This is the 550th essay to appear in my Carrefour column, which has now been around for 11 years in this article.
As a sort of celebration, I dedicate my space today to National Literature, an appreciation of the works of Jose Garcia Villa, the Filipino poet whose productive years were lived in New York City and who was a National Literature Artist in 1976 .
The poetry of José Garcia Villa as music. Last week, a program about the poet’s works and his transcendent relationship to musical ideas and expression was presented to a small group of Filipino, American and international friends in Washington DC, at a private home.
The program gained a wider audience when the Philippine Embassy, which co-sponsored it with the US-Philippine Society, issued a press release that was noticed in Manila and the US capital.
I first learned of the homage to José Garcia Villa by family mail. Jenny Sicat Crabbe, my youngest daughter, wrote about this for our usual news exchange.
This was a private affair organized for a small group of Filipinos and Americans, and a few friends from the diplomatic community who share a common interest in the blending of Filipino history, literature and poetry in Washington DC area. Although his residence was the venue, the program was a collaborative effort between individuals and groups through the contribution of talent, food and resources.
Pleasantly drawn to this story, I asked her if I could put the subject forward in this anniversary column I am writing. Excited by my offer, Jenny explained to me the genesis of the idea and the program itself.
Living pieces of Filipino literary culture in America. I now quote Jenny:
“Erwin Tiongson approached me with the idea almost two years ago and we thought we would get support from the Embassy. For this event, Erwin and I put together the entire program. This arose out of Erwin’s personal interests in poetry and history itself, which he would hijack as Philippine Publications on the Potomac (POPDC), an Internet publication.
Dr Erwin Tiongson, a Filipino economist, was a world banker who moved to Georgetown University’s School of Diplomacy to accept a professorship.
I also have to give a backgrounder on Jenny, my daughter. She has spent half of her career at JP Morgan, managing a portfolio of international bonds. After the September 11 attack on America, she and her husband (who also worked on Wall Street) were moved to Silicon Valley, California for a decade. They decided to move to Washington DC, however, where she and her husband first met. In Washington, Jenny got more involved with the Washington International Club, where she met many interesting people like Erwin Tiongson.
Jenny continued her story, “I work with a lot of musicians and artists of all kinds, it’s also something I’ve been doing for decades, so I put the musical angle in place, working on a musical program with pianist and soprano. … Fortunately, I was able to have a piano-soprano duo (Eriko Tokuro Murray-Kumiko Izawa Chikata) which happens to be Japanese! With song and piano, they jumped on JG Villa’s poetry and compared it to some Haiku-Japanese songs and linked it to Handel’s opera, Semele.
“Luis Francia, a Filipino writer who teaches literature at New York University, also participated via Zoom at the invitation of Erwin. He gave us the context of Villa and read some of his poems. He also gave us a personal glimpse of Villa as someone who was an integral part of Greenwich Village, like his close friend the American poet EE Cummings. The musicality of words was essential in Villa’s poetry, so it was only natural that he put it to music with the help of friends like the composer Samuel Barber!
“Erwin Tiongson, for his part, gave a glimpse of Villa when he spent time living and creating here in DC, based in the Chancellery building circa 1940s. There are newspaper photos of JG Villa with luminaries of literature at the time!
“Ambassador John F. Maisto, who is president of the US-Philippines Society, a group of distinguished Americans and Filipinos, was very warm and appreciated the program so much. He really understood the cross-cultural collaboration aspect that I wanted to convey in the event, which was part of my opening remarks. (I had been talking about the wonderful things that can happen when people from all over the world gather in a city like DC) He was not only thrilled to present JGV and his life here in the US, but he was pleasantly surprised by the ‘Japanese interlude!
“Jaime Ascalon, the young embassy’s mission assistant, gave a fitting closing address on the occasion, targeting his remarks on sharing Filipino culture with the next generation of young Filipino-Americans.
“Those who came to the rally were a combination of other people ranging from diplomats, law professors, doctors to journalists.”
Jenny concluded: “It was a great musical evening! People were so touched because poetry was so connected… what we always hope to achieve in the arts!
NVM Gonzalez in a musical atmosphere. In the 1960s and 1970s, my residence on the UP campus in Zone 1 was adjacent to that of NVM, who would become a National Literature Artist like Villa. NVM loved the guitar and was a skillful classical guitarist. His son Mike, himself a classical guitarist, was the guitar teacher of my oldest children, Hans and Michelle.
The master bedroom window had a nice view and was within hearing distance of its front yard, where, under the shade of a tree, my two oldest children received their guitar instruction. On some occasional Sunday afternoons, NVM Gonzalez would invite a fellow classical guitarist to the same location. They would have a sort of classical guitar jam session by two enthusiastic players. When this happened it was also a pleasant afternoon experience for my wife and I!
For archives of previous Crossroads trials, see: https://www.philstar.com/authors/1336383/gerardo-p-sicat. Visit this site for more information, comments and comments: http://econ.upd.edu.ph/gpsicat/