NONSTOP applause, cheers, and cues for encore met the concert of the blind tenor and pianist Carlos Alberto “Chuckie” Ibay at the UST Medicine Auditorium last Feb. 17. This internationally acclaimed Filipino-American, who was the principal soloist in the World Trade Center memorial mass in New York, left the audience moved and teary-eyed with his unbelievable feat and inspiring story.
A child prodigy, Ibay was introduced by the event’s moderator, Dr. Cristina Castro-Cabral, as a living miracle. Chuckie’s mother had carried him to term despite her physicians’ advice to have an abortion due to her risky pregnancy and indications that Chuckie would be retarded or handicapped. Born premature, he became blind due to over-exposure to oxygen in an incubator.
To the surprise of his parents, Chuckie turned out to be a gifted child. At age two, he climbed the family organ and picked out a perfect rendition of “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star.” At seven, he auditioned to play the piano at the Fairfax Public Library Concert Series in Virginia, and inspired a piano teacher, Doris Trott, to come out of retirement and help Chuckie develop his talent through the Braille.
Without having attended any school for the blind, Chuckie was way behind his classmates and contemporaries. He won first place at the Peabody Conservatory Spring Festival at 12, and second place in the Steinway Piano Scholarship Competition of the Mid-Atlantic and the Merlin-Engle Piano Competition at the Levine School of Music.
Besides his flair for piano, Chuckie is also a “bel canto” (Italian for operatic “beautiful singing”) tenor singer, and has an ear for different languages. Today at 24, he speaks fluent French, German, Italian, Spanish, Russian, Japanese, English, and Filipino, and performs international concerts for charitable causes, including the war refugees in Bosnia.
In his concert in UST titled “His Music, His Life,” sponsored by Human Life International-Asia, Chuckie played and sang different kinds of musical pieces, from classical to folk and pop. Among these were Mussorgsky’s “Pictures at an Exhibition,” Brodsky and Kahn’s “Because You’re Mine,” Gardels’ “El Dia Que Mi Quieras,” Di Curtis’ “Come Back to Sorrento,” Di Capua’s “O Sole Mio,” De Jesus’ “Bayan Ko,” and ballads by Chopin, his favorite composer.
As mementos, a record disc of the UST Singers and a sketch of selected landmarks of the University were given to Chuckie by Dr. Raul Sunico, dean of the Conservatory of Music, and Dr. Belen Tangco, dean of the Faculty of Arts and Letters.
In a press conference with the Varsitarian, Chuckie and his parents encouraged the Catholic education in the University, and shared not only his music but his inspiration in life.
“My relationship with God is very strong and I’m devoted to the saints especially St. Cecilia, the patron saint of music. In learning the different languages, I pray to the saints who are natives of that country, which language I want to learn,” he said.
To this, Chuckie’s mother agreed, “We are not a wealthy family, and musical training especially for the blind requires a lot of money, but things just come our way,” she said. “I think the most important thing in life is to trust God even at times when things seem to go wrong. Everything happens for the good of those who love Him and we are witnesses to that in many ways.” Nicolo F. Bernardo