On Global Filipinos: Michael Dadap and the COS bring harmony through generations

Artistic and Music Director Michael Dadap.

By Loida Nicolas Lewis

This coming June 20, 2019, the Children’s Orchestra Society (COS) will be celebrating 50 years of teaching the language and love of music to the next generation — with a Discovery Concert and Anniversary Gala at the prestigious Carnegie Hall. The evening will feature COS Senior Discovery Winner Darren Yang(Bass), Guest Artist Ray Chen (Violin), and all orchestras conducted by Global Filipino and virtuoso guitarist, Michael Dadap.

Maestro Dadap is known for internationally promoting the Filipino Rondalla, a form of chamber music with plucked string instruments (which includes the Philippine Harp, a unique 14-string bandurria invented in the Philippines during the Spanish period). He is also the COS Artistic and Music Director, who shares with us today how his Global Filipino Journey began, and where his love for music has taken him.Loida Nicolas Lewis

(LNL): Growing up in Southern Leyte, Philippines, who were your musical influences as a child?

Michael Dadap (MD): My family and church music. I’ve been so fortunate that all my brothers and sisters, uncles, aunts, and grandparents regarded music as the main staple of our daily lives. Being the 13th child of 14 siblings, allowed me to hear all the styles of music from sisters and brothers who are 15 to 22 years older than I am. I’m a huge fan of the music from the 1940s to the ‘50s because of my older brother who played saxophone in a big band, together with my uncles.

My sisters and my older brother Jerry were choir directors of our church. I used to watch them rehearse and tried to mimic them conduct the choir since I was around 5 or 7 years old. That was my earliest exposure to a four-part harmony. Listening to harmonized music pleased my ears, my heart, and my soul.

Growing up as a teenager, my friends and I got hooked on rock n’ roll and the music of Elvis, and other big hits of the ’50s to ’60s. After my evening classes at UP Padre Faura, I would play at night clubs in Malate with my jazz pianist brother, Noe. It was an awesome experience, playing jazz guitar and earning some money for my tuition.   

However, the melodies and the gentle strain of old Visayan harana (serenade) songs always haunted me. I fell in love with the guitar, and taught myself to play it with some early help from my brother Jun, who taught me three chords. My interest in guitar and harana deepened, and it was great that I could look up to another elder brother, Celso, who could make the guitar sing. Music gave me confidence to articulate my thoughts and feelings.

LNL: Who inspired and supported you in order to pursue further studies in New York?

MD: My older brother, composer and conductor Jerry was relentless in encouraging me to be serious with my studies in classical guitar. He started by training me in solfeggio and music theory. In the late ’60s he went to New York for his masters in composition and conducting at Mannes School of Music. I wrote him and told him that there is an opportunity to get a scholarship to study guitar in Spain offered by the German Consulate in Manila. He wrote me back in two sentences: “If you want to master guitar playing, go to Spain. If you want to become a complete musician, come to New York.” That was the turning point.  

But the issue was more complicated: It was tough to get a student visa. Maestro Gilopez Kabayao was my special angel. He vouched for me and gave me the necessary supporting documents so I could get a student visa. My friend Gilopez: You are a true patron of Filipino artists.

LNL: How did you and Dr. Yeou-Cheng Ma meet? Why do you think children’s orchestras are important?

The Children’s Orchestra Society with Dr. Yeou-Cheng Ma and Dadap: A 50-year milestone.

MD: We were introduced by a mutual friend. It was not really planned, but my friend Janet (whom I met in one of my California Concert tours) brought Dr. Ma to The Terrace, a fancy French Restaurant in New York, where I used to work playing classical guitar music. That was the start of a lifetime to know more about each other, and discover our common interests. It was a huge and exciting turning point for me. You could say that our coming together sparked the re-birth of the Children’s Orchestra Society, which was founded by her father, Dr. Hiao-Tsiun Ma, to inspire and empower young and talented musicians.

LNL: What memorable teaching experiences do you have, that validated your vision for COS?

MD: I had a 3 ½ year old student who is very talented. One day, in the middle of a lesson he asked me, ‘Mr. Dadap, who gave names to the musical notes?’ That really shook me up. I was not prepared to hear that from a child. Before the lesson ended, I gave him a story made up at the moment, about a man called “King Musiker.” He was so glued to the story that I kept on developing it for a few more months. Then in about three months or so, he could read and write his own musical thoughts. Today, he is a successful musician, author, and entrepreneur. He has his own foundation helping children with autism.  

Another one of our Discovery concert winners was an 11-year-old girl, Yumi Sagiuchi. At age 13 she won again, but gave up her prize to allow a very close second-place winner, the honor to perform at Lincoln Center — because he was in his last year with COS. She said to us, ‘I won once, and I know I still have many more chances.’ That brought me to tears. Her magnanimousness and sense of compassion at such a young age, was so admirable. She is now playing as Principal Violist of the Bergen Symphony Orchestra in Norway.

LNL:  Are your children musicians too?

MD: We are blessed to have very musical and musically literate children who are adults now. They know the language of music, even though they did not choose music as their main profession. Our son Daniel is working for NVIDIA and lives in Austin, Texas with his wife Marie and their two children. Daniel plays percussion, trombone and bagpipes. Our daughter Laura is a singer-actress and songwriter. She lives in New York with her husband John. They are starting a sauce company “Djablo”, which is based on my original hot sauce recipe that I cooked for their wedding reception. I hope they succeed. They are launching very soon at www.djablosauce.com.

(C) The FilAm 2019

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