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Predis @ 30: a gift of music

/ 01:09 AM December 31, 2015

Some days when many city kids harass their parents for a trip to the malls to gawk at the latest trends or spend the day glassy-eyed before computer screens, disabling space ships and zapping aliens, there happen to be youngsters who have an altogether different idea of a fun and fulfilling day.

These kids come from many places in and around Metro Manila, and from varying social classes and educational backgrounds, but they have one common interest. On some designated days they gather for an all-important date with, ah, music.

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Poor and rich, girls and boys, young and very young, they make beautiful music together. They interact, teach one another, play games, eat together and learn to get along—a day well spent by any parent’s standard.

St. Scholastica’s College’s 108-year-old music department (the Philippines’ oldest) was not like this until 30 years ago, when it opened its doors wider to meet the sudden surge of interest in music among the very young. And not just any kind of music, by the way.

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Time was when St. Cecilia’s (the building that houses the music department) was the domain of girls with pampered fingers and hardy souls, and from its halls arose only exquisite piano music—Bach, Brahms, Beethoven, etc.—and occasionally, violin music and cultured voices. Not anymore.

It has come a long way from the time of the revered Sr. Baptista Battig, OSB, the pedigreed German founder of the music department. If she were alive today, the saintly Benedictine nun would be proud. Now it is not only piano, occasional violin and voice that one hears from that section of the campus where Battig spent decades teaching music, but live orchestra music as well.

St. Scho is home to Predis (Philippine Research for Developing  Instrumental Soloists). It is Predis that turns on the orchestral music on special days.

Predis came to life 30 years ago through the efforts of St. Scho music dean Sr. Mary Placid Abejo OSB and Prof. Basilio Manalo, conductor, violinist and pedagogue and head of St. Scho’s strings department at that time. Predis was the result of a 1985 Summer Music String Workshop for talented young musicians held at the National Arts Center in Laguna. The question and the answer: How to continue honing the young’s native talent if not by music, providing teachers as well as a permanent venue? St. Scho’s music department was it.

I did interview Billy Manalo 20 years ago when Predis turned 10. “We started with strings,” he told me then, “because it is harder to train in strings.” The wind section came later. The IS or “instrumental soloists” in the acronym Predis does not refer to solo performances in the strict sense, Manalo explained. “This simply means becoming well-versed in one’s instrument.”

And so on a clear day, when one steps into the music department, one can hear an assortment of sounds. One hears strains of Pachelbel’s “Canon” or Tchaikovsky’s March from the “Nutcracker Suite.” Somewhere, someone is tripping on a Mendelssohn piece. At a far corner are four or five high school kids playing the violin together, minus the teacher. When they sit in the orchestra rehearsal later, they are able to play their parts better.

Predis aims to discover, train and prepare young musicians for a career in music. It provides highly qualified teachers, a good curriculum and a good environment. Scholarships are given to those who are financially challenged, even up to college music courses. Through Predis, the Manila Youth Symphony Orchestra came to life in 1995.

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Some Predis alumni have gone on to study in leading music schools in the United States and Europe. Others have joined music camps and youth orchestras such as the Asian Youth Orchestra, the Southeast Asian Youth Orchestra and Wind Ensemble, the Pacific Music Festival, and the  Jeunesses Musicales World  Orchestra. Some have become concertmasters. Many Predis students have won international and national music competitions.

Worth mentioning is Diomedes Saraza Jr., a well-known concert violinist, who took lessons under Predis at the age of six.  Manalo was a tough mentor.

Some information for those interested to study under Predis (or support it): The training program includes individual and group lessons, music theory classes, regular recitals, chamber music and orchestra apprenticeship programs. Master classes are held whenever there are visiting musicians.  Yearly summer workshops are offered.

Through the Predis Chamber Orchestra, students are introduced to orchestral music and given the discipline required in performance. Predis also provides performance opportunities.

Recently I attended a concert celebrating Predis’ 30 years. Featured were Predis faculty, students and alumni, and the St. Scholastica’s College Chamber Choir. A number of the performers have become known names in music, busy performers here and abroad, but they came to play, to come home where it all began.

Predis cofounder Manalo, who has since gone to the Great Concert Hall in the Sky, would have been proud and cried “Bravo!”

May 2016 bring PEACE, JUSTICE and HOPE in badly stricken parts of the world, particularly the disputed Spratlys and areas of the West Philippine Sea, the focus of China’s unlawful occupation and bullying—while the world watches.

To all who are dear to me—far and near, fat and thin, young and old, sinner and/or saint, fellow voyagers on this ailing planet—may we quietly find our way into the heart of God.

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Send feedback to [email protected] or www.ceresdoyo.com

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TAGS: Philippine Research for Developing Instrumental Soloists, Predis, Professor Basilio Manalo, St. Scholastica’s College
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