Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Maestro Selmo Pelayre - Great Ilocano Music Teacher and Composer [San Vicente.(IS) to the World Series]

In memory of the late Mr Anselmo Pelayre, foremost Ilocano music composer and arranger, teacher and conductor.
 Dr Abe V Rotor
Living with Nature School on Blog
Paaralang Bayan sa Himpapawid (People's School on Air) with Ms Melly C Tenorio
738 DZRB 8 to 9 evening class, Monday to Friday

Before the break of dawn people of all walks of life - even from the farthest barrio - trek to attend the traditional misa de gallo.*  There on the elevated choir of the old church stands a calmly gentleman, posed before a group of local singers.  Below, the parish priest and a pair of sacristan, visibly await at the altar's entrance. In the muffled air of a old church overflowing with faithful, the clock strikes four. And the angelic celebration begins. 

One can imagine the ambiance of the Sistine chapel in Rome.  Or Sophia in Russia.  Or the Dome in Jerusalem. But in reality it is not.  These places are too far out to deeply feel the essence of Christendom with the birth of Christ. Instead, the setting is in a relatively unknown town - San Vicente, just west of Vigan. 

There is a Bach in the music, in fact a lot of it because of the richness of the organ.  There is Beethoven in it as well, because of the fullness and variety of the music, There is Mozart because of the therapeutic effect on the tired and lonely.  There is Handel, yes, the creator of Hallelujah, the  greatest religious composition of all times. There is a Nicanor Abelardo, for the unmistakable Filipino touch typical in his kundiman. There is Santiago for the neatness of composition combining western and local flavor. 

And finally, there is Maestro Selmo Pelayre, the musical genius, an artisan who could translate auditory perception into skillful performance.  And if an artist can put together ingredients of masterpieces into a faithful yet distinct version of his, albeit the movement or school to which it is attributed, he must be a genius. And he is.

He is to us his pupils, neophytes we were then - and maybe until now - after the maestro is long gone. Yet in the very core of our childhood which surfaces now and then, his music tingles when there is fun, peals when there is lament, pops out to meet the young and restless new generation, lulls among the elderly and infirmed, dirges in times of calamitous events, and resurrects with the universal belief of eternity. 
How I loved to play the violin during the misa de gallo. Maestro Selmo made it so.  All of a sudden you feel confident.  Because you do not only play the music, you feel the music.  You play in unity and harmony. You are the artist and the audience at the same time, your heart pouring out and theirs receiving. You may miss a note or two, but you don't lose the composition.  You ride with the crescendo and decrescendo, swing with the cantabile, quicken with the allegro.  And rise to the heavens with the Hallelujah.

How many young musicians Maestro Selmo made?  I can only guess, and lose track. For music, the universal language is a language of peace and contentment, of brotherhood and true ecumenism. It is the language of the soul, and of the spirit that humanity commonly shares. Such is the measure of a maestro - in any field for that matter, illumined by the Great Teacher.

17th century church of San Vicente, Ilocos Sur 

One composition can make or shake a nation, like the Star Spangled Banner, or any song that brings the hand close to the heart, and join others' hands. Or one that brings out the spirit of the Yuletide Season. Then there is a signature song for a birthday, a wedding, a graduation -  having established their respective places for such occasions through time and generations, and across continents.  

In Maestro Selmo's time it was a Phoenix bird coming out of the ashes of war, so to speak, a transition of war to peace.  Childhood in my generation was short-lived.  You have to mature fast and eager on behalf of the lost generation. it is responsibility, resolution to take over. And therefore, what we needed most was a guiding hand. 

Maestro Selmo was my teacher in the grade school, as well as my tutor in violin. I would go to his place on a weekend, a couple of blocks away from our house, and there I would enjoy the musical company of his family - Salvador, Carmen, and another brother of his, who headed a band that played during funeral, parade, procession,  sarzuela (public stage play), comedia (moro-moro), and fiesta, numerous school and church activities, notwithstanding. Music is a signature of our town, together with sculpture, painting and carpentry. To us it is a mark of time and living, from birth to death - and after.  It is important to our values.  

Imagine if there were no lullaby, no dance, no song.  Mother-and-child would just be a symbol, the dance floor empty, poetry prosaic and dull, serenade lacking romance. Listen to the lullaby (Ugoy ng Duyan) of Lucio San Pedro, dance the dallot (Ilk) patterned after the dalliance of eagles for which it is performed in weddings.  Sing Pamulinawen (stone-hearted Lady), Manang Biday (cheerful Ilocana lass), O, Naraniag a Bulan (Oh, Bright Moon), Diay Baybay (Over the Sea), or the hilarious Ti Ayat ti Mays a Lakay (An old man's love for a lass), and enjoy the art of living.  Be part of the element of art's gaily and timeless gifts, be part of the culture that built and preserve it.  What make it truly Ilocano. And what makes a holistic life tuned with the ways of nature.  

If a breeze passing through the leaves is music, so with the lapping of waves on the shore, chirping piping through a bird's nest up in a tree, bleating or mooing on the meadow, the rush of river, raindrops falling - or simply, lilting of children flying kites - you are blessed. If these are perceived as music, and you are aware that the origin of music is Nature, like Beethoven's Pastoral - you are blessed.  Listen to the rowing song, planting song, humming on a lonely path. You may have been among the pupils of Maestro Selmo.  You must have heard his plaintive country songs and happy folk music on tape or CD.  You too, must have been among the faithful attending the misa de gallo in his time.       

The compositions of Maestro Selmo may have lived with the misa de gallo until church music either became impromptu or electronic; it may have lived with the sarzuela until the stage was replaced by cinema, the orchestra by rock band, treasured masterpieces commercialized, live performance abridged and gimmicked, and the harana (serenade) a Shakespearean past. 

And Maestro Selmo himself retired as a teacher and migrated to America.  He was no longer heard by us - until time, sweet time - stilled his genius and loving heart.  All in the name of change-and-progress-and-change, ad infinitum, acculturation engulfing what is divisive and diverse, and globalization homogenizing cultures, so with art - old and new, classic and abstract, and anything that is perceived as no longer relevant and necessary or useful - and profitable.

And yet he carried his music to America, with his family, and kababayan, their friends and acquaintances, who, like him may not have left their homelands -  were life and living less demanding, more promising, more peaceful, more fulfilling, and brighter for the next and new generations. 

If his music has brought light to life to be shared with one and many, then he shall have earned his place a genius in the art of music. Because he elevated music to the level of philosophy. 

And so the vacuum became ours.  Inevitably.  It became a greater challenge indeed.  But this is the whole essence of humanity.  Dissemination.  It is the binhi principle in action.  It is the work of the Sower. And Maestro Selmo did it - through music.

Thomas Gray may have "perfected" his masterpiece Elegy on a Country Churchyard, yet this particular stanza remains unsettling.  It is because life that is well earned, well shared, well devoted to the Creator is never wasted at all.  


Full many a gem of purest ray serene,
     The deep unfathomed caves the ocean bear;
Full many a flower is born to blush unseen,
    And waste their sweetness in the desert air."

Thomas Gray, Elegy on the Country Churchyard

*Simbáng Gabi ("Night Mass"), is the Filipino version of the Misa de Aguinaldo.  It  traditionally begins on December 16 and ends on December 24. The celebration is held at around four o’clock in the morning since it was the harvest season, and the farmers needed to be in the fields right after the celebration.

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