Off Stage: Dave Eggar…on His Own

One that is tempered passes through the fire! — Datu Migketay, Talaandig writer.

 It’s good to know that Dave Eggar, OTT cellist and music director at Attack Theatre is back in town. But he’s on his own, folks, part of the Kelly Strayhorn’s Hear/Now Festival of New Sound this weekend, where Dave will appear.

Attack Theatre won’t even be there for physical and emotional support. The company is in Ashville, North Carolina, doing its Stravinsky program, The Soldier’s Tale, with the Ashville Symphony, conducted by Daniel Meyer, former resident conductor of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra (small world).

But director Michele de la Reza said he was welcome to use her (and co-director Peter Kope’s) house and that she was making arrangements to leave the key.

Well, this gives me a chance to catch up on a talk I had with Dave a while back. Okay, maybe he’s a musician, but he plays in his bare feet and he’s constantly on the move. So that’s stretching it a bit for a dance blog, but, hey, Dave helps to make dance happen.

The former child prodigy and Juilliard-trained musician has written so much music for dance that “to me it’s very natural when I walk into the studio and everything changes. As a concert music composer, you’re primarily concerned with structure and your voice and your vision and getting it across,” he explains. “As a concert composer, you rarely have to deal with something like ‘the stage today is three times as large, so can this portion of the music be longer? Or her leg is up there and it can only be up there so long, so could the cellist change when her leg comes down?’”

Dave has a whole lot of things on his plate, like education and the state of the music industry and its effect on his wide-ranging career. But one of the most interesting is his connection with the Phillipines and a holistic artistic tribe there.

He has been to Mindanao, the southernmost island in the Phillipine chain, a couple of times, the last as a result of an Attack Theatre grant from the American Asian Culture Council in New York to work with the Talaandig tribe Bukhidon region. This island also houses one of the main headquarters of Dole pineapples. There’s the tribal area in the mountains (an 8-hour car ride through the mountains from the nearest airport), the Catholic area to the North, the Muslim area to the south and Dole, which is like its own mini-country. People will say, “Oh, she lives in Dole.”

But he headed for the mountains where he met a leader of this peaceful tribe, Liza Saway, who won a major peace prize for negotiating an agreement between militant Muslim factions and the Phillipine government.

The Talaandig tribe is very well known for their bowed string instruments, but they also have a very rich tradition of tribal dance. Attack is trying to see how this tribe can inform its own artistry.

The tribe doesn’t have traditional schools there. They built the International Hall of Peace, a huge two-floor studio. About a thousand children in the tribe go there to study music for half a day and then visual arts for the other half.

“The results are shocking,” pronounces Dave. They took him and his friends to the visual art display, which he said was “unbelievable. And the music is the same. I mean, they’re like prodigies. If you’ve studied nothing but visual art and music since you’re five and now you’re sixteen, the sculptures that you build are going to be incredible.”

The children (and adults) make a lot of things out of the colored sand that can be found in the region. They also create large Polynesian-looking sculptures that are “very powerful”  and make musical instruments with sculpture attached, say on a drum. And they are great storytellers, which helps support their work.

Waway Saway is the most famous musician and one of the reasons that Dave went to study there. “Right away we started jamming and we had this great synchronicity,” he says. Waway would give comments, like the Americans were “very story-oriented. David, that’s great,” he would say. “But you went up the mountain instead of turning left at the river.”

They believe that everything is alive with a spirit (animals, trees, geography) and “after you’ve lived in this beautiful, utopic valley in the mountains for a couple of days, you start to believe it, too,” Dave observes. “You become so aware of the power of nature, because that’s what’s guiding you.”

“This very peaceful, extraordinarily talented tribe — I mean, it’s a very humbling experience. You have to realize that as a musician who has had the kinds of professional experiences that I have — to go work with musicians in such an isolated location that have this level of musical prowess.”

But they do it for the arts’ sake, although the Talaandig is well known in the area. They make a pilgrimage once a year to Cagayan de Oro City on the north of Mindinao for a concert, attended by tens of thousands of people.

“I have taken so much from the experience,” Dave admits. Now he plays Bach cello suites and on the repeats uses tribal embellishments instead of Baroque ornamentation. But he also notes that the tribal music has a sophistication that incorporates the influences of the people who ruled over them at varying times — Muslim, Hindu, Dutch and Spanish — that gives the arts their own perspective.

“Music and dance are so much about reaching people,” he says. “You can’t beat that — it changes you as an artist.” And while large performances have their own excitement, they don’t have the “same impact that direct dialogue has.”

For more information on the Talaandig tribe, go to Facebook and type in Talaandig and/or Waway.

For more information on the festival, click on Kelly Strayhorn.

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