Manila (CNN Philippines Life) —“Music was his joy,” says Levita Celerio Schargel of her late father, National Artist for Literature and Music Levi Celerio. Those who know of him can point to his overwhelming body of work, amassing to over 4,000 songs, as evidence of this passion.
But even those who have never heard of him have surely encountered that passion through his timeless songs, like “Ugoy ng Duyan,” “Saan Ka Man Naroroon,” and Christmas classics “Pasko Na Naman,” “Maligayang Pasko at Manigong Bagong Taon (Ang Pasko ay Sumapit),” and “Misa de Gallo.”
Today is Celerio’s 108th birthday, and in honor of the legendary musician, Google is depicting him in a Google Doodle, where he is shown playing the leaf instrument, a feat for which he was recognized by the Guinness Book of World Records. In the drawing, he is also surrounded by sheet music, books, and his beloved violin, which he was known to play even until his old age.
Get to know more about the maestro through his daughter, Levita Celerio Schargel, who shared lesser known facts about Celerio as a lyricist, a leaf-player, and a father.
He could write songs in the span of a coffee break.
It comes as no surprise that Celerio was capable of producing songs in a flash, having written over 4,000 songs in his lifetime. “Without exaggeration, he would finish a song within a duration of his coffee and cigarette break,” says Schargel.
However, he did not allow this to get in the way of fatherhood. “When I was around, he was always in complete daddy mode,” she says. “But I’d see him pick up a piece of paper out of nowhere like a gum wrapper or a cigarette liner and start jotting things down. Once in a while he’d look up and smile at me. Little did I know that he'd probably written up ‘Kahit Konting Pagtingin’ right then and there.”
He was a very sentimental father and husband.
Schargel describes her father as “doting, proud, a bit conservative, but very sweet.” He was also incredibly sentimental, to the point where he carried a bunch of letters his daughter had written to him in a briefcase that never left his side.
Celerio is also known for having written many of his songs for his family. “Saan Ka Man Naroroon” was written for his wife when she relocated to the U.S. He also dedicated the song to his daughter when she moved to Switzerland from New York, and had his son, Eric, record his version of the song in his studio.
He had a great sense of humor.
Celerio’s daughter describes him as a “classy humorist.” When the children were younger, he would take them on cab trips to Ongpin where he would invite the taxi driver to join them for a meal and tell him funny stories or perform little magic tricks.
Schargel also recalls the violin as a source of humor. “He used to make me laugh when he used his violin to make sounds like a puppy barking, or a train coming and going, a fire engine.”
His leaf-playing may have saved his life.
Celerio picked up a talent for playing the leaf as an instrument and was renowned by the “Guinness Book of World Records” as the “only leaf player in the world.” Schargel says that her father simply heard the whistling of the trees as a young man and his curiosity led him to recreate what was music to his ears — a talent which may have saved his life.
“A story from my dad that I can recall was about the time when, during the war, the Japanese with their bayonets were face to face with my dad who had nothing on him but a shirt on his back,” says Schargel. “He told them that he was not a fighter, but a mere musician. He was lucky that when challenged to prove this, he was in the woods surrounded by trees and was able to pluck a fresh young leaf off of a tree to play a song. He was allowed to move on, unharmed.”