Arts Corner

Cynthia Alexander in Finland: Narrative Inquiry in Music Education Conference – A Quest for Funds

For months now, I have been racking my brains to figure out a way to bring our highly esteemed, beloved, and respected artist, singer-songwriter, Cynthia Alexander to the Narrative Soundings Conference in Finland: Narrative Inquiry in Music Education to be held in Sibelius Academy in Helsinki, Finland, from the 29th August to the 1st September 2012.

With Extraordinary Singer-songwriter Cynthia Alexander – her guitar skills are unparalleled – her music is poetry in motion

As the conference is only a month away, I am on panic mode. Our papers have been accepted for a symposium presentation – a huge feat as we are given an entire 90 minutes, as compared to the usual 30-minute paper presentations. This is the second part of our ongoing project Semantics and Soul in Filipino Music which we started off with Mr. Noel Cabangon (see here and here for my posts about the International Music Conference in Brisbane, Australia). The project that we have initiated with Noel is unfunded but has been generously supported by so many people, local artists, and institutions such as National Commission on Culture and the Arts and the Filipino Society for Composers, Authors and Publishers.

My advocacy as a gifted and talented educator is to document Filipino talents and artistry and share it in an academic platform. I am privileged, heartened, and deeply grateful to have had a chance to collaborate and work with such astounding artists that continually inspire me and millions of Filipino people, be they in the Philippines or in diaspora such as myself.

Photo taken from the Conference Website. Click on the image to be taken to the websource.

For this conference in Finland, we need to raise funds to pay for Cynthia’s airfare, accommodations, and conference registration fees. Professor Tuting Hernandez and myself, as per usual, would be dipping from our own extremely-limited personal funds in order to see this project come into fruition. We have very, very little to spare, yet I have blind faith and hope that the universe would open up cracks of infinite possibilities for us. The little that we do have, we try to give to a cause that we believe in – one that provides meaning to the academic work that we do, and provides us with a keen sense of pride for our homeland, the Philippines and its multitude of talents.

If any of you, dear friends, have any recommendations – be it people or institutions who may be able to provide us with assistance on such short notice, I’d be appreciative of any help that you can provide.

Here are our abstracts for our presentation:

1. Alternative Pathways to Musical Discoveries and Awakenings

By: Ast/P. Rhoda Myra Garces-Bacsal, Ph.D. (Moderator)

Research on music education has experienced a paradigm shift with a gradual move away from positivist, quantitatively-oriented research studies to a greater exploration of the social context which contributes to musical success (Moore, Burland, & Davidson, 2003). North and Hargreaves (2008) also noted that this shift in paradigm places “greater emphasis on purposes, implications, and naturalistic methodologies” (p. 11). This particular research is also unique in the sense that it can be likened to what is called the ‘moral epistemology of knowing subjects’ (Gunzenhauser, 2006, p. 621) through the active involvement of the artist-collaborator, Cynthia Alexander, in addition to a thorough immersion to Cynthia’s music over the years. This relational knowing of research participants is perceived to be instrumental in developing a closer and deeper engagement of the researcher and the artist within the research context (Gunzenhauser, 2006).

Photo taken by my husband during Cynthia Alexander’s presentation at Pigeonhole Cafe here in Singapore, for the NIE-UNESCO CARE Forum Series, November 2011.

This research is a continuation of a much-larger study devoted to documenting alternative pathways to attaining musical expertise among eminent Filipino musicians. Despite the wealth of literature that looks into the origins of musical talent to eventual expertise – very little attention has been given to musicians who are coming from culturally-different backgrounds (May, 2005) and are not trained in the classical tradition (Kamin, Richards, & Collins, 2007). Bloom’s (1985) landmark retrospective study on people who are considered experts in various disciplines reveal the stages in talent development which begins with an exposure of the talented child to the domain in the context of play (first stage), moving towards a more involved instruction in the knowledge, skills and values of the domain (second stage) and a greater commitment to reaching the top level in the field and application of the technical mastery to demonstrate their own distinctive style or voice (third stage). However, this may be more reflective of the realities of talented individuals coming from developed countries. For people who may not have the resources for adequate training and mentorship – would the same conditions apply? Would Bloom’s pathways to talent development be an accurate representation of the developmental trajectories of artists who are coming from culturally-different backgrounds?

Photo taken by my husband during Cynthia’s presentation here at The Arts House in Singapore, November 2011.

Conversations with artist-collaborator Cynthia Alexander reveal that she is largely self-taught and did not experience any formal musical training. Cynthia has also spoken deeply about her motivations behind her artistic works – and how it is a symbolic (albeit deliberately-obscure) representation of her life experiences and how music transforms her being and brings her to a safe space of lyrical phrases, textured words, and haunting melodies that are in-between musical spaces – neither here nor there. This has likewise triggered her nuanced musical understanding and awakening. McClary (2007) refers to this as music “that acts as psyche’s voice, creating images of health and of rebirth in musical form” (p. 155). Warja (1994), on the other hand, termed it as authentic music: “it is an expression of the Self, and the experience is one of being moved. The music that touches the core of the person is an expression of the true Self – that essence which is innate and unique in each person” (Warja, 1994, p. 78). This session would also highlight developmental pathway to music that is congruent to one’s Self as well as the implications of the research findings to educators, academics, and practitioners.

2. Comfort in Your Strangeness:  The semantics behind the music of Cynthia Alexander

Speaker: Prof. Jesus Federico Hernandez, PhD Cand.

Words and meanings are products of struggles, histories and experiences.  The way we perceive and interpret our surroundings and our various socio-political relations, and how we make sense of the broad range of sensory, intellectual and emotive stimuli and processes that we are challenged by in our daily negotiations with our environments/worlds, and our constant (re)definition of our identities are all encoded in and mediated by the language that we use.  These words are intricately interwoven in a network of meaning, of connotations and denotations, all arranged in an immense web of concepts and domains.

Cynthia Alexander’s informal, intimate gig at Chocolate Bar, Tanglin Community Center Singapore alongside Retribution Movement Singapore and other Filipino musicians based here in Singapore, November 2011.

Cynthia Alexander’s body of work is not just a collection of an assortment of pieces but a cohesive self-representational oeuvre that explores themes of identity and discovery.  Radiating from these interlacing thematic strands are nodes and tributaries that delve into the journey to and from the self, the ecstasy and anguish associated with love, the  beauty of death and the agony of rebirth, the uncertainties of relations, and the navigation of spiritual complexities towards reflection, epiphany, self-discovery, and liberation.

The numerous symbolic devices employed by Alexander from her armoury of words and metaphors in her musico-poetic expressions and the layers of textures she applies with varying emotional intensity and density in the thematic strands identified and in her constant internal controversy and struggle were unpacked and examined from a lexico-semantic lens revealing that her personal experiences and the personal incidents she communicates in her works correlates with the general human concerns of self-conceptualisation and the unending quest for personal freedom. 

3. Mini-concert and Conversation with Singer-Songwriter and Visual Artist Cynthia Alexander

In this 50 minute concert, highly respected Filipina singer-songwriter Cynthia Alexander will be sharing her experiences and reflections on her creative process. She will also talk about her personal journeys as well as the inspiration and influences behind her music during the performance of her acclaimed songs. Known as an original songwriter of uncompromising artistic integrity, Cynthia Alexander has performed on many international stages including the Rainforest World Music Festival in Malaysia, the Jack Daniels World Music Tour in Singapore and the Southeast Asian Night Market Festival in New Zealand.

Cynthia Alexander also played gongs and bass on world tours (India, U.S., Japan, Canada). Cynthia’s solo debut album Insomnia & Other Lullabyes was released in 1997 to much critical acclaim. She was awarded for Best New Artist and Best Alternative Music Album at the Katha Music Awards in 1998. Her album Rippingyarns (2000) won Album of the Year, Best Alternative Music Album, Producer of the Year and other awards in 2001. She was also named Best Guitarist and Best Producer at the NU 107 Rock Awards for her third album, Comet’s Tail (2005). In 2009 she released a live album, Walk Down the Road, to commemorate a decade of songwriting. Cynthia is also the ad hoc curator of the Conspiracy Walls alternative arts space in Manila. Her visual artwork is currently touring with the Bae Mindanao exhibit at the Brenart International Gallery in Belgium.

For those who wish to familiarize themselves with Cynthia’s music, here are a few video clips that I have taken while I was in Manila last year.


108 Eyes

Comet’s Tail

Dumaan Ako

Frost and Glass

Once again, friends, please let me know if you know people or institutions who might be able to provide us help in bringing Filipino music and Cynthia Alexander’s distinct voice and talent to the international music conference in Finland.

Myra is a Teacher Educator and a registered clinical psychologist based in Al Ain, United Arab Emirates. Prior to moving to the Middle East, she lived for eleven years in Singapore serving as a teacher educator. She has edited five books on rediscovering children’s literature in Asia (with a focus on the Philippines, Malaysia, India, China, Japan) as part of the proceedings for the Asian Festival of Children’s Content where she served as the Chair of the Programme Committee for the Asian Children’s Writers and Illustrators Conference from 2011 until 2019. While she is an academic by day, she is a closet poet and a book hunter at heart. When she is not reading or writing about books or planning her next reads, she is hoping desperately to smash that shuttlecock to smithereens because Badminton Is Life (still looking for badminton courts here at UAE - suggestions are most welcome).

4 comments on “Cynthia Alexander in Finland: Narrative Inquiry in Music Education Conference – A Quest for Funds

  1. Myra, do you have a way people could make donations online?


    • Hi Anne, thank you for asking. At the moment, no, we still have not figured out a way to do this.

      We’re currently considering alternative arrangements as the time is now a bit too tight – perhaps live streaming via skype or a recorded video clip of her music. 🙂

      I was in Las Vegas for quite a while. I was thinking of getting in touch with you before we left for Singapore, but I’ve never gotten around to emailing you. I would have loved to visit your institution. 🙂


  2. Alden Copuyoc

    Maybe you can setup a PayPal account for the purpose. Good luck! More power to you, Cynthia and mother Tuting!


  3. Pingback: A July Round Up: Blogiversary, Photo Journal, Reading Challenges, July Winner for AWB Reading Challenge and Much Much More «

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