Mu­sic & Misyon

IN­SPIRED BY VENEZUELA’S LAUDED EL SISTEMA, a clas­si­cal mu­sic pro­gram for un­der­priv­i­leged youth, the Philip­pines’ Ang Misyon was es­tab­lished in 2012. For co-founder and artis­tic di­rec­tor Jo­vian­ney Em­manuel Cruz, Ang Misyon is a grow­ing sym­bol of the ful­fil

The Philippine Star - - FRONT PAGE - By IDA ANITA Q. DEL MUNDO

After com­plet­ing his mas­ters de­gree at the Man­hat­tan School of Mu­sic, Cruz had to de­cide whether to stay in the US and pur­sue a ca­reer as a con­cert pi­anist or come back to the Philip­pines and try to help out in what lit­tle way he could. “I’ve al­ways had that vi­sion that I wanted to give some­thing back to the Philip­pines,” he says.

For his first five years back, Cruz al­ter­nated be­tween Manila and New York, teach­ing one se­mes­ter at the Univer­sity of the Philip­pines (UP) while con­tin­u­ing to per­form, au­di­tion and com­pete.

The award-win­ning pi­anist’s last com­pe­ti­tion was in 1995. He shares he had reached the semi-fi­nal round, hav­ing bested some 3,000 ap­pli­cants from all over the world. How­ever, when he did not get into the fi­nals, he de­cided to move on from the com­pe­ti­tion cir­cuit and pur­sue other en­deav­ors.

Cruz found him­self teach­ing full time at UP, pro­duc­ing some good pi­anists, but that did not feel like enough. “I was teach­ing at UP for 20 years and I never re­ally felt like I was mak­ing any im­pact.” Cruz wanted to change peo­ple’s lives.

His op­por­tu­nity to make a big­ger im­pact came some eight years ago when en­ergy ex­ec­u­tive Federico “Piki” Lopez bought a Stein­way and asked Cruz if he could in­au­gu­rate the pi­ano. What Cruz was ex­pect­ing as a sim­ple per­for­mance for a few peo­ple ended up be­ing an event with the en­tire Lopez clan.

After his per­for­mance – and some wine – Cruz was able to talk to pa­tri­arch

Os­car Lopez. “I asked him, ‘ How do you feel about build­ing a con­cert hall in Rock­well?’ He said he would think about it.”

Cruz says, “Makati has never re­ally had a cul­tural cen­ter. Filipino mu­si­cians de­serve some kind of sup­port.”

Lit­tle did Cruz know that the small talk he made would re­sult in some­thing big. The Lopezes made good on their word to con­sider build­ing a hall. In their lat­est de­vel­op­ment, Prosce­nium, the con­cert hall is part of the fourth phase of the project. With the cel­e­brated Car­los Ott as the ar­chi­tect (he de­signed the Opéra de la Bastille in Paris among other iconic struc­tures), the hall will seat 726 and is slated to be launched in 2019.

With plans underway, Piki asked Cruz, “Now that the hall is be­ing built, what do you want to do?” Cruz asked the Lopez scion if he had heard of El Sistema and it just so hap­pened that Piki had Tri­cia Tun­stall’s book, Chang­ing Lives: Gus­tavo Du­damel, El Sistema and the Trans­for­ma­tive Power of Mu­sic, in his li­brary. With that, Ang Misyon was born.

“I call it 20-20 vi­sion,” says Cruz, not­ing that he had spent 20 years in UP and a 20-minute con­ver­sa­tion with the Lopezes to reach this point.

Ang Misyon started with the plan to man­age the Or­ches­tra of the Filipino Youth (OFY) of 40 young mu­si­cians from fam­i­lies that earned P200,000 or less per year. Cruz was sur­prised when over 100 kids came to the au­di­tion.

“Most learned mu­sic on their own,” he mar­vels. They would use their painstak­ingly-saved al­lowance to go to In­ter­net cafés to watch YouTube videos and teach them­selves how to play. Some had come from their lo­cal sym­phonic bands.

“When we formed the OFY, we didn’t think that sud­denly there would be walk-ins. Ev­ery other day I would re­ceive an email, I would get a mes­sage on Face­book, some­body would walk in and ask if they could join. Or par­ents would come and say ‘We can­not af­ford lessons for my son, we heard that you’re of­fer­ing schol­ar­ships’.” Start­ing in Septem­ber 2012 with 40 tal­ented kids, the number had dou­bled by the end of the year.

To ac­com­mo­date more young hope­fuls, Ang Misyon cre­ated the OFY prep club – later called the Young Filipinos’ Or­ches­tra (YFO).

The chil­dren of Ang Misyon have been given the op­por­tu­nity to be men­tored by some of the most tal­ented lo­cal and for­eign mu­si­cians. OFY’s res­i­dent con­duc­tor is for­mer Philip­pine Phil­har­monic Or­ches­tra con­duc­tor Olivier Ocha­nine, while YFO’s res­i­dent con­duc­tor is vi­o­lin­ist and pro­fes­sor Juan Luis Muñoz. The or­ches­tra has mem­bers who come from as far as Nueva Ecija and Min­doro, who travel by land and even sea ev­ery week­end to at­tend lessons and re­hearsals. The group has per­formed along­side the Philip­pine Phil­har­monic Or­ches­tra and the ABS-CBN Phil­har­monic Or­ches­tra and have mounted con­cert tours in Iloilo and Du­maguete, among other des­ti­na­tions. 2016 was a ban­ner year for OFY, with seven string play­ers per­form­ing in con­certs in New York, New Jersey and Wash­ing­ton DC. Soon enough, peo­ple were ap­proach­ing Ang Misyon, want­ing to make their bands into or­ches­tras. OFY alumni have also gone on to teach in their own com­mu­ni­ties. Ang Misyon even has a satel­lite group on Talim Is­land – a small is­land on La­guna de Bay that not many have heard of. “It is such a small com­mu­nity, kids of fish­er­men,” says Cruz. “There are so many tal­ented mu­si­cians there.”

Cruz also notes one tal­ented OFY mem­ber, 15-year-old vi­o­lin­ist Ax­elle Miel, who put up her own satel­lite group in a de­pressed area in Cebu. “She’s just 15 year old – it took me 50 years!” Cruz ex­claims.

Miel won Honor­able Men­tion in the ju­nior strings di­vi­sion in the 2016 Na­tional Mu­sic Com­pe­ti­tion for Young Artists.

Four years later, over 600 kids have be­come part of Ang Misyon, with 13 satel­lites – and count­ing. “It’s over­whelm­ing. It’s re­ally over­whelm­ing,” says Cruz. “It’s a re­nais­sance of a cul­ture.”

Ang Misyon started that faith­ful day some eight years ago when Piki Lopez dug up a book on El Sistema. Com­ing full cir­cle,

Ang Misyon is now fea­tured on the cover of Tri­cia Tun­stall’s lat­est book, Play­ing for Their Lives: The Global El Sistema Move­ment for So­cial Change

through Mu­sic, which tells the story of 25 coun­tries which have adapted the El Sistema model. Tun­stall told Cruz that the Philip­pines was cho­sen for the cover be­cause Ang Misyon is the fastest grow­ing El Sistema in the world and its prin­ci­ples are clos­est to that of the orig­i­nal El Sistema in Venezuela.

Cruz re­calls that Ang Misyon made quite an im­pact on Tun­stall when she vis­ited the Philip­pines with Jamie Bern­stein, daugh­ter of the rev­ered Leonard Bern­stein. They vis­ited an or­phan­age in Caloocan, which was also a satel­lite of Ang Misyon. “They didn’t have in­stru­ments yet at that time,” says Cruz. But the chil­dren reg­u­larly sang in their church choir, so they sang for their guests. To see the tears well up in the eyes of Bern­stein – some­one who must have been sur­rounded by su­perb mu­sic her whole life – “We must have been do­ing some­thing right,” says Cruz.

After 20 years of teach­ing, and even more as a con­cert pi­anist and mu­sic stu­dent, Cruz has found his ful­fill­ment in Ang Mis­sion. “My life was changed so im­mensely be­cause of this. This is what mu­sic is about. I wish the en­tire Philip­pines will help see this through. Be­cause one thing that the Philip­pines can be proud of is our mu­sic.”

He adds, “Mu­sic is sup­posed to unite peo­ple. That’s why they call it ‘play­ing mu­sic.’ It’s sup­posed to be fun.” With El Sistema’s model, young peo­ple ex­pe­ri­ence “the ca­ma­raderie in an or­ches­tra, the sense of lis­ten­ing to one an­other, or lis­ten­ing to the other more than you’re lis­ten­ing to your­self, pay­ing at­ten­tion to de­tail – all of those good val­ues that the dis­ci­pline of clas­si­cal mu­sic is all about. They make peo­ple bet­ter.”

Cruz says many of their mem­bers have dreams to be­come engi­neers, doc­tors, teach­ers and more. “Even if they don’t choose clas­si­cal mu­sic as their ca­reer, we were able to in­still the dis­ci­pline of clas­si­cal mu­sic.”

The mis­sion has gone be­yond mak­ing mu­sic. “It’s not about mu­sic. It’s not about cre­at­ing mu­si­cians. It’s about chang­ing lives of hu­man be­ings who are in sit­u­a­tions that put them at risk. It’s try­ing to make them feel that there’s some­thing else be­yond their walls.”

Cruz says, “If mu­sic – some­thing that they like, that they en­joy, some­thing that can give them hope – can get them out of that sit­u­a­tion, then we are giv­ing the coun­try a good ser­vice. The sense of be­long­ing that they are part of some­thing that can be­come great re­ally up­lifts their lives.”

For Cruz, Ang Misyon is no longer just an ad­vo­cacy; it has be­come a vo­ca­tion. “If I’m able to help some­body get out of their sit­u­a­tion and put them in a higher plane, then I was able to do my job, I was able to ful­fil my vo­ca­tion.”

Vi­o­lin­ist Katie Kre­sek gives a master class for some of the Ang Misyon string play­ers (top). Ang Misyon mem­bers are un­der­priv­i­leged youth who have found hope and op­por­tu­ni­ties in clas­si­cal mu­sic (above). Ger­ard Sa­longa (left) con­ducts dur­ing a joint...

The Or­ches­tra of the Filipino Youth (OFY) with artis­tic di­rec­tor and co-founder Jo­vian­ney Em­manuel Cruz (top). Olivier Ocha­nine con­ducts the OFY kids with the mu­si­cians of the Philip­pine Phil­har­monic Or­ches­tra (above).

Malvin Beethoven Ma­casaet and Jade Ric­cio per­form with the OFY at the Young Peo­ple’s Con­cer­ence (con­cert-con­fer­ence) in 2015 (top). The mem­bers of the OFY get a stand­ing ova­tion dur­ing their ed­u­ca­tional tour in the US (above). Ang Misyon makes it to...

Cruz with some of the young mu­si­cians of Ang Misyon (above). Mem­bers of the OFY in Malaysia (be­low).

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