BACK in the late 80s, there was “only one violin teacher in Cebu”—that was around 20 years ago, according to Susan Sala, president of the Salvador and Pilar Sala Foundation Inc. (SPSFI). Today, we all know that this city has been branded for also producing a good number of the best musicians in the country. To look back at how it has come to this point is nothing short of special.
It was in 1991 when nationally renowned concert pianist Ingrid Sala-Santamaria, through the Sala Foundation, initiated a 10-year music development program.
Primarily this was done to organize a youth orchestra in Cebu. But most importantly, the foundation wanted to produce a whole new batch of highly qualified, committed and dedicated music tutors to serve the community’s educational system in the next generation. Students from different schools fr om the city and province of Cebu were auditioned. From these students came the members of the Cebu Youth Symphony Orchestra, which was formed in 1995 and which later evolved into the Peace Philharmonic Philippines in 2000.
In terms of how the Peace Philharmonic Orchestra (PPO or Peace), the sole orchestra in the regions of Visayas and Mindanao, came to be, Susan shares a bit more.
“Right now, we have around 30 … 35 members in the orchestra. It used to be a lot more, but some members simply couldn’t make it to the shows because of work or the others are now abroad,” Susan explains the current state of the group and how some of the former members are now doing good, pursuing other musical interests in such countries as Malaysia, Indonesia, Brunei, Taiwan, even in the United States.
The students were all scholars back then. But it was on the early years, during the turn of the millennium, that the orchestra had to “taper down” due to a lack of funding, according to Susan.
“We cannot afford to sustain them anymore. We call them now a ‘pick up orchestra’ because we just call them when they have a performance,” shares Susan, who’s also the treasurer for the Peace Philharmonic Philippines Foundation Inc.
Not only does Cebu have more than “one” violin teacher now, but quite a handful of teachers—not only for violin but also for the other orchestral instruments as well.
“I believe that through this program, we made a difference in the lives of the these musicians/scholars and helped them to focus in the right direction. All of what happens next is already a bonus,” Susan adds with a great sense of fulfillment.
Peace is a little different from the usual orchestras. For one, the foundation allows the members to be involved in other musical-related projects besides being in the group.
This not only allows the members to be able to financially support themselves, but also they are able to share their skills for the betterment of the community.
In fact, some members of the then PPO were given a certificate of proficiency that allowed them to teach other interested and aspiring musicians, before the organization downsized their operations.
The musicians, 20 years after, still continue to wow audiences with their faithful rendition of the classics. They recently had a show at The Terraces in early February. The group also plans have a reunion concert on April 10 at the SM City Cebu Cinema 1.
“The public’s interest for classical music and the desire to learn a musical instrument has improved a hundredfold from the time we started. Filipinos are very musically inclined, but I think Cebuanos are more talented.
In fact, our teachers at the foundation have recently organized a youth string ensemble composed of advanced students from our own, as well as other students from other schools, like the Mandaue School of the Arts, Cebu Normal University among others,” reveals Susan.
This goes to show that Cebuanos still have a knack for good music, be it in the middle of a mosh pit in a rock festival, or while being seated comfortably while enjoying a piece by Peace being well played.