Friday, August 16, 2013

An awesome musical night with the Iskwelahang Pilipino Rondalla Ensemble of Boston

Note:  This story was published as East Coast FilAms rock the homeland with rondalla music in the 02-08 August 2013 of the weekly FilAm Star in the Bay Area, our first as the paper's Special Correspondent - Manila.

The Rondalla ensemble in their Filipiniana (top) and contemporary (bottom) costumes during their Biyaheng Diliman concert at the University of the Philippines..

There’s no doubt that the 25 young musicians comprising the Iskwelahang Pilipino (IP) Rondalla Ensemble of Boston dazzled local audiences across the Philippine archipelago during their tour from July 2 to 22. 

That this is a group of born-in-the-USA Filipinos playing the banduria, that indigenous musical instrument now seldom heard live in the country, and other rondalla instruments (guitar, octavina, laud, and bass guitar) with an American twang could have been very inspiring to the local rondalla ensembles with whom they exchanged musical experiences.  The twang was in their inclusion of Broadway and movie medleys in counterpoint to the traditional Filipino folk and contemporary popular music in their repertoire   What’s amazing is that they danced as they evoked both nostalgic and modern airs from their rondalla and guitar strings!

We had a chance to attend their performance during their Biyaheng Diliman at the University of the Philippines Abelardo Hall in a back-to-back concert with the UP Tugtugang Musika Asyatika (UP TUGMA), which specializes in Filipino ethnic music.  This was certainly a learning exposure of the FilAm musicians to different kulintangan rhythms from brass kulintangs, gongs and native drums that accompanied tribal dances of the Panay Bukidnons, the Maguindanaos and the Maranaos .

Chant, kulintangan rhythms and folk dances from the Muslim Philippine South rendered by the UP TUGMA.

They opened their Philippine tour at Resorts World Manila with musical artists Ryan Cayabyab, Rachel Alejandro, Jon Joven, Celeste Legaspi and Jim Paredes on the 4th of July in celebration of the Philippine-American Friendship Day.

The FilAms had their tour schedules filled with encounters with local rondalla and other cultural groups in San Pablo City, Central Luzon State University, and Bohol; concertizing in Cebu City, Sorsogon, Batangas City and UP Los Banos; attending music workshops and performing with the cultural groups in UP, PUP and PWU; and interactions with Aetas, and children with special needs.

We are a frequent visitor of the East Coast, with long stays in Salem, MA, which is a short drive away to the Boston, but, as we informed an IP coordinator, we have not been told about a rondalla group in the area.  And the IP Rondalla has been playing since 1986 when it was established in 1986 by Cristina Castro with New York-based guitarist and composer Michael Dadap as musical director during the first eight years.

 Dadap was succeeded by Christi-Anne Castro, who, like other past members, became teachers of younger generations of rondalla players.  The young musicians are trained during Sunday classes at the Iskwelahang Pilipino ( at Bedford Center in Bedford, MA.

The ensemble has toured throughout the East Coast, performing at colleges and folk festivals there.  This is their third Philippine tor, the first in 1990, and the second in 1998 during the Philippine Centennial.   They’ve played before presidents Cory Aquino and Fidel Ramos.  They have done Europe in 1994 and 2004, and they’ve brought rondalla music as well to NATO in Brussels and the United Nations in New York. 

They have two CDs:  Crossing Over containing selections from their 1994 European tour, and the Pasko sa America comprising Filipino and Western Christmas favorites.

It warms the heart that Philippine culture in its varied forms is being nurtured in Pinoy communities throughout America, and in this instance, traditional rondalla music kept alive by FilAms born in the East Coast, US of A.  It’s an awesome achievement of the Iskwelahang Pilipino, a non-profit cultural organization run by volunteers since its founding in 1976, whose goal, among others, is “to develop in Filipino American children a strong ethnic positive ethnic identity and instill pride in [their cultural heritage.”  And they started the IP Rondalla as an “attempt to revive a musical genre that was [already] disappearing in the Philippines in the 1980s”.  Awesome, indeed!

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