Search for Mozarts goes grassroots
CEBU CITY—John Paul Cosido was only 6 years old when he learned how to play the guitar by listening to church songs being played on the radio.
The youngest son of vegetable farmers from the mountain village of Tagbao, 35 kilometers from Cebu City, would spend his Sundays sitting in front of the family’s transistor radio and listening to the songs. He would then strum his father’s 50-year-old guitar and try to follow the melody.
Eventually, he learned the songs’ guitar chords.
“I would write down the lyrics on the pages of my old notebook. I felt very happy every time I did that,” said John Paul, now 15 and a Grade 8 student of Tagbao National High School.
An uncle, Ondo Sorela, who also plays the guitar, saw the boy’s eagerness to learn and volunteered to mentor him. Sorela helped his nephew complete the Catholic Mass song repertoire so he could play and receive P100 in allowance.
“The money went a long way, especially for my expenses in school,” John Paul said.
His parents—Tiburcio Sr., 77, and Filomena, 54—sell vegetables, but their earnings are not enough to send him to school.
His two brothers, Eutiquio, 40, and Tiburcio Jr., 26, have families of their own. Another brother, Cresente, died from a heart ailment when he was 35.
During a Mass in the neighboring village of Taptap, a French priest, Fr. Jean du Pontac, noticed John Paul’s talent and was impressed. He told a musician, Lianne Sala, about the rare talent, and Sala became interested to meet the boy.
“The first time I met him I asked him what instrument he wanted to learn. He said, ‘The violin, because I already know how to play the guitar!’ I was surprised. He could be the next Mozart,” said Sala, who comes from a family of musicians. Sala plays the violin and the piano.
John Paul then started his violin studies with Sala in September 2010. He was then 12.
Since it took an hour for the boy to travel from Tagbao to Barangay Lahug in Cebu City and attend the one-on-one classes with Sala, John Paul was given P300 for a round-trip motorcycle ride. The amount was adjusted to P500 when the fare was increased.
“There was a time when his mother told him to quit. He did not want to follow her, so John Paul climbed a tree and refused to go down until his parents reversed their decision. That is how interested the boy is to study music,” Sala recalled.
The woman mentor said she was more than excited to be an instrument of John Paul’s progress.
At that time, Sala was doing her research to start the Philippines’ version of El Sistema, a music program started out in Venezuela that utilizes and teaches music to the youth to bring about positive social change. She had earlier watched a video in 2008 about El Sistema and the changes it had brought to the lives of many dysfunctional youths.
“Who knows there might be other John Pauls in Cebu and the Philippines? I knew I had to do it,” she said.
With help from Ramon Aboitiz Foundation Inc. through Amaya Aboitiz, Sala was able to raise funds for a four-month immersion in North America to learn more about El Sistema.
“As soon as I got home in May (2012), I was fully aware that there was so much work ahead. I believe it is providential that I am here, that I am present to do this—for the benefit of the children,” she said.
In January 2013, Sistemang Pilipino (SP) Inc. was formally registered at the Securities and Exchange Commission. The next month, the foundation hired its staff and from there, the music projects went at full speed.
“Our main goal is to make music accessible to underserved children and youth. We are doing it here in Cebu first, and hopefully spread it all over the Philippines,” Sala said.
At present, SP gives music lessons to 45 to 60 children of Zapatera Elementary School, 10 to 15 children of Barangay Ermita and 35 children of SOS Children’s Village Cebu.
In the long term, Sala hopes to create a world-class choir and orchestra and establish a music teacher training center. The SP team works hard to establish partnerships and networks with people and organizations that understand by heart SP’s vision and mission, she said.
On Oct. 24, 2013, Loudbasstard, a homegrown company that started in October 2012, donated 54 soprano and alto recorders to SP.
“A recorder is an entry-level instrument that will promote music literacy. We hope that these recorders will help you to continue to love music more,” said Loudbasstard cofounder Koh Onozawa.
Onozawa and cofounder Franz Ignacio celebrated the company’s first anniversary at SOS Children’s Village. The company became known worldwide for their first product, a sound amplifier made of bamboo.
“Study well because who knows, we might be able to find more Cebuano Mozarts among you,” Onoza told the children.
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