Providing me with both a visual and aural treat, I was immediately taken by the relaxed camaraderie amongst the band members. The professionalism and pride carried by everyone from the youngest to the oldest member, was evident in the playful seriousness in effect while they conducted business. My attention quickly gravitated towards Bob Shroder, who was clearly in control of the music and the dynamic interplay between the musicians.
FASO is a delightful group of artists with many different backgrounds. Between the musical interludes you are humored by the lovely cadence of the Tagalog, Taglish, and English spoken very fluidly and with much color. Occasionally, one might catch a phrase like “segway na” or “tacet ka mu na” – which is a take-off on tacet (Italian) and ka mu na. Tacet is a direction in music to indicate that a voice or instrument is silent. Other humorous examples of this musician’s bi-lingual banter shared with me by Bob Shroder are: “Asistencia = Gig; Kakayong tabla = Musicians who cannot play right (Kabayo is horse, kabayong tabla is ironing board); Tocador = Key players; Como se pinta = to play as written; Pricinta = call time; and Kaparte = talent fee.”
This playfulness and colorful language captures very vividly both the professional and personal rapport between Bob and all the musicians. In casual conversation, more than one member spoke to me about Bob’s un-assuming nature. To them, Bob feels more like “one of the guys” rather than the conductor and music director. A native speaker, his Tagalog has the rhythm and color that I hear the musicians in Manila speak. Yes, like many others I am sure, I was hesitant about his identity at first because of his name and appearance. However, once I heard him speak Tagalog, I immediately felt his pride in being Filipino. As Bob has been quoted to say, “Pinoy na Pinoy ako!”
Born in Kawit, Cavite, Bob is the son of Jerald Vincent Shroder, an American in the military who was stationed at Sangley Point. There, he met Rosalina Enriquez Samaniego, who would become Bob’s mother. The young Bob Shroder studied Music Conducting at the University of the Philippines Conservatory of Music with flute as his major instrument. He won the Grand Prize in the National Music Competition for Young Artists in 1982 and was the principal flutist for the Manila Symphony Orchestra and the Manila Chamber Orchestra. He performed as a solo and chamber music artist in different concert venues in the Philippines and other parts of Asia. In addition, he taught flute and chamber music at the University of the Philippines and was active as a studio musician for the Filipino pop music and movie industry
Often described as being as “pinoy as adobo and kare-kare” - Bob’s musical DNA runs deep. His lolo on his mother’s side, Augusto Sarmaniego, was a member of the Philippine Constabulary Band led by Colonel Walter Loving and Colonel Antonio Buenaventura, that participated in the 1939 Golden Gate International Exposition held on Treasure Island in San Francisco Bay. Bob grew up totally immersed in music, as his grandfather was also the conductor of the Magdalo Band, a Kawit-based group. The two of them would often be seen together at rehearsals, fiestas, and many different engagements. After his lolo’s death in 1984, Robert inherited the conductorship and continued to do so for several years. To this day, Bob Shroder credits his Lolo Gusing, as he affectionately called him, as the biggest influence in the music he plays today. Bob fondly recalls how as a youth, he, the family, and the neighbors would be treated to a wide variety of music that his lolo would play on the record player... “overtures and symphonies first thing in the morning while everybody is preparing for work or school. At night, we will have dinner with some light classics and later, big band and standards.” Lolo Gusing influenced Bob in others ways as well, starting with the many rehearsals and engagements he went to. Bob states further that “I saw them preparing for their engagements. I saw how disciplined they were and saw all the good aspects of a professional musician. I also observed how a conductor puts together a good concert.”
I was totally impressed at the rehearsal, and a few days later, at the dinner concert, by how Bob handled himself as music director. It was immediately clear that he knew and felt each component of the music and indicated as such through his gestures and facial expressions ranging from sheer delight to critical listening and strong reactions. During the break, with warm Filipino food brought for the occasion, the love and family vibe took over again as members enjoyed our traditional national favorites like pancit, lumpia, steamed white rice, chicken and pork adobo, biko and hopia with ube. The smiles on faces of band members once again displayed the warmth and familial feelings shared very openly by everyone.
Maestro Shroder ended our last interview by saying “FASO is one of a kind; I was so blessed and fortunate to be one of the founders of FASO. I would not be able to run FASO the way I do, and deliver our concerts and projects the way we do without the exposure I received from my grandfather and other mentors from the University of the Philippines. These include Professor Sergio Esmilla Jr., and my godfather, Professor Enrique D. Barcelo, who happened to be also from Kawit and a member of the Magdalo Band. Every Filipino in this country must support the Filipino American Symphony Orchestra for us to be able to sustain and keep our Filipino culture alive through music. Maraming Salamat at Mabuhay!”
The world of music is indeed richer because of the love and hard work by gifted, dedicated, and inspired artists like Robert “Bob” Shroder. In today’s world of global unrest, environmental crisis, and political uncertainty, it is a welcome relief to know that in the heart of Los Angeles there currently exists a conductor, a group of dedicated musicians, and a well managed non-profit organization giving of themselves to a symphony orchestra that serves not only the Filipino community but mainstream music lovers as well. The performances by FASO during the year serve as a reminder that with vision, talent, determination, and hard work, dreams can and do come true for everyone, including a positively Filipino boy who grew up on an oyster farm in Kawit, Cavite. Mabuhay ka Bob Shroder!
For more information on the Filipino American Symphony Orchestra – FASO, their mission statement, and their calendar of events please visit their website at www.fasofoundation.org and also read the article for Positively Filipino written by Ruben Nepales in 2015 http://www.positivelyfilipino.com/magazine/a-trailblazing-orchestra-of-filipino-expats
Carlos Zialcita was born in Manila and grew up in San Francisco after migrating to the United States in 1958. He is a jazz and blues harmonica player, singer, songwriter, bandleader, and educator. He is also the Co-Founder and Executive Director of the San Francisco Filipino American Jazz Festival, and a Board Member of the Manilatown Heritage Foundation. (photo by Rick Gavino ©2017)
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