“Six-Time Winner” by Paula Carolina Malay (December 18, 1953)

“Six-Time” Winner”, by Paula Carolina Malay. Published in Weekly Women’s Magazine, December 18, 1953.

Six-Time Winner
by Paula Carolina Malay

Weekly Women’s Magazine, December 18, 1953.

The professor was exhorting his students, “I’ll tell you why you should buy tickets for this concert. When I was a young student in the States, I was mistaken for a Chinese, a Japanese, a Hawaiian, a Cuban, in fact, anything but a Filipino. Do you know why?” He paused a moment for effect. “It is because,” he continued, “as a people we Filipinos are still comparatively unknown. We have yet to make our mark in the world.”

Of course he was thinking of this student days when Bataan and Corregidor were still unheard-of places, when Romulo and Magsaysay were still unknown names. But this professor, who by the way is a scientist with a warm heart for art and artists, is deploring the average Filipino’s attitude on the patronage of the arts. Now driving home his point, he continued, “Now, look. Here is a young countryman who might still make a distinct contribution to the world; in other words, make the Philippines and the Filipinos better known. Encourage him to develop his art by listening to him, by buying tickets to his concerts.”

However, this article is not about the professor nor the pianist he wanted to promote. It is about another Filipino artist who would get the same boost from the scientist-dilettante, were he given a similar chance. He is a composer whose work was sung last November 6 at faraway Harvard by the university’s famous glee club. It was presented at the opening of the concert season before a large cosmopolitan crowd. In a way, this composer’s feat was another step towards the millennium the professor was talking about. He was helping put the Philippines on the map.

Rosendo Ejercito Santos, Jr. won the first prize in a contest for the best arrangement of Philippine songs conducted by the Harvard Glee Club. His transcription of the lilting “Sampaguita” for a male chorus won for him a prize of P200. The amount is not what matters. It is the recognition of his talents, at last, that he is happy about. The funny thing about this notice he is getting is that it came his way for a work that is not entirely his. Maybe the fact that it is his sixth in a row of first prizes did it. To his credit, the other five were original compositions, and we might add, he won over more established names several times.

The very first of his first prizes was in 1946 when he was awarded the Bedana Scholarship which entitled him to free tuition for four years at the Conservatory of Music of the University of the Philippines. His winning piece was a Prelude and Fugue for the piano in the style of Bach.

This chubby-faced and kewpie-eyed young man is now with the faculty of the U.P. Conservatory of Music from where he graduated in 1952 with a bachelor’s degree in composition and conducting. Even as an undergraduate, he earned a pittance of P.50 an hour as a student assistant to the faculty. Now as an assistant instructor, he receives a slightly more munificent pay of P140 a month. For this amount, he punches the clock at 8 in the morning and knocks off at 4 in the afternoon. But he does not mind at all. His dreamy, poetic personality is completely at home in the culture-soaked walls of the music halls and rooms of the U.P. Administration Building.

Oh yes, this artist is at heart a romanticist. That explains his partiality for Rachmaninoff and Tchaikovsky. “Would you care to hear my piano concerto?” By the intensity of his voice, I know it was not a question he was asking. It was a plea.

He asked Miss Mercedes Ma. Lopez, a star student of the conservatory, to play on the first piano. It was she who played the concerto for the first time, and that was during his graduation recital. When he sat at the second piano to play the accompaniment, his face lit up. His eyes grew soft as he followed the score, and I thought that could very well be the face of a poet looking at his muse.

People who enjoy Chopin, Rachmaninoff, Tchaikovsky and Grieg will find Mr. Santos’ music pleasant listening. His Concerto in G minor No. 1 for piano and orchestra is scheduled to be played at a concert in Baguio this summer with Miss Lopez as soloist. The Holy Ghost Music Department is slating the same work as the main offering in the graduation recital of one of its students. To the struggling composer, nothing is more gratifying than inclusion of his works in the repertoire of reputable musicians.

His classical academic training shows also in the art songs he has written. One of these, “Maid of the Valley”, so named because it was first sung by a lass from the Cagayan Valley, is, to this writer’s ear, as charming as any of Schubert’s lieder. Mr. Santos also writes the lyrics to his songs.

Though he is at heart a romantic, he has not overlooked looking into modern music. Of composers in the new manner, he likes Stravinsky and Prokofiev. “Oh, yes, there is something to some of them,” he said when asked his opinion on the moderns. “Besides, when you go abroad, specially in the States, they will think nothing of you if you have done nothing that is ‘modern’. But he gave himself away when after listening to a Bartok, he said, “See what I mean? All you have to do to make modern music is to produce dissonances.”

Mr. Santos has not given up hope of someday being sent abroad on a scholarship. If and when it comes, he expects to enroll at the Eastman Conservatory of Music in New York.

The second of his first prizes was won in 1947 when as an undergraduate, he wrote the U.P. Alumni March for the 31st anniversary of the U.P. Conservatory of Music. The cash award that went with this first prize was P300.

The year 1951 was a record year for this composer. He won three first prizes for which he received an aggregate of P1,000 in cash. The compositions which won him these prizes are The University of the East March, the Boy Scouts of the Philippines Hymn and the Philippine Republic March. The last one was written on the occasion of the fifth anniversary of Philippine Independence.

A most fascinating story was revealed when he was asked if he used pseudonyms in submitting entries to the song contests. “Oh yes, I did.” he said, and remembrance saddened his eyes. He recounted that those he used were “Bull-dozer”, “Maldita”, “Gem of Life”, “Careless”, “Seven Years”, and for the last, which was for the Harvard contest, “Forever Amber”. They are not merely fanciful names; each one is a sentimental label, and for the same girl. The story is one of heartbreak and explains why he is still unmarried.

But, although single, he is very much a family man. He has five youngsters, nephews an nieces under his care. The rest of his family are his parents. His father is a political leader who was thrice mayor of Cavite City. His mother, Castora Salazar, is a genteel Caviteña who used to play the harp when she was young. He is the youngest child and only son, and by these signs, should have been a spoiled one. But he turned out differently. When he was eleven, he began to take piano lessons from Julian Felipe, the famed Cavite musician who composed the Philippine national anthem. After a year and a half, the maestro found that there was nothing that he could teach that his pupil did not know. From then on, the boy Rosendo was a breadwinner. After classes at the Cavite Elementary, and later at the Cavite High School, he taught music to boys and girls in their homes.

Now 30, he is the main support of the family. He supplements his stipend at the university in other ways besides winning first prizes in composition contests. Every weekday except Tuesday, he leaves Diliman at 4:30 in the afternoon for Bacoor, Cavite. He is conductor of the ’96 Band of that town and rehearses from seven to about midnight. Then home to Cavite City. On Tuesday evenings, he practices with the Sangley Point Choir where he plays the organ. In between this busy schedule, perhaps between classes, or while riding in busses, he thinks of a tune, and presto, it’s a song! For his “Lihim”, a danza in print since 1941, he has collected quite a sum in royalties.

Melodies come easily to him. At one time, a girl chided him, “You have forgotten your promise to write a song for my birthday anniversary, which will be tomorrow.” Quick with his wits, the young man replied, “Certainly not~ I have the song at home all finished. I’m only waiting for tomorrow to give it to you.” This little drama happened while Mr. Santos was waiting at a terminal in Manila for a bus that would take him to Cavite. Somewhere en route, a song was born. As soon as he reached home, he wrote down the tune, and indeed, was ready for the morrow. Everybody was happy, thanks to his quick wits and easy gift for music.

This composer confesses to being happiest when he is writing popular music. His first composition, a kundiman, was produced when he was but in the first year of high school. He called it “Gloria” after a neighbor on whom he had a crush. Arthur Correll liked the song so much that when he first played it is his program, he put in some very encouraging words for the young composer. Since then, he has written many other pieces, some long-haired, others popular in treatment. His contact with the classics did not dim his zest for catchy, current crazes. This could partly be explained by the fact that he is a practical artist. So far, arranging tangos and mambos for bands, dance and concert orchestras is more remunerative. For this reason, the ’96 Band of Bacoor gained the popularity it now enjoys. It has the reputation of having the widest repertoire in popular music in the central and southern Luzon circuit.

But any kind of music, high- or low-brow, disturbs him. He can stand noise but not music while working. He says that he cannot produce anything at home because music from neighbors’ radios distracts him. Likewise, he goes to church early to avoid high Mass because he cannot meditate and hear music all at once. This explains why he is more prolific amidst traffic noises. At one time he found himself in a more conducive climate. He was aboard a ship with other musicians—he pays the tympani and the trombone in a symphony orchestra—coming home from engagements in Manila. During the relaxing sea voyage, he wrote his Hermes Overture which is very much steeped in classical tradition.

This Filipino composer is long-haired, at times, but he is not formidable. To the professor we wrote about by way of introduction, what is more significant is that this countryman might still help make the Philippines better known by bringing Philippine music to foreign shores.