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Nilo Alcala: Every Step of the Journey

posted on August 4, 2015
Nilo Alcala is a Los Angeles-based Filipino composer whose works have been premiered by individual performers and notable ensembles all over Asia, Europe, Africa, and the USA.

How would you describe your career trajectory? What major challenges did you face to get where you are today and how did you confront those challenges? 

I began my music career quite late, which I thought would be a disadvantage.  I already had a degree in communications and was working for a non-profit in Manila when I decided to study again.

Things then started happening favorably for me while getting my degree in music composition at the University of the Philippines. It seems one fortunate step after another constitute my career, for which I am grateful. 

I had national and international opportunities to showcase my music: as delegate to the 1st Asia-Europe Music Camp; winning 2nd Prize at the  Asian Composers League Festival in Israel; two World Premieres by the Metro Manila Concert Orchestra; publication by the National Committee in Culture and the Arts (NCCA);  a Metro Manila Film Festival award; a commission by the National Music Competitions for Young Artists, among others.  I joined the Philippine Madrigal Singers (UNESCO Artist for Peace) who I sang with in concert tours in at least 16 countries. In 2007, the Billy Joel Fellowship, with additional support from the Asian Cultural Council and the NCCA, made it possible for me to take a masters degree at Syracuse University in New York. In 2009 I received the Young Composer Award from Seattle-based The Esoterics and an Ani ng Dangal (Reap of Honor) Award from the Philippine President.  I then became a resident of Los Angeles after being granted EB-1 (Extraordinary Ability) status.  My recent projects include a commission by Grammy-nominated Los Angeles Master Chorale to be premiered at the Walt Disney Concert Hall on November 15, 2015

I know I still have a long way to go, but this journey so far is humbling knowing that I could not have orchestrated all of these on my own. Still I wouldn't say my career path is “easy”.  Emigrating from one’s country of origin to another definitely has challenges, which require maturity in many aspects (emotional, intellectual, spiritual).  Being a full-time artist means one’s income is highly variable throughout the year. I had to educate myself and also look for ways to learn about the practical side of being a full-time artist, including budgeting, marketing, networking, branding, self-publishing, tax preparation, etc. for these things I did not formally learn in school.  Having a wonderful support system of friends and relatives was a significant part of this artistic and personal pursuit.

Please describe the activity through which you engaged with CCI (i.e. Business of Art, Grant Program, etc). Why did you want to do it? What did you gain/learn from that experience?

Through CCI’s Quick Grants, I had the privilege of attending the Business of Art workshop in early 2015.  I knew there was a lot to learn.  As John C. Maxwell has put it, “…the wisest person of all learns from others' successes.” 

The workshops covered a wide spectrum of essential topics for an artist to thrive.  The workshops on defining one’s Core Values and Vision clarified my career and even life goals, and significantly informed the artistic path I am taking.  Other tools that I gravitated to in the workshop included branding, networking, budgeting, and creating a very specific marketing plan.  I undeniably grasped the importance of being pro-active in every facet of an artist’s career.

What professional development opportunities do you want/need next? Why?

The Business of Art workshop has given me a taste of the vast financial management resources available for self-employed artists.  I would love to attend an even more in-depth workshop specifically on “practicalities” like investing, tips on setting up retirement funds, choosing the best insurance, and other helpful practical tools tailored to an artist’s needs. Artists often aren’t taught how to deal with money (and other aspects of being a “grown-up”), as we ought to merely deal with our music/art. Yet financial management (among other “adulthood” realities),  is a tool that one must be fully equipped with in order to freely create art.

What advise/direction do you wish someone had given you when you embarked on your career? 

“Define and refine your Core Values early on in your career (if at all possible) and stay true to your Vision.  This will steer your path only towards pursuits that resonate with you and contribute positively to your creative legacy.  Your integrity will be rewarded”  

“Do not let limited resources or other restrictions determine boundaries for your vision/art/aspirations.  While keeping that in mind, handle your actual, current resources wisely and strategically.”

“Celebrate every step of your journey with gratitude and humility.”

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Nilo Alcala is a Los Angeles-based Filipino composer whose works have been premiered by individual performers and notable ensembles all over Asia, Europe, Africa, and the USA.  He was recipient of the Billy Joel Fellowship at Syracuse University in New York where he earned his Masters in Music Composition.  He holds a number of awards, including the POLYPHONOS Young Composer Award from The Esoterics (Seattle, WA), the 2nd Prize Asian Composers League Young Composer Award (Tel Aviv, Israel), and an Ani ng Dangal (Reap of Honor) Award from the Philippine President.   

An active chorister, Alcala was soloist and composer in residence of the Philippine Madrigal Singers (UNESCO Artist for Peace).  On November 15, 2015 Alcala will have his Walt Disney Concert Hall debut as the Grammy-nominated Los Angeles Master Chorale gives world premiere to his newly commissioned work.  More info about Alcala at www.niloalcala.com.