Friday, May 23, 2014

Making Waves in a Small Pond

Some people come up to me sometimes and express surprise that I am not on a cruise ship or otherwise travelling abroad. Here's the thing: there were at least three highlights of my travelling/cruising life that told me that I had accomplished as much travel as anyone can hope to do in a lifetime: a 4-day hike to Macchu Picchu, visiting the temple of Karnak and the pyramids of Egypt, and doing a safari in South Africa. If you add in the numerous times I've seen glaciers calving in Alaska, or gawked at innumerable paintings of saints and devils in the churches of Italy, or ate a thousand and one meals in numerous countries that ranged from the sublime (a rich bouillabaisse  in Provence) to the earthy (boiled lobster in Vanuatu) to the bizarre (raw blue crab in Incheon), you could say my cup runneth over, travel-wise.  I have lived (and worked) in Los Angeles, New  York and Las Vegas. But most of my  working life was spent on board cruise ships of all sizes and dimensions, from the smallest (15000 tons) to the biggest (like that Costa ship that sank in Italy). In that peripatetic, spoiled, at times regimented but always interesting life, I made many friends, some of whom I keep in touch with on Facebook (thanks FB!) But I left no footsteps, or memories that clung to the rafters of the ships' theaters. Nobody can say that they learned anything from me as a musician, because everyone was (or at least expected to be) at the top of their game.If you didn't follow the rules, or conform to certain standards, you were out. If you performed and didn't piss off the captain, you stayed. Everyone may have worked to please the passengers, but in the end, everyone worked for themselves. Memory, or memorableness, as far as being a musician or performer is concerned, is not a currency on cruise ships. Currently, there is no reason why I couldn't just scoot off and play in  Manila, Hong Kong or Singapore or Malaysia  (cruise ships are not the only places musicians can work, you know). In Hongkong and Singapore, I would listen quietly to some Filipino musician playing at the lobby  and thought: "That could be me". But in the end, I am back here in my relatively backward and insignificant corner of the world. So why stay? Well, for one thing, family. Secondly, property. Thirdly, being  past the minimum age of retirement, I am coming into my "reflective" stage. In this stage, I see myself, as in a time-travelling mirror, reflected back into the persons of the music and art students I have accepted this summer. I  see children needing guidance in the arts, something I never truly had in my youth, and which, sadly, this government doesn't seem fit to encourage. Children need affirmation that they can sing, paint, play the piano, act. If no one tells them that, or at least shows them the way, then they will never become artists. I am not saying there are no artists or artistically inclined teachers in my hometown, but judging from the fact that there are no classical concerts, plays, recitals, musicals of any significance here, it means no one really gives a damn. This was brought home to me even more succinctly when, on trying to select a song for one of my voice students, I chose "Wouldn't It Be Loverly" from "My Fair Lady". Has she ever heard the song before? I asked. She never had. Later, I had her learn "Locomotion". She had never heard this song either. She can now sing both songs. So now, I am wondering: if I had not stayed here long enough to teach this girl  that there was such a musical called "My Fair Lady" and a song in it called " Wouldn't It Be Loverly", would I have not helped usher in a new Julie Andrews or a Lani Misalucha? Who knows? Back in the 60's, I bought a travel book about Spain, hoping to get there one day. And I eventually, I did via playing the piano on a cruise ship. So, after rolling around gathering no moss, I am thinking that if I stayed just a little bit longer in this little pond called Ormoc City whose main claims to fame are natural disasters and pineapples, I might stir the waters just slightly and create just enough waves to influence somebody into becoming an artist of some kind. Call it an experiment in discovering talent, of which I am starting to become aware that there is a lot of in this city, but partially manifested and encouraged. Whether they become working artists/musicians working on cruise ships, or fitting the marquee on Broadway, that is for the future to decide. All I want is to be a part of this cycle that creates, and not discourages, the love for the arts, and hopefully to be able to make a living out of it. My services don't come free, but that is part of the experiment.