“Piano” | Photo via Flickr/Creative Commons by QYR
There are a handful of things. They could be as exhilarating as the simple pleasure of finding a piece of music that speaks to your soul. Chances are, you’ve probably experienced what I’m talking about here. That spark of zest when you stumble across a song that brings life to your bones or that feeling of wonder when you listen to a composition whose melody reminds you of a memory.
Like many people, I believe in the magic of music. And as I spoke with renowned Filipina pianist and music educator Arlene Ferrolino, I felt blessed by her life story and authentic love for art.
Arlene has enjoyed the spotlight on countless stages. She has graced prestigious concert halls and performed with numerous internationally renowned vocalists, instrumentalists, and choral groups. However, her greatest passion in life remains to be the subtle art of teaching and cultivating a love for music among young people.
“Anything that has to do with music and children, that will grab my attention. Bringing the joy of music to children and giving them the gift of learning music has always been my passion. Giving them opportunities for creativity and avenues to share their talents is a priority and is what brings me the most happiness and fulfillment,” she said.
When asked about what inspires her, she says, “Two things come to mind.” “First, seeing the accomplishments and achievements of people who have come before me. I truly believe that we stand on the shoulders of those that came before us, and that sparks me to action. Second, I’m constantly inspired by the exuberance, enthusiasm, and endless creativity of young people. That is what motivates me daily in teaching my students and in working with FASO.”
The Filipino American Symphony Orchestra or FASO is the premiere Philippine orchestra in the United States and where Arlene currently serves as the president of the Board of Directors.
“There is nothing like Filipino ingenuity, industriousness, and creativity. It is evident in so much that we do. Add to that our inherent ability to smile at practically everything and see the good in every situation, to work hard to achieve success in whatever endeavor we undertake.”— Arlene Ferrolino
“Although I’ve always felt connected to my Filipino roots and culture through my family, my church, and friends, it was not until I became involved with FASO. I truly became so much aware of the Filipino experience and how Filipinos related to the world around us. Certainly, bringing Filipino music, particularly symphonic music, to the community and the world has opened new horizons in my own life. It has strengthened my awareness of my own Filipino identity.”
As a Filipina artist, Arlene was particularly proud of the Philippines’ “uniquely diverse and colorful culture” and “the beauty of our music and art as derived from a rich heritage.” “These give me great pride,” she further adds. She is also overflowed with a sense of pride for her people. “There is nothing like Filipino ingenuity, industriousness, and creativity. It is evident in so much that we do. Add to that our inherent ability to smile at practically everything and see the good in every situation, to work hard to achieve success in whatever endeavor we undertake.”
Arlene was born in the Philippines, raised in the US, and returned home for high school and college. After obtaining her bachelor’s degree at the Advent University of the Philippines (AUP), she returned to the United States, where she worked as a legal secretary while starting post-graduate work in collaborative piano at the Colburn School of Music University of Southern California. Meanwhile, she started a private piano teaching business which quickly took off in no time.
“Music has always been a part of my life, and my earliest recollections are of my school teaching mother singing lullabies and hymns. My father, a US Navy man, had a small collection of LPs by Perry Como, Englebert Humperdinck, and Burl Ives. Following the lyrics printed on the albums, I learned to read at a very young age. Formal piano lessons began when I was 8, and music has surrounded me ever since.”
In 2012, Arlene became the president of the Board of Directors for the Filipino American Symphony Orchestra (FASO), the first and only Filipino symphony outside the Philippines. Under the baton of Maestro Robert Shroder, FASO performed its maiden concert in 2008 and will soon begin its 14th concert season. Like many highly driven and successful people, Arlene still feels like there’s not enough time for all she wants and hopes to do.
But one thing keeps her going despite life’s challenges and disappointments. “There is a verse in the Bible found in Proverbs 3:5 that has been my guiding star. ‘Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all of your ways acknowledge Him and He will direct your paths.’ Every step of the way, every door that has been opened and, yes, even the obstacles that may have obscured the road, they have all been part of the Lord’s plan. I acknowledge divine guidance and leading throughout my life.”
“If my life story were ever to be written, I’d like for it to say that I was able to share the joy of music with the world.”— Arlene Ferrolino
Her faith and work have kept her encouraged even during a pandemic as FASO works hard for their patrons and constantly growing audience. “We continue to bring music to the local community through its Youth String Ensemble and music workshops. FASO has been performing not only in Southern California but now to the global audience by way of virtual concerts. Everyone can watch these musical events both virtual and live as FASO plans to return to the Walt Disney Concert Hall and works to expand its music classes and workshops for young musicians.”
Arlene’s story is not just about mere success; it is one of passion and meaning. “If my life story were ever to be written, I’d like for it to say that I was able to share the joy of music with the world. Whether at a private piano lesson, in the classroom, or on the concert stage, I’m hoping that I’ve been instrumental in bringing music to people, giving them a vehicle to express their feelings and a way to channel their emotions. That, I think, is the greatest gift that I can give.”
Toward the end of our conversation, she shares one last message to the rest of the world – for both Filipinos and non-Filipinos: Take every opportunity to learn about the amazing Filipino culture and explore how we fit in the community in which we live and work. And, yes, even in the global community. Take the time to find your own identity and your purpose in the world. We are all here for a reason. Let’s use what we know yet still continue to grow and learn so that we can be an instrument in making the world a better place in our own different ways, in our own field of expertise.”
Arlene Ferrolino is the president of the Board of Directors at Filipino American Symphony Orchestra (FASO), which seeks to share Philippine culture with the world through music and is the only Filipino symphony orchestra outside the Philippines. She is also a member of the National Guild of Piano Teachers, the American Guild of Organists, and the Music Teachers’ Association of California, and has led workshops for the New School of American Music. In 1993, she joined the Glendale Branch of the Music Teachers’ Association of California (MTAC) Board of Directors. She served three terms as the president and sat on the State Board of the MTAC as Media and Publications Awards chair for two terms. Arlene is also an experienced adjudicator, clinician, and lecturer, on top of being a professional pianist, organist, accompanist, and music educator. She is the founder of the Piano Studio of Arlene Ferrolino in California.
Mary Lou Cunanan is a regular Lifestyle columnist of the Philippine Daily Mirror. She is a writer, world traveler, and a Filipina who is very proud of her identity, whose life mission is always searching for covering stories of amazing Filipinos, events, organizations, and businesses globally to celebrate and champion what makes Filipinos amazing wherever they may be.