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Welcome to the camp: songwriters descend on Dumaguete

Read Part II here: Elements Songwriting Camp: The business of music making

The energy began on the morning we flew to Dumaguete.

By the end of the day, it exploded near the sea in a melange of rhythms and melodies spontaneously produced by at least 60 young musicians injecting a hint of their personalities in the jam.

The results could have been cacophonic but it was surprisingly focused, the call-and-responses bouncing back and forth like a good tennis match.

The individual personalities will come to the fore in the next three days, but for now, 60 throats and 240 limbs became one voice, one body.

In its fourth year

And the 2013 Elements Singing/Songwriting Camp hadn’t even begun yet.

It’s the fourth year of the camp produced by 7101 Music Nation led by Tao Corporation CEO Julio “Jun” Sy, Radio Republic’s Twinky Lagdameo, and creative director Maestro Ryan Cayabyab.

Armi Millari and Jay Durias were mentors. (Photo by Francis Brew)

 

The idea seems simple enough: look for the best 60 young singer/songwriters and put them together in educational and collaborative situations.

Their lives won’t be the same

Among musicians, Elements was a must-qualify-for yearly event.

Even before any of the formal activities began, Batch 4 was already feeling what all 180 alumni before them have expressed nonstop: they will have fun and their lives won’t be the same.

Mentors, past campers, the select press people, and even veteran photographer Eddie Boy Escudero couldn’t help but, er, sing praises about the camp.

All genres welcome

The jaded may roll their eyes but that’s perhaps because of a few misconceptions.

For one, some of the mentors selected come from the pop milieu: Jim Paredes, Rey Valera, OPM (Organisasyon ng Pilipinong Mangaawit) president Ogie Alcasid and Jay Durias. Surely they’re there to impose their own tastes?

Ogie Alcadis and Jay Contreras mentor campers. (Photo by Francis Brew)

However, as Ryan Cayabyab, himself a Pinoy pop legend, reiterates annually: all genres are valid and welcome. Past campers bear this out.

Mentors from UpDharmaDown, Itchyworms, Kamikazee

This year, the new mentors included UpDharmaDown’s Armi Millare, the Itchyworms’ Jazz Nicolas, and Kamikazee’s Jay Contreras.

Wait… Jay Contreras? The tattooed wild man? What can he possibly teach?

Contreras himself wondered until he began to reveal his approach to lyric writing.

A good song is a good song

“Melody is king,” Alcasid emphasized and every song from every genre that impacts music history has memorable melodies.

With instruments deliberately kept basic—a guitar and a keyboard per team (plus personal, hand-carried ukuleles)—campers were made to realize that a good song is a good song, even if devoid of “proper” arrangements.

Sitti was a camper. (Photo by Francis Brew)

In the camp, it was hardly unusual to find, say, a dreadlocked reggae dude bonding with someone who looked like a tax auditor.

Because, as songwriters, they were kindred spirits.

Egos left at the airport

While a degree of ego is, arguably, necessary for any performer and writer, campers unwittingly left theirs at the Dumaguete airport.

Sure, there will always be a slight undertow of competitiveness, but even if the songwriters came from very different genres and perspectives, the camp equalizes them as they discover that they all share the same goal even if their processes and chosen forms differ.

The question everybody asked each other is: here’s my song, what do you think?

Surplus of talent

 

Jungee Marcelo and Jazz Nicolas (Photo by Francis Brew)

Apparently, this year saw a surplus of talent: over 100 songwriters selected from more than 300 who wanted to sign on  got perfect points from the judges’ panel comprising Ebe Dancel, Urbandub’s Gabby Alipe, and songwriter/host Jungee Marcelo (he has written hits for Gary Valenciano, Zia Quizon, and Daniel Padilla).

Unfortunately, only 60 could be accommodated. The logistics were difficult enough.

The quality of craftsmanship was apparent with the consistency of either or both songwriting and singing skills.

Campers from every background

The campers came from different social, professional, and geographic backgrounds and with everything in the camp paid for, all the currency they needed to bring was raw talent.

Nuna Esguerra, for example, performed a rather suggestive ditty about making moves on a guy and manages but manages to avoid crassness (and got more than a handful of males nodding giddily in approval).

 

Camper Fiona Comendador (Photo by Francis Brew)

Eighteen-year-old Fiona Comendador played two-handed percussive guitar dedicated, she says, to “love for God.” She said she’s been in love with music since she was 8 but had barely performed outside her own room.

Sitti was a camper

Then there’s bossa nova princess Sitti who rapped convincingly enough to gain mentor Gloc-9’s approval.

Philpop finalist Lara Maigue showed operatic vocal skills before performing her song “Sa ‘Yo na lang Ako,” which was interpreted by Karylle in said competition. Her vulnerable take did pull out pathos not apparent in the recorded version.

Reese Lansangan, already eccentric with her wide-eyed mien and hair that seemed to shift from green to silver, used imaginative metaphors from astronomy in her melodic song.

Jittery

 

Campers Caren Mangaran and Philpop finalist Lara Maigue (Photo by Francis Brew)

 Davey Langit performed “The Selfie Song” and another deceptively joyful tune that he says is about “quarter life issues.” People with mid-life crisis were left in tears. (Okay, fine… guilty, yer honor).

Rizza Cabrera accompanied herself on ukelele and dedicated her song to a female crush in the camp (these things happen); sadly, she says, her love was unrequited.

Everybody was tuneful and consistent with their songwriting although a few had jittery performance issues.

Vocal doppelgangers

Yes, some still bore their influences at least in their vocal performances: Canadian indie Feist seems to be this year’s model.

In the previous years, it was armies of Millare and curiously with Armi herself as mentor this year, they seem to have disappeared.

Truthfully, it does take years to find your own voice (literally) anyway.

The Top 12

The mentors did choose the top 12: Davey Langit, Emmanuelle Camcam, Renever Bandiola, Reese Lansangan, Joemar Rudillas, Kisselle Cariño, Allen Dave Articulo, Ruthie Mendoza, John Ray Reodique, Rizza Cabrera, Lara Maigue, and Thyro Alfaro.

Ebe Dancel and Jay Contreras share a joke. (Photo by Francis Brew)

 All the basic educational tools (at least what could be fit within an hour) were divided into 25 modules.

Jim Paredes gave an overview of contemporary Philippine history. Maestro Cayabyab presented music theory basics; frankly the occasional blank stares from a number of the campers revealed that their songs were crafted largely from intuition.

Making music theory fun

A few, just like last year, expressed trepidation regarding music theory but the Maestro made it look fun and easy and illustrated that a simple musical idea actually has myriad possibilities that can be explored with theoretical concepts.

Jimmy Antiporda gave lessons on writing commercial jingles and, along with Jay Durias, how to make musical arrangements.

Ebe Dancel added that, on “Makita Kang Muli” written by Antiporda and performed by Sugarfree, he felt the need to alter a line without asking permission first. Antiporda called him out on it at the time, and Dancel admitted it was a lesson in both creative and professional courtesy.

Read Part II here: Elements Songwriting Camp: The business of music making

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