The violin as instrument of solace

Did you know that at age five, John Lesaca was enrolled at the UP Conservatory of Music and that was when he began playing the violin?

Asked how he got interested in music so early, John told Funfare in an exclusive e-mail interview, “As kids, our neighbors in UP campus and my older siblings had so much fun singing and playing guitar and other instruments. I wanted so much to join them but they would always send me home to take siesta as I was too young.

“But I thought it was because I wasn’t playing any instrument and not contributing to the music. So I decided to bring a ukulele and I was still sent home. I tried guitar even if it was too big for me. I was still sent home. So I decided to play an instrument similar in size to a ukulele but which they could not play.”

Interesting! John then revealed how he got his first violin.

“I pestered my father to get me a violin. My father was a teacher in UP and I didn’t know that he couldn’t afford to buy one (we were eight children). But he saved enough. In one of his scholarships in Japan, he bought me a violin with a self-study book complete with pictures. He studied how to read notes and play violin basics guided by the photos. After a year, I learned all that I could from him. Then, he decided to enroll me in UP.”

John added that his first formal violin teacher was Prof. Rizalina Buenaventura.

“I guess I was so musical so she made me concert master of the UP children’s orchestra. I never stopped studying music since then. In college, I took up violin lessons under Prof. Sergio Esmilla and further viola lessons under Prof. Rizal Reyes.”

He was mentioned in an article for BetterBanking Stories series published by Security Bank (that identified John as SB client since 2000).

Already good at the guitar, John said he would join a rock band in his spare time, playing classical music by day and classical stuff by night “So,” he was quoted in the SB story laughing, “you can say that I had a schizophrenic career.”

Fast-forward to how he became known as The Father of Electronic Violin. He got bored playing for years with the CCP Philharmonic and the Philippine Philharmonic, “just reading the same notes over and over again…where’s the challenge in that?”

That was when he hit upon a brilliant idea.

“Back then, all I had was my classical violin. So I tried playing the violin with a band (along with keyboards, drums, bass and guitar) and amplifying it. I made a small pick-up that I put inside the violin and I plugged it into a small amplifier. It sounded good!”

And that was it. The electronic violin was invented.

By the way, I’ve been asking showbiz stars what their favorite (considered “sexiest”) musical instrument is and the answers range from guitar to piano to organ to saxophone to flute and, yes, the violin. I also chose violin because of its fine sound, so fine that it soothes your very core the way the fine acupuncture needles do. I mentioned it to John in our interview.

The violin sound is so soothing. How does it help ease the mind during this pandemic when most everybody is suffering from anxiety and stress?

“Since college, I have been doing research on and off about music therapy and the effects of music in people’s lives. It has been established that sound frequencies generated by classical music (whether solos, duets, ensembles or larger groups like orchestras), enhance, relax and calm people.”

What kind of music suits (is good) for what kind of people?

“With psychiatric patients, never playback rock or heavy metal music to people who are manic-depressive, schizophrenic, bi-polar, and the like because that will promote mental disturbance even more.

“On the other hand, people who freeze up on dental chairs awaiting the sound of dental drills and anticipating pain tend to relax upon hearing calm flute or violin music and the sounds of nature — birds chirping, waves splashing on the shore, waterfalls, rain, etc.

“So it is always better to listen to slow instrumental pieces on the violin, flute, harp, cello, even trumpet to cope with stress and anxiety. Imagine the calming sound of the violin playing No Other Love which is Chopin’s Etude in E, together with the quiet elegant sound of the piano.”

How have you been during this pandemic, productive WFH (Working From Home)?

“I’m okay, helping my wife with her work in public service. In my spare time, I have been cleaning the house, rooms, storage areas, fixing my home office, reviving my recording studio, re-learning the nuances of recording and production. I intend to release my original works either through instrumental approaches or even vocally.”

Have you done online/virtual shows and how different are they from actual/personal shows?

“I’m not brave enough to go out and do actual live concerts, but I have done pre-recorded videos on me playing violin with my backing tracks. I pray that our industry gets a shot in the arm this year (pardon the pun).

“Nothing beats the adrenaline rush 15 seconds before going on stage to play live, I miss the feeling of terror, anxiety that something might go wrong (strings breaking, power outages, accidents on stage, even audio feedback). All these disappear after the first song, when I hear the audience become more receptive to my performance.”

How challenging is it performing virtually?

“I also see the bigger challenge of performing virtually — the latency issues of playback where the sound is not in sync with the actual body movements, or the sound doesn’t come out all together during live simulcast collaborations. Our Internet situation leaves much to be desired. There ought to be a law regulating the ‘UP TO XXX Mbps’ which is the providers’ protection from legal action.

“They must be required by law to guarantee a minimum speed which is in proportion to the subscribed plan. Like, paying P4,500 for a 300 Mbps speed and one actually getting only 24 Mbps speed, with a policy of cutting the service after one month’s non-payment, where there should be no payment at all because the signal is either not there, or too slow. They should be required to provide at least 80 percent of the subscription plan. Otherwise they are robbing the public.”

(E-mail reactions at [email protected]. For more updates, photos and videos, visit or follow me on Instagram @therealrickylo.)

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