By Dr. Pol Tiongson
Editor’s Notes: When I first read this piece on Facebook, I immediately asked the author, a dear friend way back in my college days, if I could reprint it here. So here’s to a woman, the late Nenita Ferrer Tiongson, who had to mute her artistic genius of playing the piano to child-rearing and poverty. My heart is gripped by this, when all it took was a $300 old piano as gift by her son, she could begin to express her artistic ability once again after so many years of subordinating her talent to nurture a brood of nine children.
Dr. Tiongson, a private practitioner in dermatology and aesthetics medicine, lives in Newport Beach, California.
My mother was more than a good pianist. I did not know she was that good until I was in my 30s. While growing up I very rarely heard her play the piano because we never had a piano at home. My father, the lone breadwinner of a family of nine children, could not afford to buy one for her.
The piano that her parents gave her burned down to the ground along with their home in Tayug, Pangasinan when Japanese soldiers torched many of the town’s houses in May 1942 during the second World War. She had a heart condition that kept her from playing outside with the other kids, so she instead focused on mastering her piano playing skills. She would play the piano oido (by ear) like it’s second nature to her. She also had a whole collection of music sheets that she kept all her life even during those many years she was without a piano of her own.
It was only in 1994, more than fifty years after the war stripped her of her first and only piano, that she got one she could call her own. She told me that all those intervening “pianoless” decades she would volunteer to play whenever opportunity arose in churches, other people’s houses and later in the 1980s in my older sisters’ homes and senior centers in California. She said people would become suddenly nicer to her after hearing her play especially when she would render their requested songs for them. The VHS tapes of her performing in social events are still missing. I hope to find them so I could make a medley of her playing in time for her death anniversary next year.
In the eulogy I gave 11 years ago this July, I wrote “Nanay loved playing on the piano I gave her ten years ago with mastery befitting a virtuoso and with pride like it was grander than a grand.”
The piano I gave her as a birthday present was secondhand and cost me only $300. Why she chose this piano, I don’t know. Could it be that it looked and sounded like her first piano? That’s a question I forgot to ask.