By Amer R. Amor, VERA Files
When world-renowned violinist Joshua Bell played at the Washington DC Metro Station in 2007 as part of The Washington Post's social experiment on how people perceive and appreciate art and beauty, very few noticed and applauded. But when a 63-year-old man played the piano at the LRT 2 Cubao Station on Jan. 12, Filipino commuters stopped, paid attention, took videos, applauded, and at some point, swayed and sang along with his music.
Perhaps as a testament to British award-winning author Neil Gaiman's tweet on Friday that it is indeed more fun in the Philippines since Filipinos applaud loudly, at least 300 commuters alternately took delight in the impromptu "concert" of pianist performer Vidalito Infante in a music retail stall at the Cubao Station from 4 to 6 p.m.
"I just can't stop myself from playing good music, and besides, the crowd here wouldn't let me stop as well,' Infante said smilingly, waving to the people who were still gathered around him even after he had finished his show with his rendition of the Italian pop song Quando, Quando, Quando, bossa nova style.
On his way to take the LRT ride in Cubao, Infante said he could not resist the sight of the Wilhelm upright piano that was on display for sale, and started to play some of his favorite songs that included the classic hit Fly Me to the Moon and the popular OPM song Anak. Infante, or Mang Bong, as he prefers to be called, plays the piano at the Rockwell Mall in Makati every Sunday from 2 to 5 p.m.
What started out as a simple exercise for Infante that afternoon stretched into a two-hour performance as commuters and bystanders gathered around him and applauded to every song he played on the piano.
Infante indulged and gamely played, among others The Prayer, Looking through the Eyes of Love, and Dito sa Pitong Gatang. In fact, he had to play his "last song" for five times as the crowd wouldn't just let him put an end to the unexpected aural treat.
"I just got out of the station and I noticed there was a crowd and I can hear the music. I couldn't tell where it was coming from, so I stopped until I realized it was an old man who was playing the piano. He's just amazing," said 19-year-old Nikki Espino, a student from Centro Escolar University.
"His energy is incomparable. When you look at how his fingers touch the bars of the piano, you know it's passion. He's gifted. Ang galing!" said Julius Mohara, an import-export broker who stopped to enjoy Infante's performance. He said he has witnessed how Infante wowed the crowd in Megamall when he also came up with an on-the-spot performance there two weeks ago.
Infante was clearly in his element. His showmanship, sense of humor and rapport with the audience were evident as he engaged them in his performance. At one point while playing The Blue Danube Waltz, he got up from his seat and egged the crowd to dance, even demonstrating a step or two on how to properly dance the waltz.
By the time he played his last song for the day, the mood around him was already celebratory that a young man couldn't help but sing a line from the song Quando, Quando, Quando, while the stall attendant got one of her maracas and played along. The scene was reminiscent of old Filipino films where crowd breaks out into a song-and-dance number.
After the performance, the crowd applauded enthusiastically. Infante shook the hands of some of his audience and "shooed" them away.
Infante, who is turning 64 this August, thanks his mother for encouraging him to take piano lessons when he was six years old.
"My mom loved to dance, so there was always music inside the house. I was exposed to that. I would really dance with my mother. But before I learned how to play the piano, I studied how to read the notes first. That really helped me developed my talent," he said.
Born to a dressmaker mother and a lawyer father in Sampaloc, Manila, Infante took piano lessons religiously as a child and also performed on the side, playing in school performances and church services. He did so even after graduating from high school in Arellano University. He started to perform professionally in 1970 and has not stopped since.
To this day, even when some people would tell him to retire already, he just could not. "Playing the piano has already become my life. It's in my blood already and I am really passionate about it. I get to share my music with different people and I am happy that they appreciate me," Infante said.
He sounded excited as he volunteered that at his age, his next gig is for Ambassador Manolo Lopez and his mostly diplomat guests, kidding that he gets to change his everyday uniform of black pants, polo shirt, beige cap, and sandals to that of a tuxedo and a black pointy shoe.
When his audience dispersed, a young lady, who has been listening to him perform from 4 p.m., told him she dreams of singing in a lounge and asked if he could accompany on a song. Infante gladly obliged and played Fly Me to the Moon once again and The Girl from Ipanema as the lady sang along.
Before the lady left, he offered a piece of advice he said he swears by to this day: "Do not be shy, especially when you have a gift worth sharing. I love music. I love playing the piano. This is what I am going to do until the day I die. So I try to share my passion whenever I can."
Someone asked what he loves to play the most among the many songs he has performed. He went back to the piano and started to hit the notes of La Vie En Rose, and the crowd was smitten once again.
(VERA Files is put out by veteran journalists taking a deeper look at current issues. Vera is Latin for "true.")