TOP THESE: At age 18, he was already a member of two of the country’s premier orchestras; at 19, a musical director of a strings group; and at 22, assistant principal to Andrea Bocelli’s Asian concert tour. But before all these, Thomasian violinist Merjohn Lagaya started playing music with his sister’s hand-me-down violin.

But Lagaya had originally wanted to be an engineer. Even though the musical talent runs in the family, Lagaya was not certain if music would suffice as a profession.

“My great grandfather was also a violinist,” Lagaya told the Varsitarian. “Maybe, it was meant to be a gift and a mission from God that I have to play the violin and not other instruments or do other professions.”

After graduating from Arellano High School, he joined the summer music camp of the UST Conservatory of Music in 1996. He pursued a Bachelor’s degree in Music, major in Violin at UST, and later received a scholarship after being accepted to the UST Symphony Orchestra.

During his second year in the Conservatory, he was already performing for the Philippine Philharmonic Orchestra (PPO) under the baton of Prof. Proceso Yusi. He then transferred to the Manila Philharmonic Orchestra where he was supervised by the orchestra’s founder Rodel Colmenar. Former Music Dean Erlinda Fule and UST Symphony Band director Herminigildo Ranera also supervised Lagaya.

“I consider my best mentors as my greatest influences,” Lagaya said. “I owe much of my virtuosity to them.”

In 2000, he formed the Emanon Strings and Sounds, now known as the Legato Strings and Sounds. Today, Lagaya leads the 40-man Legato, composed mostly of his colleagues from the PPO and UST Conservatory.

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“Legato is a musical term that means harmony and synchronization, the ideals of the group,” Lagaya said.

In the last two years, Lagaya has shared the stage with the rest of the musical wizards of the world. In 2004, he served as the assistant principal for Andrea Bocelli’s 2004 Asian concert leg in Manila, Singapore, and Hongkong. In October of the same year, he was part of the country’s contingent to the Asean-Rock Festival in Seoul, South Korea and concert master for the Asean Symphony Orchestra Concert.

Lullabies for nanay

In his first starring concert, Dahil May Isang Ikaw, last August at the Cultural Center of the Philippines, Lagaya and his friends thanked his mother Myrna by serenading her with a vibrant repertoire of classical, pop, Broadway, and Tagalog original compositions. Directed by Thomasian pianist Glenn Lemen, the intimate musical event featured the vocally gifted siblings, UST alumna and soprano Sharon Vicente-Hernandez and baritone Dave Vicente. Thomasian drummer Gian Manuel Vergel provided the percussions while UP alumnus and National Music Competition for Young Artist winner Christopher Oracion played the flute.

“I dedicated this concert to the people who moved and inspired me, and No. 1 on that list is my mother,” Lagaya said.

The medley of Broadway songs was the main dish of the concert’s musical feast. The Vicente siblings’ versions of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “All I Ask of You” and “Music of the Night,” both from the Phantom of the Opera, and “Summertime” by Dubose Howard and George Gershwin wowed the audience. The soprano and the baritone received endless applause after a showcase of exceptional vocal styling made grander by the ensemble of instrumental accompaniments from Lemen, Oracion, Vergel, and Lagaya.

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Well-received instrumental renditions of OPM songs such as Ernani Cuenco’s “Kalesa” and “Nahan,” Ogie Alcasid’s “Kailangan Kita,” and Louie Ocampo’s “Ikaw” made the night more splendid. The musicians made the songs connect to the audience through variations of tempo and modulations of pitch.

Sharing the power of music

Lagaya also performs for cause-oriented events.

In August 2005, Lagaya performed for the Peoples Assembly for Genuine Alternatives to Social Apathy, a national group of concerned citizens rallying for truth in the 2004 elections. According to the website Truthforce.com, “Lagaya demonstrated the power of music to reach the deepest authenticity of the human being, no matter what economic class or social status one has in life.”

He and his colleagues have performed to raise funds for worthy causes. This October, he and Legato will perform in a concert in order to raise money for the reconstruction of the United Church of Christ in the Philippines in Bulacan.

“It’s great to help people through a craft that you love doing and it’s also a way for me of paying love forward, which makes being a musician more fulfilling,” Lagaya said. Andrew Isiah P. Bonifacio

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