Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Double treat from Paul and Paul

Our very own Paul Pfeiffer was on another fruitful homecoming in June. In this visit to Dumaguete, I tried to usher him to the fun side but there was just no time for a full enjoyment of the City’s night life. The passion for his art led him to just completely embrace the main reason for this homecoming: work, work, work.

This Dumaguete son is known to the world by an honor he got from Newsweek‘s spread on “America’s Artist of Tomorrow.” This was after he won Whitney Museum’s 2000 Bucksbaum Award, the highest award for Visual Arts.

Paul Pfeiffer had chosen to depart from traditional art media, and had been showing to the world possibilities of the video screen by capturing images from popular culture. He had them all: NBA stars, Tom Cruise, enduring scenes from films by Steven Spielberg, deep forest camping, ancient cathedrals floor plans made out of sex scandal echoes….

Five years ago, Michael Jackson was the subject of a speech choir at our very own cultural center, the Luce Auditorium. The production, a collaboration with the Speech & Theater Department of Silliman, was directed by Hawaii-based educator Eva Rose Repollo-Washburn, and captured a juxtaposition of the King of Pop’s painful global media exposure to address the child-molestation issue, and of our very own speech choir students presenting an unusual piece: Michael’s defense.
Paul Pfeiffer’s fully- realized vision called “Live from Neverland,” got world attention. One art critic described the 2003 work on Michael Jackson as the essence of “the interdependent relationship between leader and crowd.” Actually, I saw much of the Filipino human nature in it as the speech choir sounded like one entire barangay in a chika-hilira-sa-ating-hagdanang-kawayan. I was smiling reading one web review which took the Luce production as an ancient Greek chorus when it was really totally Pinoy local color.

In this 2011 homecoming, Paul Pfeiffer was in a mission again: saving the art of speech choir which is no longer in existence in many parts of the world.
People were recently again at the Luce to watch the speech choir performances expecting the usual, as it remains an annual event at Silliman.
But this one turned out to be another double-treat from Paul Pfeiffer. Unfolded on stage was the building of another solid juxtaposition: the many choral versions of the victory press statement of boxing icon Manny Pacquiao, and the star quality in Manny.

The show was again directed by Paul’s Hawaii connection Eva Rose, and was staged in collaboration with the SU College of Performing & Visual Arts.
We still have to see the end product but there is great promise in it: the whole world will see the cool presence of the people of the happiest nation in Asia, with Pacman as the entry point.

The audience at the Luce had fun with the Pinoy sense of humor captured. Paul Pfeiffer’s magic will have the scenes cascaded globally with his distinctive video art of glory.

July 22, the Cultural Affairs Committee of Silliman University formally opened the 2011 culture season with the performance of Ballet Philippines.
The country’s leading dance company is on tour to celebrate the sesquicentennial of the birth of our national hero Jose Rizal with the ballet Crisostomo Ibarra. The dance concert is inspired by the protagonist in Rizal’s novel Noli Me Tangere. I love this ballet by Paul Alexander Morales. The choreography went beyond just narrating the story as its characters, particularly the touching emotional twist in Sisa, never lets go of the audience from the opening movements, and much of this can be attributed to the dance artists’ successful embodiment of the icons in the pages history using the intense body poetry of contemporary ballet.
Sisa was brought to the stage with the complex play of Filipina grace and the pain from the fire of cruelty by principal dancer Carissa Adea.
Paul Morales called my attention on Sisa in two of our promotional events and indeed, he was successful in the harvest of love-for-the-motherland in Sisa.
Paul of Ballet Philippines’ visit to Dumaguete was actually a double-treat, too. I have known Paul only as a dance artist as he was still a teenager in his first performance at the Luce in Agnes Locsin’s Engkantada.
He came back twice with his own artistic direction for Ballet Philippines. The growth from dancer to director has been an amazing transition to witness.
In this visit, Paul Morales generously gave us a new glory in his being a total artist: as a film director.
I did not realize that the acclaimed director Paul Alexander Morales of Cinemalaya’s Concerto, an indie film featured in festivals all over the world, is actually Ballet Philippines’ power Paul Morales.
And he just made history in Silliman as his Concerto was the first film feature in the new CAC series to honor a Silliman icon in film, National Artist Eddie Romero.
In Concerto,we are told a story about a family surviving the ravages of World War II with the gift of music. It took Meryll Soriano, who played Nina, the strong-willed daughter, all of a minute of total silence to have me sympathizing with her longing to play the piano again – to enjoy freedom.
Actually, all actors made a perfect ensemble as they were all emotionally connected as a family even in moments of muted presence. Each of them had vividly brought me back to my mother’s rocking chair of war stories.
In these months June and July, Dumaguete had two valuable gifts of inspiration from Paul Pfeiffer and Paul Alexander Morales – both we dearly want to refer to as our very own.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Gifts of Gratitude, Goodwill

The theme of the 110th Founders Day of Silliman University, A Mighty Fortress is our God was perfectly echoed in the recent faith journey of the SU Gratitude & Goodwill Ambassadors (SUGGA), a group of performing artists directed by Dr. Elizabeth Susan Vista-Suarez who travelled to Alaska for Tipon 2011.

The idea of this unique gift came from the dynamic president of Silliman University Dr. Ben S. Malayang III.

Everyone who attended the Tipon realized it was not just “another expense” to send 26 performing artists all the way to Alaska because their value measures beyond the money actually spent. When it was finally unfolded, it was revealed that Silliman’s “gift” to the alumni in North America was priceless as it became a “gift of faith”.

Even the process of totally approving such gift was stressful for some people behind the leadership as it was clouded with doubts. For one, the short span of time to process their visas became a daunting test, and the inevitable Doubting Thomases began to grow in everyone’s hearts.

It was this skepticism that made the process very painful to Susan who had nothing within her heart but the enlightenment for the value of obedience in the journey of faith.

With her obedience, she was misunderstood. To many, the planned journey was more of pride, and a selfish will, but what many failed to see was the constant communication with God which led them to more difficult challenges.

SUGGA was an intricate group to handle, with old voices that had been with Susan’s tutelage for many years, and with new voices, many of them needing not just voice training but most importantly, a refinement of character and discipline as goodwill ambassadors.

Too much emotions had prevailed as the director had to deal with what seemed like an orchestra of differing emotions within the group – which would painstakingly include some overbearing parents.

And there was more. The Philippine passports of majority of the members had not been processed within the required period which painfully resulted in two members failing to acquire their own passports on time.

Visa processing also seemed ill-timed when the US Embassy had changed its computer system which did not allow for group processing.

It was a miracle though that the care factor in Sanda Fuentes of Orientwinds Travel & Tours led the rest of the group to different schedules for their visa interviews on June 7, 8, and 9. Four of the choir members did not make it during the interview; two had pending petitions from their US-based relatives, and two were found to have inconsistencies in their passports.

But faith persisted, and the group came out of the ordeal (which included being soaked in the heavy rain while queueing for their visas – the same rain which saved the June 8th batch as the Embassy officials decided to give them just one priority number for all, so as to be sheltered from the storm) though not in total jubilation as their hearts where in sympathy for those who failed to get their visas approved.

Finally, they were ready to fly out of the country on June 17.

SUGGA has become a family of survivors who went through a long dark tunnel, together discovering a light of hope beaming through. The final 27 included Susan and Institutional Advancement Officer Jose Mari Jonathan “Jojo” Antonio, head of the delegation.

It was also unimaginable how Macrina Fuentes was able to book them all on the same flight from Manila–Narita–Seattle–Fairbanks even during this peak travel season.

God was indeed the artist of this journey. The pains that went with every step had humbled all of them and cleansed their hearts.

Susan’s mother, former dean of the College of Performing Arts Prof. Isabel Dimaya Vista, reminded them that only with pure hearts could they go on to become genuine goodwill ambassadors.

And Susan realized this, after all the beaming miracles they experienced while they were still in that dark tunnel, “that I have to forget that I’m Susan and everyone in SUGGA had to be humbled to become pure” and with all humility, they have allowed the gift of obedience from the “Mighty Fortress” to prevail.

With total obedience, they went on with the journey and there were still moments of testing again: Jose Mari Jonathan Antonio had to be rechecked at the Narita immigration as his name sounded like that of a Mexican druglord; funny guy Ian Caballes also had to face a bit of questioning. The two took quite a long time to be allowed entry into US soil.

And when they were celebrating being one family again, US-based alumnus Mister Silliman Spirit himself Gideon “Kuya Box” Alegado joined them as he was on the same flight. They serenaded him and he, as well as some people at the airport who gathered to listen to the singers, said they were touched by the sound of the angels. Kuya Box was in tears of joy and gave them a hundred dollar bill as gift.

The flight was delayed for four hours. The welcoming alumni group in Seattle led by Martin Ancheta were becoming anxious as they could not find the SUGGA whom they were hosting for the 14-hour stopover. Some members of the welcome party decided to just go back home but the Ancheta family and the rest of the alumni volunteers never stopped looking until they found the singers in a coffee shop.

Fellowshipping led to another Silliman Spirit day in Seattle, which included Hong Kong-based Silliman icon Dr. Betty Cernol- McCann who also was on her way to Fairbanks to represent the United Board for Christian Higher Education.

The Anchetas and friends were another reason to be thankful to the “Mighty Fortress.” They saved the SUGGA from being “sleepless in Seattle”.

Finally, out of the tunnel! In Fairbanks, daylight never left them as the sun would be up beyond everyone’s body clock.

SUGGA, with a name which means “where light meets light” in the Visayan language, started to find more wisdom in this journey.

The Tipon, a gathering of Sillimanians and friends from all over the world, were all with welcoming hearts for the SUGGA. Perpetual angel to Silliman performing artists Virginia Cacho-Almiron, wife of Tipon prime mover, Dr. Sylvester Almiron Jr. who was chair of the SU Alumni Council of North America (SUACONA). She expressed the clincher that on the celebration of this 10th year of SUACONA, “It would give a sense of completeness to have the music of SUGGA, a choir directed by Susan, as it was also Susan’s choir that gave the first Tipon in Chicago a unifying spirit.”

June 19 was the day of the SUGGA concert. It would have been a technical disaster as there was no time for sound check, no real stage to perform in the hall for the choreography to be viewed at one angle, and no complete sound facility to amplify the choral performance. But still in the spirit of the gift of obedience, they gave their best.

J. Rutter’s Magnificat shone to become a touching worship in the gospel opening, and the voices were loud and beautifully unified, touching everyone’s heart. Everyone was awed at the quality of every voice that was in the choir. Thunderous applause came after every song. The duet Sa Kabukiran in the Philippine Air of the repertoire was a display of the vocal magnificence of two sopranos, Ma. Elcon Cabasag and Katrina Saga. The piece successfully brought everyone into one sense of national pride that the applause was with fiesta glee.

The peaks of the concert were like running through a mountain range, bringing the Silliman family into heights of joys of homecoming, especially felt with the Mahal Kong Bayan which earned a standing ovation for these angels from home.

SUGGA came with music that touches, to give the generations of Sillimanians a moment of pure joy from the sense of pride of belonging to a culture of excellence, revisit into the inner soul stemming from the seed of faith in the Via Veritas Vita, the healing of the kindred spirit that had much of life challenges, and the realization that Silliman is a family worthy of a homecoming, with a legacy of faith within it expressed in gifts of gratitude and goodwill.

Truly, a Sillimananian in this journey of faith believes, “a Mighty Fortress is Our God”.

Sunday, July 03, 2011

In Memory of a Poet PEARL GAMBOA DOROMAL 1923–2011

“Each person is an enigma ultimately unknowable, not only so by nature, but also because he is self-masked….” – Edith Lopez Tiempo
Masked or unmasked, the poet Pearl Gamboa Doromal, was beautiful inside-out.
When her husband Dr. Quintin Salas Doromal was president of Silliman University, he always made it a point to introduce “the woman behind the man” in all occasions that called for his presence. All Sillimanians, with much pride, would welcome the lovely presence, applauding – echoing the same pride. There is also much anticipation for the moment when their beloved First Lady would stand with all humility and still emanate that outstanding verve. PEARL GAMBOA DOROMAL was The Silliman Woman who epitomized the ideal of elegance.

With her as First Lady, The President’s Home – a campus landmark now called The University House – was a busy center of hospitality. The greatest number of Ambassadors from different embassies that visited Silliman was during the time of the Doromals. Convocation time was always at the Luce every Tuesday with a particular country in feature and an Ambassador of the country as resource speaker. Hosting visitors with high protocol requirements was never a problem as there was always the First Lady in Pearl, herself a daughter of the Ambassador to the Court of St. James, Dr. Melquiades J. Gamboa. She had her childhood in Oxford, England.

The University House was all welcoming spaces from the doorstep to Meg’s garden swing. Each corner felt like a home of royalty from the silver teapot on the wooden dining table to the blue china of orange African daisies under lampshades made of capiz shells. There was only one theme in this home: elegance.
One enduring sweet memory with Ma’am Pearl was the visit of the late Zeneida Amador, the director of Repertory Philippines, and the actors of “Gingerbread Lady,” to be staged at the Luce, which included Joy Virata, wife of the Prime Minister. I was called to join them at the President’s Home as they wanted to see the works of visual artists under the Order of the Golden Palette (OGPA). I was handling the PR of this group of local artists. Ma’am Pearl with the Maestro Albert Faurot was helping me in the presentation of the paintings. She was very generous with the endorsement which elevated the works of the amateur artists’ market value. Two paintings were sold to Amador instantly. Maestro Albert was all smiles, proud that the works of his OGPA sons went to the hands of a prime mover of mainstream culture, thanks to Ma’am Pearl who organized the artists’ rendezvous.
She was always with this constant concern for Filipino artists. Her support to Repertory Philippines included strengthening the Dumaguete outreach program.
During the launching of “The Artist: Hand and Breath,” her book of poetry in 1995, she signed a copy for me. Her book contains very educational commentaries by the National Artist Edith Lopez Tiempo, her mentor in Creative Writing. The subtle impact of the book led me to write my own haikus as it truly was inspiring. Reading the pages of this book gave me two mentors—Mom Edith and Ma’am Pearl, her literary daughter and co-actress in campus plays.
I love Ma’am Pearl’s poems – describes Mom Edith, as having a “delicate touch, almost fragile, with which Pearl depicts the bright green world of creation – even while simultaneously, by using the devices of poetic art, she transforms this gossamer touch into a vehicle of expressing life’s weighty and inescapable truths.”
Even with degrees in Arts from George Washington University and from Wilson College in Chambersburg, she pursued a graduate degree in Creative Writing from Silliman University. With the stature of First Lady, she humbly immersed into student life by becoming editor-in-chief of the Sands and Coral and the Portal, the yearbook. I have been reading her works published in the Sands and Coral.
By the end of my immersion into Ma’am Pearls’ poetry, I figured out some points of human nature. I love the human quality she gave to a Waling-waling, “…don’t’ you know tomorrow will bring/Poor vestiges of your reign?” The beauty of it gives me the urge to help honor those who have responded to the need for Silliman to rally back from the brink of death in the country’s Culture excellence. Ma’am Pearl’s love for Literature, Theater and the Visual Arts expressed in concrete steps is a legacy that will be a driving force to turn around in many good ways the years of mediocre tendencies.
There is just too many points to recall of that golden time at Silliman with that lovely presence of the First Lady. My memory of her is here to stay, like her acacias on campus:

Towering acacias
Waving leafy branches:

The everlasting arms.

Teogenes V. Magdamo: Builder of the peace spirit of home

By Moses Joshua Atega • Sun, Jun 26, 2011

Peace is a daily, a weekly, a monthly process, gradually changing opinions, slowly eroding old barriers, quietly building new structures. 
-John F. Kennedy

This wisdom of a leader who believes in the value of peace as a working force in building foundations of enduring legacies became the world’s greatest inspiration.

It is the same inspiration that was totally echoed in the life of Silliman University’s hardworking leader Teogenes “Tatay Tony” Villanueva Magdamo.

The testimonies of Sillimanians from all over the world when Tatay Tony passed away on Father’s Day in 2010 recalled the many endearing ways he helped build peoples ‘lives. All tributes gave a portrait of a working peace- builder.

This SU College of Engineering dean had been hailed as the “builder of the peace spirit of home”.

His ways were of sure calculated steps but always with humility. When he assumed as dean after his graduate studies in Syracuse University, Tony Magdamo established a reform agenda.

He believed in a doable goal “to engage in the intellectual and spiritual formation of rational, sentient human beings who can use the great reservoir and genius of scientific analysis and technology in bringing about a world where man can truly be at home….”

He encouraged everyone to work for excellence and achieve a golden era in the history of the College of Engineering (now College of Engineering & Design). He gave his best in the teaching of Hydraulics and Strength of Materials.

Under his leadership, Silliman enjoyed excellent years of Engineering education. All three programs -- Civil, Electrical, and Mechanical -- consistently obtained a 100 percent passing rate in board examinations with a good number of topnotchers.

Dean Magdamo was noted to be a strict disciplinarian but sensitive to the welfare of the faculty, staff and students.

At one point, he recommended for promotion as faculty member one talented shop assistant/staff, the decision of which gave the worker greater opportunities for progress.

There was one school year when some foreign students tried to force Dean Magdamo to delete the requirement for study of the Bible in the Engineering curriculum. But the Dean stood strong in protecting the ideals of a Christian University.

Even a dear relative attempted to use “family relations/connections with Tatay Tony” to fix a son’s poor academic performance at the College. But the Dean in Tatay Tony persevered; he stood strong in abiding by University rules.

Dean Magdamo was determined in laying down the necessary foundations that have actually enabled Silliman to produce graduates who were above the usual cut of Engineers.

He built linkages with institutions in Australia and Japan, that gave the University wider horizons for technology advancement.

Graduates of the SU College of Engineering who passed through the strict training of Dean Magdamo were known for their ability to resolve conflicts, make instant solutions, and to express themselves clearly with excellent communication skills; and for their leadership potential, distinctively characterized by their creativity in setting directions amidst challenging times.

The University alumni tracer study shows that Engineering graduates of the 1980s are currently occupying leadership positions in their respective fields.

Indeed, they have become living profiles of Dean Magdamo’s definition of the Engineering profession: “to create processes and structures within our physical and spatial world that would advance man’s control of his environment, and thereby, realize his greatest potentials as a human being.”

One successful alumnus, Benjo Camins, affirmed Dean Magdamo’s leadership style: “He led…so magnificently… the Silliman College of Engineering is what it is today not by accident but by design, and its designer practiced what he preached.”

Dr. Levi Oracion also concluded that Dean Magdamo “…lifted his college to high levels of excellence.”

Beyond his Engineering College, there were students in campus like me who were only too lucky to have Dean Magdamo as our Tatay.

He was always a loving and caring mentor to us who families were in far-away Luzon or Mindanao. We were friends of his daughters, and co-builders of campus events.

Every now and then, we would run to the Magdamo home when we needed comfort and comforting, as we were confident and secure that Tatay Tony and Nanay Nilda would, as always, treat us like their own children.

I personally became close with Tatay Tony and his family as I was Meda’s classmate, a co-officer at Silliman Church, and in our Psychology Society. I was also working with Tatay Tony as I was one of the student representatives in leadership crisis meetings. Then I was able to work with Tatay Tony again at Silliman Church where he was an Elder and chair of the Pastoral Call committee.

More of his builder wisdom was evident in the discussions they would make as Elders of Silliman Church. I witnessed how the views of Tatay Tony were always well-respected, and how his influence affected many important decisions. His was the generous sharing of a builder’s wisdom so valuable in a period of crisis, and in mentoring youth leaders.

Inspite of the very demanding role as dean, and at one point, part of the three-man force as University officers-in-charge during a leadership crisis at Silliman, Dean Magdamo remained the bankable family man.

He was always inward-looking when faced with matters affecting the home.Coming from a traditional Protestant family orientation, with parents as pillars in the United Chuch of Christ in the Philippines in Digos, Davao del Sur, both his parents were naturally Sillimanians also -- allowing Tatay Tony to bring this spirit of home to build peace within and beyond his household.

The Silliman job was never financially-rewarding, but Tatay Tony found ways to always be a good provider, and brought the family’s financial stature a bit beyond what was just sufficient.

This he did by his natural acumen in real estate investments. With some properties acquired, Tatay Tony made sure that land disputes would never be a source of discontent in the Magdamo household. He made concrete steps so that every member of the family had a share to bank on.

Opportunities to develop a property were well-explored, and new discoveries were generously shared with everyone who needed it.

Every wisdom that worked at home was borrowed by friends, and some projects included borrowing Tatay Tony’s direct supervision.

The sharing was always with willingness that stemmed from the heart, as it was Tatay Tony’s passion to see properties acquired, and homes built -- becoming shelters of peace and progress.

The Moving Variations, one of the most successful dance groups in Dumaguete in the 1980s had Tatay Tony to be thankful for. That’s aside from the fact that it was his daughter Mae who was the gelling factor that kept the group solid in all challenges.

The Magdamo home at the Silliman campus became the emotional shelter for the dance artists. With or without engagements, the Magdamos were always there to ensure that all things needed were made available. Beyond the long dance career, the Magdamo home was always the enduring rendezvous even when the family moved on to a subdivision out of the campus.

The new home in Bantayan became Tatay Tony’s pride and joy, and he shared the spirit of a peaceful home with everyone. The Bantayan Barangay Council in fact, recognized this with a Model Family award for the Magdamos.

Tatay Tony was always willing to be there for us from the airport to any point of the home he built. I have called it my own peace shelter.

In fact, when I had to make a major decision to work at Silliman after getting my degree, it was the simplicity of the Magdamo home that became my inspiration.

Thinking of this spirit of home at Silliman gave me a sense of security, and made me see the things that really mattered.

Meda tells me she is forever thankful to her father who became the anchor of her marriage to withstand all challenges.

Tatay Tony was the faithful and loving grandfather to Joshua and Isaiah, standing in as the kids’ loving parent when Meda and husband Gino had work far away from home.

I remember one day when Tatay Tony asked me to join him in taking my godson Isaiah to school, and I was amazed how every little expression of intelligence from the child made him very happy.

It is also very easy for Joshua to become emotional when asked to talk about his grandfather -- who was always there for him. Joshua promised never to forget his Lolo’s legacy of love and faithfulness.

This overflowing love, however, always came with a sense of discipline, as Tatay Tony had a unique way of telling straight-to-the-point without hurting. Even with his own daughters, a reprimand was always muted in the privacy of their bedrooms.

Nanay Nilda was always the one precious gem in Tatay Tony’s life. He was so fond of asking artists to paint portraits of his lovely wife.

When asked why of all the men, she chose this humble man who loved basketball, Nanay Nilda just smiled and proudly expressed, “Tony was the perfect gentleman.”

Looking back, one would realize that the “home” was not just the wooden swing, or Mae’s room, or the kitchen table always laden with food that it became everyone’s favorite part of the house.

Home was Silliman distinctly defined by the welcoming heart of Tatay Tony anytime of the day, and any season of the year. There were a lot of memories in that Silliman home that he built – sweet memories of peace that we can easily embrace even beyond Tatay Tony’s lifetime.