When I was a kid, I wanted to play the violin. My mom, however, enrolled me in piano classes, which I didn’t fully appericiate at that time. My teacher was my mom’s teacher, and she was pretty good but like a typical kid, I didn’t have the patience to sit and learn the technical side of music. I wanted to sit on the piano and be able to play the piece that I wanted without hesitation.
Little did I know that it would’ve done me more good to have learned those things. I did go on to study that in school, but it wasn’t as intensive had I took it seriously.
A few years ago, my mom enrolled my two youngest siblings in Casa San Miguel to study violin. How ironic is that? The instrument I wanted was the one my siblings will learn to play.
Established in 1921, Casa San Miguel is the family retreat house of Ramon L. Corpus, in San Antonio, Zambales. In 1993, Corpus’ grandson, Alfonso “Coke” Bolipata established an art center after returning home from the Julliard School of Music in New York.
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It was an experiment of sorts to put up a structure to provide a community where locals can learn to enhance their talent for classical music and appreciate it as well. Most of the kids who are studying music and art there are children of the local residents, whose livelihood depend mainly on fishing and farming. In the city, these folks will have to pay thousands of pesos for their kids to learn how to play the violin. Here, thanks to the benefactors and the board of trustees, they will only have to shell out a fraction of the cost.
A few years ago, I went with my siblings during one of their lessons. I fell in love with the place. This big, rambling brick house stood in the middle of a mango orchard didn’t look like a typical Filipino ancestral home, but it was beautiful. I later learned that this was a newer structure as the actual Corpus family home burned down years before.
Casa San Miguel in 2005
That one visit was not enough. I’ve gone back to see it with my friends, and to attend the yearly performance of the Pundaquit Virtuosi for the Holy Week. But still, I keep wanting to come back.
The land is sprawling. Several structures have cropped up since then my last visit, and the main house itself has changed on the inside. To one side is the home of Mrs. Bolipata, and on the other end is the blue and orange home of artist Plet Bolipata-Borlongan. While visitors are welcome to visit the Casa, those two places are, I believe, off limits. There are several other structures: a building dedicated to visual art, and a smaller structure that didn’t seem to have changed the last time I was there.
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On our trip back from Candelaria, I asked my mom if we could pass by. She immediately contacted Ms. Lucy Pabunan, one of her co-parents and the caretaker of Casa San Miguel. When we arrived Sunday afternoon, lessons were just wrapping up. Ms. Lucy gave us a quick tour and I’ve seen how the place has changed.
The entrance from the front of the house is gone, so to get inside you have to pass by the side doors (currently there are two). The theater has undergone some changes as well. The acoustics are better, but you can no longer see the orchard through the glass behind the stage. The seating has decreased too, and the mango chandelier is no longer there. Still, it looks more like a professional theater.
We went around to watch and listen to the kids having their lessons. It’s not a formal class. Senior students teach other kids, and when I say senior, I mean someone who has more experience playing. Teachers can be younger than the students, as with the case of my sister when she first started out.
Some of the graduates of the Casa make up the Pundaquit Virtuosi. They make up the very best of the students, and perform in concerts alongside other artists. I had the privilege of watching them perform with the Loboc Children’s Choir a few years ago at a benefit concert called “Light in a Million Mornings”. On stage, they’re very professional but backstage, you’ll see them running around, having fun and being just kids.
Casa San Miguel may be familiar to those who had seen Robin Padilla’s movie “Kulimlim”. One of the school’s students, Julian “Ambo” Duque, is now well known for his role in the indie film “Boses” (which also stars Casa founder Coke Bolipata).
As we left the place, I couldn’t help but wish that I had the talent to be able to stay and help other kids learn about art and music. Nothing seems to be as soothing as sitting under the cool shade of the mango trees and learning how to play music.