My violin, my voice

Achieving great heights through a passion for music.

By Ruth Livioco Tumpalan

“What do you want to be when you grow up?”

It was a question I was often asked as a young girl. I thought then that I wanted to achieve great heights, possibly as a lawyer or a scientist. But never did I think that I would have ended up becoming a concert violinist making people happy with my music.

I grew up in Pasig with my four siblings. My father is a Baptist minister and my mother is a housewife. My siblings and I were home-schooled by my mom, and we were enrolled to study music along with our regular academics. I started playing piano at the age of 5, but only studied the violin at age 11. It was then when I really fell in love with music. For others, that might be considered late, but I was determined to excel as a violinist. At age 15, I became a violinist for the Manila Symphony Orchestra where I played for 10 years. 

I studied at the College of Music, University of the Philippines, Diliman where I graduated with cum laude distinction. I later auditioned and made it to the Philippine Philharmonic Orchestra as Assistant Concertmaster. It was a privilege to play with them and even become the orchestra’s soloist in one of their major concerts.

Music has taken me to places I never thought I could visit.

In 2010 and 2011, I represented the Philippines in the Asian Youth Orchestra’s concert tours throughout Asia. It was an amazing experience – moving from city to city and performing at prestigious concert halls almost every night. I remember struggling to keep awake in Beijing right before the concert and tried to inhale some sort of ammonia to help with my focus.  In Shenzhen, I got the scare of my life when I got lost; I didn’t speak any Chinese!

With husband Cyd Tumpalan, who is a percussionist.

It was in this concert tour – which also took us to Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, and Taipei, among other Asian cities — where I met my future husband, Cyd. He is a talented percussionist and used to be the lead percussionist with Hong Kong Disneyland Marching Band. We got married two years later. What great memories!

With a desire to improve as a musician, I attended the Green Mountain Chamber Music Festival in Vermont in 2014, with support from the said festival and the National Commission for Culture and the Arts.

In 2015, I went back to the U.S. to pursue my masters with full scholarship in Violin Performance at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst under the tutelage of the illustrious Elizabeth Chang, a graduate of Harvard and a faculty member at Juilliard. My scholarship allowed me to be part of the UMASS Graduate Quartet and teach undergraduates. I was able to work with an amazing set of faculty from the Juilliard String Quartet and the frequent Grammy winner the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, among others.

Music is my passion, and the violin my ‘yellow sun.’ It feels like an extension of my arms. It makes so many kinds of colors and sounds. It is like the extra voice that can express feelings more than I can ever do just by myself. The stage became my world. I got to play with international artists, such as Michael Buble, Cecile Licad, and Ryan Cayabyab, and so much more.

This year, I won several awards: 1st place in the American Protege Piano and Strings International Competition, 2nd place in the New York International Concours (where I was also awarded the New York State Assembly Award), and Honorable Mention in Concert Artists International Competition. These distinctions paved the way for me to perform as a soloist at the prestigious Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center within a few weeks. 

At Carnegie Hall, where the virtuoso Jasha Heifetz once performed.

Performing at Carnegie Hall was a beautiful experience. I was feeling a little anxious to perform on a stage where legendary violinists – such as Jasha Heifetz – have performed, but I felt comfortable as soon as I started playing. The sound was incredible and I had the time of my life enjoying my music in one of the world’s best concert halls.

It’s been an exciting journey, realizing the great heights that music has brought me to. I am glad that I am doing something that inspires people. I look forward to what else music has in store for me.

Ruth Livioco Tumpalan  is a violinist and faculty member at Lindeblad School of Music in Pine Brook, New Jersey. She has about 30 students who share her love of music as they train to be the next generation of musicians.  She and husband Cyd Tumpalan live in New Jersey.

(C) The FilAm 2019

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