‘FASO Goes Pop’ breathes life to Fil-Am musicians

faso resizeBy Cecile Ochoa

Glendale, CA– It never fails to excite concert audiences to see a maestro conductor, all in the elegance of a black tuxedo or a formal, surveying his or her grand ensemble before the grand opening number. This time it was a thrill to see a Filipino American musician confidently command his compatriots, some 60 members of the Filipino American Symphony Orchestra (FASO), Saturday November 14 at the Alex Theater.

Concert master violinist Cecilia Coo-Cruz  plays Frank Sinatra's "My Way," accompanied by FASO.  TheFILAMLA photo

Concert master violinist Cecilia Coo-Cruz plays Frank Sinatra’s “My Way,” accompanied by FASO. TheFILAMLA photo

At the helm, Robert Shroder, Caucasian-looking- Kawit Cavite native-Tagalog-talking Philharmonic conductor. The concert was a celebration of mostly Filipino “pop” compositions with a spice of the American king of pops Michael Jackson’s “Billy Jean” (arranged by Vince Reyes and Louie Ramos); “Ben,” (Ramos) “ Greatest Love of All,” (Ramos) and “Age of Aquarius” (Naldy Rodriguez).
The opening act of “FASO Goes Pop” brought a pleasant surprise as Maestro Shroder raised and punctuated his baton to draw the sound of cellos, accompanied by double basses to capture Gioachino Rossini’s “William Tell Overture” and then a powerful harmony of instruments: flute, French horns, trumpets, trombones, oboes, triangle, bass drum, timpani, cymbals and strings. There was probably some expectations of a beginning along the melodies of the national/international favorite “Dahil Sa ‘Yo.”

FASO fetes Bob Shroder, Director and Master Conductor,  center, on his birthday November 14.  With FASO Board members Louie Ramos (left) and Claire Navarro Espina(right).

FASO fetes Bob Shroder, Director and Master Conductor, center, on his birthday November 15. With FASO Board members Louie Ramos (left) and Claire Navarro Espina(right).

In an interview with TheFILAMLA Shroder remarks: “To me and I believe with a lot of people, William Tell Overture is a popular music. I’d been listening to this overture since my childhood, it was one of the most favorite tunes of my family. I thought it would be good to open a pop concert with a very popular classic tune.”
FASO was founded in 2008 and at its helm is Shroder, born to a family with music in its genes starting with his grandfather, Augusto Samaniego, who was a member of the world renowned Philippine Constabulary Band and was the conductor of Kawit Cavite’s Magdalo Band. “My mother was a singer, one of my sons love to sing and perform as a hobby.

In a publicity write up, Shroder said he inherited the conductorship of the band upon his “lolo’s” retirement and death, performing classical music, overtures and marches during fiestas, wakes and other community activities.”
A “pop” music celebration of Pinoy talents in America would not be complete without a salute to Filipino-Puerto Rican Bruno Mars’ “Just the Way You Are” which featured the mini-version of Mars: 11-year old Nickelodeon actor Michael Keith and 10-year old Gian Paolo Jimenez, a violinist and pianist in his own right. Ten-year old Sydney Haik did justice with her solid rendition of the award winning “Let it Go,” composed by EGOT winner (recipient of Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony) Robert “Bobby” Lopez and his wife Kristen Anderson-Lopez. Bobby addressed the audience via telecast by proudly declaring he is “half-Filipino,” recognizing FASO as the first Filipino symphony orchestra outside of the Philippines.

The Original Pilipino Music (OPM) classics once more drew oohs and ahhs and sweet memories from a medley by popular LA singers Dennis Jardiel, Erwin Andaya, and Mike Zuniga including “Kay Ganda ng Ating Musika,” “Ewan,” “Batang-bata Ka Pa,” “Ngayon at Kailanman,” and “Umagang Kay Ganda.” This was followed by Sharon Rose Orosco singing “Bituing Walang Ningning.”

A crowd favorite was 14-year old Mikaela Bautista’s rendition of “I Have Nothing” (David Foster and Linda Thompson) and “I Will Always Love You” (Dolly Parton, arranged by David Foster). Her powerful voice matched the precision of the orchestra. A holder of a 2nd degree black belt in taekwondo, this singer hopes to join “America’s Got Talent” and “The Voice.”
Explaining a repertoire that features young Fil-Am talents, Shroder says “we look towards the future; that’s why we always include to encourage and motivate the younger generation. They will be the future members, supporters, and maybe some of them will run FASO when the time comes. It is very important at a young age to understand what FASO is all about, to inherit our goals and mission and to deliver quality of our performances”.

FASO paid tribute to ‘Ol Blue Eyes’ in a surprise violin number by Cecile Coo-Cruz, one of the most applauded.

Assembling more than 60 members of an orchestra is no simple feat, says FASO legal adviser and Board member Claire Navarro Espina. Besides tapping on the music genius of participants, the Director (and conductor) is also responsible for concert venues, contracts, insurance, personnel, the budget, tickets, among others.

FASO is a community endeavor that has charmed musical artists in the local community thus recruiting the likes of flutists Asuncion Ojeda, and Jilly Canizares; string and bass player Tagumpay De Leon, musical arranger Dr. Louie Ramos, Concert master violinist Cecilia Coo-Cruz among others. Dr. Ramos’ works have been performed by the Pasadena Symphony, Asia America Symphony Orchestra, Colburn Chamber Orchestra, Philippine Chamber singers, the Los Angeles Children’s Chorus and the South Shore Opera Company of Chicago.
“These community leaders in the orchestra are some of the most humble and productive members of FASO, Shroder asserts.

Our principle, at least for classically trained musicians, is simple. If the call is for you to play as a regular member, play to the best of your ability…if you are 2nd stand, be the best second stand player. The 1st, 2nd, 3rd, etc…stands are equally important in a musical ensemble or symphony like FASO”, he added.

For the FASO Goes POPS, Shroder said “Louie Ramos, our resident arranger coordinated and also did some of the arrangements. We also worked with Naldy Rodriguez, Vince Reyes and Melvin Corpin.”

“ FASO Goes Pop” Concert was not short of musical composers and singers who attended the capacity-filled theater. Dodjie Simon and Odette Quesada were on hand with SJ Gandia, who wrote two songs performed, “Tayo ay Pilipino” and “Hangang Muli’y Ikaw.” Aaron Paul del Rosario, was also one of the featured song writers. He wrote a number of popular OPM, to name a few, “Bakit Ngayon ka Lang”, “Andito Ako” and “Minsan Lang Kitang Iibigin” which was one of the hits last Saturday.

FASO has already set eyes on doing a repeat performance of “Swing the Night Away with FASO” in April of 2016. Shroder told TheFILAMLA that due to popular demand the spring musicale will be a “Big Band dance party.”

The FASO Board of Directors that oversees the symphony orchestra include: John Mina, Charina Vergara, Titus Versoza, Amirah May Limayo, Wendy Mason, Ruben Nepales, Rocio Nuyda, Asuncion Ojeda, Carmelita O’Neil Edwin Raquel, Susan Legaspi and Claire Navarro-Espina.

On his role as the Maestro Conductor of this formidable organization, Shroder told TheFILAMLA: “Conducting is so much fun, it is like putting together a puzzle without borders, everything is round and after all the hard work during rehearsals, the performance takes form; it is like walking around a beautiful garden, you see different colors, different shapes; it is like breathing the fragrance of a beautiful music”.
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