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This Filipino youth orchestra proves that the kids are alright

By Mike Diez Published Oct 13, 2022 10:08 am Updated Oct 13, 2022 3:55 pm

The orchestra and their conductor are all dressed in plain black t-shirts and trousers. Their nondescript uniform belies their proficiency and ability as musicians, as the fully-packed crowd inside the Tanghalang Nicanor Abelardo in the Cultural Center of the Philippines gave their performance a standing ovation. 

This is the Orchestra of the Filipino Youth (OFY), the performing arm of Ang Misyon, Inc.—a non-profit organization that has been providing free music education for talented, less privileged Filipino youth.

The concert held last October 8 entitled OFY Ten: Celebrating Ten Years of Music was the first live concert by the OFY since the pandemic. The majority of the musicians who performed that night were young scholars of OFY, yet that fact was not the most amazing thing about OFY Ten. What’s even more astounding is the fact that they only started practicing for the performance two months ago, in August. 

“This all happened very quickly,” said Maestro Gerard Salonga after the concert. Salonga serves as OFY’s Music Director and Conductor.  

“Considering the time that we’ve had together pa lang, ay grabe! And the pieces they played were not easy. Symphony No.5 in C minor by Ludwig van Beethoven is not easy for anybody,” Salonga enthused. 

Indeed, these talented youths captivated the audience initially with Mikhail Glinka’s Rusian and Lyudmila Overture. This was proceeded by Beethoven’s masterpiece. The youth orchestra’s confidence only grew as the night went on, especially during the second half of the concert where they played homegrown compositions. They played almost flawlessly our National Artist for Music Colonel Antonino Buenaventura’s Mindanao Sketches.

They even had a playful take on Ryan Cayabyab’s Tsismis, which was was arranged by Salonga as a tribute to his revered mentor and performed by the ABS-CBN Philharmonic Orchestra during Cayabyab’s 60th birthday in 2014. Lucio San Pedro’s Lahing Kayumanggi served as another testament to the skills of the youth orchestra, and by the time they played Arturo Marquez’s Danzon No. 2, the audience was utterly convinced that this group is something special.  

Seeds of The Mission 

Ang Misyon, Inc. came out of a chance meeting between Gerard Salonga and First Philippine Holdings Chairman Federico “Piki” R. Lopez in 2010. Salonga’s sister, world-renowned singer Lea Salonga, performed then at an anniversary concert for First Philippine Holdings. Gerard Salonga and Piki Lopez soon found they both have an intense passion for music. As they talked about world-famous orchestras, the conversation then turned towards El Sistema, the globally renowned Venezuelan youth education program that advocates music for social change. They both agree that the same would work for the Philippines. 

“Our conditions here are not dissimilar,” Salonga mused. “There are a lot of talented kids who are poor. Yet we are naturally adept in music, because it is in our culture.”  

From those conversations, Salonga went on to head the ABS-CBN Philharmonic Orchestra in 2012. The creation of OFY was also started alongside the creation of the ABS-CBN Orchestra. 

“The whole idea for the ABS-CBN Orchestra was, of course, to do what it was supposed to do for the station. But more importantly, we want to create a career path for the people who come out of Ang Misyon, who want to be professional musicians,” Salonga explained. 

When ABS-CBN’s franchise renewal was denied by Congress in 2020, Salonga and the rest of the orchestra were among the casualties. Yet Lopez was determined to continue Ang Misyon, and OFY as its performing arm. For his part, Salonga somehow found the time and energy to be its musical director even as he fulfills his tasks as Resident Conductor of the Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra and other engagements.

“The young musicians in OFY bring raw energy. These kids are desperate to play,” Salonga explained. “We have kids who would come from Nueva Ecija. They leave at 4AM just to attend the  9AM rehearsal in Pasig, and they do it every week. We also have those who would come from Cebu. Their parents would find a way for their kids to fly to Manila and stay with a kin of their neighbor in Cebu who happens to live in Bicutan.”  

There are some who have reaped the benefits of OFY’s mentorship and adherence to stringent standards. Marlo Maruyama used to be an out-of-school youth when his family failed to pay the tuition while he was taking up Information Technology. He always wanted to be a musician, and even asked his parents to enroll him in a Conservatory of Music. After auditioning and becoming a part of OFY playing double bass, he now earns a living as a musician. He now plays for various orchestras in the country. Even better, he is about to graduate from his scholarship in the University of Sto. Tomas’s Conservatory of Music. 

Even as Salonga acknowledges the kids’ hardships, he also makes it clear to them that OFY is not a dole-out. He said that there are enough institutions in the country where the lack of diligence has no consequence. 

“Please don’t quote me in a way that make me sound unpatriotic,” Salonga said as he laughed. “There are habits that you get learning classical music, or learning an instrument, there are qualities you develop that will mitigate your Pinoyness. You know what I mean? The discipline of music and being in an orchestra can instill diligence and precision.”  

Indeed, Salonga brings forth his extensive experience as a world-class musician and conductor to elevate the quality of musicians in the country. And, according to him, the best way to start is with young, hungry musicians.  

“They have to be exposed to the fact that someone is demanding much more from them than what they can offer right now,” Salonga explained. “Something has to be demanded of you that you can’t do right now just so you can climb up to be able to give it. And when you are able to, you raise the bar again. And you climb up higher. It has to be that way.”  

Seeing these kids perform some of the world’s toughest orchestral pieces nearly flawlessly, it’s hard to argue against Salonga’s point.  

For partnership inquiries and opportunities for support, email [email protected] or send a message through the OFY’s Facebook and Instagram pages: