Some afternoons here seem like a dream. Just yesterday, straight from a three-hour poetry class, I step out into a glowing field of music. The Christmas lights of the field have been turned on: long streams of bulbs hanging like hair on the dark heads of trees. Piano notes stretch their long and invisible arms into the darkening field. Claire de Lune was playing, or was it Chopin? Like the background music to a play or a show. If I didn’t know better, I would have thought I was in a movie.
Today, of course, is the day that Raul Sunico visits the school for a free concert. And in joyous celebration, all the lights have been turned on, a speaker stands right in front of the church’s entrance for the rest of the campus to hear this music, and if only I didn’t just come from a class where my last words were “see you next meeting,” I’d have sworn it was already the end of the term.
I’m walking towards Sunico and his playing because I’m a huge fan of the piano. I spent much of my early years sitting at the piano stool, playing the requests of family friends and relatives in parties. So my insistence on hearing the piano this evening even as I was dead tired to the world, was no surprise to everyone. “Go ahead,” I had said to the students I usually had dinner with on that day. “I’ll be out,” I had said to my friends.
I’m also here for the sake of my dad, who is a huge fan of this music, in general, and Sunico in particular. Mornings growing up were never complete without my father crouching to the grass, in his garden listening to piano music. Speakers had been built into the porch ceilings of the house, so when the stereo was on everything that was played could be heard—I’m sure right down to the windows of our neighbors. It was Pierre Buzon for a while, and then Chopin played by Joselito Pascual. At some point, it was even Mama Mia. And of course, there was always Raul. Piano keys seemed the inevitable partner of dead leaves picked up, and the grass that was watered. And overtures accompanied the coming of rain. Until now, when my father goes on trips, the neighbors begin to wonder (because mornings suddenly turn silent), whether every thing’s all right in our household.
These morning piano masters became the early models for those brief but wonderful years I spent at the piano. Pascual or Sunico’s styles became the bar I was expected to reach. Evergreen was to be played the way they would. Somewhere in Time had the same inflections and pauses, even if at times I opted to play them faster than they should have been played. It was my parents one wish that I play Chopin’s Nocturne in E flat major. When you’re young, the pleasure and joys of one’s parents become the shaping force of one’s days, the permeating rhythm, the model upon which any form of success was their smile.
At some point, my parents wanted me to go to a studio to record my piano playing. Whether it was because they prophesied the end of these music days (right up until I was 15), or they knew that I would eventually leave the house and study in Manila, I don’t know. It never happened though, and now I wish sometimes that it did. Partly for their sake, considering that I spend most of the year away from home, and if I had a child I’d probably want a piece of the music he once played. But also partly for myself: to finally figure out, for sure, whether I was any good. To have a remnant of the past on some tape. To remind myself, as one needs to remind oneself when one grows old, the kind of sound that it takes, on the piano or otherwise, to make a whole house, even for one more time, happy. ∎
Photo from SunStar Cebu, where this piece was originally published on December 15, 2009.