Notes and Stories

by Rhea Leorag

Note: This is actually an academic paper I submitted for my Development of Western Music class under Sir Jonathan Coo last semester, around September 2014. Today, I randomly found it as I rummaged through my files and thought of posting it here. It’s a mix of a feature article and a reflection paper, and was most likely done a day before it was due. Huge thanks to Joshua Cerdenia for accommodating a rush online interview. 🙂

You can check out his music here:


Music, apart from evoking emotions, tells stories. These stories may be tales about the composer and his experiences, or something that he observes from the world he’s part of; stories that he likes to share to the world in the best way that he can- through rhythm, rhyme, or both. Meet Joshua Cerdenia Pangilinan, known as Joshua Cerdenia in the music industry, a Contemporary Classical Musician set to begin graduate studies in Julliard come fall 2014.

This piece is divided into two parts- two stories. The first is Joshua’s story, his music and his goals for his art. The second is my own story of how meeting Joshua Pangilinan has inspired the music advocate in me to further believe in my cause, and to continue to believe in the future of the (local) music industry.

I. Standing in the shoes of a Contemporary Classical Musician

A closer look on Joshua Cerdenia’s artistry and his on-going road to be the next Filipino musician the world will look up to

I think I am someone that makes music to create positive energy.”[1]

Pangilinan believes that as an artist, his craft aims to bring something simple to the table- joy and positivity. Whether the audience feels it or not, this is the main artistic goal brought to life by the “dense textures and ambiguous harmonies” that make up his works, significantly coloured by his “particular attention to form and narrative.”[2]

A Musician by Heart

In the modern musical landscape dominated by pop and dancey tunes if not colorful lyrics strummed to four basic chords, Pangilinan sought to take the road less-travelled. Though it has its own niche of supporters, Contemporary Classical Music still may not be the best genre to love, especially for someone who is determined to stay in the industry for the long-term. This, however, didn’t stop Pangilinan from following his dreams.

Pangilinan now holds a First-Class Honours Bachelor of Music jointly awarded by the the National University of Singapore and the Peabody Institute of the Johns Hopkins as well as a Bachelor of Arts diploma from the Ateneo de Manila University. In the fall of 2014, he will begin graduate study with Christopher Rouse at The Juilliard School in New York.[3]

Pangilinan admits that music was not part of his initial long-term plans, “I don’t think I ever made a conscious decision about it; I always just acted on it unconsciously. I even made an effort to avoid music after high school, because I was interested in other things and I didn’t want to be typecast — but I ended up being very active in Blue Repertory (Ateneo de Manila University’s musical theater group) anyway. From there I just learned to roll with it, and then getting into a music school sort of sealed the deal for me.” Pangilinan played the piano for Blue Repertory’s first staging of The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, a show that has just recently been re-staged by the said music group.

On Musical Influences and Originality

Pangilinan’s music is mainly influenced by modern chamber and orchestral music. Some composers he looks up to are Christopher Rouse, John Corigliano, Kevin Puts, Thomas Ades, and Toru Takemitsu.[4]

“Write as much as you can and listen to a lot of things,” Pangilinan shares, when asked for some tips for aspiring composers. For him, writing music is a matter of “trying to be original without being too abstract,” finding your own voice and style while still bringing homage to your influences as well as reaching out to your audience.

“There’s always going to be influences. It’s up to you [which of those] you really want to emulate.”[5]

Atenean Roots

Pangilinan graduated AB Communication in the Ateneo de Manila University, with a completed minor in Music Literature. Regarding his organizations, “I was involved with BlueRep all four years. I was also in ACOMM, Loyola Film Circle, and Blue Symphony for a short time,” he shares.[6]

His undergraduate thesis in the Ateneo had inspired one of his most-performed pieces: Dumagat Fantasy. In fact, this piece helped him achieve his first success as a composer, when he wrote it for a performance at the National University of Singapore Arts Festival, an event that brought together Asian music and storytelling.[7] “It’s about how a certain group of Dumagat people in Antipolo articulate their identities through media, which got me thinking about my own cultural identity and things of that sort,” he relates.

Pangilinan sees his Atenean roots in the way he puts a lot of personal meaning in his music.

“I’m not sure if that’s a specifically Atenean influence — but I think it’s very Atenean to indulge in creating meaning for everything!”[8]

A Filipino on the Rise

As a Filipino creating a name for himself in the international contemporary classical music scene, Pangilinan believes that while he carries his Filipino values and upbringing wherever he goes, his music doesn’t have to sound ‘distinctly Filipino.’ “Filipinos are emotional and expressive people — I try to go for these qualities in my music,” he shares. “But I don’t make an effort to sound Filipino to other people; I’m not even sure what Filipino means. In my experience, most non-Filipinos who’ve heard my music don’t really know enough about the Philippines to hear any Filipino qualities in it; it doesn’t matter to me whether they do.”[9]

On the Local Music Industry and Contemporary Classical Music

When asked about the state of the local music industry in relation to his music, Pangilinan had strong feelings about the subject.

“[The industry is] next to non-existent! I don’t know if it really is an industry. Contemporary classical music in general, not just Filipino music, is underperformed in this part of the world. It is better in some other Asian countries, but not here. We do have a small pocket of composers educated in UP, but their audience is very small.”[10]

Building a Career from Music

How Pangilinan sees himself ten years from the present is a response to this lacking: “In concrete terms, hopefully someone with an active stream of musical projects as and a stable education job. But more than that, I want to be an advocate for the arts and someone that represents the best of the Philippines in my chosen field.”

An artist’s journey is never easy, especially in a world where a profession in the arts is more often not a very lucrative path to take. However, Pangilinan believes that music can still provide a sustainable career. “It can be. I don’t think anybody goes into music thinking of a sustainable career. But I’m lucky to have met many people who are able to manage successful, meaningful lives in music. Because of them, I know it’s certainly possible.”[11]

II. Bringing it Home

How meeting Joshua Pangilinan inspired me to continue believing in music and to further make efforts to achieve my goal- to make a change (or at least leave a dent) in the local music industry

As someone who knows that no matter which path I choose to take, it will inevitably lead me to music, Pangilinan was a huge inspiration and quite an eye-opener to me.


Joshua Cerdenia Pangilinan with the Rudiments of Music class (it seems he wasn’t able to take a picture with my class, I couldn’t really remember).

Last July 25, he shared to our Western Music class his experiences as well as some of his works, namely Heavenward (marimba and string quartet piece), performed by Ensemble Gô at the YSTCM Concert Hall in Singapore; and Creed, his first orchestra piece, performed by none other than the Singapore Symphone Orchestra.

Though I’m not a huge classical music fan (since I was brought up listening to pop music, and now my preferences are leading towards indie and alternative), I allowed myself to simply listen and let the music bring to wherever they were supposed to take me to, and make me feel as they were supposed to make me feel. Hearing Pangilinan’s works actually inspired me to listen to more classical and contemporary classical music, seeing that there can only be so much talent put forth in the making of these works- talent that we rarely see in the music industry today.

Living a Life of Music

Seeing someone live his life with and for music, actually create masterpieces and share them with the world, helped me believe all the more on the power of passion- and how, once you’ve found that which makes you come alive, you must never let go. I can relate a lot to the fact that he tried to turn away from music some time in college, but something greater than himself has led him back and towards what he really should be doing.

When college started, I never thought I’d ever be active in the local music industry. I was set on graduating with a BS Management Engineering degree, getting a corporate job, and making money. But as with most badly-cooked plans, this one didn’t work, and that goal wasn’t where my life led me to. I found music (or music found me, whichever works), and though I tried at first to avoid it, opportunities came in places I least expected to find them.

One of these opportunities was the Minor in Music Literature program (which Pangilinan also took and completed). For the longest time, I’ve been pondering on what it really means to me, and why I took it. Deep inside, though, I was aware that I took the leap because I knew that someday, it would help me in my chosen career path. I don’t know yet what that may be, Grabbing the opportunities made available to me took me to where I am now (writing articles about music, organizing gigs and shows, doing marketing for local independent artists, actually composing my own songs, etc.)- busy and always tired- but happy and fulfilled, because I’m doing what I love.

Hope for the Local Music Industry

I know that the journey is far from over, and that it could only grow more difficult from this point. I still have a lot to learn, especially in the very constricting environment which currently permeates our local music industry.

However, I have high hopes that things are bound to get better in the near future. Just like Pangilinan, I dream of being an advocate for the arts, and I can only hope that the steps I’m taking now, and the network that I’m building, are helping me towards that dream.

As Pangilinan said in our class, “It’s a matter of getting people to believe in what you do.” Whether it’s writing music or performing or actually in anything you’re passionate about, it starts by truly believing in what you do, and then showing others how much you believe in it, and why they should believe in it, too. It most likely will not be easy, but if your heart is true, if you believe enough in yourself and in your cause, and if you undertake the right steps, it can happen.

“When you set yourself on fire, people like to come and see you burn.”- John Wesley

(Note: This quote is actually an allusion to finding your passion, and not to actual burning.)

[1] Interview with Joshua Pangilinan. Web. August 7, 2014

[2] “Young Composers get a Boost,” The Straits Times, Singapore. February 11, 2014

[3] “About,” <;

[4] Interview with Joshua Pangilinan. Web. August 7, 2014

[5] Joshua Pangilinan’s class visit. IS 121.3 Development of Western Music. July 2014.

[6] Interview with Joshua Pangilinan. Web. August 7, 2014

[7] “About,” <;

[8] Interview with Joshua Pangilinan. Web. August 7, 2014

[9] [10] [11] Ibid.

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