The story begins in a rustic seaside village in a Southern island province. The lead character starts out as a boy of 13, Pilo. His father, Haon, makes gravestones (lapida) for a living and plays the tuba in the village band that performs at every fiesta, baptism, wedding and funeral. The band is composed purely of brass instruments. Pilo’s mother, Mila, makes rattan cradles to add to the family’s income. Pilo has an older sister, Tina.
At first, in his early childhood, Pilo used to be proud and amused that his father plays the tuba. Haon, a wholesome, jolly, easygoing man, likes to practice every morning when he is in the toilet. When Pilo’s mom Mila is not in the mood to hear the tuba in the house so early in the morning, Haon goes to the seaside to practice there. His repertoire is composed of a curious lineup that includes one or two classical pieces, one or two popular band songs. As a gravestone maker, Haon likes to think up epitaphs for his clients. He is also fond of senseless jokes and moral lessons or words of wisdom in which he always compares life to his beloved tuba. The man has a light depth and insight into the comings and goings of man and the seasons of life.
As Pilo grows up, now moving into adolescence, he begins to be ashamed of his father as a tombstone maker and tuba player. He has peers who looks at the old rustic province of theirs as backward and stagnating. They often joke Pilo of his future as the inheritor of the Tuba and the Lapida’s. Pilo wondered, first, couldn’t his father have been an engineer or a doctor or a lawyer so they could have moved to the provincial capital, or better yet, Manila? Second, why the tuba? Pilo begins to feel like an underdog with a father he can’t be proud of. On the other hand, Haon likes to play the tuba because for him, it has the sound the size of a whale and the shape of a huge tidal wave or a gigantic seashell. Actually, the tuba is a legacy from Pilo’s grandfather. It has been part of a tradition along with the making of tombstones and epitaphs. Pilo is supposed to be next in line, being the only son. Although, he has learned how to help make tombstones and has learned to play the tuba, he’s beginning to have other plans. The other band players are mostly old fishermen with one or two who’ve succeeded their parents in playing. He plans on leaving the coastal village for the city someday. But a part of him still loves the island and the sea. Pilo also has a teenage girlfriend, Delia.
Other interesting characters in the barrio include a painter, Mang Angelo, who paints houses and boats for a living, while painting seascapes on canvass as his art. He has to get drunk every evening, though. Then there’s Aling Nambal, the midwife-healer. Then there’s Diego, another childhood friend of Pilo’s, who is already learning to play the trumpet that his father, Mang Emilio, is playing with Haon.
Meanwhile life goes on in the barrio and time passes. Years later, a statue of the province’s patron saint (San Isidro) is lost from the Church, stolen they say. There is little fish caught from the sea. A black dolphin has also been sighted. At this point, Pilo is ready to go to Manila to enroll at a college in the university belt. His parents have saved up enough for his education and ambitions. His older sister Tina already works in the poblacion at a small grocery owned by a relative. The village is actually distressed at the disappearance of the patron’s statue and Haon’s band stages a vigil by the sea, playing for the return of the saint. Pilo couldn’t care less. He’s even slightly annoyed at his father’s dedication to playing his part in bringing back the saint. Pilo leaves happily.
In MANILA, Pilo studies hard and finds a job at a food chain. Like a sponge, he absorbs everything he sees and hears in the city, and easily adapts and adjusts to city life. Of course, there are also some nasty surprises and experiences with snatchers and prostitutes and bad cops. But all in all, he still believes this is the life for him. Once in a while, though, he craves for his favorite dish that his mother used to cook for him, a specialty uniquely identified with his province. Though he finds some places serving the dish, they never live up to his memory of his mother’s cooking.
In time he moves up, graduates, becomes a stock and real estate broker. He’s ahead in the world. His luck brings hims success when, at an early stage in his career, he closes a huge real estate deal that makes him rich. He sells property to a semiconductor businessman and his family.
To add to this success, he meets Sara, the daughter of the businessman to whom he sold his big real estate deal. Sara is a beautiful young woman who’s also into computers but whose real love is music. To Pilo’s surprise, she sings in a pop jazz band that plays at an exclusive restaurant bar cafe. It turns out she majored in voice at a university conservatory after acquiring a degree in computer science. Pilo takes her out on a date and does his best to impress her, but as it turns out, it is his quaint folk or rural habits and inherent or inherited simplicity that Sara takes interest in. To Pilo’s surprise (given his idea of cosmopolitan sophisti-cation), she has a deep respect and fond appreciation for folk culture, art and music. Back at the conservatory, kundimans were her thing. So she’s very interested in Pilo’s rural origins, family, etc. -- the things that Pilo might generally be ashamed of and would like to hide. Pilo tries to be as citified as possible, but some of the probinsyano in him manages to surface, to his dismay and to Sara’s delight. They go out, become friends. In time, Pilo becomes more comfortable in her company and begins to relax, openly talking about the things he misses about the province and his family. One time, he craves his favorite dish and takes her to a carinderia where the dish is served. Pilo is blissful as Sara becomes his girlfriend.
Sometime later, Pilo is invited by his sister Tina for her wedding. She’s going to marry a government civil engineer whom she met at the poblacion. Pilo takes Sara along and they get a room at a resort near Pilo’s village. To Pilo’s surprise and dismay, Haon and his band go to the resort on boat to pick him up and the band plays at the seaside for him and his return. Sara and other tourist guests at the resort are charmed and delighted at the band’s performance, even if they are playing songs like “Volare” and the theme from “Hawaii Five-0.” Pilo is ashamed but nonetheless comes forward to greet his father.
Back in the village, his mother Mila is surprised to meet Sara. Preparations are underway for the wedding. Pilo brings out a bag of goodies, pasalubong, gifts for his folks -- imported leather shoes for his father, a pearl necklace for his mother, a blender for the house. His wedding gift is a dining set and a karaoke sing-along machine.
The wedding goes well. Later, though, it turns out Pilo’s mom has hurt feelings about not having been invited to her son’s wedding. Pilo tells her that he and Sara are not married! The mother doesn’t know how to react, if she should feel better or worse. Sara, on the other hand, likes everything she sees and and everyone she meets including Mang Angelo, the drunken painter. Delia, Pilo’s first girlfriend is already married to Diego, the trumpet player, with nine kids.
Generally, Mila doesn’t take to liking Sara; but Sara and Haon hit it off very well. Things begin to sour as a proud Pilo tries to impose his newfound ways from modern Manila on his traditional family. There is a culture clash. For one, Haon keeps asking Pilo to come and settle back in the village. The tuba player also keeps hinting at the need for someone to take over the musical tradition in the family -- who’s going to play the tuba? The band won’t be the same. The community needs this. Besides, the instrument is not easily or casually passed on to just anybody else. Pilo is just annoyed. Eventually, he and Sara leave for Manila. The two are also always arguing and disagreeing over things.
In the coastal village, Haon is sick and dying. Father and son are sadly reunited. At first, Pilo wants to take Haon out of the village and bring him to Manila so doctors can help him with their modern machines; but Haon, on the other hand, is only concerned about having Pilo clean the tuba. Haon feels it is really his time. He has even made his own tombstone and epitaph. Pilo apologizes for all the the hurt he has caused his father, for his arrogance and pride. Haon, on the other hand, tells his son that he, too, learned that sometimes one cannot fight the winds of change. He cannot help it if he still wants his son to keep the tradition,but he cannot help it either if his son doesn’t want to. Haon dies.
There is a funeral wake of several days and nights culminating on the day of the burial. On this day, the band plays for around two hours before the march to the cemetery. It is not the same without the tuba. The band is incomplete. The musicians and the people see and hear and feel the loss. they keep playing, though, songs like that from “The Titanic” and “Besame Mucho.” It is during this time that Pilo comes to his own and realizes who he is, what he is, and what he needs to do. He disappears from the gathering for a while.
Mila, Pilo’s mom, and Tina, his sister, look all over for him when it is time to march to the cemetery. Then Pilo emerges from his father’s room with the tuba. He is going to play it with the band. Everyone is surprised and touched. The oldtimer musicians are happy. They march. The band plays a classical piece, Chopin’s “Funeral March” and “I Believe.”
Along the way, Sara suddenly appears and joins the funeral march. Pilo does not see her. She learned about Haon’s death in Manila and decided to come to the village.
Haon is buried. Pilo sees Sara tearfully smiling in the distance. An oldtimer musician jokes Pilo about having cleaned the tuba. The band breaks out into a loud and jolly rendition of the theme from Hawaii Five-O.