Broken chords and the heart of music
MANILA, Philippines – The jazz master meets the jazz chanteuse. It sounds like a catch phrase on a poster for a great night of music. But this is no concert.
The jazz master, who once lived the rock n’ roll lifestyle during his heydays, is Joel Galang, a pianist and the former musical director of Bossa Nova singer, Sitti. It’s been quite a while since he made music.
He was lying in a folding bed on the driveway of the barangay hall of Bahay Toro in Project 6, Quezon City, when Myra Ruaro, more popularly known as Skarlet of Put3Ska and Brownbeat All Stars fame, came to see him. They had previously worked together on two tracks for Skarlet’s album, “Powder Room Stories.”
“Kap!” Skarlet called out.
Galang got up, but it took a while before he recognized her, as he has cataracts. He mumbled something. He developed a speech impediment after a stroke a couple of years ago.
Along with the dexterity of his fingers, Galang, the virtuoso on the keyboards, seemed to have also lost his self-respect. The nails on his long fingers, which once caressed the black and white keys of the piano, were now long and dirty.
Skarlet handed him a bag of groceries and packed food. He managed a faint smile, then wolfed down the food.
Galang has overstayed his welcome at the barangay hall, where he has stayed for 8 months. Barangay officials asked Skarlet to bring Galang home. Ironically, his brother is from the same neighborhood. Ditto with his cousin.
Galang is estranged, abandoned, and ostracized by his own family. He has no home to go home to.
The ivory key
Black and white like piano keys—this is perhaps the best description of the mindsets of Galang and Alfonso Benid. While Galang seems to have lost himself in the dark depths of depression, Benid has kept a more positive outlook.
Like Galang, Benid is also a keyboardist. He also suffered from stroke, and waas also abandoned by his family. They were actually together in a gig some 4 years ago, for a private party hosted by a rich family, who is into the construction business.
Unlike Galang, Benid has a roof over his head. A former client had taken him in. This is home for now. He once stayed for around 6 months at another friend’s house in Cubao.
Unlike Galang, Benid has a network of friends to help him get by, day by day. He is barely surviving, but he is alive. And his spirit chooses to fight on.
Skarlet meets Benid at the corner of Matatag and Maunawain Streets, in Barangay Pinyahan, Quezon City. He lets out a big smile as he walks with a cane towards Skarlet. They walk together for about 100 meters to where Benid is staying.
Like Galang, Benid gets a bag of groceries and packed food from Skarlet. He brings it inside his room. They exchange pleasantries.
Benid said the dexterity of his hands is improving. One can hardly notice the slight speech defect brought on by the stroke. He said his everyday walks, from Barangay Pinyahan to New York, Cubao, may have helped in his recovery.
His single-minded drive to make music again is fueled by his desire to get custody of his daughter, who was taken by his former live-in partner to Davao after she left him. He said she abandoned him when could no longer put food on the table since his stroke. He claims his former live-in partner already has a child with a new partner.
Benid cannot wait to make music again.
Healing heart of music
Galang and Benid are isolated cases, said Skarlet. But they are among the many ailing musicians who need help. This was what prompted Skarlet to establish the Heart of Music Foundation (HOM) 3 years ago.
Through HOM, Skarlet actively campaigns for the healthcare and social assistance of struggling musicians.
She disclosed that HOM is also currently working on giving scholarships, securing a halfway house for the likes of Galang and Benid, and partnering with other foundations for feeding programs.
Just two days after visiting Galang and Benid, Skarlet is at the National Kidney Institute for Musikahan, an outreach program in partnership with a big pharmaceutical firm. It taps the healing power of music for cancer patients and their caregivers.
An hour before the program started, Skarlet and keyboardist Ariel Rebadulla are already rehearsing. They had barely any decent sleep. The night before, they just came from their regular gig at Tiendesitas. Skarlet’s voice is still raspy. She chuckled and said she sounds like a man.
She first sang two standards to the delight of the audience. There’s a “name that tune” game. It begins rather sheepishly, maybe it’s because the people were still busy with the buffet. But when the audience loosened up, they were singing along with Skarlet.
Others were even brave enough to take to the open mic challenge.
There was a man who took the microphone and requested for a song. He had a surgical mask over his face. It turns out he is the son of a cancer patient. He dedicates the song to his mother, who is undergoing treatment for the disease. He croons a popular Gary Valenciano song, “Hold my hand and have no fear, I will be here…” – Rappler.com
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