For as long as I have music,
As long as there's a song for me to sing,
I can find my way,
I can see a brighter day.
These lines always take me back to my younger years, back to the times when my mother would ask me to scrub the floor of our humble home, in a little barrio in Cagayan de Oro, south of the Philippines. She’d allow me to listen to my favorite songs while doing the chores and this song in particular captivated me. I remember taking the song’s words to heart as I listened to its choral rendition by the world-renowned Philippine Madrigal Singers. Their mellifluous interlacements would reverberate endlessly from my old cassette player, as though soaring rainbow colors brighten up my world. Nancy Price and Don Besig must have heard my cries then, for their song comforted me and gave me the strength and courage to face the brick walls of my life. Since then, I have made a resolve to make music my companion for life.
Growing up, being different was never easy for I apparently made people question and wonder if I were by chance mistakenly created in the wrong mold. I have always been feminine in my ways that to me felt right. And of course, it did not help that I was gifted with a voice that could soar high, way above what they thought was ‘normal’.
I have been called different names because of this. Some of them were pleasant, some were not so pleasant, and the rest could scar for life. I’ve never really understood what went wrong. Was it my fault that I grew up to be the only rose in a field of daisies? Can’t I be the moon whose peculiarities we all appreciate? Or perhaps the sun — forever shining and forever holding its head up high? I’ve learnt to tread lightly and gain something from every mistake, perhaps to flourish and thrive. I’ve learnt to blend in to have some quiet moments and at least enjoy this beautiful world we are in.
Then I call upon my music,
And it helps to dry my tears.
And I know that I can make it.
I'll go on despite my fears.
I decided to turn to God who embraced me with love and comfort. To my knowledge at that time, the best way to serve Him was through music, so I volunteered to sing regularly as a psalmist at Church, joined the youth choir and the youth coordinating council of our parish, and helped out in the annual activities of the church, i.e. Christmas and Holy Week plays. When I became older and more experienced, the ‘kuyas’ and 'ates' (elders) of our community asked me to train the youth choir. It became crazy after that — we started joining choral competitions, held concerts in partnership with the big choirs of our city, and visited the homes of our parishioners singing Christmas carols during the yuletide season. The money that we raised from all of that helped so much in funding our choir expenses and in purchasing musical instruments for the church. Our work in the choir also became our source of inspiration enabling us to slowly build our confidence as we tried to achieve our dreams.
I have been very fortunate to be surrounded and protected by a very loving and caring circle of family and friends. They taught me to be resilient and to believe in myself. They tirelessly showed me the ropes to further hone my skills in singing. At the age of 6, I was already singing to the music of Diana Ross, Mariah Carey, and Whitney Houston serenading huge crowds in school and in the community. If We Hold On Together, Vision of Love, and I Will Always Love You were my first few favorites. My aunts, Vivian and Lucy, and my mom, Nita, played a huge role in this since they trained me and prepared everything that I needed for the performances. In retrospect, I realized that if I didn’t get their support at that time, I probably would have failed in harnessing further the passion I had for music.
When the road is dark and lonely
And I feel I want to cry
When the dreams I keep inside me
Seem to fade and almost die.
My first heartbreak in music was when my voice started to break at the strike of puberty. Imagine my shock when I first learned about this. I was in the middle of a rehearsal for an inter-school singing competition. My music teacher asked me to sing Whitney’s ‘One Moment in Time’. I was so confident singing it right to the climax and just when I was about to belt the highest note, my voice strained. I struggled and tried again but I miserably failed. I couldn’t believe myself. It was the first of many embarrassing moments following that and, with a thud, my heart sank.
Then a song that I remember
Helps to ease my troubled mind,
And I find the strength within me
To reach out just one more time.
I stopped singing solos for a while and decided to focus on the choir. Choir life was fun,
and dare I say it was crazy! I can’t count how many times my parents called my attention for coming home late at night from choir rehearsals. It was very addictive, and not to mention the late-night after-practice-trips to the city just to eat nice food and have fun in the karaoke bars. Those were epic moments that I certainly treasure and keep safely in my memory bank.
When I became the choral director for Xavier University (Ateneo de Cagayan) High School Glee Club and of our church choir, Holy Rosary Youth Choir, I made sure to instill in every member the values of hard work and discipline, and to always give their best in everything they do. “Magis’ is a Latin term I learned from my high school principal, Fr. Alberto Ampil, SJ. It simply means to be more, to give more, or to go the extra mile for the greater glory of God. This is something that was deeply ingrained in me and I’ve gained so much from it, so I shared it with my choirs. Having fun alongside kindness, being sincere, and truthful was also integral in ensuring harmonious relationships within my choral groups. It was, of course, the most wonderful thing to experience, seeing members grow wiser while getting more skillful in singing. It was also literally seeing dreams come alive as their eyes twinkled in disbelief. They couldn’t believe they could produce such beautiful sounds.
I can find my may,
I can see a brighter day.
The music in my life
will set my spirit free.
After high school and after so many experiments, I regained my voice back. At some point, I found a way to mix my upper and lower registers allowing me to sing again those ‘celinedionic’ songs that I have come to love so dearly. From this, I learned that losses tragically happen in life and we can never be truly prepared for them. But if we accept them wholly and learn from them, we will eventually find our way. By the way, I lost my Aunt Lucy to cancer a few years back and to her, I dedicate this article.
I met so many wonderful people because of music — people from different walks of life, people from various cultures and beliefs, people who were molded perfectly in God’s eyes just like me. Shout-out to my mentors in music who showed me the way — to Kuya Boy Picar and Ate Mercy Luardo-Picar, Teacher Liz Bautista, Ma’am May Flores, and to Dr Faustino ‘Poks’ Tarongoy. I also want to include in this list Paul and the APEX Team for I have learned so much from you. I truly admire your work and I am blessed to be a part of it. I am very thankful as well to my friend, Maria Schuster, for being my sponsor to APEX — bless your lovely heart!
The first APEX project I joined as an official APEX member
I have also been a part of many singing groups and support groups in Smule. I was in FAM, TS1, and Friends and Music. I am still with Brighter Side and Tonal Eclipse. I have served as music director for Friends and Music where I met so many lovely people. I thank the leaders there for allowing me to reach out to the members and be able to create some beautiful music. Recently, I’ve put together my own groups — Songbirds and Chicken Soup for the Soul. I am so fortunate to be singing with such awesome personalities and voices.
From meeting various individuals and groups, I have learnt that people have endless potentials and that if we all try to help one another, we will shine gloriously. Let’s continue to be kind and be a beacon of hope for one another.
Indeed, I am blessed to have music in my life. And as long as I have it, I am free.
Jake Anthony Jagos
Smule Name: Mockingbird_APEX
Niue and Philippines