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The Business of Life

The Business of Life
Ronald Roy  – August 24, 2011

       With your generous forbearance, I shall ventilate further the still-raging issues surrounding the inglorious “shock” art exhibit held at the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP). But first, I extend my felicitations to all CCP functionaries for having staged last August 19 a Tagalog operetta of Jose Rizal’s classic Noli Me Tangere. That evening did me proud as a Filipino.

       That evening also raised hopes these same obstinate CCP executives will eventually find it in their hearts, minds and souls to issue a public apology for their blasphemous – to use a euphemism – lapse in judgment.

       I’m still at the receiving end of flak for my column last week which lambasted the cited art exhibit as an abominable and profane affront to all religions in the world. But that’s okay. In fact, these purveyors of smut can rely on my readiness to defend their freedom to disagree with those on the other side of the so-called great debate.

       But I must react to their labeling me as an ignoramus in the areas of the arts and the law. Well. I am a lawyer (with a BSBA degree in Economics) and an artist although, in the latter case, an unschooled aficionado.

       For brevity’s sake, let me just tick off random features of my amateur background as a visceral lover of the arts, especially in the milieus of drama, painting, music, prose and poetry.

       When I was 11, Kislap Magazine described me as a child prodigy gifted with inordinate skills with the brush and easel. I am partial to the sombre hues of the Renaissance Period, mystified by the genius of the mentally disturbed Vincent Van Gogh, fixated on the masterpieces of the painter-sculptor Matissé caught adrift in the timelessness of Michelangelo and da Vinci, and mesmerized by the wonders of impressionism and surrealism. Cubism? You can have it.

       My most thrilling encounter with the canvas was a single-handed execution at age 25 of a life-size composition of St. Bleaker Street, a road located in the suburbs of New York City which I had never seen. Relying on a verbal description from someone who had been there, I scaled out in pencil an impression of the street on a small piece of paper. This scrap of paper would later become a miniature copy of the  9 x 18 meter conservatist-impressionist work of art that would serve as a backdrop for an opera entitled “The Miracle of St. Bleaker Street”.

       I will never forget the flattering ooh’s and aah’s the huge backdrop elicited from foreigners in attendance at the Metropolitan Opera House. A street corner in the foreground, street lamps, barber shops, food stores, theaters and whatnots— receding into the background that was a distant cluster of sky-rise buildings, of New York! Wow, did I do this?!

       Certainly this couldn’t have been my work; I suddenly felt humbled. After some perfunctory handshakes at the end of the show, I slowly went backstage, unable to rein back my tears.

       I was convinced it was an unseen Hand, not mine, that produced the miracle on the canvas, the same unseen Hand that ordains its creatures to do their arts and crafts for man’s ethereal pleasure and the Creator’s glory.

       In music, I am an avid disciple of Rachmaninov, Beethoven (whose symphony No. 9 is simply divine), Verdi, Prokofiev, Bach, Previn, Toscanini, Mussorgsky, the “devilish” Paganini, Chopin, and a whole lot of other European classicists, not to mention such modern musicians as Brubeck, Tristano, Pavarotti, Licad, Horowitz, Cayabyab, Mancini, and Jovita Fuentes.

       Henry Mancini once enthusiastically shook my hands when, at the Lobby Lounge of the Manila Hotel, keyboard virtuoso Joselito Pascual played my composition “A Touch of Summer”. This hauntingly romantic melody also became a favorite of Lulu Casas-Quezon (the mother of Undersecretary Manolo Quezon) and the late Bubby Dacer who hummed it swooningly four days before he was abducted. But that’s another story.

       In 1967 when I was 32, I met Frank Sinatra at the famed Waldorf Astoria in New York – I was then the Chief of Staff of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on official travel—and after hearing me mimic him in September of My Years and Strangers in the Night, he said; “Hey kid, when I was your age 17 years ago, we would’ve sounded alike.”

       Countless people have described my crooning style as that of Sinatra, Vic Damone, Steve Lawrence, Jack Jones and Mel Torme, all rolled up into one. I’m not particularly proud of sounding like other singers. Anyway, my biggest kick that noontime at the Waldorf was when the blue-eyed Chairman of the Board guffawed at my a capella rendition of my own version of Strangers in the Night – a parody about Jack the Ripper and an accomplice entitled “Stranglers in the Night.”

       I am pleased with my output as a songwriting hobbyist. Over a dozen of my pop ballads and jazz instrumentals have been published. When I was through with the words and music of the majestic LawAsia Anthem—which was played cum choir and orchestra every other year in countries within the Asia Pacific Region—again, it was the same unseen Hand that made the work possible.

       The Lord has a way of getting through to every human being, very especially agnostics and atheists. In my case, I sense a subtle divine presence whenever I’m engrossed in a creative activity. Emotions surge through my veins, like a stream flowing with love for the unloved, comfort for the desolate. Then I am spent, wondering if I am taking things too seriously at the expense of the bread-and-butter side of the business of life.

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