Nestor Mata: After Falling from Heaven, a Passionate Life of Music, Journalism, Chess, and Art

Manila Bulletin, November 18, 2012 | Go to article overview

Nestor Mata: After Falling from Heaven, a Passionate Life of Music, Journalism, Chess, and Art


Nestor Mata gained more years after he survived a plane crash in central Philippines at 31 in 1957. Since then, he has lived life passionately - by singing classical music, appreciating art, playing chess, organizing artists' chess tournaments, writing about politics, covering dangerous events, and writing books.

"I was given a precious life when I survived the fatal crash of Douglas C-47 plane (also called) Mount Pinatubo on Mount Manung-gal in Balamban, Cebu, 55 years ago," recalls Mata, one of the journalists who covered President Ramon Magsaysay in Cebu on March 17, 1957. After the crash, he thought he would devote his life entirely "to tell the truth and shame the devil," a journalist's mission. He has not stopped being a journalist since then, but writing for Mata, now 86, has become just one of his favorite activities.

Living dangerously (in news coverages) and indulging in many meta-artistic activities, Mata's charmed life seems to ask everyone: "What have you been doing with your life?" The gutsy Mata who is more than five feet tall, can shame those who squander intellect and talent with impunity. His doubts, shyness, and paralysis of expression (in the arts), he says, were shaken out of him when he survived the 1957 plane crash.

Every year, he still mounts his own annual classical concert for a private audience of selected friends and musicians, making it a ritual of enhanced feeling for the Filipino, French, German and Italian songs that seem reincarnated from his heart. He has continued the ritual with defiance when singing has turned into a chase for the elusive musical notes that still ring perfectly in his ears. Responding to that challenge, says Mata, is an art.

Up to now, he still renders one of his favorite songs, "Dein Ist Mein Ganzes Hertz" ("My Heart is only For You"), by Austrian composer Franz Schubert (1797 - 1828) with romantic flair, plumbed from memories and knowledge of love more than a singer's strong diaphragm.

"Have you ever heard an 86-year old man sing?" he asks, hinting that melodic hues really strike deep with age, experience, and memories. All these are well fermented at the height of man's frailty - so, sing more. "Music is above everything else. Music is everything. Singing energizes and renews me. It should go on," Mata declares.

Recalling a prodigious beginning in music, he says, "I studied violin at six under Bonifacio Abdon, the first violin teacher of Ernesto Vallejo, Manila's renowned violin virtuoso in the 1920s. I was with the choir of St. Agnes Catholic Church in (Manila's) Intramuros when I was 15. That's why I can read notes."

Preparing for a concert, up to now, is a back-breaking ordeal that includes "memorizing, practicing and rehearsing," says he. (Filipino) kundiman or classical songs in French, German, and Italian are easy and enjoyable to memorize because of their intrinsic melodies," he says of his musical preference. The composers' journeys to hell are hardest to tackle with hope and sense of disbelief.

Mata's other aim in singing is to mine the "magnetic field between the performer and the audience (because it) is like writing as a journalist (or dishing out new things for the audience)".

Noting a rambunctious life that immediately developed on top of his music-filled childhood, Mata says, "As a journalist, I started at 21 in 1947."

"Journalism (a 65-year old passion) has given me photographic memory and sturdy mind," says Mata, whose analysis, courage, insight, and wit, through the years, are more grounded with facts than amplified with fiery illusions to save the world.

His career as a journalist runs parallel with the history of Philippine journalism. He has been writing a column for Malaya for 13 years, starting 1999. He was art and political columnist of Manila Standard for 13 years, from 1986 to 1999, when the paper was owned by Freddie Elizalde and edited by Andy del Rosario. …

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