I’ve always wanted to change the world through music. In my mind, that itself is not a revolutionary idea. Many artists and musicians want to make a difference in the world – and much of life after that initial realization is about finding our individual ways of doing so.
Let’s start with a little family history. Originally from the Philippines, both of my parents are very generous individuals who have dedicated their lives to serving the church in the Los Angeles area after they moved there. My dad has volunteered his time as a music director at various churches for the last thirty-five years, and still gives of himself today by directing music at St. Christopher’s Church in West Covina, California. My mom organized countless benefit recitals when I was growing up. From a young age, I watched her meticulously plan these events, from designing souvenir programs, to soliciting funds, to engaging venues with a specific need. At these recitals, my sister Jorena and I performed to raise funds and awareness for a variety of missions, projects, and churches. In fact, it was at one of these benefit recitals that I first met my wife, Jeremy, in 2002!
Throughout my own career as a pianist and teacher, I have continued to give recitals that support a number of charities and organizations, as well as donate my time to teach and serve through festivals, workshops, and masterclasses. I have always believed in the importance of music education, not only for those talented or privileged with the right resources, but for all.
I figured that now is the time to “go big or go home” and make this dream a reality.
As I began drafting the beginnings of a nonprofit organization, I was looking for places and people we could serve through music – specifically communities in developing countries. Alongside the goal of reaching underserved communities around the world, I started brainstorming enrichment opportunities for my own piano students and young professionals in the music field. A large part of my inspiration came from observing my wife Jeremy's journey as a developing physician, since medical professionals often give back by serving in medical missions.
As I was thinking of ways to combine all of these ideas, I landed on starting a summer piano festival in Vienna, Austria, a city that feels like home since I spent six years studying piano there for my undergraduate diploma. This city has been a center for classical music since before the time of great composers like Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven. I wanted to give young pianists the opportunity to see this beautiful place up close. To experience a taste of what I learned while living there, and become more acquainted with not only Viennese music, but also the culture and language, and how these subjects relate to the music that was written there almost three hundred years ago!
While crafting the elements of the piano course, I started searching for a name for the festival. What could this festival be called that would connect well with the name of the nonprofit foundation that I hoped to form?
With German language classes as a feature of the piano course in Vienna, I wanted the festival’s name to reflect the blend of culture, language, and music that students would experience there. I began to think more about what the festival could be, and what I hoped future projects through the nonprofit would include. A mixture of diverse experiences and people. A blend of past and present history. A way to provide education and music performance to people all over the world. And, with the help of my wonderful wife (who has a knack for naming things!), the word mélange came to mind.
A little backstory here - the famous Wiener Mélange is a coffee drink that originates from Vienna, Austria. It is espresso poured into a mug and covered with steamed milk, with foamed milk poured over the top. (Even though “mélange” is a French word meaning “blend” or “mixture,” this particular blend of Austrian espresso, steamed milk, and foam is a must-have if you visit Vienna!)
What better way to signify the diverse blend of ideas, experiences, and people than naming our music nonprofit Mélange International Music Foundation? From there, it was simple: the festival would be called Mélange Vienna!
We had a name! A name that would soon find itself in different parts of the world.
As the foundation came together, opportunities began to spring up. A town in Uganda that wanted to build a children’s choir and music program at their primary school. A district of Kolkata, India in need of keyboards and teachers to start a group piano class. A city in Colombia that was willing to send competition-winning pianists into rural areas to bring musical performance to their own people. As we got to know educators and musicians in each location, we collaborated with them to begin several music education projects.
With the launch of these projects, Mélange International Music Foundation was born. A nonprofit dedicated to changing the world through music and music education.
We may be young in our journey, but we are all in. We come from different backgrounds and beliefs. But we are coming together to serve, to build a community, and to share the extraordinary gift of music with people from every corner of the globe. You might say that we are a collection. A mixture. A blend.
We are Mélange.