Sunday, December 2, 2012

Strings attached


published as a feature in the Lifestyle section of MST Sunday, December 2, 2012
**
Imagine a seven-year-old boy, aimlessly wandering around an old building. To him, the possibilities are endless. He explores the fire exits, the dark corridors, the strange staircases. He stumbles into a wide, imposing door and pushes it open with all his might. He beholds the Philippine Philharmonic Orchestra rehearsing for a concert—and his life changes, forever.

Pineda with his students from Las Vegas, Nevada during a Thanksgiving Recital in 2008
Among the many instruments in the orchestra, the boy is immediately drawn to the violin. There is nothing like its sound. He is seized with a sudden conviction: “I think I can do that!”
Braderick Pineda remembers that day many years ago. His father was an employee of the Cultural Center of the Philippines and frequently brought him to work. It was only in hindsight that Brad would realize that having the CCP as a playground was no accident at all.
Discordant beginnings
Brad however had other things on his mind aside from music. Life at home was far from tranquil; there were family issues to deal with. These affected his will to excel and enthusiasm about anything.

Students from Montessori Academy of Valenzuela where Pineda is currently giving violin lessons
Despite these, he got to be good enough to get into the prestigious Philippine High School for the Arts at the foot of Mt. Makiling. Talented students in the fields of music, fine arts, dance and theater lived on campus. With his classmates and mentors, Brad found another family with whom he shared the most memorable and the most mundane episodes of his adolescence. His music coach, the late ProfessorBasilio “Billy” Manalo, did not give up on him even though he felt he was not as good as the others. “It was as if he saw something in me that I did not even see in myself.” These relationships were what marked his PHSA years. “I just happened to be playing the violin at the same time.”
The drop in motivation was such that when it was time to go to college, Brad never thought about pursuing a music career. He enrolled at the University of Santo Tomas—just because everyone in his family had a college degree—as a business management major. Soon he got restless and shifted to accountancy. Only when he heard there was a scholarship being offered at the Conservatory of Music—money was tight in those days—did he consider studying music. In 1990, Brad transferred to the University of the Philippines. Eager to earn his own money, he started playing in hotels and for corporate events, as well as in weddings and debut parties.  He was also with the PPO as a casual musician.
A few years later, he joined a church and eventually became a “leader.” He managed a community of 200 members and soon learned to deal with people of different temperaments, concerns and persuasions. Brad became so wrapped up in church work that when he gave up music to focus on leading, he thought he had already left for good.
He would later on find out he was wrong.
Teacher Brad
Brad, with his young bride, soon flew to Las Vegas, Nevada to see what life had to offer them there. Faced with tough practical choices, Brad had the idea of calling up each music store listed on the directory, asking them whether they needed a violin teacher. In a few weeks, he signed up his first four students—all working to improve their grades since an orchestra class was part of the music program in the Nevada curriculum.
He enjoyed his students at the onset. “I learned much from them as much as they learned from me.” After a while, through word of mouth, Brad found himself teaching as much as 50 students in a week—and they too were a mix of Asians, Afro-Americans, Latin Americans and Caucasians. There were Christian, Jewish and Muslim students, as well as atheists and agnostics. They were as young as four and as old as 74—and they convinced Brad of one thing. He could teach!
Then again, it’s not all business. If a student seemed distracted while playing, Brad would ask him or her to put the violin down. “What’s bothering you? Let’s talk.” In one instance, a kid remained silent and insisted he was fine. A few seconds afterwards, he started to cry. During these times, hitting the right notes seemed the least of one’s concerns. The kids were dealing with family problems or school problems, and this affected their performance.
For Brad, the rewards were not purely financial but were overwhelming anyway.

Braderick Pineda
For example, an American student, Hisham Groover, was on his way to becoming a military officer. When he started learning the violin, however, he knew he wanted to be a musician more than a military man. He now performs and teaches violin at Western Kentucky University.
Another student, Kyle Milleret, was being groomed to be a corporate executive like his father. He saw that music could be fun—and made a decision not to become an accountant. Now he is an undergraduate student at the Hartford University College of Music in Connecticut.
Brad does not just develop relationships with his students; he gets to know their immediate families, too. “Back in the US, I get invited a lot to family lunches, Thanksgiving dinners and the like. I was able to make friends with people from all backgrounds.”
So when the family decided back to the Philippines, he knew exactly what he wanted to do. He linked up with some church contacts—a family who owned a school—and started teaching the violin as an enrichment activity to its students.
“I do not stick to a single teaching method that I apply to all my students,” Brad says. “It is important to get to know them well, their abilities of course but also their strengths, behavior and needs.” From such assessment he decides whether the child can get by using his or her own guided approach, or whether he or she needs to imitate the teacher’s movements in order to play well. Some kids, for example, can think critically while some are easily intimidated. Some look as though nothing could excite them at all.
“We should not be quick to dismiss students as not doing well because they are lazy, or distracted, or simply not good enough,” he continues. “There is always a reason why they play how they play.” He honed his teaching skills through his own experience as a student, adopting the effective approaches of his teachers and improving on the aspects which he felt his own teachers should have done better.
This is also where Brad finds his people counseling skills, acquired when leading the church community, handy. The idea is to teach them the skills, of course, but more than that, to inspire them to play the best way they could. “To teach them is to guide them, and to guide them, you must know what is in their hearts and minds.”
Performance level
Settling back in Manila, Brad—or Badji to his friends here—picked up his violin and practiced for long hours every day to get back to performance level. He started playing with the Philippine Philharmonic Orchestra again. He was also part of the musical The Phantom of the Opera, enabling him to work with artists of all nationalities.
“I felt fortunate performing there. Phantom is a musical made in heaven,” he gushes. “The producers made sure even the smallest detail was perfect. The audience got their money’s worth and maybe even more.”
He acknowledges, too, the role of friends Gerard and DJ Salonga who encouraged him to audition with the ABS-CBN Philharmonic Orchestra. Gerard is its musical director. Their performance includes concert-tributes, noontime shows like Asap and Showtime, or music videos for an upcoming teleserye.
Brad is also with the Manila Strings Machine—a quartet (two violins, a viola and a cello), owned by cellist Ted Amper—gracing occasions from parties to corporate events. “Name the song,” Brad says, “from popular love songs to dance tunes, and we will arrange it and perform it. It will be the same song but a different experience.” He adds: “The violin is not just for the high-brow crowd or for the elite. It can be appreciated by as many people as possible.”
What many tend to overlook, however, is the sheer amount of investment musicians put into what they do. “We did not start doing this in college.  We started out as kids, disciplining ourselves, sacrificing play time and social activities.”  If they are rewarded well, it is not because they “play.” Instead, “it’s a lifetime commitment to work hard, constantly and painstakingly improving yourself every day.”
Regular guy, life virtuoso
When he’s not teaching or performing, Brad is a “regular” guy. He likes spending time with his family —wife Lilan and children Krisha (15), Koleen (12) and Kael (11). He describes himself as “domesticated —perhaps as a result of our years in the US.” For example, he cannot stand clutter and a pile of dirty laundry and would always volunteer to fold clothes lying around the room.
He likes to exercise and prefers listening to hip hop, rhythm and blues and rap songs. His favorite artists? “UsherEminem, Snoop Dogg.”
Looking back, Brad concludes that his earlier troubles all helped shape him to be the kind of musician, educator—and person—he is today. “My life was not smooth, but it prepared me for the success I now have.” He could have been the best, most skillful violinist with advanced degrees and an awe-inspiring resume under his belt, but he is just not that. He is successful because aside from playing his instrument well, he is also able to touch the lives of his students and their families. He is able to inspire his students; he wants them to have fun and to “be in love with music.”
His relationships with his students and their families have remained. Even now that he’s back in the Philippines, they tell him they miss him and wish he were back in Nevada instead.
And although it’s a cliché, “everything happens for a reason, even if we may not see that or like the situation we are in right now.”
Brad says that while what he is doing brings him true joy—“something that even the American Dream cannot bring”—he still aspires for some other things, Specifically he wants to set up a school-studio. “I want to be able to give children the basic foundations of music,” he says.
Knowing Brad, that education would include a dash of life lessons, besides.

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