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Love at first note

Not love at first sight. That may as well have been the refrain of this extraordinary pre-Christmas lunch for a select group of kith and kin to celebrate extraordinary family milestones in 2019: the 90th birthday of the patriarch, internationally renowned violinist Gilopez Kabayao, the 70th birthday of his wife-accompanist Corazon Pineda, their 50 years of concert performances together, and 45 years of marriage.

One recalls how the couple first made news not only as a remarkable duo on stage but also as a married couple. Corazon’s elder sister and chaperone, Mylene Pineda Abcede, recalls how their father did not want the young Corazon to be alone with Gilopez on their provincial tours. But when Mylene got to know Gilopez and his genteel ways better, she knew she no longer had to keep watch. She even told him, to Corazon’s shock, “You know I won’t mind if you married my sister.” With good humor, Gilopez revealed his “secret” at the lunch: “I have never proposed to Corazon.” His planned dramatic proposal by the Golden Gate Bridge, he said, always fell through for one reason or another.

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When their three children—Sicilienne Paniza, Farida and Gilberto—were old enough to hold a violin, the family became known as the Kabayao Family Quintet. They played at schools, in cockpits, in gyms, in open trucks—wherever an audience would gather, and they introduced many to the wonderful world of classical music.

Of course, the highlight of the day was the promise of a Kabayao performance. They did not disappoint, with Gilopez and Corazon taking the lead. Gilopez himself selected the pieces he wanted to perform, both challenging compositions by C. Franck and Wieniawski; the latter piece was what he played at age 19 in Carnegie Hall. One marveled at how Gilopez at 90 played with the same passion, fingers still adroit, so sure of his notes with no hesitation or coaching. Still the legendary virtuoso.

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The children are now young professionals with nonmusical careers, but still played harmoniously with the family. Sicilienne described herself as a violinist who only plays at concerts. Farida, who is into theater and literature, spoke of growing up with classical tunes punctuating her daily life. Gilberto, newly arrived from San Diego, is into business, and had not rehearsed or touched his violin before the program. That did not show at all; he always manages because “I’m a genius,” he quipped.

A surprise performance was rendered by Gilopez’s protégé, Jimmy Tagala, who as a young boy first flew to Iloilo where the Kabayaos live, to train with Gilopez, who has mentored many young violinists. With undisguised pride, Gilopez said Tagala is the first Filipino to have been recognized at the 7th Seoul Violin Festival.

A close friend of Gilopez’s, Lawrence Ty, spoke about a facet of the violinist that is not well known. Gilopez joined Gideon, a Christian group that brings the Bible to all hotel rooms, and like all the rest of the members, would think nothing of carrying boxes of Bibles for distribution. How that simple act impressed so many. “Look at this world-renowned violinist, not caring to protect his precious fingers,” said Ty.

I myself am amazed at how the Kabayaos never seem to forget old friends. I first met them as a young freelance writer interviewing the couple for Mr. & Ms. Magazine, and then, upon their request, writing the text for an album by Gilopez. That was decades ago, and although we have not kept in touch, all those years did not matter when we met again for this occasion.

What is the secret of Gilopez’s youth and wellness, with no need for any medication? It cannot be anything else but music and the love and care of Corazon and their children.

One left the triple treat of lunch and music and shared memories with a full heart, feeling renewed and in deep awe of God-given talents put to such good use. But even more moving was the little card that came with the formal invitation and had this request: “In lieu of gifts, please consider giving a special Christmas treat to a person or a family not related to you, in the true Christian spirit of sharing…”

The Kabayaos move hearts through their music and deep concern for the less privileged.

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Neni Sta. Romana Cruz ([email protected]) is a member of the Eggie Apostol Foundation.

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