Enrique J. Sanz: Remembering My Father Through The Music He Loved

Leonor Javellana and Atty. Paterno Sanz (sitting in the middle) and their children Enrique, Edison, Violeta, Efrain and Augusto (standing at the back from left to right).

By Charina Sanz

DAVAO CITY  — On New Year’s Day, during the early afternoon siesta lull when all is silent after a night of revelry, I found myself prying open the old brown piano stool that was once my father’s. Inside, dust had gathered on yellowed sheets of piano pieces, Papa’s collection which he lovingly kept since he was a young man. I know because he scribbled on one of the sheets the date “November 27, 1960” when he was only 20 years old.

I leafed through the piano sheets which faintly smelled of mothballs and arranged them according to the songs I love. The titles I know by heart since childhood, the lyrics, too, and the melodies. “Lemon Tree”, “Tammy”, “Run Samson Run”, “You’re My Everything”, “Till Then”, “To Love Again” were among his favorites.

One of the earliest memories I have of my father was him playing on the piano and singing,

“Lemon tree very pretty
and the lemon flower is sweet…”


I could still see him swinging his head.

This was how I came to learn music at an early age, watching my father play love songs to my mother, for it was to her, whom he would call on to sit beside him, that he dedicated his songs. My mother would pretend to be busy with housework, embarrassed by my Papa’s open display of affection. But it was his songs played on the piano, my mother would later confess, that endeared him to her and my grandparents who had a beautiful Mercedes piano in their old house at General Luna. There he would woo her and, merrily, played all the way to her heart.

When I was very little, he taught me how to play “Chopsticks” a la four hands. Later, it would be “Blue Moon” and “Boogie”, the two of us playing together in a beautiful rhythm. When much later at age six I learned how to read notes, I would imagine a flurry of notes swirling up into the air whenever I would hear my father play, and see in my mind little eight- and sixteenth-notes pirouetting on a pair of wings.

“Play with more passion,” my father would reproach me, ever the shy kid that I was whose piano-playing was “mechanical” and “technically right” but lacked verve and vigor. “You are like a tree, without emotions, very stiff,” he would say, so unlike him who danced as he played as he sang. As for me, I was so busy minding the rules, particularly when executing little Bach invention pieces, so self-conscious as to when to properly raise my wrist during a rest, when to let my fingers dance in a staccato, when to go andante or allegretto, that I totally forget to savor the music.

Papa, who loved to dance the boogie in front of an audience, pushed me into center stage to play the piano during parties and gatherings in our house and those of our relatives, much to my dismay. Because of “stage fright,” I would often forget the notes that I already memorized and never seemed to finish a piece, a reputation that stuck to me even when I was all grown up. Papa would frown in disapproval, shaking his head, but I knew he would forgive me just the same.

I remember one evening on our ride back home from my uncle’s house in Dumoy when he urged me to come out of my shell and learn to be more confident.

“How are you supposed to become a lawyer if you are always “nahihiya” (shy)?” my father who dreamed of great things for me and my siblings asked in exasperation.

“But I want to be a writer,” I insisted. “There is no money in writing,” he snapped back. But after a momentary pause, he said. “Okay, you can be a writer and be anything you want, just be a lawyer first.”

I sat down on the stool and chose an old tattered copy of “Moon River” to play on the piano. It was a simple arrangement and I realized it was far more beautiful than the elaborate piece I downloaded from the Internet months ago. Somehow, I had forgotten that Papa had kept all these years a lovely rendition of “Moon River,” the song I am most captivated with after falling in love with the Audrey Hepburn and George Peppard starrer “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” which I watched for the first time when I was 15.

There were many other things I had taken for granted, about him, the music we shared, how he always wanted the best for me. Somehow, along the years, when I made choices that he didn’t approve, we stood at loggerheads: ¬ he, facing a daughter who defied the life that he prepared for her; I, facing a father who was getting to be difficult and cranky in age, no longer the jovial young father she used to play “Chopsticks” with. Both of us were becoming strangers, how we hurt each other painfully.

As I look back at those years, a pastiche of images flash through my mind and, from the distance of time and space, why, now I can see so clearly. There I was, a nineteen-year-old campus writer who dreamed to be a journalist, standing at our doorway, coming home late scared, sometimes not coming home for days on end because of long travels I had to take, without word, leaving and returning once again, in a spiral of events that scarred and transformed both of us. I remember his face: it was crushed, as if his dreams, too, were shattered.

In time, though, although not easily at first, the pains and the hurts ebbed, not gone, but slowly, we picked up the pieces and learned to forgive each other. Along the way, I do not know how or when, he learned to embrace the person, the self, I had become; I, too, eventually chose the path he wanted and went on to become both a writer and a lawyer, although it was not exactly the life of ease he imagined it would be. But in the end, both of us knew we got what we wanted.

As always, playing “Moon River,” simple Bach and Chopin pieces, and other musical themes, gives me solace as with other moments in the past when I needed to take refuge from life’s blows. My father is gone now; he died on a late summer’s day last year, so suddenly he left us, I did not have time to say goodbye.

It is now late afternoon; the household is starting to rouse from sleep. In a little while, my seven-year-old son, Xandro, would soon be looking for me. When he would see me by the piano, he would be asking me again to play “Chopsticks” with him. Then I would be gamely obliging, helping his little fingers on the keys, just as my father once held mine.

I have longed for him still and my heart grieves quietly. But I soothe myself in knowing that I connect with him by playing his songs and, in so doing, breathe new life into the yellowed music sheets that I now hold dearly in my hand. This is how I remember him: through the music he so loved.

Truly, when all else is gone, what remains is the ethereal rhythm of the heart that lingers on among those who are left behind.

Engr. Enrique “Ike” Javellana Sanz passed away on May 23, 2005 in Davao City. He was the son of Leonor Javellana and Atty. Paterno Sanz of Guimaras. Leonor was the eldest daughter of Melquiades Javellana and Paz Darroca. Enrique is survived by his wife, Julie and children Charina, Penelope, Henry and Beverly.

Published on October 10, 2010 at 10:04 am  Comments Off on Enrique J. Sanz: Remembering My Father Through The Music He Loved  
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