Charisse Baldoria Unravels the Filipino Identity Through Piano

Charisse Baldoria (Photo by Gary F. Clark)

Charisse Baldoria (Photo by Gary F. Clark)

It was a daunting and bold move for Filipino American pianist and artist Charisse Baldoria to come to the U. S. in 1998. Leaving the Philippines for Ann Arbor, Michigan, to pursue further studies in piano, she knew no one. “Not a single soul,” she recalls. “I was here all by myself. There was no family around, and I had to begin anew with a set of friends.” But Baldoria was committed to her chosen field and was keenly aware of what she had to do. “I needed to follow my dream of becoming the best pianist I could be.”

Whether talent is innate or learned is still up for debate, but there is no denying that Baldoria has worked very hard at the craft. She started playing the piano by ear at age four. “I discovered I had perfect pitch, which made it easier for me to learn songs on my own,” she tells me. As early as age seven, Baldoria was part of a pre-college piano program with Filipino pedagogue Nita Abrogar Quinto at the University of the Philippines.

She went on to complete her undergraduate degree at the University of the Philippines, Diliman, and was granted a Fulbright scholarship to the University of Michigan, where she received her doctorate. Her passion for the arts goes beyond the piano because she is also a photographer, composer, and an aspiring writer.

Baldoria’s musical compositions are notable for their thematic salute to her cultural roots. “I have become more interested in negotiating with my Filipino and Southeast Asian identity, juxtaposing the indigenous with the colonial, and exploring the role of the piano in the intercultural exchange,” she notes. She has released two albums to date: Evocación features music inspired by flamenco and tango, with pieces by Albéniz, Piazzolla, Falla, Scarlatti, and Buencamino, a Filipino composer; and Gamelan on Piano, which presents music inspired by Southeast Asia, with works by Lou Harrison, Colin McPhee, Godowsky, Debussy, Gareth Farr, and Ramon P. Santos.

Charisse Baldoria's first album "Evocacion" (Photo by Gary F. Clark)

Charisse Baldoria's first album "Evocacion" (Photo by Gary F. Clark)

Her schedule is filled with creative activities, but Baldoria does not complain. Currently, her role as piano professor at Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania, takes much of her time, but a disciplined daily routine allows her to engage in many other projects. She is currently working on performing and eventually recording the complete Java Suite by Leopold Godowsky, a virtuoso-pianist and composer who went to Java, Indonesia in 1923 and wrote 12 pieces inspired by his fascination with the culture. Furthermore, Baldoria is exploring the works of Asian composers and possible relationships between the piano and non-Western cultures from both the musical and historical points of view.

Her Filipino heritage is very important to her. “A source of sadness is that many Filipinos don’t appreciate our indigenous roots,” she says. “So, a few years ago, I made concrete attempts to fuse my interest in Filipino and Southeast Asian culture with piano-playing by performing programs inspired by the Southeast Asian gong-chime ensemble (called gamelan in Indonesia and kulintang in the Philippines).”

My long-term goal is to become active as a pianist, writer, photographer, and composer.

As Baldoria sees it, where her creative ideas come from is simply the first stage. She reiterates, “a great amount of perseverance and vision is necessary to develop and give birth to what was conceived.” She is committed to artistic development and being a better version of herself each time. “I try to be in a spirit of play,” Baldoria tells me. Her optimism is electrifying. “I have a voracious appetite for life, culture and knowledge. I travel, love new experiences and meeting people. Plus, I read a lot,” she says. She also writes, working on a secret writing project based on Filipino American history.

Baldoria’s adventurous spirit is shared with her husband, Dave Galliguez. They have unique experiences, such as traveling, kayaking at the Susquehanna River in Bloomburg, Pennsylvania, or birdwatching, especially their favorite Northern Cardinal. The pair also takes part in community and social events.

Her career has gone through many ebbs and flows, but one thing is for sure, Charisse Baldoria is making the most out of her talents. “My long-term goal is to become active as a pianist, writer, photographer, and composer; I also want to further incorporate my interests in literature and science, and find ways to express social realities and the human condition in my art—things I care about deeply,” she shares. Does the feasibility of her plans faze her? Not by a long shot. “It might seem like I’m spreading my energies too thin, but since I might just have one life, this may be my only chance to do everything I want to do,” she remarks.

At the core of Charisse Baldoria’s accomplishments is a purposeful and focused work ethic coupled with a bold perspective towards life. Complacency doesn’t exist in her vocabulary. Yes, fears exist but she makes sure to just show up. “Just sitting down and plugging away at your work until you’ve finished what you’ve wanted to accomplish. This is much easier said than done and I myself have a lot yet to learn, but keeping your eye on the prize, enjoying the process, and having some kind of system helps.”


Manuel de Falla’s Fantasía Baetica

Filipino composer Ramón P. Santos’ Klintang (influenced by the Philippine gong-chime ensemble), with dance, drawing, and poetic recitation

Piazzolla’s Oblivion

Serina Aidasani

Serina Aidasani

Serina Aidasani divides her time between New York and Chicago. She enjoys deep conversations, mocha lattes and tries to appreciate little joys of the everyday.

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