Bluebirds in Winter

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Last night, I got to sing “Stars” while the guy who played piano for Lea Solanga (Who was both Eponine and Fantine and different Les Miserables production) did the accompaniment.

But I am ahead of myself. Last night, I attended a concert benefit for the victims of Typhoon Haiyan. The University of Philippines Choir Chorus, a group of about 15 singers, are touring the country to help raise money. They’ve been everywhere: East Coast, West Coast, Europe…. They’re mostly young people who aren’t music majors, but their love of song (and their talent) has brought them together. They wore twists on the traditional Philipino clothes that night. Men and women were dressed in brilliant blue, off-setting the pale egg-shell white and the drab oak wood like blue birds on a foggy winter.

They sang through a songbook in bright four part harmony. The first half was all Filipino language… a challenge to the ears of some audience members. The crowd, seated around in an intimate half circle around our singers, were mostly of Filipino descent. However, there was a good representation of Washington natives… that is to say, English speaking. I was one of them. That did not matter. Whether it was a love song or a patriotic song or a Christmas song, the intent of the melody made itself known through their bold, determined, and unwavering notes.

Our singers sang and danced around the stage with sparkle-eyed enthusiasm, displaying none of the fatigue that is part of a long cross-country tour. We spoke to some singers after hours, and apparently some of them had gotten sick. They’re very unused to the uniquely Seattle winters, which are exacerbated by the damp, clingy moisture. You would not know it from their performance. The second half, which was English language for American audiences, saw them leaping through the air and twirling as they sung a medley of West Side Story tunes.

Strangely enough, “America” was a natural fit for these singers. The version I’m familiar with — the one from the movie — used some fairly outsized Puerto Rico accents. The verse was a natural fit for our foreign guests. They have no trouble speaking the English language, but it is still second to Filipino. The unique cadence of their natural accents married perfectly with the Latin lyrics, for which “America” was to be pronounced more along the lines of “Uh-mair-EEK-uh”.

Ah, but yes, the piano player. Our guests had typically performed with pre-recorded musical accompaniment. Tonight, though, a piano player named Jasper had taken a long twelve-hour flight to join our group. He had only arrived in the airport two-and-a-half hours prior to performance time. His face showed his weariness. His eyes were heavy-lidded, his face unshaven, and his tired expression was a contrast to the infectious sunniness from his colleagues. And yet, the man was a true professional, his hands gliding along the plastic keys of the facility’s keyboard as if it were a concert piano on the grand stage at the Lincoln Center. We later learned that Jasper was a piano player at ABN, the largest television channel in the Philippines. (Think of it as the equivalent of NBC here in the States.) He’d been a piano player for many stars, including the previously mentioned Broadway superstar Lea Solanga.

He was winding down after the show, his eyes glassy in a trance as his fingers danced along the keys, recalling various old tunes. My wife and I got to talking with him, and he began playing some tunes for fun. She suggested something from “Les Miz.” I had, on a lark, committed the lyrics to “Stars” to memory some time ago. As Jasper began to play the tune, I mouthed out “There, out in the darkness, a fugitive running….” I ended ridiculously bombastically, belting out “TILL THEN, THIS I SWEAR… THIS I SWEAR ON THE STARS!” while gesticulating my hands as if I were a fire wizard.

Russell Crowe, eat your heart out.

And that’s the story of how I got my inner Javert on. And raised some money for a worthy effort while hob-nobbing with some interesting young Filipino musicians.

(This was written for the Weekly Writing Challenge: Collecting Detail.)

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