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Natalia Escaño: Tomorrow’s diva

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Between a grandmother who astounds music lovers all over the country with her masterful performance as a pianist, and a granddaughter, a sure beauty in the making who wows her audience with a voice that both inspires and delights, I could not decide whether I was visiting the Santamaria home in Magallanes Village to be enthralled by Tita Ingrid’s playing her favorite sonata, or be transported to a heavenly expanse by Natalia’s rendition of a Broadway song.

The grand lady of the house graciously gave way to the maiden-a-blooming, and thus did I properly have a chance, finally, to enjoy the pleasure of the company of this beautiful and talented family.

Ingrid is, of course, the virtuoso pianist Ingrid Sala Santamaria and Natalia Santamaria Escaño is the daughter of former Pitoy Moreno model Cathy Santamaria who, for the last few years, has been gamely acting as her youngest daughter’s chaperone-photographer and, if need be, production assistant.

While Ingrid had the privilege of a proper training when she began performing, with her own mother, Cebu’s foremost music educator Pilar Blanca Sala, guiding her through the rudiments of music, it would seem that Natalia, now a budding singer with her own following, has not had the same kind of introduction to her art. Except that as a three- or four-year-old child, her mother, Cathy, told me, “She was humming or producing sounds that imitated whatever piece her grandmother was practicing at the moment for a forthcoming concert. It could be a Beethoven this month and a few months after, it would be a Mozart.”

Lea Salonga fan
It was more out of Cathy’s motherly concern that Natalia might be disappointed with unfulfilled expectations when she discouraged her daughter from joining The Voice Kids, a children’s singing competition on television. “When I asked her why she wanted to join Voice Kids, she said she wanted to meet Lea Salonga, one of the judges whom she idolized,” shares Cathy.

Next, Natalia asked her mother if she could, this time, join Asia’s Got Talent, and again, Cathy said no. “That was the year when Gerfil won,” she recalls. “I hated to disappoint her but I felt it was better than exposing her to something she was not even prepared for.”

Shiniest
But when Natalia asked permission to audition for Little Annie, which was going to be shown in nearby Resort’s World, Cathy had to play along. “I asked her what her chances were to be noticed among thousands who were sure to come for an audition, and she replied, ‘That’s easy, they would have to listen to each one, and then among all of us, they would find the shiniest,’ she replied with her hands gesturing as though they were choosing the best from among an imaginary pile.”

It didn’t take long when mother and daughter went to the auditions, but this time, Natalia had to face the screening committee all by herself. To Cathy’s surprise (and motherly delight), Natalia was asked to come back the next day.

Natalia told her mom what transpired. They were 10 children in the room and each was asked to sing. She sang “Tomorrow,” “After I  sang, they asked me if I had taken voice lessons and I said ‘No.’ They asked if I had taken dance lessons, and again, I said ‘No.’” The committee was amazed.”

It took seven “call backs” to Resort Word when, finally, Cathy was ushered into the audition room. She was told that it was not going to be easy for the child — there will be daily rehearsals and performances, and what would happen if she forgot a line? Was she the kind who would stop and leave the stage? “Of course, we could not just send the alternate to take over right there and then,” they told her.

“I would not know how she would behave because it is the first time she is participating in this kind of production. We will have to find out,” she frankly told them. “But I felt too that this might be a little bit too early for her since she didn’t have any experience except singing in her school choir. So it was agreed that she would instead try out the role of Little Crybaby Orphan Tessie, for which there were seven other aspirants. In the end, Natalia made it.

When the final announcement of the cast was made and the children were asked to sit just in front of their parents, Natalia, when told that she had been chosen, looked back at her mother, and said, “I told you they would find me.” Cathy  could only shudder with quiet laughter.

Top of her class
That first gig would lead to more performances. Jose Mari Chan once asked her to sing duet with him. Businessman Manny V. Panglinan had asked her to open the MVP Games and his First Pacific Leadership Academy Executive Talks. Just recently, she opened the I Can Serve Show. She has also just come back from Kuala Lumpur where she represented us in ChildAid Asia, which is a fundraising event for underprivileged children.

All along, Natalia has consistently maintained her high grades in school. She recently finished middle school at Everest Academy and, as usual, was given a gold medal, alongside the Principal’s Honors Award, a recognition that she had the highest grade point average of the graduating class.

Her grandmother, whom she calls Mama Ing, is of course happy with Natalia’s showing as an artist and student. Natalia is lucky to have a grandmother who knows what it takes to make it in the creative world. Mama Ing kids her about becoming “Miss Philippines,” to which Natalia only smiles back. “We’ll see when we get there,” she replies to my question if she would agree to wearing a swimsuit before an audience.

THIRD-GENERATION achiever. Natalia Santamaria Escaño takes after her grandmother, piano virtuoso Ingrid Sala Santamaria. The young lady is a promising singer, but at the same time, she manages to be at the top of her class.

Over a dinner of crepe, Mama Ing asked her to slice the dessert that we shared, while Cathy nodded in approval as she was watching Natalia handle the assignment with grace and expertise. Natalia was in a dainty girl’s outfit. She is not in a hurry to grow up. She just wants to enjoy her singing while ensuring that she gets high grades.

“She was once worried about two As that she received,” relates Cathy. “She wanted me to go to her school and ask why she only got an A. I didn’t go, of course. I told her no one goes to the school complaining about an A.”

Whether she is performing or studying, Natalia does her best. She is sure to do not only her Mama Ing and mommy Cathy proud, but all of us Filipinos. We have a sweet and beautiful diva in the making.

Natalia and her classmates are performing in the culminating recital “All The World’s A Stage” of the Atlantis Musical Theater Teens Workshop at the RCBC Auditorium, Makati City, this Sunday at 2 p.m., 28 July.

Natalia’s hash tag is #GirlOnAMission… changing the world.. one song at a time. Those who want to listen to Mama Ing or Ingrid Sala Santamaria play her concertos will also find her on YouTube.

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