Sidebar | Francisco Feliciano’s silent soul

Francisco Feliciano’s “Silence My Soul: Eternal Echo” begins with the metallic ring of a ching chap, a Thai percussion instrument. A hushed male voice follows in its wake, followed by another, and another, and another. Over the sibilant chant of “silence my soul,” a single soprano emerges and soars. A chorus of female voices gives chase, singing Rabindranath Tagore’s words: “Silence my soul, these trees are prayers.” A favorite of choirs all over the world, the piece is one of Mr. Feliciano’s lasting contributions to sacred music. “If you’re going to worship, then the music cannot be bad,” his children, JJ Feliciano and Julette Feliciano-Batara, told High Life on behalf of their ailing father.

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Francisco Feliciano.

The children described the older Feliciano as a quiet man and a deep thinker whose compositions were “all in his mind.” Those who lived with him never knew what he was writing since he wasn’t the type to sit in front of a piano to find his notes. Instead, Feliciano composed in the most mundane places, like the bathroom or a bus stop. He “heard” his operas, ballets, masses, and orchestral and choral works in his imagination and delayed putting things to paper until the very last minute. “Pokpok Alimpako,” a Maranao children’s chant that uses interlocking rhythmic patterns and a prestissimo tempo, was written in 1981, the night before the deadline set by the National Music Competitions for Young Artists Foundation, Inc. (NAMCYA). The piece won “Best Composition in Contemporary Music” in Arezzo, Italy, in the same year, when it was performed by the Philippine Madrigal Singers.

Aside from music, Mr. Feliciano loves food and travel. He spent a significant portion of his life studying in Germany and the United States. Although he could have stayed abroad, he decided to return to the Philippines and contribute to nation-building. The decision entailed refusing an offer of a professorship at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut, after he graduated with a Doctorate Degree in Musical Arts in 1984.

He founded the Asian Institute of Liturgical Music in order to advance his mission to “make liturgical music good in every church.” His family is now involved in propagating music education. Mr. Feliciano’s son, JJ, teaches music in Berlin. His daughter, Ms. Batara, is a Manila-based neurologist who is hands-on in local academic projects. The music of Mr. Feliciano, however, is and will always be his own doing. “Only now will his works be truly appreciated,” said Ms. Batara of the conferment of the National Artist for Music honor on her father. Mr. Feliciano’s poor health prevents the family from celebrating as much as warranted. The children fear that their father might not be able to finish the pieces he was commissioned to compose. “He’s sick now,” Ms. Batara said and shared a sentimental moment she had with her father: “He said, ‘But even if I die, it’s already there. I’m already a National Artist.” PEDM