Daniel de Tablan started working as the administrative assistant for music and theater at Eastern Mennonite University in January 2022. Seven months later, his son Rafael de Tablan began his college career as a music performance major at EMU, studying piano with Dr. David Berry. Their journey originated nearly 8,500 miles away in the Philippines—and has taken them around the world sharing their love of music and the gospel.
Daniel grew up in Metro Manila, where he “hung around pianos” in church. “Wherever I saw a piano, I’d play it,” said Daniel, who started taking lessons when he was eight years old. At age 14, Daniel came to the United States, where he attended high school in San Francisco. After a couple years of college, he returned to the Philippines and graduated with a degree in choral conducting from the College of Music at the University of the Philippines (UP). It was there that he met Professor Mauricia Borromeo, who taught music education and later became dean of the UP College of Music.
Daniel immigrated to the U.S. in 1993 and became a citizen in 2008. He spent 25 years in the Philippines as a missionary running the music ministry Praise Asia, or PRASIA for short, before his latest move to the Shenandoah Valley in 2019. PRASIA is a traveling vocal ensemble of between 4 and 11 members that “models Christ’s message and moves people closer to God through inspired, quality performances.” As founder of the ministry, Daniel produces the music, writing his own compositions and arranging the vocals; he also teaches the group and performs with them in concerts throughout Asia, the Middle East, North America and Australia.
Rafael attributes his overall background in music and an enhanced ability to sight-read to his father’s ministry. Rafael gravitated to the piano at an early age, memorizing and playing the melody line of Mozart’s Sonata in C with his left hand at age five. Daniel says exposing his son to good piano music was important and that while he guided Rafael “a little bit here and there,” it was important to “just let him play.” When he was 11, Rafael attended a concert at the UP College of Music, which sparked a genuine interest in pursuing piano. He proceeded to take lessons for four years with his father’s former professor Borromeo, a famed Filipina piano teacher who worked with many gifted children. Rafael performed his first solo recital at age 15.
Rafael also honed his piano skills in elementary and high school, playing the national anthem and school hymns for assemblies. He was chosen as a best performer in recitals hosted by the Piano Teachers’ Guild of the Philippines Foundation, Inc., and was part of a praise and worship team through his home church. At age 16, Rafael reverted to self-study, playing works like Piano Sonata No. 3 and Piano Concerto No. 3 by his favorite composer Sergei Prokofiev. “I love chaotically-structured, fast-paced and challenging pieces,” Rafael revealed.
When it came time for college, Rafael decided he wanted to study piano and join his father in Virginia. “My dad introduced me to EMU, and there are a lot of opportunities here.” The two were encouraged after meeting with Berry during a campus visit. Daniel went on to land his job in music and theater at EMU, and Rafael applied and was accepted into the music program.
Both have settled into EMU. “It’s very cozy,” said Rafael. “I love it here.” Daniel says Rafael is able to thrive and pursue his own musical path thanks to a close-knit and caring community and excellent musical training with less pressure than in larger programs. “The fact that he’s studying with David Berry is an incredible opportunity,” shared Daniel. Rafael added, “It’s wonderful.”
Daniel is glad he gets “to be on campus with Rafael,” and both are thriving at EMU and in the Valley. Daniel is the worship director at Eastside Church in Harrisonburg, and Rafael can be heard performing with him on occasion. The two recently appeared in a production of “The Sound of Music” with ShenanArts in Staunton—and look forward to continuing their musical collaborations with PRASIA and beyond.