Jim Graves is a Catholic writer and editor living in Newport Beach, California. He previously served as Managing Editor for the Diocese of Orange Bulletin, the official newspaper of the Diocese of Orange, California. His work has appeared in the National Catholic Register, Our Sunday Visitor, Cal Catholic Daily and Catholic World Report.
Nové Deypalan is an award-winning conductor in the U.S. and Europe. He was born in the Philippines and came to the United States in the early 1990s, and has since devoted his life to conducting and composing classical and sacred music. He has won many awards for his work in the U.S. and Europe, and has led groups to perform for three popes. He has served as music director at multiple parishes, and currently serves at St. John Neumann Parish in Irvine, California. For a more complete biography, click here.
Growing up in the Philippines, he had heard stories of the plight of the poor in the Tondo area of Manila, and is participating in a fundraising effort to complete construction on a Tondo church, and to fund educational opportunities for Tondo youth so that they may raise themselves out of poverty. Dubbed Hearts for Tondo, Deypalan will conduct an evening of sacred and classical music Sunday, April 19, 2020, 7 p.m. at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in Los Angeles.
Tell me about growing up in the Philippines.
I grew up in the small town of Victorias, Negros Occidental, Philippines, in a lower middle class family of seven children. My father was the only provider, working for 35 years as a blacksmith on Victorias Milling Company, a sugar cane plantation. My mother was a stay-at-home mom.
We were raised Catholic and I was surrounded by church music. I went to Don Bosco Technical Institute, operated by the Salesians, and my parish was St. Joseph the Worker. Interestingly enough, the institute is named for St. John Bosco, who dedicated his life to poor street children, teaching the Catholic Faith and skills they needed to better their lives.
Our chaplain was an Italian priest, Fr. Franco Uras. Like the other Salesians, he was dedicated to helping children get out of poverty. Fr. Uras formed a rondalla, an ensemble of stringed instruments, and I was one of the players. I found I had a talent for playing the bandurria, a stringed instrument. I was about age 7 at the time, and my family was very musical, so they were very supportive.
From that time on I knew I wanted to make music my career, whether it be in production, direction, conducting or playing an instrument. I remember when we were signing yearbooks when I graduated high school, I’d write “doctor of music” after my signature. I went to the 30th anniversary of my high school graduation three years ago, and someone brought an old yearbook, and I was reminded of that.
I graduated from the Institute, and went on to USC, where I earned a Masters in Choral Conducting and the University of South Carolina, where I earned a doctorate in Orchestral Conducting.
Do you feel a connection when you visit the Philippines?
Yes. My heritage is there, and I spent my formative years there. I hope one day, perhaps after I retire, to return to the Philippines and establish an organization to get Filipino children interested in classical music, like Fr. Uras did.
Tell me about performing for the three popes.
I performed three times for Pope St. John Paul II. The first time was when I was performing with a high school band in the Philippines. He visited the province where I lived and we performed for him and I met him afterward. I was 15. The second time was in 1997, when I took the choir at St. Denis Church in Diamond Bar, California to Rome to perform. His health had declined, but he was very sharp mentally. He joked with me. The third time was in 2004, when I took the Children’s Choir from American Martyrs School and the South Bay Women’s Chorus to sing with the Sistine Chapel Choir during the Feast of Saints Peter and Paul at the Vatican.
In 2013, I took the San Gabriel Valley Choir to Rome to perform for Pope Benedict XVI. In 2017, I took the St. John Neumann choir to perform for Pope Francis. I met Pope Francis after the blessing of the Crèche at Vatican Square on the eve of New Year’s Day.
It is every Catholic musician’s dream to perform for a pope; I remember seeing the excitement on the faces of my singers. Everything you can hope for or see is there; it completes you as a Catholic musician
What is the significance of church music?
I believe it can bring people back to church. At St. John Neumann, we see that our mission, to bring people closer to Christ through excellence in music, works as more people attend the Mass now. I don’t tell my singers to perform, but to sing from their hearts, for I believe, like what Beethoven said, “If it comes from the heart, it will pierce through the hearts.”
What are some of the greatest challenges of being a conductor?
It is a competitive industry. It can also be a lonely profession because you spend many hours by yourself, studying the scores, creating music, and imagining the whole process in my head. Unlike a solo performer, I don’t have a 60-plus member orchestra with me all the time.
What are the rewards of working in music as you do?
It simply feeds my soul. I believe it is my obligation and privilege to bring the works of the great composers that I admire to life. There are no words to describe it. Also, I can inspire others on what music can do. Also, through music, I can travel the world performing and experiencing different cultures, meeting new friends, and watching and hearing world-class productions and first-class musicians.
Why did you want to be involved in Hearts for Tondo?
It is my passion and my mission to use the talent that God has given me to serve the poor, underserved, and the homeless. I was once a part of the impoverished but through God’s grace and mercy, my life was transformed. God calls upon me to give back to the less fortunate, by living through the examples of the Divine Mercy. Together with the Spirit-Filled Hearts Ministry, I encourage everyone to join our mission to help one of the most impoverished communities in the world and the most neglected populace in the Philippines, the Smokey Mountain of Tondo, Manila, Philippines.
What kind of performance are you planning at the L.A. Cathedral in 2020?
I am beginning to imagine and create a production that is inspiring and tells a story. I’m still working out the details but plan to make it an outstanding performance.
To attend the Hearts for Tondo event, visit https://www.heartsfortondo.org/, and then click on the Register for Our Event Here link.