunities were amazing, yet so typical of Chorus life. On the way home from Angono, someone started singing and soon we were dancing in the aisle as the bus wound through the old streets of Pasig. I told myself, “Remember this.” And I have.

The College of Music was such a friendly place, like a vast living room with illuminaries like Aurelio Estanislao holding court in his faculty office. Dear Tito Relly. Life is short when you are enjoying it in the company of congenial friends. I would step into his office and quietly take whatever chair was empty and listen. How he could tell stories!

In the flurry of topics that flew around the table Kate mentioned that she decided she wanted to sing with the Chorus after a she heard a Bach piece in the Chapel. We were all turning our brains wondering which piece it was. When I got home I went looking and stumbled upon this Chorus oldie. This is an audio memory of Christmas past. Domine Fili Unigenite from Vivaldi’s Missa Gloria. It’s not the Chorus, but it illustrates the idea. I believe we sounded better than this. Indulge me, for a moment, dear reader. Put yourself in the shoes of an ordinary college student who happens upon the Concert Chorus singing away. You hear beautiful music but the faces singing at you are just like your own face in the mirror. College kids, majors from all over the University, Economics, Education, English, Fine Arts. Just like you. Then you think, “Maybe, Just maybe I can do that too.” You see one thing, and you hear something like this:


Transported and inspired, you ask around and maybe even approach Mr. Paguio and ask when the auditions will be. You make your way to the College of Music on audition day and something in your heart leaps when you are given a friendly welcome. Soon, you are spending all your free time at Abelardo Hall. Life has changed and gentle Mr. Paguio has a piece of your heart. You belong and it feels like home.

Saturday afternoon was a taste of what heaven might be like. A sense of timelessness, good food, and warm light. The feeling of beckoning and kindness.

So on this cold winter morning deep in the waning days of a Pilgrim winter I am twenty-two again, singing music that is so much vaster than I could ever imagine being part of. Mr. Paguio had that knack, of putting an
ordinary person into an extraordinary piece of music. It was like riding a huge wave on a surfboard but never falling off. Sir could do that – he’d put our voices out there and bring them in riding on instruments, and in perfect time, he’d magically guide us to shore.

In later years, the sense of memory would overcome me with a rush, bringing me emotionally to my knees. I’d be in the midst of the most ordinary thing. Answering a phone at the Admissions office, typing in an economic model, selling a gentleman a white shirt at the department store, sitting on an airplane bound for California and it would begin. Always, violins first. Then, voices. In the din of Manhattan I would long for the swish of a Maria Clara*, of long hair held up by a peineta*, a tambourin* necklace around a neck. I would think of Juan Luna’s picture called Tampuhan and long for that certain slant of afternoon light with the air heavy with the scent of about-to-rain. Then a song would begin, sometimes it would be “Sa Ugoy ng Duyan” by Lucio San Pedro. A simple lullaby filling the space around me and I would be filled with a palpable longing. I’d breathe through it, feel it, and let it go.

Sana’y di magmaliw ang dati kong araw
Nang munti pang bata sa piling ni Nanay
Nais kong maulit ang awit ni Inang mahal,
Awit ng pag-ibig habang ako’y nasa duyan.

My rough translation:

I wish I could return to days past
when I was a small child in the arms of my mother
I wish I could hear once again the song of my mother,
a song of love when I was in the hammock of her embrace.

A duyan is a hammock, but also a figure of a mother’s embrace. The imagery of a duyan goes hand in hand with the lulling swaying motion of a hammock. Think of sleeping in a hammock under a big acacia tree with the light being filtered through the leaves. Can anything be more heavenly for a baby? Set it to music and there you have Lucio San Pedro’s beautiful song.

When I am with Concert Chorus friends, they become the duyan. We all grow up, and most of us move away. Look at this batch, carrying on daily life 9,000 miles away from home and almost 3,000 miles above the equator. We all carry within our hearts that inner place where memory and love and simpler times mix and meld.

Whenever I am with Chorus friends, I am in the duyan again. If I close my eyes, the most normal thing in the world would be to hear Mr. Paguio calling for us to sit up straight and sing.


*Maria Clara is a Philippine national costume marked by a full skirt, bell sleeves, and a panuelo shawl.
*A peineta is a hair comb
* A tamburin is a traditional piece of Philippines jewelry in the shape of a reliquiary, usually made of filigreed gold or silver.

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sirxmas1He was the first truly good man I ever knew.  The power of his basic goodness had a ripple effect over hundreds of us through the years.

I loved him, he shaped my life, but I don’t think he knew it. I was one of his many kids. Now he does know from the great Everlasting. I first saw him from the back of an auditorium in 1976 when he brought the University of the Philippines Concert Chorus on tour to Baguio City. I was sitting at the back row feeling quite interrupted. Our family was in the midst of leaving Baguio. But there was that absolutely charming song, “Sing!” that stirred a sense of hope and opportunity in my weighted heart. Then, sandwiched between my friends, Sitos and Romy, the Chorus started up “The Way We Were” which was a perfect sad song for an 18 year old heart. Mr. Paguio, whom I would come to call Sir, was conducting with that look of intensity and complete focus – his carved clogs gave him a few more inches of height.

He was a Christian gentleman. He was generosity and kindness personified. He made me feel included at a time when life as I knew it was falling apart. Every Monday, Wednesday and Friday I could count on having to be at Abelardo Hall for practice.

I never learned to read music like my extremely talented batch mates, but I felt I was welcomed because of my easy nature and my love for singing. I genuinely enjoyed my travelling partners in music, and I was introduced to music in a way that got under my skin.

Sir was a Daddy, he was Pater Familias, he was Structure and Consistency. He was Patience and Determination. He gave people chances. He dreamed big dreams. He made you feel like you could make a difference, accomplish something, become a Special Someone. At that time when Martial Law was the new normal, he was the flash of Filipino creativity and daring and lightheartedness.

Abelardo Hall seemed to me the kind of place you might find in heaven, although it took me more than twenty years to realize its importance. Aberlardo Hall, which housed the College of Music had faculty offices and practice rooms from which beautiful sounds floated into the soft tropical air.

Sir was the catalyst for fun. There was a never ending swirl of laughing and music and gossip and possibility around him. He had a magnetic personality and never seemed to walk alone.

How can you explain to someone the feeling of hearing the opening measures of the 4th movement of Beethoven’s 9th Symphony? This happened to me. I walked into the Cultural Center of the Philippines on Manila Bay and cellos and strings were soaring. I stopped and my throat caught tears and I didn’t know why I found myself crying except for sheer beauty. Thank you, Sir, for surrounding us with beauty. Free – there for the taking – always available. Music and transcendent beauty.

There was another moment, on tour to Bicol, where we found ourselves at an old railway station. One of our hosts pulled out his violin and launched into “Hating Gabi” (Midnight) A lyrical lovesong that sings heartbreakingly, whether by voice or violin, “Halina irog ko, sa aking piling” (Come my love, into my embrace). Sun gilding the green field outside, that certain slant of heartbreaking light, Sir – smiling and nodding, a gentle chorus singing without effort. Just like that, a lifelong memory to be pulled out at difficult times. A train station in Bicol, Mr. Paguio, a violinist, and Chorus friends.

Too many deep and beautiful memories. Laughter, camaraderie, love, music, food, dancing, youth, beauty. Thank you, Sir, for the memories.

When Sir was dying, I was so far away. I thought foolishly that my life had taken a new turn and that my Concert Chorus years were in the past. Yet the news of his final illness struck harshly. My sister, Lizzie was fighting cancer, to which she would succumb in one more year. I was emotionally stretched. Then came this terrible news of Sir’s impending death at the hospital in Manila. I was astonished that he was not immortal, I was amazed that so many years had passed. I had always thought that somehow I would wander into Abelardo Hall and find him, like a moment in Brigadoon. But time marches on and I was 23 years gone and thousands of miles away. I called one of my Chorus mates, who was my sister’s brother in law. Robee was in the corridor in the hospital outside of Sir’s room. I sent my love with humility and gratitude. The kinship system of the Chorus criss crosses and binds us even more closely than any alumni group, organization or even some families. It is a most unusual association in this era of deleted phone numbers. We carry each other in our hearts with sincere good will and hope that everything will turn out alright. I cried across the miles and just prayed that when Sir closed his eyes on earth and opened them to God, he would smile on all his heartbroken children, who were, for a little while, lost without him.

And then he died, and the stage lights dimmed. All around the world there was this feeling first of deep grief, which changed to the slight confusion felt in the passing of a great leader. Those who were lucky enough to bid him goodbye in person were part of a most amazing outpouring of love and devotion. His conductor’s baton passed to a most talented batch mate, Jai, and she has led the Chorus on, reaping accolades and honors.

So we have a clan because of Rey T. Paguio. Around the world, if there is a need, people sit up and give attention, love and prayers. If there is a sorrow, there is a soft place to land in the hearts of so many people. He loved us and we loved him.

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