Thursday, December 22, 2016

Images of Nature in Mural

 Little did I realize that the order of Nature is not merely determined by natural laws applied as ecological tenets, but as a divine law which determines its arrangement, the subordination of the means to the end, and  the assimilation of the parts to the whole.
Dr Abe V Rotor

Wall mural (8 ft x 16 ft) St Paul University Quezon City by the author, 2000

      Nature represents the idea of the entire universe in a state of perfection.  Nature is one: it unites heaven and earth, connecting human beings with the stars and bringing them all together into a single family.  Nature is beautiful; it is ordered.  A divine law determines its arrangement, namely the subordination of the means to the end, and the parts to the whole.

      After putting down my brush, I took a view of the mural from a distance.  The scene – unspoiled nature – one spared from the hands of man and typified by the tropical rainforest, flowed out from a wall that was previously white and empty.

      In the course of painting the mural, which took all of seven days and in the days following its unveiling, I took notice of the reactions of viewers. It must be the stillness of the scene, freshness of its atmosphere, and its apparent eccentricity that attract passersby as if in search of something therapeutic. It seems to slow down busy feet, soothing tired nerves. There is something I thought was mysterious beyond the levels of aesthetics. For the huge scene is a drama of life completely different from city living.  It is respite.  It is transformation from concrete to greenery, from cityscape to landscape.

      Yet, I found it difficult to give it a title and an explanation that captures both its essence and message. This time many ideas crowded my mind. At the start of my painting labors, the challenge was how and where to start painting. Now that it is completed, what else is there to say after one has “said” it all in colors and lines, hues and shadows, perspective and design? What more is there to declare for after the last page of a book?  For a painting, it is the same.

      Relaxation did not come easy for me after many hours of concentrating on my subject, dealing with a fast-drying medium of acrylic.  What made it more challenging was the unending attempt to capture those fleeting impressions and recollections that pervaded my mind as I painted. I then took a pen and slowly wrote my thoughts. From the mural, I saw the scenery of my childhood on the farm, views of my travels here and abroad, imagery from my readings, and views drawn out like a thread from the mass of a golf ball. It was imagery and memory working jointly.

                                     Tropical Rainforest Model

     I chose the tropical rainforest scenery since it is the richest of all ecosystems in the world.  The Philippines, being one of the countries endowed with this natural wealth is a treasure, indeed. For this reason, I believe that, the tropical rainforest closely resembles the description of the biblical paradise. It is not only a living bank of biological diversity; it is the most important sanctuary of living matters on earth.

      To paint such a big wall is no easy task. It is not unusual to face a blank wall, literally speaking, and not knowing what to do first even with all the colors and tools on hand – and a predetermined topic in mind.  Shall I start at the center and move outward, or from both sides slowly progressing inward?  Or do I divide the wall into parts, working on them one by one, then unifying them at the end?  


…and Heaven and Nature Sing

      Christmas was already in the air and the Siberian winds were bringing in the chills. Carol music was now being played in malls, schools and homes. I was engrossed in my work when some students, watching me paint, sang a familiar song. On this particular occasion, something about the song chimed inside me, directing me towards the central theme of my mural.
“…and heaven and nature sing,
and heaven and nature sing,
and heaven, and heaven and nature sing.”
                                                                 - Joy to the World

     What does this mean? Is it the idea of nature representing the entire universe in a state of perfection?  Or is it nature as one?  Does it unite heaven and earth?  Does it connect human beings and the galaxies as one family?

      Little did I know of my ecology.  As a subject I teach in college and in the graduate school I depend much on formulas and equations, principles and case studies. My knowledge about the environment is structured and formal. I use module maps or course syllabi based on accepted teaching techniques and references.  My approach was comparative analysis. I was a judge of the beautiful and ugly, the do’s and don’ts.  At times I am a Utopian; at others, conformist.

      Little did I realize that the order of Nature is not merely determined by natural laws applied as ecological tenets, but as a divine law which determines its arrangement, the subordination of the means to the end, and  the assimilation of the parts to the whole. Many of us are ignorant of this law, or if we know it, seem to forget or disregard it as we relentlessly work to exploit the earth.

      In our apparent failure to preserve nature, perhaps it is time to look at ecology with the essence of this popular Christmas song – a song that makes everyday of the year, Christmas. Ecology is “heaven and nature singing together.” Only then can we truly understand the term, balance of nature – a kind of dynamic equilibrium that leads to homeostasis where there is stability among interdependent groups that characterize natural processes, and the period in which they take place.  The ultimate conclusion is always a balanced system.  We have to look beyond books to understand biological diversity, and its application in nature, to find the common phrase: In diversity there is unity. The general rule is that the wider the diversity is in terms of number of living species, and in terms of the number of natural species and their habitats, the more closely knit the biosphere becomes, resulting in a richer, more stable environment. Undoubtedly, all this is part of a grand design inspired divinely.

                                        A Hole in the Sky

      Looking at the mural from a distance one notices a darkened part of the sky, apparently a hole (though this is not the ozone layer pierced by CFC pollution). It gives one a feeling that it is a tunnel to infinity as if to link both earth and heaven.  Through this hole, one envisions a Higher Principle. From the foreground, which is the placid stream of a downward meandering river, its tributaries and banks lined with trees and thickets, the eye soon reaches the forested hills and mountains shrouded by clouds.

      But it does not end there. Here the cloud is a curtain laden with the radiance of the sun, and the life-giving provenance of rain, useless each without the other for life on earth to exist. This is the crossroad.  The cloud opens with a backdrop of infinity.  The universe, whose limit is unknown, bursts open a foreground that reveals a whole drama of life on earth.  After that, the eye repeats the journey.  In the process, the viewer becomes sensitive to the details of the painting. He searches for things familiar, or situations that later become a new experience.

Creatures in the Forest

      Creatures in general are not as visible as they appear in books and on the screen.  They blend with their surroundings mainly for predatory anticipation and protective camouflage.  But there are other reasons too, that are not well understood.  Take the case of the butterflies. Their beauty is extravagant for their basic function as pollinators.  Fish jump for mere pleasure, dragonflies have wings that split light into prisms. Birds stay in the sky longer for the sheer joy of flying, and not just to cruise in search of a prey. 

     Among the animals suggested to me while painting the mural are flying lemur, Philippine monkey, heron, monitor lizard, boa constrictor and hornbill. I painted these - and many more, the way I imagined them in their natural habitat. I put a touch of Noah’s Ark, painting them in pairs.  For the rodents, ducks and doves I made them in amiable groupings that exude a familial atmosphere.

      Whenever I see viewers seriously searching for these creatures with walking fingers, I am tempted to add to the collection of creatures, making them even more difficult to find. But that might change the ambiance to fun and puzzle solving, rather than of meditation and recollection.

                                          People in the Mural

      The trees and the massiveness of the scenery dwarf the characters in the mural. They appear mindless of events and time. They care not for the chores of the day. Those who are engrossed fishing with a simple hook-and-line do not show excitement even as they land their catch.  Others patiently wait for a bite.  There is a sense of tranquility and peace to all characters, whether they are promenading or just passing the time away. Their faces show only the slightest hint of anger or sadness.

      I noticed viewers trying to identify themselves with the characters of the mural.  Some construction workers envision themselves fishing. High school students are drawn by the promenades. But there are those who simply imagine themselves part of the scene.  “This place is familiar to me,” one would say, apparently recalling provincial life. “We have flying lemurs in Davao,” says another. 

      Where does the water flow, and what does the mural mean to us? Water is everywhere.  It is free to flow.  Tributaries abound as if there were no limit. Trees are everywhere and far into the backdrop is a vast virgin forest. There is no sign of man’s destructive hand. At the foreground is a placid pond where Nymphaea and lotus grow.  It is in contrast to the lively pulse of the river. This is a corner where life is peaceful and serene. It is here that we draw strength in facing the river and beyond.

What really is the message of the mural?

      Quite often, images of nature enrapture us.  These are reminiscences of childhood, a re-creation of a favorite spot we may have visited or seen, or products of the imagination greatly influenced by the society we live in.

      These images reflect a deep-seated biological longing to be part of nature.  Putting it in the biblical sense, it is a natural searching for the lost paradise.  They are a refuge from city living, a respite, and an escape from the daily grind.

      But these images do not only tell us of what we are missing.  Rather, it reminds us what we are going to miss, perhaps forever, if we do not heed nature’s signal towards a fast declining ecosystem.  If we do not change our way of life from too much dependence on consumerism, to one more closely linked to conservation of nature, we may end up building memories and future archives of a lost world.

      The warning is clear.  The painting challenges everyone to do his part to save Mother Earth so that her beauty is not only kept in the form of images, but a scenery of real life enjoyed by us and future generations.

                                       x                x                x      

Therapeutic Effects of Violin and Nature

Violin and Nature is an experimental approach to music
Dr Abe V Rotor
Music must be elevated from the level of entertainment and expression of skills to one that brings the listener to a state of catharsis, relieving him of the stresses and tensions of daily living. Music therapy is now recognized as part of alternative medicine. There are musical compositions that bring about the so-called Mozart Effect, named after Amadeus Mozart whose compositions are acclaimed by scientists to be the most therapeutic of all musical compositions, even among his contemporaries in the classical and romantic schools.

Author plays the violin
This article is the result of a research conducted by the author with his class at the UST Graduate School as respondents to the hypothesis that the combination of Violin and Nature sounds has therapeutic effects to the listener. And if so, how? What aspects of our body physiology, mind, psyche, and spirit are affected? In what ways, and how do we measure such effects?
Cover of tape, later copied into CD. Shorter versions are available: Violin and Birds, Violin and Waves
Can auditory art be developed by converting word to music, and re-create the sound of nature to accompany it? The idea is to find a compatible blend of science - the prosaic and formal, with humanities - the entertaining, cultural, and the sounds of nature, definitely a rare   experience that takes place in the inner vision of the mind. Violin and Nature is a CD recording or 32 extemporaneous popular and semi-classical compositions played on the violin by the author with accompaniment of birds, insects, wind, waterfall and running stream.

People say, “ Relaks lang” or “just do it” as part of daily conversation. Either it is taken as advice or compliment, the message is clear: life today is growing tenser. “ Take it easy” has a reassuring note that everybody must learn to live in a stressful world.

Both the poor and rich are subject to different forms of stress, so with the city and village dweller. Ironically, stress does not spare growing affluence. In fact, it persists invariably throughout life, virtually from womb to tomb.

The idea of dealing with tension or stress is how one is able to reduce it effectively so as to enjoy life and get rid of its complications from headaches to various psychosomatic symptoms- and eventual health problems, if it is not checked on time.

One proposal is the use of therapeutic effects of music and nature, thus the rationale of this experiment that employs the combined soothing sound of the violin, and the harmony of nature.

Music is well known to reduce tension. Pipe-in music increases work efficiency in corporate offices, takes out boredom in otherwise monotonous assignments, and fosters proper attitude and disposition, when correctly applied. In fact, scientists have established the biological basis of music by being able to increase the production efficiency in poultry and livestock with the use of background music. The key is the reduction of stress in the animal. The same result has yet to be established in plants.

A stressful life builds tension in the body. Headache, wakefulness, palpitation, indigestion, trembling and many other symptoms, which wear away the life force, accompany tension. Tired nerves need rest and quiet, as nature needs time to recuperate her exhausted energies.

What is tension? It is the effort that is manifested in the shortening of muscle fibers. Physiologists compare muscle tension with “neuromuscular relaxation” to differentiate popular interpretation of relaxation as amusement, recreation, or hobbies. To be relaxed is the direct physiology opposite of being excited or disturbed.

Neurosis and psychoneurosis are at the same time physiological disturbance, for they are forms of tension disorders. Therefore, the key to treatment lies in relaxation.

Who are victims of tension? Everybody is a candidate. These are models of tensed individuals: the “burnt out” housewife, the tagasalo in the family, the gifted child, the dominant lola, the authoritative patriarch. These persons themselves are not only victims of tension; they spread tension among people around them.

Multitudes long for a better life, but they lack courage and resolution to break away from the power of habit. On the other hand, many escape from the harsh realities of life by taking alcohol and drugs.

The whole idea of relaxation is in disciplining the body to budget life’s energies, and to immerse oneself to relaxing moods. Music and nature are a great inexhaustible source. Plato and Confucius looked at music as a department of ethics. They saw the correspondence between character of man and music. Great music, they believed, is in harmony with the universe, restoring order to the physical world. Aristotle on the other hand, the greatest naturalist of the ancient world supported the platonic view, which through the Renaissance to the present dominate the concept of great composition. Great music has always been associated with God’s creation.

Nature on the other hand, produces calming effects to the nerve. Sightseeing, picnic and camping are a good break to prosaic city life. Different from ordinary amusements in the park or theater, the countryside is one arena of peace and quiet. Features on TV and print media provide but an alternative scenario. Today “canned” Nature is being introduced in many forms such as traveling planetarium, CD-ROM Nature Series, Ecology Village, and the like, to illustrate the growing concern of people to experience the positive effects of Nature in an urban setting characterized by a stressful modern life.

This experiment is based on the premise that the combined effects of music and Nature help reduce tension in daily living, particularly among working students in the city.

Conceptual Framework
A- Tension tends to dominate the body to relax, resulting in tension build-up in the muscles;
B- Music (violin solos) and Nature’s sounds( birds, running stream etc.) make a composition which provides a rare listening experience in varying intensity; and
C- The experience enhances relaxation, reduces tension and its physiologic effects in the individual.
The Violin and Nature recorded in compact disc (CD) was then presented for evaluation to students in Research Methodology at the UST Graduate School on two aspects, namely, the content of the tape and the perception of the respondents. Physiologic response was determined by measuring the pulse rate before and after listening to eight sample compositions from the tape for thirty minutes.

These are as follows:

1. Serenade by Toselli (semi- classical)
2. Meditation, from the Thais by Massenet (classical)
3. Lara’s Theme (sound track of the movie, Dr. Zhivago)
4. Beyond the Sunset (ballad)
5. Paper Roses (popular)
6. A Certain Smile (popular)
7. Fascination (popular dance music)
8. Home on the Range (country song)

Respondents Profile

This is the profile of the 42 respondents, which made up one class in research methodology. They are predominantly female students (81%), employed (86%), with ages from 21 to 29 years old (76%).

Content Analysis
The respondents counted eight tunes or pieces, of which 5 are familiar to them. They identified three non-living sounds (running stream, wind, and waterfall, aside from the violin), and two living sounds (mainly birds).

Physiologic Response
The average pulse rates before and after listening to the tape are 79.47 and 73.29 per minute, respectively, or a difference of 6.18. Statistically, the difference is significant, thus confirming the relaxing effects to the respondents after listening to the CD.

The ten criteria used in rating the perception of the respondents are ranked as follows, adopting the Likert Scale. Note: A scale of 1 to 5 was used, where 1 is very poor, 2 poor, 3 fair, 4 good, and 5 very good.

Criteria Rating Rank
1. One has the feeling of being
transported to a Nature/Wildlife scene. 4.48 1

2. Listening to the tape creates an aura
of peace and serenity. 4.39 2

3. The composition is soothing to hear,
Has calming effect on the nerves. 4.24 3

4. The composition creates a meditative
mood. 3.95 4

5. It brings reminiscence to the
listener of a past experience. 3.64 5

6. It helps one in trying to
forget his problems. 3.59 6

7. One has the felling of being
transported heavenward, to Cloud 9. 3.55 7

8. There is tendency to sleep while
listening to the composition. 3.52 8

9. It brings about a nostalgic feeling. 3.19 9

10. The composition makes one
sad and melancholic. 2.55 10
Analysis and Interpretation
The means the first three criteria fall between good and very good, while the others, except the 10th, are between fair and good. This finding supports the positive relaxing effects of Violin and Nature.

Conclusion and Recommendation
Listening to Violin and Nature slows down pulse rate significantly, thus reducing tension, and brings the listener closer to a state of relaxation. The effects are measured as based on ten criteria. Topping the scores which are classified Very Good are:

1. One has the feeling of being transported to a Nature /Wildlife Scene;
2. Listening to the tape creates an aura of peace and serenity; and
3. The composition is soothing to hear, and has calming effect on the nerves.

Author's children play in a "home concert."

There are six other parameters that support the hypothesis that the CD is relaxing. This is different from its effect of bringing nostalgia, sadness and melancholy that received the lowest scores and rankings.

However, there is need to improve the quality of the compositions, and their recording. It is also recommended that similar evaluation be conducted on other age groups and people of different walks of life who are similarly subject to stressful life and environment. ~


Dr Abe V Rotor 
Professor UST Graduate School 

"Christmas time is the wonderful time of the year when our hearts are specially filled with love and gratitude" and it is in this spirit that the University of Santo Tomas holds its annual Christmas Concert. The Christmas Concert is the University’s gift to its benefactors, friends and to the Thomasian community. 

The concert features world-class Thomasian talents such as the UST Singers (Grand Prize Winner in the 4th Florence International Choir Festival 2015 in Florence, Italy), Coro Tomasino, Liturgikon and the UST Symphony Orchestra with Prof. Herminigildo Ranera as conductor among others. Guest musician for the 2016 Christmas Concert is composer and conductor, Mr. Ryan Cayabyab. Venue for the concert is the UST Chapel. Internet (Watch out for replay on TV)
UST Christmas Concert gala Dec. 1 2016
Lighting of the UST Christmas 
The UST Symphony Orchestra

Scenes from the 2013 UST Concert for Yolanda typhoon victims
Guest performers include Dulce (photo) one of the country’s formidable belters and international competition winner who will do a rendition of J. Peterson’s “Night of Miracles” (A Christmas Cantata) and a duet with her son, David Cruz of A. Adam’s “O Holy Night.”

Two-time Choir of the World Champion; UST Singers (photo) under the baton of Prof. Fidel Calalang, Jr. and the first Children’s Choir of the World Champion, Hail Mary the Queen Children’s Choir (photo) conducted by Theresa V. Roldan will interpret popular choral pieces and Christmas classics.

Completing the roster of performers are students and alumni from the Conservatory of Music to be joined by the UST Symphony Orchestra, Liturgikon Vocal Ensemble and Coro Tomasino. (Photo below)
The traditional community singing will feature all-time favorites “Silent Night,” “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” and “Joy to the World.”
Maiden performance was held at six in the evening on December 5, 2013 at the UST Chapel.

From Press release, UST
Since its inception, the Christmas Concert has always been held at the UST Chapel, recreating the European tradition of holding grand concerts in magnificent churches and cathedrals. This is also UST’s way of giving thanks to its numerous friends and benefactors for the past years.

All star cast and traditional community singing  of all time favorites 
“Silent Night,”  “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” and “Joy to the World.”
Photos of presentation taken by Dr Abe V Rotor, December 5, 2013.