“The task of [a] composer belongs to the realm of the acoustical world. We often forget that this world is composed of silence, as well as sounds, and that the former are sometimes more important than sound itself. Silence, for me, is a space between two sounds, and in order to give this space its utmost importance, we must create the adequate framework in which to perceive it in time. The real task, the most difficult and perhaps the most important one in musical creation, is to put in order sounds that succeed each other in time in order to reveal the value of silence. The characteristic silence at the beginning of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, which contains all the expressive charge of the entire work, is a clear example of what I mean.” – Cristobal Halffter, Spanish Classical Composer and Orchestra Director, Villafranca, June 2000.
Man is said to be a bundle of possibilities, writes Eric Butterworth, “and his only business in life is the “express business” – or the business of expressing his inner self.” At the Village Studios in Westwood, many artists have revealed their inner selves, as Elzar “Dodjie” Simon during the launch of his first CD in America.
In this recording studio, on the way up to the Moroccan Ballroom, Barbra Streisand’s and Rolling Stones’ photos with their framed vinyl caught my attention. It made me wonder: “Can a Filipino’s work hang on these walls someday?” Perhaps not as vinyl records, as the 21st century has migrated into CDs, iTunes, Spotify and streaming music via cable.
I got inside the ballroom, where the smells from single spoons of palabok, lumpiang sariwa, rice with lechon, and hors d’oeuvres wafted through the room, catered by LA Rose Cafe’s Lem Balagot and Rye Mendocillo.
Amongst the 60+ who attended, musicians/professional orchestrators Annie and Ed Nepomuceno, Mon David, Louie Reyes, Cesar de la Fuente, Louie Ramos, and orchestra conductor Robert Shroder, with filmmakers, doctors, retired professor, and family members came.
Why would a man, at the peak of his life, who journeyed from a BS degree in industrial engineering, to jobs in different parts of the world, to now Vice President and Global Data Infrastructure Lead for American International Group (AIG) — a Fortune 500 company, with $5 billion revenue, and a valuation at $64 billion — take a risk in launching his first CD of orchestral, classical music at this time?
Google Elzar Simon and he is a prolific songwriter, who has won international songwriting competitions, and a member of the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers (ASCAP).
Sounds of Manila described him as: “He won the Grand Prize at the 1999 Metropop Music Festival with his song, ‘Can’t Stop Loving You,’ sung by Lani Misalucha. His other awards include the Grand Prize at the Asia Song Festival with ‘You Lift Me Up,’ sung by Jaya, and second place at the Manila International Song Festival with ‘One More Time,’ also sung by Lani Misalucha.”
He has a robust compendium of 100+ originally composed songs, in genres of country music, opera, contemporary Christian: Gamitin Mo Ang Buhay,” (Use My Life), “Tanging Musika,” (My Only Music), “Magiging Kagalakan ang Kalungkutan,” (You Turn My Sorrow into Joy), popularized by Filipino celebrities: Zsa Zsa Padilla, Lani Misalucha, Gary Valenciano, Angeline Quinto and others.
One might ask – so how did Simon get introduced into the world of music? When he was 11 years old, his uncle Lem, paid him a visit. When asked why he looked sad, Simon said he really wanted to play the piano but could not. Since a single working mom was raising him, and was too poor to afford one, having a piano was but a dream. Lem opened the door of music for him, as the next day, he gave him a keyboard. Music since then became a faithful companion, a trusted vehicle for him to move through and express his inner feelings.
CD launch experience unlike any other
Des Rêves is French for “of dreams,” Simon said, “it is my 25th-anniversary gift for my wife, Elisa.” Elisa is a licensed psychiatrist practicing in Florida and is the mother of Elisha, Joshua and Ysabel Simon.
“The album is based on pure fictional stories I created in my mind. Producing an album of orchestra music is also my personal dream legacy project. Soundtrack music is usually made or selected, and synchronized while video footages are edited. In this album, we reversed the process — we provided the storyline, illustration/storyboard, and music — the motion picture is played in the listener’s mind,” he said.
The CD has 24 pages of notes, with the narratives for each soundtrack, written by Henry Garcia, with illustrations done by Ysabel Grace Simon (daughter of Elzar and Elisa Simon). The music motifs were conceptualized by their two sons (Joshua and Elisha), as well as Elzar, the father/composer, who collaborated with Rush Garcia, the son of Henry Garcia. Rush is a junior student at Oberlin College and Conservatory. Artistry has come to a full circle in these two families.
Simon described his collaboration with Rush. “I made a sound recording of the motif for musical arrangement to Rush. Along with the recording, I provided the storyline and specific instructions like the ‘feel’ of the song (romantic, light and bright, the atmosphere must be ‘Frenchy’), specific instruments (the lead instrument that will play the motif should be an accordion) for L’Amour de Ma Vie, and a six-minute music track,” he said.
After a draft is received, he gives him more revisions, e.g. “I asked Rush to add a mandolin to enhance the “French feel” of the theme. One special feature of the song L’Amour de Ma Vie is that Rush’s father, Henry Garcia, played the piano tracks for the song. (Note: Henry arranged some of my hit songs in the Philippines in the 80s and 90s). I know that we’ve arrived at a final version if when I listen to the music with my eyes closed; I not only see the motion picture in my mind but also experience the smell, the sounds, the sights and most importantly, the feelings evoked by the music. As Rush and I believe, the music by itself should be able to tell the story.”
“Ysabel” is a music track named after Ysabel Grace Simon, a gifted sculptor, painter, and currently a college freshman, whose painting of her grandmother eating fish, with a single fishbone hanging out of her mouth, was exhibited at the Metropolitan Museum of New York in Summer 2016 during her senior year in high school.
Ysabel’s drawing of Elisa (her mom) is a treasured cameo, inside of which is a portrait of a beautiful woman with long hair, wearing a pearl necklace. The cameo resembled a wedding ring, surrounded by 25 gemstones, with each stone for each year of her marriage to Elzar.
“Ysabel” is played by a symphony of musical instruments, played in succession, or in harmony: two flutes, two clarinets in B flat, two horns in F, two trumpets in B flat, two trombones, timpani, percussions suspended cymbal and tam-tam and strings of the violoncello.
As the narrative was read, the sound played with the projected image of the cameo. It created an emotional impact on jazz singer/music arranger Mon David, who said, “it stood out for me as it felt aligned when the sketch, music and narrative came together.” Mon had his own movie sketch in mind, just as the composer intended for its audience to discover, as they listen to this CD.
To Rye Mendocillo, Lem’s business partner, an artist who sings and plays the piano as his hobby, astutely described the CD effect on him: “when you are listening to it, the music enters your ears but, really something is happening within you.”
Lem shared being affected by the sounds of “Ysabel” and “L’Amour de Ma Vie,” as he is a romantic at heart.
Ed Nepomuceno (a professional orchestrator, music arranger, singer, guitarist, Harana Men’s Chorus’ musical director, and a human resource manager) described “Winds and Wishes,” as “cinematic.”
It has rich sounds of the flute, bagpipe, two horns in F, two trumpets in B flat, trombones, timpani, percussion one of three toms (high, mid and low), percussion two of three toms (high, mid and low), and percussion three of bass drum and strings of violoncello.
For this writer, “Winds and Wishes” appealed to my immigrant heart, whose yearning is never assuaged for my birthplace, Philippines. When this part of the narrative was read: “It is an unforgiving journey to distant and unknown shores, and the ships are battered by the winds and waves, unrelenting in violence and viciousness,” I cried. The words described with vividness what immigrants are struggling with at present, uncertain of their status in America, and even if with waivers, as the Haitians, their statuses are in limbo.
One could feel perhaps the convergence of the words, narrated by Andrew Eisenman, that as a wooden ship and its proud sails, move unrelenting, despite the violence and viciousness of the winds and waves: “Their resolve is steel, but they wonder if their feet will ever touch solid ground again. And then as if a switch had been thrown, calm, as the light of countless stars sputter and twinkle in the night sky.”
I want to open my eyes to see the light, or even the light of this music composer, as he generously shares the process of creating his art daily, despite his hectic, corporate-demanding life.
The artistic process of the composer
Here is what Simon shared, in an email:
“Below is the process we went through for the song L’Amour de ma Vie (The Love of my Life).
“Step 1: Decide on a theme. I decided to write a love song to celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary. I haven’t decided on a title yet.
“Step 2: The storyline. I created a story in my mind (this is the ‘dream’ process) of two teenagers (Ellis and I) who met for the first time in Paris – on the bridge where lovers place lovelocks to symbolize their eternal love for each other. While I haven’t been to Paris at the time that I wrote this song, Ellis has been relating stories of her trip to Paris and how fascinated she was when she toured the city, Giverny, and Versailles. As part of our year-long celebration of our 25th wedding anniversary (we got married on January 3, 1992), I booked a surprise trip to Paris for Ellis and [me] in September 2017.
“Step 3: Create the main melody/ motif. This involves creating the melody in my head or on the piano. It may happen while I am between conference calls, while I am driving, eating, while waiting to fall asleep or upon waking up. I make countless revisions considering critique from my family. Of note, creating these motifs is very different from writing pop songs. As I think of the musical theme, I am already hearing the orchestra, which instrument will play which part, how I wish it would build towards the middle and to the end, all the while imagining the visuals.
“Mixing an orchestra piece requires a good understanding of how orchestra instrument players are positioned in a concert hall. I had to make sure that the sounds are balanced and each instrument can be heard from the right position of the ‘stage,’” Simon added.
Enrique Delacruz, Ph.D., a retired professor and a music enthusiast, stood up to ask the composer: “What inspired you to create diverse Western and love themes, reminding me of the likes of John Williams and Ennio and Andrea Morricone?”
The composer responded, “When you get to my age, you think of a legacy project. I thought of the orchestral and classical music. It is an enduring music, to pass onto the next generation. After all, 300 years later, we are still playing Bach. It is also a gift to my wife, Elisa for our 25th wedding anniversary.”
Much like the countless stars that are referred to in Winds and Wishes, Des Rêves “of dreams” perhaps is headed north towards the sky, towards its North Star success.
It seems to have made an authentic journey from the composer’s heart to his mind, to sounds of music that he hears, while driving to work and which he collaborated with his colleagues, Rush Garcia, a gifted college student of music and son of Henry Garcia, who wrote the narratives, and Elzar and Elisa Simon’s three children (Ysabel, Joshua and Elisha).
Silence, to emphasize the brilliance, followed by an enduring applause!
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Prosy Abarquez-Delacruz, J.D. writes a weekly column for Asian Journal, called “Rhizomes.” She has been writing for AJ Press for 9 years now. She contributes to Balikbayan Magazine. Her training and experiences are in science, food technology, law and community volunteerism for 4 decades. She holds a B.S. degree from the University of the Philippines, a law degree from Whittier College School of Law in California and a certificate on 21st Century Leadership from Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. She has been a participant in NVM Writing Workshops taught by Prof. Peter Bacho for 4 years and Prof. Russell Leong. She has travelled to France, Holland, Belgium, Japan, Mexico and 22 national parks in the US, in pursuit of her love for arts.