by Anthony Capirayan, SSP
Who doesn’t stamp his feet when singing “I Will Sing Forever”? Whose heart doesn’t melt when “Tanging Yaman” is sung during weddings? Can anyone push back her tears in a funeral when “Hindi Kita Malilimutan” starts to echo inside the church? Or who doesn’t get excited to receive the Lord in the Holy Communion when it is preceded by that jazzy-waltzy “Kordero ng Diyos”?
Some of these songs might have been composed around thirty years ago, but they never fail to enchant us, strike the chords in us, and lift our spirits into prayer. Fr. Manuel V. Francisco, SJ is the man behind these golden tones. Up to this time, he continues to write music that appeal across generations.
“My name sounds rather oldish,” he quips. “I was named after the brother of my papa. He was the sole survivor among his siblings during the World War II, so he named us all his children in memory of his dead brothers and sisters,” he explains.
Fr. Manoling, as he is fondly called, was born to a musical family. His grandmother, a concert pianist, was one of the first graduates of St. Scholastica Conservatory of Music. He first learned playing the piano under the tutelage of his uncle Louie Ocampo, a renowned composer who was the maestro behind the songs “Tell Me,” “Kahit Isang Saglit,” and “You are my Song” performed by Martin Nievera.
The Clamor Within
When he stepped into high school, the young Manoling abandoned the thought of being a concert pianist. But the end of his childhood desire only led him to a creative rebirth.
“When I stopped playing classical music, I started composing what was from within, and that’s when my own music emerged,” he says.
He was deeply immersed in sociopolitical actions then while at the same time wrestling with his vocation to the priesthood. Those crucial years of turmoil, violence, and chaos—from within and without—gave birth to the prayerful melody of “One More Gift,” “Take and Receive,” and “I Will Sing Forever.” Writing music was his sacred space during which he communicated to God, expressed his deepest longings, and received God’s comforting presence amidst those trouble-soaked years.
Of more than three hundred songs he has written, “Your Heart Today” is his personal anthem. The song, which was a modern adaption of St. Francis’ Prayer for Peace, was dedicated to Ninoy (his second cousin) and Cory Aquino. Inspired by their lives of service and sacrifice, he amplified their voices of courage and hope through this intense and equally heartrending piece.
Embracing Writer’s Block
Despite being a prolific songwriter, Fr. Manoling also went through those dreadful years (yes, not just moments) of writer’s block. Nevertheless, he considers those creative slowdowns, however frustrating, as humbling experiences.
“It made me realize that writing liturgical music is a charism that the Holy Spirit gives and can take away from me at certain times in my life,” he says. “My talents and gifts are not my own. I have to wait like the prophet for the Word of God to come into my life.”
And so he waited patiently. When he became a Jesuit novice, inspiration flowed in abundance. There he wrote “Tanging Yaman,” “Sa ’Yo Lamang,” and other liturgical songs. Much of these compositions, born out of his deep contemplation, were deeply personal.
“Sometimes they are very personal that I want to keep them to myself,” he says. But then he realized that when a song speaks to him, the greater chance it will also speak to the hearts of the people.
Fr. Manoling’s compositions are defined by simplicity and accessibility. People can resonate to their lyrical content and at the same time easily follow their rhythm and melody.
“The more accessible the music, the more people can sing; the more affective the music, the more they are touched and influenced by what they sing,” he remarks.
He also expresses his annoyance over Albert Hay Malotte’s “The Lord’s Prayer,” which is often sung by an opera singer in a wedding. The faithful, instead of being drawn to the Eucharist, are simply fascinated by the tremolo (trembling effect) done by the soloist that they end up watching and listening. For Fr. Manoling, the goal of liturgical music is “to lead the congregation to participate in the Eucharist, to allow the people to pray, to give voice to what is in the innermost of their hearts.”
Advice to the Young
To the budding artist who may want to foray into the landscape of liturgical music, Fr. Manoling has these words: What is important is not originality, but honesty. He says that most often than not, when one forces his piece to be original, the more artificial the work of art becomes. “But the more honest, the more it comes from the heart, the more universal the piece of art becomes.”
Fr. Manoling has lived by these words. He doesn’t try to be profound. He keeps his music simple and honest. And that’s why his music never fails to speak to our hearts.
Aside from writing songs, Fr. Manoling also teaches Systematic Theology at the Loyola School of Theology, conducts weekend retreats, does spiritual directions, serves as the executive director of Tanging Yaman Foundation, and continues to be involved in some political movements in the country.