Baguio's Hidden Melody 

October 6, 2021

Stephannie Ybera

In Philippine society, music is only seen as a form of entertainment and not a profession. There is a notion that, unless you successfully become one of those artists topping the charts or featured on TV, you cannot make money in music. It is believed that musicians are not as successful as doctors or engineers who earn bigger salaries. Perhaps we cannot completely say that this mindset is unreasonable because it is also influenced by the culture that we are exposed to. But what is it really like for musicians who don't have their names in the mainstream media? What opportunities are available for them? What is their own measure of success? Are they ever truly successful or do they just prove society right? I had Nestor Abellera share his life as a violinist in Baguio to shed light on his downfalls and victories as a musician.

“Nung time na yun, nung napakinggan ko yung tunog ng violin, parang nag-stop yung mundo. Alam mo yung feel na parang yung tunog ng violin atska ikaw lang yung nandun? Parang ganun.”

(That time, when I heard the sound of the violin, it was as if the world had stopped. You know that feeling like it’s just you and the sound of the violin? It felt like that.)

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Nestor shared how he first fell in love with the sound of the violin. It ignited something inside him and he just knew he had to learn how to play it. “Sabi ko, gusto ko to. Gusto ko tong pag-aralan,” (I told myself, “I like this. I want to learn this.) he added. So during his college years, he became an ouido (someone who plays an instrument by ear). His teacher taught him the proper posture and patterns of the violin, but he had no prior background in music theory so it was a constant battle of trial and error. Fortunately, Nestor had bandmates who were kind enough to help him improve his skills. Using his knowledge in guitar, he experimented and eventually discovered patterns that he now incorporates in violin. By 2006, Nestor enrolled in note reading for 3-6 months using the Suzuki method. After 7 years of constant perseverance, he was able to learn and polish his skills.

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However, the matter of talent and skills is not the only struggle of a musician. Given the negative connotation with music as a profession, a lot of people have a hard time pursuing a career in music due to the lack of support from the people around them. Nestor is no exception. He first felt the lack of support from his father. Having graduated with a degree in Entrepreneurship, Nestor was once questioned by his father on his decision to pursue a different profession. “Kinausap niya ko, ‘bakit ayaw mo bang i-apply yung ginraduate mo?’ sabi niya,” (He talked to me and said, “why don't you do something related to the degree you finished?”) he narrated. In Baguio, highlanders are used to manual labor and music is seen as a mere pastime, hence the doubt his father had in his career. 

On top of that, there have been some instances where he experienced exploitation. When he was still starting out, his band would get invited to play in events with no pay or allowance; sometimes they did not even bother providing them food. The only thing they got in return was exposure, which was what starting musicians craved for. Unfortunately, some people capitalized on their desire to gain exposure.

“Minsan hindi mo nga iniisip yung tungkol sa sweldo mo. Pero pag nalalaman mo lang kasi after nung event na meron palang sweldo, yun yung masakit minsan. ‘Ay may sweldo pala, bakit hindi nila sinabi sa amin?’ So parang dun mo lang na-realize na exploited ka na pala.”

(Sometimes you won’t even think about getting paid. But when you find out after the event that there was a pay for performing, that’s what hurts. Like ‘oh there was a pay, why didn’t they tell us?’ So only then you will realize that you’ve just been exploited.)

Nevertheless, more people eventually recognized his abilities and dedication to music. He was able to gain a lot of decent clients—perhaps too many that keeping up with the events sometimes became a challenge as well. He once traveled 6 hours from Baguio to Pangasinan to play at a sunset beach wedding. As soon as his performance ended, he had to go back home to Baguio because he had another gig at 10AM the next day. It was already late at night and no bus was available, so he had to do a cutting trip while carrying all of his equipment with him. 

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He got home at 3AM and had to wake up by 7. Hearing this story, I couldn’t help but admire the dedication that he had for his work regardless of the hassle. The long travel time and bringing his equipment without comfortable transportation must have been exhausting. But according to Nestor, it was a thrilling adventure and today, an unforgettable memory.

The more Nestor struggled, the more eager he felt to make money while doing what he loved. He made sure that he didn’t lose any opportunity. So while Nestor focused on his band where they performed in different bars every night for at least 6 times a week, he also taught violin in school during the day. One of his band’s first gigs was when they got invited to play for a congressional candidate’s campaign and had the chance to tour all over Benguet. He described this as the most memorable gig that he had with his band. As time passed, he was able to build connections with like-minded and skillful musicians who also referred him to more clients. Despite the challenges, the combination of his talent, work ethics, and the peers who believed in him opened more doors for Nestor. This, and his passion for playing the violin, made Nestor feel secure with his job.

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While his main source of income were his violin lessons and daily gigs, Nestor grabbed every invitation to play in various types of events, such as weddings, proposals, company events, funerals, and others, locally and overseas. In 2015, Portavaga Mall hired Nestor to play violin for them. And while the mall paid him, he found that  the public insisted on giving him money. So he decided to open up his violin case. It was then he got into the great art of busking. Nestor was not only passionate and dedicated to his craft, but was also responsible enough to do research on busking to further understand how it works according to the laws.

By 2016-2017, he officially started busking in Session Road. Busking requires more attention to detail than it seems. He has to consider the weather, the duration of his performance, and the right repertoire where at least 80% of the audience should be familiar with the song he’s playing. Nestor also explained that even when he’s not really in the right mood, he has to condition himself to be in the mood in order to deliver a song properly. While people sometimes give money, a successful busking session isn’t only determined by money for Nestor. It is also an opportunity to practice his skills and a way of marketing his talent and service to potential clients. So regardless if he earns much or not, Nestor believes that there are other means of gaining something through busking.

Having no background in music theory and violin, it is truly inspiring to see how Nestor managed to hone himself into the musician that he is today. We’ve already heard the phrase “hard work pays off” a billion times before, it has started to sound repetitive and cliché. But Nestor has proven it true. Upon meeting different kinds of people through his work, he realized that people from different walks of life experience the same thing when it comes to their careers—that it takes years to truly polish and establish yourself. For Nestor and some of his peers, it was 10 years. Now at 39, he is one of the most in-demand musicians in Baguio, receiving referrals and invitations to play in events here and there. He has also taken his career online where he now teaches violin via skype and does livestreams on different platforms.

Nestor’s story proves that success comes in all shapes and sizes. With enough commitment, things worked out for Nestor and doors have opened up one by one. His story contradicts the notion that there is no success, money, or opportunities in the field of music. 

 There are many doors for anyone who wishes for a career in music. Nestor emphasized the broadness of the industry by sharing, for example, the amount of people involved in creating even just a single song.

“Example, sa isang song. I-try mong i-search sa internet yung about dun sa song na yun. Dun mo makikita na sa song na yun, iba yung sumulat ng kanta, yun yung songwriter. Iba yung musician, iba yung sound engineer, yung mga ganun. Sa production, iba yung producer, iba yung artist. So pag nakita mo, maraming trabaho pala dun na hindi nakikita ng tao. So yun yung mga hindi kasi nila nakikita na side. Ang nakikita lang nila na side is entertainment. Pero hindi nila alam na trabaho yun sa part ng isang musician.”

(For example, when it comes to a song. Try searching for its details. That’s where you’ll see that the one who wrote the song is a different person, that’s the songwriter. The musician is also different, the sound engineer is different, things like that. In the production, the producer is different, the artist is different. So you’ll realize that there’s actually a lot of jobs that people aren’t aware of. That’s the side people don’t see. They only see the entertainment side of music. But they don’t know that it’s an actual job for a musician.)

When asked what he would like to share with aspiring musicians, Nestor recalled how he dreamt of becoming a famous musician before, but was held back by various factors in life. He emphasized the importance of enjoying what you do and learning from failures. One cannot say that there is an easy or right way in pursuing your passion, but it is important to hold onto your hope and not be easily discouraged in times of difficulties. He further encouraged aspiring musicians to set their minds on playing for themselves and for God, and not forget to seek guidance from Him.

“Bigyan mo ng time kung ano yung passion mo. Hindi man sa music, kahit anong gusto mo, bigyan mo ng time. Pag nag dedicate ka ng time mag-practice, mag-aral, mag-learn ng new things para sa instrument mo, yung feedback niya sayo o kaya yung bunga niya, dun mo mare-reap balang araw. Hindi mo mamamalayan. Hindi man ngayon, balang araw. Meron yung time.”

(Give time for your passion. Even if it’s not music, whatever you want, give it some for your time. When you dedicate time to practice and learn new things about your instrument, you’ll eventually reap the fruit of your dedication. You wouldn’t even notice it. Maybe not now, but someday. Your time will come.)

Hearing Nestor talk about his life as a musician, I saw the fire burning inside him. All the downfalls and victories coming together as one firm belief that music has great things to offer for those who are passionate about it.

 

To support Nestor Abellera, you may subscribe to his Youtube channel or contact him on Facebook for bookings or lessons.

 

Baguio's Hidden Melody 

October 6, 2021

 Stephannie Ybera

Translated by Elizabeth Cambay

Sa lipunang Pilipino, ang musika ay nakikita lamang bilang isang uri ng libangan at hindi isang propesyon. Mayroong kuru-kuro na, maliban kung magtagumpay kang maging isa sa mga artist na nangunguna sa mga tsart o itinatampok sa telebisyon, hindi ka maaaring kumita ng pera sa musika. Pinaniniwalaan na ang mga musikero ay hindi kasing matagumpay katulad ng mga doktor o inhinyero na kumikita ng mas malalaking suweldo. Marahil ay hindi natin lubos na masasabi na ang pag-iisip na ito ay hindi makatuwiran sapagkat naimpluwensyahan din ito ng kulturang ating kinalakihan. Ngunit, ano nga ba talaga ang buhay ng mga musikerong hindi kilala sa mainstream media? Anong mga oportunidad ang maaaring ibigay para sa kanila? Ano ang kanilang sariling sukatan ng tagumpay? Tunay bang matagumpay sila o pinatutunayan lamang nila na tama ang lipunan? Aking inimbitahan si Nestor Abellera para ibahagi ang kanyang buhay bilang isang biyolinista sa Baguio upang mabigyang ilaw ang kanyang mga pagkabigo at tagumpay bilang isang musikero.

“Nung time na yun, nung napakinggan ko yung tunog ng violin, parang nag-stop yung mundo. Alam mo yung feel na parang yung tunog ng violin atsaka ikaw lang yung nandun? Parang ganun.”

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Gayunpaman, ang usapin tungkol sa talento at kasanayan ay hindi lamang isang problema ng isang musikero. Dahil sa negatibong konotasyon sa musika bilang isang propesyon, maraming tao ang nahihirapang maghanap ng karera sa musika dahil sa kawalan ng suporta mula sa mga tao sa kanilang paligid. Si Nestor ay hindi naiiba. Una niyang naramdaman ang kawalan ng suporta mula sa kanyang ama. Nang makapagtapos sa kolehiyo ng may degree sa Entrepreneurship, si Nestor ay minsang tinanong ng kanyang ama sa kanyang desisyon na ituloy ang ibang propesyon. “Kinausap niya ko, ‘bakit ayaw mo bang i-apply yung ginraduate mo?’ sabi nito. Sa Baguio, manual labor at ang musika ay nakikita bilang isang pampalipas oras lamang, kung kaya't ganoon na lamang ang pagdududa na mayroon ang kanyang ama sa kanyang karera.

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Bukod pa rito, may ilang mga pagkakataon kung saan nakararanas siya ng pananamantala. Noong nagsisimula pa lamang siya, inaanyayahan ang kanyang banda na tumugtog sa mga kaganapan nang walang bayad o allowance; minsan hindi man lang sila binibigyan ng makakain. Ang tanging bagay na nakuha nila bilang kapalit ay ang exposure, na labis na hinahangad ng mga nagsisimulang musikero. Sa kasamaang palad, ang ilang mga tao ay sinasamantala ang kanilang pagnanais na magkaroon ng exposure.

“Minsan hindi mo nga iniisip yung tungkol sa sweldo mo. Pero pag nalalaman mo lang kasi after nung event na meron palang sweldo, yun yung masakit minsan. ‘Ay may sweldo pala, bakit hindi nila sinabi sa amin?’ So parang dun mo lang na-realize na exploited ka na pala.”

Gayunpaman, maraming tao ang kalauna’y nakilala ang kanyang kakayahan at dedikasyon sa musika. Nagawa niyang magkaroon ng maraming disenteng kliyente—marahil masyadong marami na ang pagsabay sa mga kaganapan kung minsan ay nagiging isang hamon na rin. Minsan na siyang nagbiyahe ng 6 na oras mula sa Baguio patungong Pangasinan upang tumugtog sa isang kasal sa beach na ginanap nang takipsilim. 

 Pagkatapos ng kanyang pagtugtog, kinailangan niyang bumalik sa Baguio dahil mayroon siyang isa pang gig ng 10AM kinabukasan. Gabing-gabi na at wala nang bus, kaya't kailangan niyang mag-cutting trip habang dala-dala ang lahat ng kanyang mga kagamitan. Nakauwi siya ng 3AM at kinailangang magising nang 7 ng umaga. Nang marinig ko ang kuwentong ito, hindi ko maiwasang humanga sa dedikasyon na mayroon siya para sa kanyang trabaho anuman ang harapin niya. Ang mahabang oras ng paglalakbay at pagdadala ng kanyang kagamitan nang walang komportableng transportasyon ay sadyang nakapapagod. Ngunit ayon kay Nestor, ito ay isang kapanapanabik na karanasan at ngayon, isang hindi malilimutang memorya.

Habang ang kanyang pangunahing mapagkukunan ng kita ay ang kanyang pagtuturo ng biyolin at pang-araw-araw na gig, tinatanggap ni Nestor ang bawat paanyaya na tumugtog sa iba't ibang uri ng mga kaganapan, tulad ng kasal, proposals, kaganapan sa kumpanya, libing, at iba pa, lokal man o sa ibang bansa. Noong 2015, inanyayahan ng Portavaga Mall si Nestor upang tumugtog ng biyolin para sa kanila. 

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At habang binayaran siya ng mall, nalaman niya na pinlit ng publiko na bigyan pa siya ng pera. Kaya't nagpasya siyang buksan ang kanyang lalagyan ng kanyang biyolin. Doon niya natuklasan ang mahusay na sining ng busking. Si Nestor ay hindi lamang masigasig at dedikado sa kanyang ginagawa, sapat ding responsable upang magsaliksik ukol sa busking upang higit na maunawaan kung paano ito gumagana ayon sa mga batas.

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Pagsapit ng 2016-2017, opisyal na siyang nagsimulang mag-busking sa Session Road. Ang busking ay nangangailangan ng higit na pansin sa detalye kaysa sa inaakala. Kailangang isaalang-alang niya ang panahon, ang tagal ng kanyang pagtugtog, at ang tamang repertoire kung saan hindi bababa sa 80% ng madla ang dapat maging pamilyar sa awiting kanyang pinatutugtog. Ipinaliwanag din ni Nestor na kahit wala talaga siya sa tamang kalagayan, kailangan niyang ikundisyon ang kanyang sarili na maging nasa mood upang maitawid nang maayos ang isang kanta. 

Habang ang mga tao kung minsan ay nagbibigay ng pera, ang isang matagumpay na sesyon ng busking ay hindi lamang natutukoy ng pera para kay Nestor. Ito rin ay isang pagkakataon upang sanayin ang kanyang mga kakayahan at isang paraan ng marketing ng kanyang talento at serbisyo sa mga potensyal na kliyente. Kaya't kung kumita man siya ng malaki o hindi, naniniwala si Nestor na may iba pang mga paraan upang makakuha ng isang bagay sa pamamagitan ng busking.

Ang pagiging walang kaalam-alam sa teorya ng musika at biyolin, ay talagang nakapagbibigay ng inspirasyong makita kung paano hinubog ni Nestor ang kanyang sarili sa pagiging musikero ngayon. Narinig na rin natin ang pariralang "hard work pays off" nang isang bilyong beses, nagiging tunog paulit-ulit at cliché. Ngunit napatunayan ni Nestor na totoo ito. Nang makilala ang iba`t ibang uri ng tao sa pamamagitan ng kanyang trabaho, napagtanto niya na ang mga tao mula sa iba't ibang antas ng pamumuhay ay nakararanas ng parehong bagay pagdating sa kanilang mga karera–na tumatagal ng maraming taon upang tunay na mahubog at maitatag ang iyong sarili. Para kay Nestor at ilan sa kanyang mga kasabayan, ito ay 10 taon. Ngayon sa edad na 39, siya ay isa sa pinaka-in-demand na musikero sa Baguio, na tumatanggap ng mga referral at paanyaya na tumugtog sa mga kaganapan. Kinuha din niya ang kanyang karera sa online kung saan nagtuturo siya ngayon ng biyolin sa pamamagitan ng skype at gumagawa ng mga livestream sa iba't ibang mga platform.

Pinatunayan ng kwento ni Nestor na ang tagumpay ay nagmumula sa lahat ng mga hugis at sukat. May sapat na komitment, ang mga kaganapan ay ginawang posible ni Nestor at ang mga pintuan ay isa-isang nagbubukas. Ang kanyang kwento ay sumasalungat sa kuru-kuro na walang tagumpay, pera, o mga pagkakataon sa larangan ng musika. 

 Maraming mga oportunidad para sa sinumang nagnanais na magkaroon ng isang karera sa musika. Binigyang-diin ni Nestor ang lawak ng industriya sa pamamagitan ng pagbabahagi, halimbawa, ang dami ng mga taong sangkot sa paglikha ng kahit isang kanta lamang.

“Example (halimbawa), sa isang song (kanta). I-try mong i-search sa internet yung about (tungkol) dun sa song (kanta) na yun. Dun mo makikita na sa song  (kanta) na yun, iba yung sumulat ng kanta, yun yung songwriter. Iba yung musician (musikero), iba yung sound engineer, yung mga ganun. Sa production, iba yung producer, iba yung artist. So pag nakita mo, maraming trabaho pala dun na hindi nakikita ng tao. So yun yung mga hindi kasi nila nakikita na side. Ang nakikita lang nila na side is entertainment. Pero hindi nila alam na trabaho yun sa part ng isang musician (musikero).”

Nang tanungin kung ano ang nais niyang ibahagi sa mga naghahangad na maging musikero, naalala ni Nestor kung paano niya pinangarap na maging isang sikat na musikero dati, ngunit napigilan ng iba't ibang mga kadahilanan sa buhay. Binigyang-diin niya ang kahalagahan ng pag-enjoy sa iyong ginagawa at pagkuha ng aral mula sa mga pagkabigo. Hindi masasabi ng isa na mayroong madali o tamang paraan sa paghabol sa iyong hilig, ngunit mahalagang panghawakan ang iyong pag-asa at huwag madaling panghinaan ng loob sa mga oras ng paghihirap. Hinihimok pa niya ang mga naghahangad na maging musikero na i-set ang kanilang mga isip sa pagtugtog para sa kanilang sarili at para sa Diyos, at huwag kalimutang humingi ng patnubay mula sa Kanya.

“Bigyan mo ng time (oras) kung ano yung passion (hilig) mo. Hindi man sa music (musika), kahit anong gusto mo, bigyan mo ng time (oras). Pag nag dedicate (naglaan) ka ng time (oras) mag-practice (mag-sanay), mag-aral, mag-learn (matuto) ng new things para sa instrument (instrumento) mo, yung feedback (balik) niya sayo o kaya yung bunga niya, dun mo mare-reap balang araw. Hindi mo mamamalayan. Hindi man ngayon, balang araw. Meron yung time (oras).”

Nang marinig ang kuwento ni Nestor tungkol sa kanyang buhay bilang isang musikero, nakita ko ang apoy sa kaniyang loob. Ang lahat ng mga pagkabigo at tagumpay na magkakasama bilang isang matibay na paniniwala na ang musika ay may mahusay na mga bagay na ibibigay para sa mga taong masidhi ukol dito.

Upang suportahan si Nestor Abellera, maaari kang mag-subscribe sa kanyang YouTube channel o makipag-ugnay sa kanyang Facebook para sa mga bookings o aralin.