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Tears of joy: a life-changing songwriting camp

In the almost deserted dining area of Bahura Resort, 20 minutes from Dumaguete City in Negros Oriental, Kyrsty Alde stares alone at a whiteboard filled with index cards. The cards were sign-up forms for the one-on-one consultation sessions with the mentors of the 2012 Elements Singing/Songwriting Camp.

It is dinnertime. With the sessions officially over, everybody is celebrating on the beachfront maybe a hundred feet away.

Kyrsty was on her way to get coffee candy but stopped at the whiteboard that summarized the past four days.

RadioRepublic's Twinky Lagdameo and I approach her.

Spot the rock stars. Grad pic, Elements Songwriting Camp 2012 (Contributed photo by Francis Brew)

"Are you okay?" I ask.

She snaps out of her reverie and breaks into a bright smile. "Tapos na po e… Mami-miss ko po ito."

She tells us how much she learned, how grateful she is to her campmates and mentors, the questions she still has, and how much fun she had. Her smile never breaks but her eyes slowly well up.

Her life will never be the same, she says.

She hugs Twinky and me and makes her way back to the party.

Life changing? Yeah, right

Many people have said 7101 Music Nation's The Elements Singing/Songwriting Camp, which started only three years ago, is personally life-changing.

I admit I was like, "Oh, sure it is."

The camp is the collective brainchild of Tao Corporation president Julio "Jun" Sy, maestro Ryan Cayabyab and Lagdameo. The workshop was designed specifically to encourage and help develop young musicians with original songs.

READ: Psy, Adele and making it America, by Francis Brew

In fact, the all-OPM online radio site was created in part to give the campers a venue in which to air their original songs.

Undoubtedly a great endeavor, the camp was also a boon for the local music industry.

But life changing?

Mentored by rock 'stars' and music 'legends'

The first of  the four-day workshop was only halfway done but I found myself screaming my head off laughing because of  host/moderator Jungee Marcelo's wit. His ice-breaking exercises alone were both hilarious and musical. As moderator, he gently ribbed the campers ("You… Best In Sando!") and set the tone for the activities.

The campers were duly educated on topics such as music theory, lyric and melody writing, arranging, the science behind vocal technique, music publishing and getting started in the music business, to name a few.

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They were divided into teams mentored by Raimund Marasigan, Ebe Dancel, Trina Belamide, Chito Miranda, Jonathan Manalo, Aia De Leon, Aiza Seguerra, Noel Cabangon, Mike Villegas, Gabby Alipe, Gloc-9, Joey Ayala and Jay Durias (notice the diversity of perspectives).  Ogie Alcasid was there to support the campers, too, as were many other big names. (See if you can spot them in the grad pic.)

The mentors themselves took down notes: everybody became a student. There were no "stars."

All musical genres welcome

Maestro Ryan Cayabyab, like all the teachers you loved, constantly reminded the 60 campers (out of 1,000 applicants from around the country) that any genre of music or technique they  employed was welcome. What mattered was the excellent original songs they wrote that got them in the camp in the first place.

There was Primy Cane and her lusty intelligent blues that was  "unfit" for a local Valentine's Day song competition. Kai Honasan played ukulele and kazoo and sang about a know-it-all. Janine Liao shifted from jazz piano to violin easily. Catcho Ferrero's tune was the one I was humming on the flight back to Manila.

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While a few still had not escaped stylistic influences (sounding like Up Dharma Down's Armi Millare or Jason Mraz, for instance),  most of campers had original melodic and lyrical ideas.

I was sharing a table with Joey Ayala, the master of both green-minded wit and profound wisdom, and I was in tears from all his wisecracks. But as each camper took the stage, we fell silent, pleasantly waylaid by a turn of phrase or an unpredictable chord shift, and everybody's gift for melody and hooks.

A comatose industry

In another time, before radio and television in general succumbed to the commercial appeal of cheap jokes and old hits, I daresay most of the campers' songs would be hits. They are that good.

Filipino music is far from dead but the industry is, as Joey Ayala jokingly but succinctly remarked, comatose.

READ: 'We've lost a giant': legendary PH bassist dies

The songwriters can't be faulted; there was no shortage of creativity from this year's campers... or the previous two Elements Camps. Record labels and mainstream media (yes, they still wield influence whether you, or they, admit it or not) have become complacent.

Tears of joy

Which is the opposite of everything Kyrsty Alde went through the past four days.

As she puts it, "Nakukwento ko man po yung mga activities na ginawa (but) I can never explain the experience itself. Di naman po talaga ako iyakin. Minsan lang talaga magka-tears of joy, and it's really different."

I wasn't a camper or a mentor. Yet as I write this, I am itching to grab my instruments and write music or revisit ideas that I had long dismissed--encouraged by the talent, generosity, and humility shared by everyone younger and older than me.

Tears of joy… hand me that box of tissue now.

Francis "Brew" Reyes wears many hats: guitarist, producer, arranger, music journalist, photographer and TV host. He once played guitar for the Dawn and was a DJ for NU107. In short, he is legendary. Like him on Facebook, follow him on Twitter and check out his Tumblr.

Read more Francis Brew:
Psy, Adele and making it in America
Antidote to 'Gangnam': Kid band kills the competition
How NOT to buy your first guitar


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