The impetus behind the creation of this new weblog site grew out of informal conversations with my graduate and undergraduate students in musicology at a state university in the Philippines where I currently teach, administer, and do independent research on traditional Philippine music. [I must say beforehand that my opinions are personal and done in the spirit of individual right and freedom and therefore do not reflect that institution where I work.] In particular, I have thought of putting up this site since a memorable chat I had with my students in a fastfood store in United Nations Avenue sometime in late January this year, i.e., after a concert of the Manila Symphony Orchestra at PhilAm Life auditorium where the long and massive Bruckner’s Fourth Symphony and Jose Maceda’s unconventional Siasid were performed. My students were required to attend that concert for they were to write a performance review of Maceda’s work and its philosophy of juxtaposing Asiatic bamboo instruments with European (but borrowed from Asia also) violins. In that after-the-concert dinner and chat, my students and I mused over the fact that of the more than 80 million Filipino souls existing at the present moment (and a lot of them are transnational subjects hailed as heroes by the government for they labor in the global market as caregivers, maids, etc.), we were so few and negligible in contemplating about that rare Philippine musical event and ever more so few in producing an academic form of writing about it.
In my opinion, music criticism in the Philippines is often seen merely as an instrument for publicity or visibility for the performers or as an evaluation of how good or bad performers interpret music. By interpretation, I mean in the narrow sense, i.e., whether performers play correct notes or not or whether they are expressive or not in tickling the emotions of the listeners. Well, that is 19th century ideology of expression at work in the 21st century, but music criticism in the Philippines often does not have much intellectual depth as it would and should and does not demonstrate the reading public’s well-informed discernment of musical value, opinion and taste. The lack of a more sophisticated music criticism in my country today, i.e., one that is not informed by knowledge of literature and aesthetic philosophy, is only understandable. Yet, it is problematic when seen from history because a concert tradition was already in place in Manila *since* the middle of the 19th century or at least that’s the way it can be inferred for now, given the ongoing research to support how cosmopolitan Manila was during the 19th century until its peak sometime during the 1930s. What then must be the reason for such disjuncture at present? Is the impoverished contemporary music critical writings in the Philippines attributable to economic challenges that the country has been badly facing since the era of the Dictator? That is, can we naively correlate, a la vulgar Marxism, the said poor state of art of music criticism to negative socioeconomic factors? Does the level of complexity in the economy of managing symphony orchestras and opera companies correlate with the level of simplicity or sophistication of the minds of readers and writers of concert music in the Philippines? Or, can we turn the tables around—provincializing mainstream Euro-American music criticism in affluent countries– and construe its obssesive preoccupation with art music as a symptom of narrow-mindedness, i.e., in the sense that it is ignorant of the music aesthetics of other genres like popular music or “ethnic” musics that are contemplated equally as good and pleasurable as “art” or as “cultured/cultivated” music? Who is then to say which musical values are desirable or not? These are complex and compelling questions and I cannot answer them for they need a serious and careful study on the pragmatics of music, on music as cultural capital, on the development of a reading public sphere, or, in short, in the sociology of music.
But in the meantime, I decided to put up this blogsite to enrich discussions about musics in the Philippines. I subsume any intellectual about this subject as music critical and I thus hope to offer, in future blogs, my personal opinions and questions pertaining to the aesthetic experiencing of all kinds of contemporary musics in the Philippines–from “highland/upriver” musics of cultural minorities to art music and popular music (including “pop music”) of the cities. Like musics elsewhere, these have been “tossed back and forth” and “mixed” like a salad or a soup by telepresencing media technology and by dislocated/relocated peoples. On this note, much energy has been wasted about writing this technoculture and globalization, but not much time has been spent on thinking as to how and why humanity experiences music’s presence and meaning. I will write many blogs about this specific topic later on.