Teachers are an extraordinary breed of people. They can influence a great many number of lives in unexpected ways and pave one’s path to greatness or inconsequentiality. In the world of classical music, the student-teacher relationship extends far beyond the confines of the classroom or practice studio. Its intensity can mean the evolution of an individual who can play an instrument to someone who becomes a musician and eventually transforms into an artist.
In the Philippines, where the majority of its people are exposed to popular tunes, classical music has had a rich history and continues to play a pivotal role in producing performers worthy of world-wide recognition. In order to evolve in this field, one requires guidance from an individual with unparalleled wisdom and the generosity to share it. Several Philippine-born artists who have become internationally renowned attribute a big part of their success to the tutelage of Mrs. Stella Goldenberg Brimo.
Mrs. Brimo was born in the Philippines to parents of European descent. Her family had several business ties in the country and to date, are still enshrined in its history having owned the famous Goldenberg Mansion inside the Malacanang Palace grounds. Her academic schooling was done at Assumption College in Manila but she pursued her musical studies at the age of seven at the University of Santo Tomas. Her parents were very supportive of her musical aspirations. She was stimulated to grow outside of the confines of the classroom and actively immerse herself in actual places where classical music originated. She spent time in Austria to understand the nuances of pieces written by Mozart and did the same when she went to Germany to grasp the complexities of works by Bach and Beethoven.
For over 15 years, Mrs. Brimo was the main piano soloist for the Manila Symphony Orchestra and was featured in their tours to countries such as Germany, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore and many others. Also, she was often invited to play for the Philippine Armed Forces during the war. One performance in particular stands out in Mrs. Brimo’s memory when in the middle of her Brahms concerto, power throughout the building went out. Even though chaos ensued, she continued playing until the end of the piece while people around her scrambled to gather candles in the hopes of lighting their surroundings. For her efforts, she was showered with thunderous applause by the men and women who were there to witness her bravado.
Mrs. Brimo taught at educational institutes such as St. Paul’s College of Music, St. Joseph’s College and also served as President of the Manila Symphony Society. Her most prominent tenure was at the prestigious Conservatory of Music at the University of Santo Tomas (“UST”) from 1948 to 1988 where she became the first female Dean of Music from 1972 to 1980. During her administration, the woodwind, brass wind, string, voice and piano departments produced future winners of various competitions that included the National Music Competition for Young Artist (NAMCYA), Manila Symphony Orchestra, Piano Teachers Guild of the Philippines and many others.
Her colleagues and students have publicly acknowledged receiving unwavering support from Mrs. Brimo in furthering their careers and give her credit for single-handedly raising the bar for all other classical musicians that followed. Some of her former protégés are now deans, music professors and recording artists themselves. In January 2000, a tribute concert called “Bravo Brimo” was organized at the Cultural Center of the Philippines (“CCP”) and featured artists from all over the world that gathered in homage to a lady they call “a major and tireless Pygmalion in the world of Philippine music.” Throughout her teaching career, Mrs. Brimo has had more than 102 graduates from UST and St. Paul alone. She used her influence in encouraging change by recognizing outstanding talent and opening doors of opportunity for artists.
In 1988, Mrs. Brimo immigrated to Canada and now resides in the suburbs of Montreal. She is a member of the Quebec Music Teachers Association and continues to hold regular recitals featuring her students. Over the years, Mrs. Brimo has refused to allow health problems to become deterrent factors in her incessant desire to continue playing the role of grand lady of music. She is an inspiration to the younger generation. Her students from around the globe regularly call, write and visit her; always eager to lend her a hand at home and are thrilled to get a music lesson whenever they can.
The common perception of piano teachers is that they are eccentric, god-like beings who are difficult to please; Mrs. Brimo is no exception and in fact has her share of idiosyncrasies. Technical exercises are custom made for each person in order to work on their recognized short-comings. Her students must learn the correct way of bowing and ensure that their hands are positioned properly while not in use during a performance. The outfit one wears to a recital or concert must be acceptable and there is a short pre-show ritual to complete before stepping out on stage. These traits endear Mrs. Brimo all the more to her loyal students.
There is no secret to what makes Mrs. Brimo a great teacher. She loves music and thrives in the development of talent that she quickly recognizes. Some of her students hailed from the barrios of provinces where the pleasure of hearing classical music is a rarity enjoyed only by the elite. She has literally plucked talent from all over the Philippines and provided a chosen few with personal scholarships for the sheer joy of watching them grow into outstanding musicians.
Mrs. Brimo is like a second mother to many whose lives she has influenced. She takes great pride in every person with whom she taught and delights in knowing of their accomplishments. At the age of 94, she continues to share her talent to students of varying ages who flock to her home for lessons. She can still pick up nuances in the interpretation of music and continues to enthrall those lucky enough to watch her perform. It has been said that classical music was God’s way of communicating to people by touching their souls. Clearly, Mrs. Brimo continues to lead a great many of us down the path of enlightenment through music. She is my HERO -- the Grand Lady of Music.