Eric Celerio: When your father is a Master

He is an accomplished guitarist and pianist. Facebook photo

By Cristina DC Pastor

When you’re the son of a brilliant music composer who is also a National Artist in the homeland, one cannot hide in anonymity for so long. At least not in New York City.

Somehow, Eric Celerio managed to do so for many years since he came to the U.S. in 1975. The younger son of musician, lyricist and 1997 Philippine National Artist for Music and Literature Levi Celerio, it was only in recent years that he has emerged from anonymity. The mop-haired and extremely low-key Eric has become a favorite companion pianist to many singing talents around NYC.   Not a showman of a performer nor one who wears flashy suits, he bounces on stage in a regular tee or sometimes in a collared shirt paired with a tie. Always, he wears his hair long and sporting a tussled look.

“I’m a busy working musician so I gig regularly around the NYC area,” he told The FilAm who sought out the somewhat elusive musical scion.

To “discover” him – and this was how I found him by accident – one has to attend a community event, or even just a house party, organized by Nanding Mendez of Fiesta In America. Mendez, an entrepreneur who sings and plays the guitar as a hobby, is good friends with Eric. When I reached out to Nanding looking for Eric, he said, “He’s here with me, wanna talk to him?” It was a friendship of long standing brought about by their fondness for jamming to live band music.

Levi Celerio on a 2010 Philippine stamp.

To know Eric, one has to know his father because by himself, Eric would rather dissolve into obscurity. After a gig, he usually bids his hosts goodbye and sneaks out without courting attention.  “He’s ok, he’s not shy,” said another of Eric’s friends, Elton Lugay, founder of TOFA.

Levi Celerio is the only son of an unmarried couple from Tondo. (Celerio is his maternal name.) The father, whom he met late in life, appeared to be well off as he had businesses in real estate and retail jewelry. Levi grew up with his mother, who played the harp in a church choir and who introduced him to music at a young age. By 11, he could play the violin. He became a member of the Philippine Constabulary Band when he got to high school. He won a scholarship and became the youngest member of the Manila Symphony Orchestra.

Levi stopped playing the violin when his wrist was injured in an accident. Instead, he turned to other hobbies, like comics illustration and songwriting. He turned out to be a prolific lyricist who is said to have written more than 4,000 songs, some of them used in romantic flicks like, “Kahit Konting Pagtingin” and “Saan Ka Man Naroroon?,” in action ‘bakbakan’ movies like “Pitong Gatang” or folksy comedies like “Waray-Waray.”

Many may not know that the Christmas classic “Ang Pasko ay Sumapit” was a Levi Celerio opus.

The son also rises

In 2009, Eric did a NYC concert called “An Ode to My Father.”

“When I’m playing, I usually introduce three to five songs of my father to my audience,” he said in our interview. “Surprisingly, some of the newer generations have heard of him.”

Eric and dad.  ‘Many people didn’t know he was a stand-up comedian.’

Eric is an accomplished guitarist and pianist. It was his elder brother who walked in the father’s shadow by mastering the violin. The keyboard has been Eric’s stage buddy as he backs up local NYC concert talents such as Angel Ram, Geo Rebucas, and Rasmin Diaz.

His years in New York as well as the artists, concert producers, and audiences he met along the way have encouraged him to become a versatile talent like his dad. He is also a composer, a music arranger, and a teacher. At times he engages in a little bit of “piano humor” like the Danish pianist and comedian Victor Borge. He tickles the ivories as he tells a funny joke. One is reminded of the idiom about the fruit not falling far from the tree. In this case the master who wrote the silly but very singable, “Waray waray, bahala na bukas; waray waray manigas.”

“He was a great man, the artist; he was also a kind dad,” said Eric. “Many people didn’t know he was a professional stand-up comedian.”

He was a witness to his father’s genius with his ‘leaf music’ (a rare skill, Levi could create music by blowing into a leaf) as well as his generosity toward others. “Many times,” Eric recalled, “a colleague would stop by needing some lyrics for a song, and my father would finish the song literally after smoking one cigarette.”

“Many of his songs never got copyrighted under his name,” he continued.

Eric on stage with the Band of Brothers. Photo by Nonoy Rafael.

His mother

“My mother brought us here in New York in 1975,” shared Eric. “She was already here in the ‘60s. My father would visit us occasionally.” Eric has two brothers and one sister, all of them residing in NYC. His mom, Lina Celerio, was a computer programmer for the United Nations. “She was a really fine pianist.”

Growing up under the influence of his parents, aunts and uncles, as well as peers of his father, like Ric Manrique, “raised my standards to be impeccable,” said Eric. “My parents, being great musicians themselves as my reference, it wasn’t easy to fake my way through.” Eric has a Music degree from Queens College, CUNY.

There was a time when he had a “little conflict” within. “I always had a little conflict of being selfish and just doing art,” he said.

Being a family man has made him realize the need for a viable work-life balance. He made sure he raised his two children in an environment where having music in your life can be wonderful.

No remittance fee, fast, free, easy and fun – direct from your mobile phone. Plus a $20 bonus to your recipient on your first send. Just use the prompt code FILIPINO.  Learn more about Sendwave Mobile Remittance App:

(C) The FilAm 2021

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: