A Song that Flows in My Blood
Lea Salonga, a Filipina, of "Miss Saigon" fame sings "Bayan Ko" (Photo Internet. Aug. 26,2013)
This song flows with my blood. It vibrates in me, as it were. “Bayan Ko” is a song in Pilipino, our national language. The lyrics with English translation follow:
Ang bayan kong Pilipinas (My country the Philippines)
Lupain ng ginto’t bulaklak (Land of gold and flowers)
Pag-ibig na sa kanyang palad (Love that is in her palms)
Nag-alay ng ganda’t dilag (Offered beauty and fairy)
At sa kanyang yumi at ganda (And in her allure and beauty)
Dayuhan ay nahalina (The foreigner had been attracted)
Bayan ko binihag ka (My country you were captured)
Nasadlak sa dusa (Thrown into suffering) .
Ibon mang may layang lumipad (Even for a bird with freedom to fly)
Kulungin mo at umiiyak (Put it in a cage and it will cry)
Bayan pa kayang sakdal dilag (How much more for a country so beautiful)
Ang di magnasang makaalpas (That does not desire to get free)
Pilipinas kong minumutya (Philippines my beloved)
Pugad ng luha at dalita (Nest of tears and sufferance) .
Aking adhika (It is my desire)
Makita kang sakdal laya. (To see you so free)
My first rendition of this song was in a duet. I was the first voice. A girl was in the second voice.
Let me tell a long story that culminated in the rendition of this song. It starts when I first learned how to sing.
The first song I learned to sing was a local ditty in Ilocano, “Manang Biday” I heard it many times from my mother who sang it as a lullaby to put me to sleep in my hammock after breastfeeding me.
Then my father brought home from his hometown a gramophone.
I learned later on that his brothers who were working as pineapple pickers in Hawaii gave it to him as a gift. I did not know that it was an invention of Thomas Edison.
We played Ilocano songs, my family being Ilocano. I had favorite English songs. I came to memorize only the portions that I liked. Of course, I did not understand them because I had not yet set foot in a school for my first grade.
In grade one, our teacher selected pupils whom she wanted to sing in front of the class. The first she chose was a girl who sang Manang Biday. Next, a boy was called and he also sang Manang Biday.
Then she pointed at me, my turn to sing. I knew Manang Biday very well. However, It was sang by two classmates already. Will I sing it again?
I sang my favorite English song, or rather the part I liked so much. Then stopped and took my seat.
I thought I saw amazement in the face of our teacher. I did not know the song I just sang was in English. And we haven’t started any lesson that was a mixture of Ilocano and English.
The next day again started with a singing exercise. This time our teacher pointed at me to sing the first song. I was a little surprised but I think I did not know how nervousness was. My voice never trembled while singing unlike my classmates. I did not want to sing Manang Biday, or the song I sang previously. I rendered a part of another favorite English song.
Days and years wore on until our fourth grade in school. There was to be a school fair with other schools that included singing. I secretly wanted to be the contestant in the song event. But our teacher chose another boy. I kept my disappointment in silence.
I tried to find reasons why I was not chosen. It could be that my voice was soft that could not be heard by the audience at the back of the room. Remember, it was early 1950s and there were no sound systems in our place, microphones were not yet around. Also you have to sing acappella.
It could be that my pitch was a little high, ala Neil Sedaka. High pitch was for the girls, low pitch was for the boys, like Frank Sinatra or Elvis Presley.
To another school
For grade five, in 1961, I enrolled in another school in another barrio (smallest political unit in the Philippines) because our local school was only a primary school. There were also morning exercises when pupils were called to sing in front of the class. By that time I have tucked under my belt a lot of songs taught in school. I had memorized some of my favorite English songs from start to finish. I also remedied my soft voice. I could see that my classmates were surprised I was rendering songs not taught in school.
I would like to think our teacher in English was elated. I learned that her father was an American soldier who was among those who captured Gen. Emilio Aguinaldo, leader of the Philippine revolution of 1896-98 against Spain and president of the first Philippine Republic. This American married a Filipina and stayed behind while other soldiers went home to America. (The Americans annexed the Philippines in 1900 to 1946). Some of my songs must have been sung or played by his father in their own gramophone.
Some other teachers must have heard my singing voice.
One morning our English teacher was requested to allow me to go practice singing. The request came from a teacher in another classroom, Miss Lolita Bautista. She was the sister of our town mayor. She was a new graduate of a famous teacher’s college in Manila: Philippine Normal College. She was tall, with long hair, fair skin and beautiful. I think that was the first time I had a crush.
Come July 4th was an Independence Day celebrations for the Philippines. At that time the Philippines had the same Independence Day as the United States. The celebrations were to be held in the town auditorium where several schools were to participate. The participation of our school was rendition of a song. Miss Bautista chose “Bayan Ko.” It was to be rendered as a duet by Norma Dumlao and me. Norma was not my classmate; she was in grade 6. I heard that she was the best singer in our school.
[Later on President Diosdado Macapagal proclaimed June 12 as our Independence day, the day when Gen. Aguinaldo declared the first Philippine Republic in Kawit, Cavite.]
I liked the lyrics and the melody. Miss Bautista was an inspiration. I learned the song in no time at all. I practiced singing it at home. Later on I heard my mother singing it, too. She polished my timing. She could read musical notes; she was the organizer and mentor of our church choir.
First rendition in public
I was eager to sing in public. Still acapella but this time with a microphone. I thought to myself at last my singing talent would be vindicated from the rejection it suffered from my teacher back in grade 4. My mother would be vindicated as well as I inherited her pitch.
I did not feel butterflies in my stomach. Nervousness was far from my thoughts. Norma and I started off smoothly. I heard some hushes from members of the audience. They might have been expecting Norma to sing the first voice and me the second voice. They were familiar with the song and they knew that the refrain started with high notes that only girls are known to reach the pitch. They might have been apprehensive I would falter with a broken voice or off note. That would put our school, San Isidro Elementary School, down not to mention Miss Bautista who visibly escorted us to the stage. And the town mayor, her brother, was leading the celebrations yet.
I hit the high notes of the refrain pretty good with some emotions as I felt the message deep in my heart.
I heard more hushes then claps.
Norma and I enjoyed our duet I must say. Our voices blended well. We might have swayed our bodies a little involuntarily as we were not taught any choreography. At that time a singer sang stiffly, almost no hand gestures. After our bows, the audience broke into claps. Miss Bautista was more beautiful as she fetched Norma and I with a long smile. The song further etched in me.
Since late 1960s, the radical group of students in the University of the Philippines Los Baños started to politicize students by conducting book reviews. Some student leaders, male and female, would invite other students to their book reviews. Tackled were some novels or short stories that were also used in courses in literature. Any student who wanted to be able to analyze novels or short stories would attend these book reviews. I thought I could also conduct a book review and volunteered to review a book by DH Lawrence, like "Lady Chatterly's Lover" or "The Plumed Serpent."
My political naivete dawned on me owing to a denial accompanied by what seemed to me a sneer. The book review would somehow touch on political topics. Sometimes I engaged in hot debates ending the loser. There were things I did not understand, especially about politics. It was hard for me to take the beatings.
One semester break I was invited to attend what was called a teach-in. I was told it was like a book review. I cancelled my vacation back home to attend the teach-in. I soon realized it was politization. Preparations for the Marcos dictatorship was peaking. The teach-in provided me with a political framework. It enabled me to understand the language of the radicals. I dug deeper into political ideologies. I was determined to take my own advice.
The song “Bayan Ko” was part of politization in our group, the moderates. A pleasant surprise.
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