Making the cut: Cebu’s Philpop 2014 bet

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Monday, April 28, 2014


"Ladies and gentlemen, remember Philpop? The Philippine Popular Music Festival is an annual songwriting competition that was launched in 2012. The foundation itself is headed by the chairman Manny V. Pangilinan and executive director Ryan Cayabyab. For amateur and professional songwriters in the country, the competition has become a great venue to showcase their songwriting skill on a national level."

For this issue, meet the first-ever Cebu-based songwriters to enter the final rounds of this prestigious songwriting contest. Jude Gitamondoc and Therese Villarante are the co-songwriters for the song entry, Song on a Broken String.

Sun.Star Cebu (SSC): How did this collaboration start? Who approached who and what exactly happened?

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Jude Gitamondoc (Jude): I’ve always wanted to write a song with Therese. I’ve been a big fan of her poetry and I’ve often pointed out to her on her blog posts that this “line” or that “concept” could be written into a song.

Therese Villarante (Therese): It’s funny because I remember during the old Multiply.com days, that I’ve always admired Jude’s songs. I would send him then my attempts at songwriting. Eventually, I began writing more poems than songs. I’m still his fan but we’re more of friends now, since I became a cast of You’ve Been Facebooked: The Musical, and he was the production’s musical director.

Jude: Then I met acoustic and soul artist Ivy Gallur and the quality of her tone really just floored me. I’m kind of like that with artists and their voices. There are some, like Cattski and Raki Vega, whose mere vocal quality just inspires me to write.

And that was what happened when I heard Ivy sing.

Therese: I’m a big admirer of Ivy’s voice too. She’s certainly in the list of my favorite artists. Jude, Ivy, a few friends, and I were just having dinner; and Jude kept mentioning about a song he needed to write.

Jude: And so, I asked Therese if she would want to write a song for Ivy. Right there and then, Therese suggested the initial working title Girl with A Broken String. And that was how it started.

SSC: What was the collaboration work like? Did it ever come to awkward phases when writing a song with another person?

Therese: It was certainly new to me because I still find it a challenge to separate poetry writing from songwriting. I’m still really figuring out my way with the music and lyrics. Much more, collaborate with someone on a song. But I learned so much from Jude. More importantly, he allowed me to believe and be true to my voice and story. You can’t think about how you write when you’re writing.

Jude: There has to be no ego in collaboration. You go into it with an open mind, knowing there are going to be compromises because you’re going to encounter better ideas during the process. And that’s always a great thing—because the best idea should always win.

SSC: What is the title and theme of this song? And how or what, did each individual contribute to its final outcome?

Therese: Song on a Broken String is all about choosing to continue and persist on a happier note despite the near-impossible circumstance, or at least, the feeling of it.

It’s recognizing pain and hurt but also, the great hope that you come out of it a better person. It’s being strong enough to allow yourself to be the happiest you can possibly be.

Jude: There was this moment in the process when Therese lamented that it’s such a difficult thing to write a love song without the pronoun “you.” The fix? We wrote that in. Thus, the line at the end of the first stanza that goes, “How to write the truth / A song that’s not about you,” that kind of set us in the right direction for the rest of the song.

SSC: What was the inspiration behind the song, technically and lyrically?

Jude: I think Therese would be more apt at answering this question, since most of the lyrics are based on her experiences… Therese? (Laughs)

Therese: He’s really enjoying this now! (Laughs) It’s been publicized—thanks to Jude—that this was inspired to my heartbreak. And I’ve decided to never take shame in that. Be the girl with the broken string. I gave Jude the first line: “I’m not trying to be anybody’s perfect song.” And he began to hear that beautiful, daunting melody in his head. When Ivy sang it, I felt the song come alive.

Jude: The music was really tailor-fit for Ivy’s voice. So it was such a pleasure to finally hear the song come alive when Ivy sang it in the studio. It was pure kinetic magic.

SSC: What was it like learning that your entry made it to the finals for Philpop 2014?

Therese: It was surreal. My best dreams are always related to excellence in literature and music. With literature, it’s getting a book published. Getting into Philpop this year, I imagine, is so similar to that. I just felt like I was in the right place, and I thank God for this grace and the chance to be with people who have done right with their lives too.

Jude: I’ve lost more contests than won. This is actually my third attempt at joining Philpop. Last year, Mr. C (Ryan Cayabyab) told me my entry ranked 14. Funny twist, one of the finalists backed out for some reason. In short, I ended up just one slot shy from making it to the ever elusive Final 12. So yes, part of it is honing your talent and writing a song as best you can. But also, part of it is luck and serendipity. And yes, blessing. So it’s a wonderful, fulfilling and yet humbling experience.

SSC: What is it like to achieve this feat, as Cebu-based writers, pitted against songwriters more well-known at Metro Manila?

Jude: Making it to the Top 12 from over 2,500 entries is already a wonderful gift in itself. So Therese and I decided we’re just going to enjoy the rest of the ride. Yes, there’s still much work to do. Jad Bantug, another Cebu-based artist, will be arranging the instrumentation for the final recording. I heard an official music video is also in the works. So all in all, I think we’re in good hands.

Therese: It certainly motivates us to give it our best because we’re representing Cebu. We want to show that we have so many incredible talents here, and encourage artists in Cebu to go bigger with their craft.

Jude: However, I also want to point out that it really is tough, being a musician, or songwriter, or artist choosing to base here in Cebu. The industry is in Manila. So it seems the only way for an artist to be successful or even just to be noticed in the Philippines is to physically uproot himself and move to where the industry is. But we’re trying to change that. For starters, Therese, Ivy and I are brewing this little project for everyone: Every other Saturday, beginning May 17 at exactly 7 p.m., we’re going to release one song and one story online. We want to tell the story before the song, what the character underwent, and the heartbreak she had to go though, before she was able to sing Song On A Broken String. So it’s kind of like a prequel of sorts.

And the best thing is that the first 100 who can spot the link can download the song absolutely for free. Now isn’t that fun?

SSC: How do you like your chances winning it all the way?

Therese: Being in the Top 12 is in itself winning but we’re dreaming big. We hope this song goes far.

Jude: Of course we want to win. It’s part of the reason why we joined the competition. But I think our main goal right now is to represent Cebu well and make our fellow Bisdaks proud. That is why we joined the contest. And that is why we’re doing that song/story blog.

SSC: Any tips how to write a potentially-winning song (or any song for that matter) as a duo?

Jude: Love. Fall in love. Go through the bliss and the hassles of love. Fall out of love. Learn to love yourself. And then fall in love again. And all the while, write, write, write. Love is the stuff all songs are made of. And there won’t ever be too much of love to go around. The Beatles were right: All we need is love.

Therese: (Laughs) Daghana’g love uy—but all of that’s true. One of the perks of recognizing that you are a writer, an artist, is that you get to explore your feelings. You are not just happy, sad, confused, or hurt. You let yourself feel deeply and you can be honest when you write it. Write. Read. Learn. Scrap papers are your friends. Collect stories. Live out stories. And okay, yes—love.

Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on April 29, 2014.

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