FIFTEEN-YEAR-OLD violinist Adrian Nicolas Ong is leaving today. He is starting tenth grade and spending the next three years as a scholar at the Interlochen Arts Academy in Traverse City, Michigan. On Friday evening, August 26, he had a free-admission concertino at the Cultural Center of the Philippines Little Theater—his way of saying thanks to his mentors and friends who have been around for him since he started learning the violin at age nine.
His mother Jeannie tries to be chirpy about her son’s leaving. “There are ways to keep in touch,” she says, citing the various means of communication that technology affords us these days. She also says that he always has the option of coming home to the Philippines during vacations. That, or the family goes there to visit.
A former schoolmate at the Philippine High School for the Arts shares an anecdote about Adrian. Like most teenagers, Adrian was an avid gamer. But one day he decided he would get rid of his (gaming) account and concentrate on his music.
It appears Adrian has never looked back since. And on Friday night, what a sight: he awkwardly reading his thank yous in a prepared speech written on his mobile phone, his friends from the Manila Symphony Orchestra-Junior Orchestra (MSJO) wishing him well.
“We’ll see each other again,” he said.
The orchestra kids are mentored by conductor Jeffrey Solares. He put up the MSJO in 2014 with his Manila Symphony Orchestra colleagues—Arturo Molina, Gina Medina Perez and Sara Gonzales. “We wanted this orchestra to have the best from all over the Philippines and not just be students of one school.”
Today the group has 22 violins, four violas and five cellos. The kids’ age range between eight and 18. It has developed its own repertoire and regularly holds public concerts.
He looks back fondly at the early days of the junior group, practicing in a 15-square meter space at the MSO’s cramped rehearsal room.
“I had to plan the position of the 12 young violinists so they would not hit each other with their bows.”
These days the children often rehearse at the mall, in an open space between the MSO Academy branch and an Apple store at the top level of Glorietta 5. It’s always a treat for Sunday shoppers to see teenagers holding their instruments—not their gadgets, for once—and creating beautiful music.
Always, too, the kids’ parents would be standing or sitting nearby, waiting for their kids and talking among each other, fostering friendships of their own.
Nonetheless, the mall area, while “good for the public to see, is not ideal for woking on a truly artistic level for us. That is why it is very urgent for us to get our own rehearsal venue where we can work in detail,” Solares says.
Solares is not just a musician and teacher—he is also an advocate, specifically of the promotion of classical music for education and human development. “What we try to sell are goods for the spirit, things that nurture the soul.”
He goes back to one of the aims of the MSO Music Academy, which is to encourage people to take up musical study, not for the explicit purpose of becoming professional musicians and joining orchestras but as an avenue for personal growth. “We want to promote the practice of classical music as an essential part of quality education for everyone.”
How to promote classical music, then, given the impression that it is only for the educated, nay, the elite?
“I do not claim that I already know the answer to that, but I do not see that the star system is the way to do it. Ths star system might work for people in the entertainment industry. But I do not consider what we do as ‘entertainment,’ per se. Our mission is closer to developing people.”
Solares acknowledges that there are differing levels of proficiency and natural aptitude among his students. “This requires that I treat each one accordingly.”
“It gives me joy to see many children achieve a high level of musical proficiency, and they all must pull each other up. The so-called ‘star system’—giving attention to a few prodigies or sensationalize the extraordinary achievements of a few—tends to encourage unhealthy competition among parents and kids, and I don’t like to foster this atmosphere.”
What they try to do in MSJO, instead, is to instill joy and appreciation for each other’s achievements and mutual cooperation among parents and children. “What we are trying to build is an excellent orchestra, and you need everybody to be that way.”
“We want excellence to be a normal thing.”