Tribute to a great teacher | Inquirer Opinion
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Tribute to a great teacher

This Saturday, Aug. 23, take time out from present-day concerns to immerse yourself in music, in a concert featuring two renowned Filipino international pianists.

“Danzas: A Duo Piano Concert” features artists Rene Dalandan and Marites Fernandez at the Tanghalang Aurelio Tolentino (CCP Little Theater) and is presented by the Cultural Center of the Philippines in cooperation with the Gilopez Kabayao Foundation Inc. Three major works will be performed: “Points of Jazz: A Ballet” by Dave Brubeck, “Symphonic Dances from ‘West Side Story’” by Leonard Bernstein and arranged by John Musto, and “Symphonic Dances, Op. 45” by Sergei Rachmaninoff.


A New York Times review of Dalandan’s debut recital at Carnegie Hall for the 1984 Artists International Competition noted his “technical command… (bringing) heady excitement, realized with sensitivity and spontaneity.” Graduating with a degree of Bachelor of Music, major in piano, magna cum laude at the University of Santo Tomas Conservatory of Music, he went on to earn his master of music in piano at the Mannes College of Music, then completed his doctor of musical arts degree in piano at the Manhattan School of Music.

Known as “the child genius of the ivories” since she was only three years old, Fernandez won the First Manila Symphony Young People’s Auditions at the age of 11, resulting in a solo performance under the baton of Dr. Herbert Zipper. On a scholarship from the Foundation of Gifted Children, she earned her music degree, cum laude, at the UST Conservatory of Music then earned her master’s at the Peabody Conservatory of Music in Baltimore, Maryland. While still at Peabody, she was awarded the Austin Conadi Piano Scholarship, with a critic admiring her “great technical skill and endurance” and describing her performance as “mesmerizing.”


Apart from their shared pasts as child prodigies, another thing that Dalandan and Fernandez have in common is their tutelage under the late Aida Sanz-Gonzalez, an “icon” as a piano teacher at the UST Conservatory. Indeed, proceeds from this duo-piano concert will benefit a memorial fund in Sanz-Gonzalez’s honor, created to support music scholars, workshops and the production of a book on piano pedagogy based on her teachings.

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In this way are Sanz-Gonzalez’s “children”—former students, supporters, friends—continuing the legacy of this formidable and dedicated mentor, who over more than 70 years molded the artists under her care into successful concert pianists, teachers and musical practitioners.

She was actually a product of the University of the Philippines, where she earned her Bachelor of Music major in piano under the tutelage of Julio Esteban Anguita. When Professor Anguita was appointed director of the UST Conservatory, Sanz-Gonzalez joined the UST faculty, teaching piano from 1941 until her retirement in 1988. She also taught at the Santa Isabel School of Music from 1960-1980. All in all, taking into consideration her penchant for taking young musicians in hand well into her 90s, Sanz-Gonzalez is believed to have taught and coached more than 250 students and professionals, making her indeed a major force in the development and artistic growth of Filipino pianists today.

A former student, Ivy Ramos Hassaram, remembers studying under Sanz-Gonzalez in the latter’s “twilight years” when the teacher’s eyesight was failing. But she took it as a blessing, notes Hassaram, believing that “with her blindness, she became more sensitive to sound and thus, a better teacher.”

Fernandez describes Sanz-Gonzalez as the “epitome of a good piano teacher who gave 200 percent of her time, her patience and her musicality and however and whatever she can do to help reach one’s goal. My lessons with her were enthralling, enlightening, intensifying and entertaining. Yes, she was surely entertaining!”

Dalandan remembers the woman he calls “Tita Aiding” as one who boosted her students’ confidence, ending her pep talks when he faced difficulties over a piece with the words “bagay iyan sa iyo, Rene.” (This is a good fit for you, Rene.)


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Indeed, Sanz-Gonzalez is considered one of the “grand damsels” of pedagogy at the UST Conservatory, along with Stella Goldenberg Brimo, Milagros de Ocampo and Rosario Picazo. Many of her students would go on to win top prizes in national piano competitions and continue their studies abroad, pursuing international careers as both concert pianists and teachers.

Corazon Pineda Kabayao, a pianist of note and another of Sanz-Gonzalez’s “children,” notes that much of her teacher’s knowledge and mastery of piano techniques were self-taught. “With binoculars on one hand, she would observe every bit of technique used in achieving a certain sound, while imitating fingerings, finger and wrist positions, running octaves with the other hand, following the softest pianissimos and observing individual interpretations. Back home, she would experiment repeatedly until she could replicate the sounds she heard. She listened to recordings and watched video performances of known pianists, wherein she could study at close range difficult technical approaches that solve common pianistic problems.” Adds Kabayao: “She was always willing to learn, and generous to share with her students what she learned.”

As with all great and memorable teachers, Sanz-Gonzalez touched her students not just in the classroom but in their hearts as well. Ingrid Sala Santamaria, another noted pianist, says: “I shall always be grateful for the fond memories of her loving care not only musically but personally as well.”

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TAGS: CCP Little Theater, culture, education, Music, nation, news, Sergei Rachmaninoff, Teachers
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