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Finding Unity through Music
  • Art
Kate Celestino

From ancient chants to pop, music has always been present in our human existence. Whether you are jamming out to your favorite tune, making a cool rhythm on your desk, or playing that one difficult piece on the piano that takes forever to master, music is everywhere. I will also note that it holds a superpower: the ability to bring a sense of unity into a person’s life. It is in our human nature to desire connection with one another, and I was able to find that sense of connection and unity through the gift of music. Just for a moment, I will take you along with me to see glimpses of my life where music has brought me unity with others.

Hindi Kita Malilimutan holds so much significance to me and my Filipino culture. The title translates to “I Will Not Forget You.” Despite having little knowledge of the unknown composer, this song is popular in Filipino church settings, more often in funeral settings. Coming from a musical family that loves to perform whether at social gatherings or in church choir, I have probably sung this song millions of times. But I never realized how much this song meant to me until my grandfather passed away in November of 2021. At his funeral, my family and I sang Hindi Kita Malilimutan, which flooded my mind with so many memories of him. When I was four years old, he would make instant ramen for me after my piano lessons with my grandmother. I remembered the last mass I attended with my grandfather before he migrated back to Manila, knowing that it would be the last time I would see him in such a long time. When I traveled to the Philippines in 2017, I heard him sing Love Is A Many-Splendored Thing at his 89th birthday party. I looked at everyone who came to his funeral and I wondered, “How did this person know my grandfather?” Everyone has a different story with him. A couple of lines from the song translates to “I will never forget you. I will never leave you. It is written forever.” Although he is no longer with us in our lives, we will never forget him. The memories of him still remain with us. Everyone at my grandfather's funeral had one commonality, and that was the life they shared with him - even if it was just for a short moment. 

Another musical work to acknowledge is Chopin’s Ballade No. 1 in G Minor. This ten-minute work was one of the more difficult pieces I performed for my senior recital at the University of Saint Thomas. It was also the piece in which I felt the most connected to the composer - but it didn't start that way. True, I learned all of the notes and memorized the piece; I knew which chord and scale passage to play next. But something was missing. The Ballade did not feel complete because I had no emotional connection to it. My piano instructor had suggested that I imagine myself in Chopin’s shoes, think about what he went through, and create a story for the piece. I imagined a story of Chopin in Paris sitting outside in the cold sharing his previous life in Poland with strangers. I imagined him being unable to come home from Paris due to the 1830 uprising in Warsaw, when Poland fell under Russian rule. I imagine how saddened Chopin must have felt to be separated from his family. I channeled all of the emotions and pain he must have felt into the Ballade - into each musical passage, each measure, each chord, each note. Even though Chopin came way before my time and is a prominent figure in piano repertoire, he is still a relatable human being. There is commonality in the emotions evoked by individual experiences.

During my sophomore year in college, I had the privilege of seeing Eric Genuis in concert. Genuis is a composer known for performing in prisons, rehabilitation centers, and inner-city schools. In between his performances, he spoke about beauty and hope and how they can be found in the arts, specifically in music. After listening to his composition, Butterfly, I felt as if something ignited in me. I sat mesmerized in my seat as I watched Eric and his ensemble perform this piece. It was as if I had received a sign that I am on the right track in my life, that my future must have something to do with music. I knew that this was something that I wanted to bring to the world. I wanted, and still want, people to experience beauty and hope through the gift of music, especially in times of distress. 

This brings us to present-day Kate Celestino. I recently started volunteering at a rehabilitation center. All I do is play music on the piano for patients for one hour on a bi-weekly basis. Mostly all of the patients are immobile, and have not had the opportunity to watch someone perform live music in a long time. On my first day of volunteering, I did not know what to expect. I had already been playing for about thirty minutes and I could not tell if the patients enjoyed my playing. I started to wonder, “Should I have picked a better selection of music? Maybe I need to interact more with the audience.” These thoughts were invading my mind. Near the end of my performance, I played Yesterday by The Beatles. Nobody has sung along to any of the songs prior to Yesterday - but then one man started to sing, loud and proud and with an amazing voice. I saw that he was crying. After the song was finished, he thanked me for playing the piano. He spoke about how much he loves to sing, despite not having any background in music. And then started to tear up! I thought about my encounter with Eric Genuis back in 2019 and remembered why I enjoy doing what I am doing. Music has the ability to bring connection to everyone, even total strangers.

These specific moments are all reminders of music's ability to create unity. Through music, I become closer to the people who came before me, to the people in my life, and to the people I am meeting now. Music can do this for everyone: it is just a matter of allowing it to happen. The next time you jam out to your Spotify playlist or play your instrument or sing a song, I encourage you to intently reflect on how this individual song makes you feel connected to whoever comes to mind.

If you would like some suggestions on where to start, feel free to borrow one these:

● Hindi Kita Malilimutan, Basil Valdez 

● Ballade No. 1 in G Minor, Frederic Chopin 

● Butterfly, Eric Genuis 

● Yesterday, The Beatles 

● How Deep Is Your Love, Bee Gees 

● Dancing Queen, ABBA 

● Can’t Take My Eyes Off You, Frankie Valli 

● You’ve Got A Friend In Me, Randy Newman 

● Overjoyed, Stevie Wonder 

● Salut d’amour, Op. 12,  Edward Elgar 

● Awitin Mo At Isasayaw Ko, VST & Company 

● Symphony No. 2: III. Adagio, Sergei Rachmaninoff