Story & photos by Stephanie Tumampos / Special to the BusinessMirror
As Kory Katseanes, artistic director and conductor of Brigham Young University (BYU) Chamber Orchestra, stroked the last note of the last music piece they were playing, “An American in Paris” by composer George Gershwin, the audience started to clap on standing ovation.
The audience at the Meralco Theater in Pasig City was wowed by the BYU’s repertoire by Leonard Bernstein’s “Overture” to “West Side Story,” to Aaron Copland’s “El Salón Mexico,” and to the voice of Tim Pavino, a young Filipino-American pop balladeer who sang the hits “This is the Moment” by Anthony Warlow and a medley of “I Will Be Here” and “Warrior is a Child” by Gary Valenciano.
The Utah, US-based chamber orchestra was set to perform a series of concerts, sponsored by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (LDS), or popularly known as Mormons, in Manila, Cebu, Bohol and Palawan this month.
The BYU Orchestra Chamber concert series will be for the benefit of the host’s choice of foundation. The concert at the Meralco Theater on Tuesday was for the benefit of Caritas Manila’s various social services and development programs for the poor, such as educational scholarships.
Its last engagement will be with Tony Award-winner Lea Salonga on May 30 at the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP).
“It is a program of all her [Salonga’s] Broadway and Disney hits, and some other songs that she sings, as well, [like the one] in ‘Hamilton,’” said Katseanes at a news conference on Tuesday. “It’s all her best stuff.”
Part of the proceeds of the concert with Salonga will be for the benefit of her chosen foundation and for the CCP’s student scholars.
The concerts in provinces, such as in Bohol, will be for the benefit of the chosen foundation of the provincial local government.
The benefit concerts live by the BYU’s motto: “The glory of God is intelligence; enter to learn, go forth to serve; the world is our campus.”
Haidi Fajardo, area director for public affairs of LDS, told the BusinessMirror the aim of the university is to hone the students educationally, socially and culturally. So that “when they get their education [from BYU], they would work not only for themselves but to be of service to their communities.”
BYU, founded by LDS in 1875, Fajardo said, “Follow the teachings and examples of Jesus Christ, which is to serve others.”
Journey back ‘home’
Composed of 49 musicians, the BYU Chamber Orchestra, according to Katseanes, is “probably the most widely toured music university in the world. We’ve been in many countries, and we tour every couple of years.” This year, though, their sole destination is the Philippines, Katseanes said.
The orchestra members are proud, as three of them have had their share of Filipino experience.
Mary Griffin, a violinist and a BYU student of music, had heard stories about the Philippines from her mother, who grew up in the country. “She [Griffin’s mother] lived close to the American Cemetery near Dasmariñas [Village]” in Makati City, Griffin said in an interview with the BusinessMirror.
With business opportunities in the Philippines, her grandparents started a life in the country, with Griffin’s mother moving to Manila at the age of 10. With all the stories about the country her mother had told her, she said, “It felt a lot like coming home and I didn’t experience culture shock, because, in some way, this has become very familiar to me.” She could put personal memories into the places her mom described to her.
Two other BYU Chamber Orchestra members were excited to come back, having lived in the country for two years.
Nolan Harris, who plays the tuba, and Brennan Tolman, the percussion, felt like they’re just back home to where they’ve served as missionaries of the LDS in 2010.
Tolman, who returned to the US in November 2012 after finishing his mission in the northern Luzon, such as Lingayen and Baguio, thought he’d never be able to come back.
“Honestly, I didn’t really know if I would be able to come back. So when I found out the orchestra is coming here, I was just so excited and really wanted to be a part of it,” Tolman told the BusinessMirror. “Really, grateful to be back and it’s fun to be able to practice Tagalog again,” he said chuckling.
“It’s awesome to share music with the Filipino people,” Harris told the BusinessMirror. “It gives me a better look of the talent in the Philippines.”
Harris, who has served his mission in Cebu, can still speak Visayan well. Asked what they remember most about the Philippines, Harris said it is the happy disposition of Filipinos.
“You’d never meet Filipinos who are sad or down or angry about their situation,” he said. “They’re just happy with what they have and they’re happy to share that with others. Coming back, the whole orchestra have experienced that kind of happiness.”
For Tolman, his time in the country has helped shape his person to who he is today.
“My time here has affected how I interact with people. One thing I learned and one thing I respect and appreciate is their sense of brotherhood and their friendliness.”
He also referred to greeting “good morning” and waving his hand, and the Filipinos would answer back. Besides, the Filipinos made him feel a sense of community and willingness to share with others.