From Paoay to Cleveland with love and music

The Inbox

By Pablo A. Tariman, VERA Files

The Ilocos roots of Joyce Vasquez-Kasparian in her native Paoay town played a big part in her present role as wife to American pianist Raffi Kasparian and mother to another budding pianist, Roman Kasparian, 13, who are performing in Laoag City on July 14.

They are now based in  Washington, USA where her husband is also accompanist to the US Army Band and the Fairfax Choral Society, among others.

The presence of Pamulinawen in the July 14 program is a musical reminder of  Kasparian's musical childhood in Paoay.

She said her mother, Antonia T. Vasquez, was a music and folk dance teacher at the Paoay Central Elementary School.

Her mother taught her how to sing at a very early age. She remembers her mother bringing her to radio station DZVR in Laoag City when she was about four years old. She used to sing such early 60s favorite as  "Tuwing Lulubog Ang Araw Aking Mahal" and "When It's Springtime in the Rockies."

"I won consolation prizes, more for my bravery rather than for my voice. Nevertheless, my mother enrolled me to study solfeggio at age five with our local bandmaster  Honorio Baysa, and then piano soon after with the sole piano teacher in Paoay, our neighbor Mrs. Juling Sorolla," Kasparian recalls.

As she remembers her early Paoay days, it was clear that music pervaded all her life through her mother whose school bulletin board at school was always catching attention with the quote, "Music is the language of the soul."

Singing and playing the piano has been a great source of comfort to her mother ever since she lost her father a few years ago. "At age 86, my mother can still play pieces that she learned during World War II. During that time, her cousin evacuated away from Paoay and left her piano for my mom's use. My mom took piano lessons from her beloved teacher Don Pepe Evangelista and paid a monthly fee of two pesos. She was proud to have bought her first piano with her first salary as a teacher in the 1950s"

As to her own musical journey, Kasparian said  she quit the piano lessons in Paoay when she attended the Philippine Science High School in Quezon City.

Many years after, love beckoned in Cleveland when she was a graduate student pursuing her master's degree in Operations Research (Applied Math) at Case Western Reserve University (CWRU) in Cleveland, Ohio. Her future husband, Raffia, was a post-doctoral student at the Cleveland Institute of Music (CIM).

In 1988, they were both residents at Steiner House, an international student housing on the adjoining campuses of CWRU & CIM. But it wasn't until 1989 after she showed interest and asked his help in identifying which sounds came from which instruments of the Cleveland Orchestra.

"Raffi invited me to usher every Friday with him for the world-famous Cleveland Orchestra at their home at Severance Hall in Cleveland, Ohio every Friday evening in the spring semester of 1989 in exchange for free admission to the weekly concerts."

That regular meeting as ushers to the the Cleveland Orchestra concerts soon transformed their "platonic dates" into something deeper than friendship. A regular exposure to orchestral concerts ended in a wedding date.

Many years after, she was having live music right in her living room with a pianist-husband and a -13-year old son.

How is it like having two active musicians in the family?

She points out that having musicians at home allows her to see and hear  first-hand the entire creative  process "In addition to hearing them practice and perform lovely and great piano music, I get to sit in and take notes at Roman's piano lessons, and hear Raffi's commentaries as he collaborates as he  coaches other musicians.  I have a unique view and great appreciation for the hard work and the tiny decisions that go into transforming notes on paper into harmonious melodies, polishing them until they are ready for performance. I've come to learn that piano performance is not just hitting the right notes with the correct tempo and rhythm. You learn about proper phrasing, dynamics, articulation and balance including proper finger, wrist, arm and foot movements to create the right sound.  Piano performance is a lot of mental as well as physical work, and it takes talent as well as solid effort to make great music. A lot of times, I get to be a guinea pig audience and Raffi appreciates my presence and feedback as he tries to simulate various performance conditions in preparing for a recital."

When Kasparian arrives in Ilocos Norte for the July 14 concert of her husband Raffi and son, Roman at the Northern Christian College Auditorium in  Laoag City, she will surely come to terms with her musical past in Paoay including a recollection of love, marriage and music that had musical roots in Paoay and ended in love and marriage in Cleveland.

(The July 14  concert of pianists Raffi and  Roman Kasparian is presented by  Silaw Philippine Inc. under Joycelyn  Vasquez Kasparian in association with various NGOs coordinated by Mrs. Angelita V. Barbers and the Paoay Parish Council represented by Dr. Julito Catubay. For tickets, call  09175688125 or  email :

(VERA Files is put out by veteran journalists taking a deeper look at current issues. Vera is Latin for "true.")