Reflections on Traditional Philippine Music

by the Chair of the Subcommittee on Traditional Southeast Asian Music in SEADOM, Dr. José S. Buenconsejo, on 28 March 2015, 11AM, Abelardo Hall Auditorium, Quezon City, Philippines

​It is impossible to speak about the traditional music of Southeast Asia in the singular. Because of its geography, Continental and Insular Southeast Asia have always been at the crossroads of Asian, European, and American cultures, encounters of which have resulted to both internally- and externally-induced cultural changes. An awareness of the histories of these cross-cultural encounters makes us realize that traditions have not always been received from the past as if pure and fixed but have come about as varied creative responses to culture changes in particular time periods that inevitably affected those traditions. Traditional court musics of Southeast Asia, e.g., have tended to be resilient and conservative–as if timeless traditions–because its adherents have believed in their enduring music essences and have therefore maintained them as such, i.e., permanent and unchanging. But at some point in the past, that timeless tradition must have been constructed as the courts in Southeast Asia had consolidated their power. We know, e.g., that the gamelan of Central Java had roots in village communities and that it was later appropriated by the sultans of Yogyakarta and Surakarta as musical symbols of their power, i.e., as a divine manifestation in a socially constructed cosmology (as discussed for example in Judith Becker’s first book). The same is also true of Hindu-Balinese gamelan, which continues to be practised by villagers today even after the courts are gone (see Geertz).

​Yet traditional court musics of Southeast Asia cannot speak for the whole region. At the fringes of court cultures are village cultures, which, as just mentioned, were the sources from which court music traditions had evolved from. The villages and courts had interdependent cultural relationships with each other. In the villages, among the majority of the populations, there were varied forms of music making that were based on musical interlock–multipart music–as a symbol of social cooperation. For me, this interlock is a shared musical principle that governs many musical systems in the region and it would be good to investigate this closely at a later symposium.

In the Philippines, except the lesser sultanates of Sulu, Maguindanao, and Lanao areas, there has been no court music to speak of nor a history of elaborate codification of music tradition so that it becomes fixed and unchanging. Indigenous Philippine music has always existed in the plural for it is a heterogenous cultural practice of interdependent villages. When the Spaniards colonized the Philippines in 16th century, owing to both economic and religious reasons, the political rise of the town, centered in the poblacion or town center, was what contrasted with the space of the village called barangay (or barrio). In both spaces–town and village–culture was centered on Catholic religion because the priests in the evolution of the dominant Philippine lowland culture were very important in maintaining the hold of Spanish empire in the islands. Religious feasts and devotions were strictly observed and music making was a representation to this political edifice. Each year, communal efforts have been focused on the fiesta where loud brass band music is heard. [I’m reminded of the concert last night. More than half of our students, mostly from the working class, come from this brass band culture.] ​

When the towns evolved into port cities, which exported the agricultural products of the country in 19th century, many European nationals established merchant houses in Manila, Cebu, and Iloilo and therefore government bureaucracy also became more complex, prompting Spanish diaspora in Philippine cities. Along with them were also European writers who wrote travelogues, which did not fail to mention the brass bands as well as local song-dance musical genres that were described to be symbols of national identity like the cundiman, kumintang, and balitao. The travelogues had music transcriptions of these popular music condiman, comintang, and balitao that became “tradition” in the course of time. The transcription of condiman comes from this 1847 album preserved in an illuminated manuscript commissioned by a Spanish journalist Gervacio Centerenolla. The second is a transcription of comintang by the French traveller Jean Baptiste Mallat in 1848 that the English journeyman John Bowring reprinted 1858. There was another book in 1860 that printed the condiman and of course one more in 1892 by Manuel Walls. ​What is fascinating with these materials is that they constructed 19th century popular music in the Philippines, which are actually limited to specific regions in the archipelago, into the national, i.e., for the whole of the Philippine archipelago. My hypothesis is that the transcriptions–writing music–did influence the status of the genres, i.e., they became elevated as a result because a value was added to them such as patriotism and the like. In the case of the kundiman, this genre lost its dance component in 20th century and became a serious type of music for voice alone. The song “Bayan Ko” sung in the 1986 People Power Revolution is a good kundiman.

To look closely, this ubiquitous song-dance genre in the Philippines is not tied in to the national political for it is simply “entertainment” music in village festivities, especially during meetings between wife-givers and wife-takers. The song-dance genres I just mentioned are reminiscent of indigenous types of music still cultivated in remote parts of the Philippine Islands today. As a music that alternates song between man and woman, it is very similar to the Malay pantun or Laotian molam. But the Philippine types were fused with Western element such as lute accompaniment and harmony and are therefore hybrid or mestizaje musics.

What do we learn from this? First, the examples given point to the fact that music tradition is not fixed but something that is made to appear as such as part of a political process in history. Second, we can understand tradition if we explore in depth its context, by which I mean the material conditions that enable the tradition to be fixed. In this short paper, I pointed out the technology of writing. Third, tradition is a response to present circumstances, especially the new or the modern. When the Europeans encountered local culture in the Philippines, they saw a local song-dance as a marker of a place that is different from Europe. While presumably they wrote about it as a costumbre or local custom of the place (hiding the fact that half of it is of Western origin), readers of their travelogues later used the same attention for local custom but added the sentiment of patriotism into the text. Thus, if we do not reflect on the important role that cultural context plays in the construction of tradition, then it will be difficult for us to comprehend that tradition cannot be separated from the new or the modern by which traditions had to adjust.

​References:

Bowring, John. A Visit to the Philippine Islands. London: Smith, Elder & Co., 1859.

Mallat de Bassilan, Jean Baptiste. Les Philippines. 2 vols., 1846.

Scherzer, Karl. Reise der österreichischen Fregatte Novara um die Erde in den Jahren 1857, 1858, 1859 unter den Befehlen des Commodore B. von Wüllerstorf-Urbair. Volume 2. Vienna: Court and State Printer, 1861.

Walls, Manuel. La Musica Popular de Filipinas. Madrid: 1892. —

Meredith Monk’s A Celebration Service Premieres in the Philippines

The Office of the Chancellor of the University of the Philippines (UP) Diliman and the UP College of Music, in cooperation with the Musical Arts and Research Management Foundation and the Philippine-American Educational Foundation, present a rare music ritual-concert of Meredith Monk’s A Celebration Service on Friday, 30 January 2015, 6:00 PM at the lobby of Quezon Hall (Central Administration Building of UP Diliman), Quezon City, following the flag retreat at 5PM. To be directed by Tom Bogdan of Bennington College in Vermont, USA, who is in Manila under the Fulbright Specialist Program, the work will be interpreted by the UP Madrigal Singers, UP Junior Music Education Guild, and the UP Dance Company, with Elders Ramon Acoymo and Daisy Valenciano and singers Mark Carpio, Camille Bianca Lopez, Riva Ferrer, Terrence, and Tom Virtucio. Allison Easter, another protege of Meredith Monk, will choreograph the show.

As a composer, Monk is considered an extraordinary visionary in the field contemporary art music in the USA today and the premiere of her piece in the Philippines is a momentous event for the UP College of Music, which is celebrating its 99th year. The performance also kicks off the Arts Month of UP Diliman campus.

A Celebration Service is a participative ritual performance that goes beyond passive listening and spectatorship for it fosters a profound musical contemplation on the human experience of connectedness and relationality with various Others in the world–with nature and with the Ineffable. Monk’s work is minimalist, abstract, open-ended, processual, transcendental in terms of time, simple but holistic, mysterious, and it illuminates relationships of presence that ritual is in essence. While songs in this piece are mostly made up of vocables, the mostly ancient texts–to be spoken by ritualist Elders–come from world spiritual traditions. For this performance in the University of the Philippines Diliman, these texts will be recited in Filipino, as translated by poet Pete Lacaba.

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Krina Cayabyab arranges Handel’s Messiah, Christmas Portion, to Jazz in Tagalog Language in UP Diliman

The University of the Philippines (UP) College of Music ends its faculty concert series, First Semester of Academic Year 2014-2015, with a jazz arrangement of beloved Handel’s Messiah done by Krina Cayabyab, with translation in Tagalog by famed poet laureate of the Philippines, Pete Lacaba. The concert will be done on 5 December 2015, 6:30 PM on the steps facing the amphitheater beside Quezon Hall–the administrative center of UP Diliman–as a way of celebrating the last day of classes in the said campus and ushering in the festive Christmas season. The first of its kind in the history of Philippine music, Jazz Messiah in Tagalog, innovates tradition with a view to futurity in which world local cultures combine in a spirit of cosmopolitanism.

The event will feature Prof. Rayben Maigue’s well-known UP Jazz Band accompanying the famous choirs of UP Diliman such as Philippine Madrigal Singers (Mark Carpio, director), UP Concert Chorus (Jai Sabas-Aracama, who is the main choirmaster of the event), UP Singing Ambassadors (Ed Manguiat, conductor), and UP Staff Chorale (Chris Reyes, director). Each of these choirs will render two Christmas songs in the first part of the show, which is free to the public.

Translating this musical masterpiece by Handel, which comes from mid-18th century into 21st century popular music and language comes as a way of paying homage to art as well as destabilizing the myth of authenticity that has generated many inter-ethnic conflicts around the world. By situating an expression that sits comfortably both *inside and outside cultural-linguistic particularities,* the College and the university hope to convey a message that beyond cultural borders, a heterogenous social world harmony is achievable if alternative voices–jazz and Tagalog–are heard in the global ecumene. The evolution of music for a million years has witnessed how music has been one of the most potent symbols in human behavior that has been fostering solidarities that are necessary for human adaptation and survival.

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UP Madrigal Singers Sing José A. Estella’s Bird Songs in Abelardo Hall

Music lovers in Manila will have a rare opportunity to listen to José A. Estella’s other “Ang Maya” songs that have been specially arranged by Chris Borela for the UP Madrigal Singers concerts on 9 and 10 October, 2014, 6:30PM, Abelardo Hall Auditorium, Quezon City. Dubbed “Panorama,” the concerts on the theme of picturesque music will be directed by Mark Carpio, as part of the College’s on-going faculty concert series. Mark Carpio is one of the best choral directors the Philippines has ever known.

José A. Estella (1870-1943) was a Spanish insular, a creollo, a Filipino composer who was not a mere gig musician who composed waltzes but an important public intellectual who filipinized Spanish zarzuelas from 1890s to 1900s and a nationalist artist who asserted the beauty of Philippine folk songs and dances in his large works such as Cancionero Filipino, Filipinas Symphony (1928), the first symphony written by a Filipino, Ultimo Adios (symphonic ode), and the opera Lakambini (Maiden). These works are all preserved in a collection that Estella’s granddaughter, Mrs. Mariles Teotico had donated to UP Music Library in April 2014. The scope of preserved music manuscripts and prints in the Estella collection is unique for it chronicles a wide time period (late 1880s to 1938), the cultural history of which is yet to be written. Practically all of José Estella’s music creations–arrangements, transcriptions, and original compositions based on Cebuano balitaw, Hiligaynon Lulay, Tagalog auit and condiman, Waray Curacha–are intact in this collection having been safeguarded from the many wars (1896 revolution, 1898 Filipino-American war, and 1945 Liberation of Manila from the Japanese) that were a prelude to the first Philippine Republic in 1946.

The “Ang Maya” waltz was a piece in Estella’s 1905 sarsuwela–with Severino Reyes as librettist– Filipinas para los Filipinos, which critiqued the racist bill forbidding Filipino men to marry American women, a double-standard in colonial policy. “Maya” is rice bird, a typical object in Philippine landscape. Estella consciously represented the everyday life of common tao in the Philippines, thus predating some works by composers who graduated from UP Conservatory of Music in 1920s.

Tickets are at 500 pesos each, with discounts to students and senior citizens. For details, please contact the UP College of Music (02) 926.0026.

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Full Philippine Premiere of Dvorak’s Rusalka at Cultural Center of the Philippines and UP College of Music

The University of the Philippines College of Music will bring to life Antonin Dvorak’s heart-rending lyric fairy tale opera Rusalka on 11 and 12 September, 7:30pm at the Cultural Center of the Philippines Little Theater, Pasay City, and on 23 and 24 September, 6:30pm at the Abelardo Hall Auditorium, Quezon City. The show is directed by Alegria Ferrer with chamber orchestra to be conducted by Josefino Toledo and with sets and lighting design by Dan Silvestre and David Ohm, respectively.

In the cast are brilliant young Filipino sopranos Fame Flores and Bianca Camille Lopez, who will alternate in characterizing the difficult main role of a water sprite (serena) named Rusalka who aspires to love a human being but, in the process, was rejected and who, therefore, learnt the hazards of loving a fleshly creature that a human being is.

A full premiere of the work in the Philippines, UP’s Rusalka will be adapted to a Filipino setting, particularly to the time of Isabelo de los Reyes (1864-1938), whose contribution to knowledge of Philippine folklore is pioneering. An ilustrado intellectual of late 19th to early 20th centuries, de los Reyes documented narratives of living Philippine folk beliefs and practices of his time in order to build an archive of Philippine culture so as to understand the uniqueness of Philippine society in relation to universal truth and science.

The love that Rusalka learns in dealing with a human being in this fairy tale opera, though originating far from the Philippines, is one such truth and Isabelo de los Reyes would have easily understood its universal message. As a homage to him being a cosmopolitan Filipino nationalist who is celebrating his 150th birth centenary this year, UP College of Music juxtaposes, without translating, the original music of this opera that will be sung in English with characters whose names are familiar to Filipinos such as the spirits of the environment like diwata, hukluban, serena, nuno ng lawa, etc.

Tickets at 600 pesos each for the CCP shows and at 500 pesos each for UP are now on sale, with discounts to senior citizens and currently enrolled students. For further details, please call UP College of Music at 926.0026 or 9296963 or through UP trunkline at 981-8500 local 2639. One may also visit http://www.facebook.com/UPCollegeofmusic or twitter.com/UPCMu2014

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UP College of Music Tribute to National Artists Ramon Santos and Francisco Feliciano

QUEZON CITY, PHILIPPINES – Marking its 98th anniversary, the UP College of Music opens its faculty concert season for academic year 2014-2015 with Ipagdiwang! Tribute Concert to National Artists Ramon P. Santos & Francisco F. Feliciano at 6 pm on Thursday, 4 September 2014 at the Abelardo Hall Auditorium, UP College of Music. Admission is free but limited seats are available on first come first served basis.

Formerly known as University of the Philippines Conservatory of Music, formally opened on 4 September 1916 on Calle R. Hidalgo in Quiapo, Manila, UP College of Music has continuously nurtured the nation’s artists, scholars and teachers, and composers and has produced a number of alumni and faculty who have made significant contributions to the development of Philippine musical art, and who were later on declared National Artists for Music by virtue of a proclamation from the Office of the President of the Republic of the Philippines. These include Antonio Molina, Antonino Buenaventura, Lucio San Pedro, Felipe de Leon, Andrea Veneracion, Jovita Fuentes, Jose Maceda, Ramon Santos, and Francisco Feliciano.

The concert will honor Dr. Ramon P. Santos and Dr. Francisco Feliciano, noted Filipino contemporary composers and celebrated pedagogues, who have been recently proclaimed National Artists for Music 2014. Both have received various international awards and their works are critically acclaimed. UP university professor emeritus Santos is known for his significant contributions in studying Philippine traditional music and for his search for new directions in music, focusing on non-Western and Southeast Asian traditions. He was former dean of the UP College of Music and is currently teaching at the Theory and Composition Department of the same college. Feliciano is known for his significant contributions in bringing global awareness to the indigenous musics of the Philippines and for his leadership in liturgical music in Asia. He was a faculty member of the UP College of Music, founded the Asian Institute for Liturgy and Music (AILM), and is currently the president of Samba-Likhaan Foundation.

The program will be highlighted by tribute addresses from their noted colleagues and will feature performances of some of the composers’ celebrated works to be rendered by UP Cherubim and Seraphim to be conducted by Dr. Elena Rivera-Mirano, guitarists Lester Demetillo and Nathan Matimtim, AILM Chorale and AUIT under Mary Katherine Trangco and Eudenice Palaruan, UP Rondalla Ensemble, sopranos Bianca Camille Lopez and Jade Rubis Riccio with pianist Albert Roldan (pianist), and UP Dance Company with choreography by Steve Villaruz, which will be restaged by Herbert Alvarez for the event. UP Dance Company is under the direction of Angel Baguilat and partially consists of dancers Sarah Maria Samaniego
, Angella Betina Carlos, 
Michael Barry Que
, Minette Caryl Masa. The UP Contemporary Music Ensemble (CONEMUS) and Department of Musicology’s Tugtugang Musika Asya (TUGMA) will complete the show.

For more information and reservations, please call 926-0026/ 981-8500 local 2639 or visit http://www.facebook.com/UPCollegeofmusic or twitter.com/UPCMu2014

One can also call UP Diliman Telephone: +(632)981-8500 loc. 2629, Telefax: +(632)929-6963

A Priceless Gift of Music Heritage

The University of the Philippines College of Music library received a valuable donation of music scores on 10 April 2014, which adds to its music library’s Filipiniana collection of Rare Philippine Music Manuscripts. The donation was given by the youngest granddaughter of the famed Spanish criollo Filipino composer Jose A. Estella of late 19th century, Mrs. Ma. Angeles (aka Mariles) Estella Teotico. Once catalogued and accessible to performers and scholars, the gift will fill in our knowledge on the music cultural history of the country during the late Spanish colonial period onto the early American occupation.

Jose Estella (1870-1943) composed the ever famous soprano masterpiece “Ang Maya” and, as Dr. Kasilag wrote the bionote of the composer in the New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, the first Philippine symphony in the Philippines titled “Filipinas,” which unfortunately is missing from the donation, along with the tone poem “Ultimo Adios” that was inspired by Jose Rizal’s poem of the same title, are milestones in Philippine history for they were composed before the rise of UP Conservatory of Music in 1920s. Estella studied music in Madrid Conservatory of Music.

With Asst. Professor Alegria Ferrer, librarian Lita Estipona, and the dean of the College Dr. Jose S Buenconsejo the boxes were picked up from Mrs. Teotico’s house.

The College now plans another Philippine music heritage concert in August this year with “concierto testimonial” for the Estellas who must be thanked for because of their caring act in safeguarding Philippine cultural patrimony.

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