Westernized Musical Traditions in the Philippines by Jonas Baes
Westernized folk traditions in the Philippines root from the Spanish Colonial Period of roughly three hundred years from 1521 to 1898. The creation of a colonial state and economic system as well as the influence of Roman Catholicism shaped what was to be the mainstream, "lowland-Christian" Filipino society.
A major part of the cultural experience of the people centered on religious or Christian subjects. At the beginning, Western music was introduced by way of the Spanish friars who taught Gregorian Chant for masses and other Christian services. In Lumbang, Laguna, for instance, Fray Juan de Santa Marta in 1606 gathered about four hundred boys from various places and trained them in singing and instrumental playing. Moreover, in 1742, a singing school was established at the Manila Cathedral. At about this period, baroque pipe organs were constructed of which the one at the San Agustin Church (restored in 1998) in Manila and the famous Bamboo Organ of Las Piñas survive today.
Para-liturgical rituals and folk rites developed as indigenous traditions were transformed to utilize Christian symbols. Music in these rites progressed to dialectically combine Westernized forms with native/indigenous style. The sanghiyang of Cavite, the subli of Batangas and the turumba of Laguna exemplify the syncretism of folk religion and Catholicism. Probably the most widespread among these is the Pasyon, a chanted epic-like singing of the life of Christ performed during the Lenten season.
Secular entertainment and theatrical forms would also have Christian elements. These include the moro-moro which depicts the Muslim-Christian wars, the cenaculo, a play on the passion of Christ, the duplo, a literary musical form associated with a nine-day series of prayers and the carillo, a shadow play. The Catholic Church has incorporated some of these para-liturgical rites into the regular liturgy in forms of feasts, devotions to the Virgin Mary (like the Flores de Mayo) as well as to other saints.
Other genres which may have developed from older native forms include the dalit, a long prayer or litany to the Virgin Mary, the tagulaylay, a recitative lament also used in the context of the pasyon, the awit, a chanted story. The word awit in today’s Filipino language stands for the word ‘song’. The kumintang is a war song while the kundiman is a love song. The latter developed into a counterpart of the German ‘lied’ at the latter part of the 19th and into the 20th Century.
Filipino dance music was patterned after Spanish and European dance forms. These include the carinosa, the balitao, the pandanggo, polka, dansa and the rigodon. Perhaps connected to these is the development of the rondalla, an ensemble of plucked string instruments that include the banduria, the laud, the octavina, the gitara, and the bajo. These instruments are adaptations of European instruments.
The latter part of the 19th Century saw the creation of a native intelligentsia or the illustrados. This new privileged and educated class cultivated a Euro-Hispanic culture of aristocracy and carried with them the ideals of cosmopolitanism. From this social class would emerge concert artists, pianists, vocalists, violinists as well as composers.
Famous artists include the pianists Antonio Garcia (1865-1919), Hipolito Rivera (1866-1900), and Ramon Valdez (d. 1902); violinists Andres Dancel (1870-1898) and Cayetano Jacobe (fl.1893). The Composers include Jose Canseco Jr. (1843-1912), Simplicio Solis (1864-1903), Fulgencio Tolentino (fl. 1887) and Bonifacio Abdon (1876-1944).
During the American Invasion and Pacification at turn of the twentieth century, Hispanized Filipino music symbolized the nationalist sentiment that was suppressed by the new colonial regime. The zarzuela, another theatrical form adapted from Spain became an important genre that transmitted these nationalist sentiments, so powerful that the Americans considered these musical plays seditious.
After the "pacification" of the Philippines by America—as various social and economic institutions were established—training in the European musical tradition could be acquired mainly through the educational system. Conservatories did not only provide musical training, but served as buffers so that Filipinos could acquire further musical studies in Europe and America. A tradition of utilizing folk, Hispanized musical elements and styles emerged from composers who have acquired formal musical training like Nicanor Abelardo (1893-1934) and Francisco Santiago (1889-1947).
About the author: Jonas Baes has done research on the Iraya-Mangyan music of Mindoro which has been published in journals such as "Ethnomusicology" and the "International Review of the Aesthetics and Sociology of Music". He teaches at the Asian Institute for Liturgy and Music, the Philippine High School for the Arts, and the University of the Philippines.