ON AWARD-WINNING YOUNG PIANIST APRIL MERCED-MISA
“For me, having the opportunity to teach students the knowledge that was imparted to me by my former mentors is one of the purposes of the gift of music. The other one would be sharing the music of composers, reliving their purpose through performances.”
A young pianist swiftly making a significant mark in Philippine music, April Merced-Misa hails from Cotabato but is now based in Metro Manila. She was a recipient of full scholarships at the Philippine High School for the Arts (PHSA) and the University of the Philippines College of Music. She was trained by the best local mentors including Avelina Manalo, Nita Abrogar Quinto, Agot Espino, Rudolf Golez, and Reynaldo Reyes.
April has won several tilts, notably the National Music Competition for Young Artists (NAMCYA) and two concerto competitions, paving the way for her orchestral debut in the Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto in B-flat minor. She has performed in Malaysia, Singapore, and in the Philippines. In January 2016, she was featured as a soloist with the Philippine Philharmonic Orchestra, playing Beethoven's Piano Concerto in C Major under the baton of Maestro Tetsuji Honna at the Cultural Center of the Philippines Main Theater .
Currently taking her PhD in Music Performance at the Philippine Women’s University, where she also finished her Master in Music, she took her Bachelor of Music degree at the University of the Philippines. While studying, she is also serving as a piano faculty member at the University of the Philippines College of Music.
In this interview I had the privilege to ask April a few questions about her musical journey as a pianist and teacher.
Rommel Gojo (RG): Who are your musical influences from the past and present?
April Misa (AM): My past mentors of course, Avelina Manalo, Nita Abrogar-Quinto and Reynaldo Reyes. I have also always liked listening to recordings of Evgeny Kissin and Yuja Wang, admiring their ingenuity and brilliance.
RG: Is there a particular composition/ musical passage that constantly moves you emotionally? Which one?
AM: Beethoven’s Symphony 7! Hahaha.
RG: How and when did your formal music education begin? How many hours do you spend for practice daily/weekly?
AM: I started formal lessons when I was four years old in my hometown, Cotabato City. When I was nine, I joined my first competition (NAMCYA) and won 3rd place. Since then, my parents would take me to Manila during summer breaks to have lessons with Nita Quinto and Mauricia Borromeo at the UP College of Music. During that time, I did not have a sense of awareness when it came to music and piano. Only when I was accepted as a scholar at the Philippine High School for the Arts (PHSA) did I realize that playing the piano was all I wanted to do in my life, that was what I knew best and the one thing I could not let go of. My teacher in PHSA, Prof. Avelina Manalo would give me an hour’s worth of technical exercises which I would do before I practice my pieces.
Right now, I try to practice 4 hours spread out through the day, if time permits. But if not, I am happy with 2 hours of practice. I think it was Reynaldo Reyes who told me that if a person needed to practice for more than 4 hours a day, it meant that he did not practice effectively and was just counting the hours he spent sitting on the piano chair instead of the progress he made.
RG: How did/does your family or closest friends support you in your chosen profession?
AM: My family has always been very supportive. They would constantly pay for my piano lessons in Cotabato, and send me to Manila during summer to study with the best teachers they could find. They also signed me up to compete in local and national competitions. They also sent me to PHSA in Mt. Makiling when I was just twelve years old to live and study there. I hardly saw them since and it was very hard for me, but they never denied me of any opportunity they knew of, and did not make me feel like being a musician was not the right path in life.
As for my friends, they would be “stage friends”, from editing my write-up to choosing my clothes, to doing my hair and makeup, even running errands, making sure that I can focus during performance day.
RG: What do you consider as your memorable gig/performance?
AM: I had 2 funny and scary memorable performances and they were almost exactly a year apart- January 23, 2015 and January 22, 2016.
Last January 23, 2015, I played the piano part for Stravinsky’s Petrushka with the Philippine Philharmonic Orchestra (PPO) under the baton of Maestro Olivier Ochanine at the Meralco Theater. I had 3 layers of coats to keep myself warm, but during the concert it became so warm. My body temperature spiked and my clothes just kept the warmth in. I really thought I was gonna pass out.
And of course, the most memorable performance I had so far was when I played Beethoven’s first Piano Concerto with PPO under the baton of Maestro Tetsuji Honna in January 2016.
For the January 23, 2016 concert, I was invited by Maestro Ochanine to play Beethoven’s first Piano Concerto with PPO under the baton of Maestro Tetsuji Honna. I had less than 2 months to learn the concerto from scratch, which I accepted despite my muscle injury (myofascial pain syndrome). On the day of the concert, my injury was acting up. I started to get really paranoid that I would not be able play, but the outcome was much, much better than I expected. I will never forget the struggle behind the concert hall and the success of our performance- one of the best experiences of my life as a pianist so far.
RG: How do you handle mistakes during a performance/competition?
AM: “Musicians should handle mistakes in performances with grace and poise.” by Ashley Miller, Demand Media http://work.chron.com/good-interview-questions-musicians-25021.html
Accept your mistakes as they come during performances and move on. Don’t get me wrong- during rehearsals, you must be very critical to habits and mistakes. The more prepared you are for a concert, the more confident you can be when dealing with unwanted circumstances. In the end, it is always about the music and not about the performer.
RG: How would you describe your perfect day?
AM: It would be when I get to eat delicious healthy meals, practice for 4 hours, and see my students improve.
RG: Who were you, or would you be nervous to perform with?
AM: Whenever I perform or even rehearse with anyone, whether with a student or an accomplished musician, I get a little nervous. I am more concerned about the outcome of the music making rather than whom I am playing with.
RG: What are the advantages and disadvantages of having a husband who is also a musician??
AM: We practically share our whole world because of that, so I cannot see how it can be a disadvantage. We have different temperaments, but we really get along because of that. We both sincerely understand the importance of practice, performance preparation, performance stress, and financially impractical goals (haha). He basically supports me in everything, like he is my number one fan. He would egg me on when I’m about to give up playing something and would encourage me to challenge myself by joining competitions or accepting performances that seem almost impossible to do during that time. He would often help me how to see the music in another way and offer constructive and sometimes brutally honest (I actually prefer these than sugarcoating) criticism. The only disadvantage I can see is that both of us cannot do kitchen or hard labor because of our hands, not to mention his right hand finger nails.
RG: Is there something you would like to do more of in the future?
AM: More performances and outreach opportunities. I would like to perform and travel at the same time. I also like teaching – especially when I help students overcome challenges and make practicing more efficient and productive for them.
RG: How would you describe your musical journey?
AM: I am happy with what I have done so far and doing right now. I never thought as a little kid in the province, that I would live in Manila and become a pianist or a teacher. I did not expect to be given opportunities that much; I was just doing what I was doing, which also turned out to be something I passionately loved. I am not saying that my life was a breeze; I had my share of ups and downs and all of them contribute to the person that I am now. I have no regrets so far.
RG: What for you is the ultimate purpose of your gift of music?
AM: For me, having the opportunity to teach students the knowledge that was imparted to me by my former mentors is one of the purposes of the gift of music. The other one would be sharing the music of composers, reliving their purpose through performances.
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