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‘Balik banda’

I’m going to take a break from politics and the elections for today and pick up on the festive season of May.

The heat can be unbearable, but it’s the heat that brings out the Flores de Mayo, many of them flowers of trees that bring such relief to bleak urban landscapes.

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The month, too, is literally festive in the sense of fiestas—town celebrations that drive many urban households crazy because helpers and caregivers ask to go home for their town fiestas, the preparations for which can last up to two weeks.

The fiestas would not be complete without the street pageantry, many of which started out as religious processions but have taken the character of Mardi Gras.

Flowers, fiestas, street theater, all visual feasts that would still be incomplete without the bands. Many towns still have them, using instruments that date back two or three generations. The band members tend to be older men with a repertoire that comes from American military marches—you know, Sousa compositions, or sad tunes (I can hear Schubert’s “Ave Maria” now) when they’re called to play for funerals.

I fear for the future of the bands, and our collective sanity. When the bands go, they’ll be replaced by karaoke gadgets blaring out bad music that is tunog-lata (the sound of cans).

But there’s hope, if we have more of the likes of UP Diliman College of Music graduating student Adrian Aaron Vocalan, from the Music Education Department, which is low-profile but is producing graduates who are shaping the future of music education, and music, in our schools and communities.

When I attended Adrian’s thesis presentation, I met other graduating music education students who chose for their thesis research projects like designing music curricula for home-schooled students, or using music for the therapy of trauma survivors.

The faculty themselves have outreach community projects. The other year, they had youth orchestras from Payatas and Angono performing in a concert, and this year, they helped out with music classes for some 80 “lumad” (indigenous people) students who were hosted by UP Diliman. One of the lumad students’ music presentations at their moving-up ceremony was Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy.”  Don’t be surprised someday if you’re mountaineering in some remote place and suddenly hear Beethoven in the hills.

But I’m digressing from the bands and from Adrian.

Adrian is from Angono, Rizal, a town that has produced so many painters and musicians that you wonder how much of it is genetic and how much is in the nurturing.

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He grew up hearing the Angono Concert Band, founded in 1947 as Banda Dos. One of the founders of Banda Dos was Adrian’s grandfather, Domingo Andres Vocalan. The band went dormant in the 1960s because its members had to attend to work and studies, but was revived in 1979 by Col. Fulgencio Gragera, a graduate of UP’s College of Music, a former member of the Manila Symphony Orchestra and a member of several bands, including the Baguio Military Institute Band.

The Angono Concert Band recorded a compact disc with 16 marches composed by Colonel Gragera, with titles like the “Baguio Military Institute March,” the “Filipino Veterans March,” the “Okaka-Okaka March.”

For his thesis, Adrian decided to transcribe the pieces in the CD recording with his own arrangements, not an easy task because you have to do this for all the instruments of the band. Not only that, Adrian came up with rehearsal plans for these pieces, naming the instruments along with objectives, methods and assessment methods.

Adrian’s thesis defense was appropriately called “Balik Banda” (The Return of the Bands), during which he presented a manuscript with the musical scores, the rehearsal plans and an analysis of each piece.  Also part of the thesis defense was a performance of Adrian’s new arrangements of Colonel Gragera’s pieces, performed by no less than the Angono Concert Band, which, I am relieved to say, has men and women of all ages. The band now has a young resident conductor, none other than Adrian himself, who is also a member of several performing groups in the College of Music, including the Padayon Rondalla and GuiGuil (Guitar Guild).

I arrived late at the recital/thesis defense, but the band obliged with one piece, “Halina sa Pilipinas,” which brings in folk tunes from all over the Philippines: “Sa Libis ng Nayon,” “Pobreng Alindahaw,” “Dandansoy,” “Salidummay,” “Pamulinawen,” “Sarung Banggi,” “Bahay Kubo” and “Tiririt ng Maya.”

The Department of Tourism might want to see how this piece can be introduced to other towns and cities, a musical travelogue that should revive interest in our bands, and help people to better appreciate the band players, composers and arrangers as master musicians in their communities.

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TAGS: Angono, Balik banda, bands, Elections, Fiesta, Michael l. tan, Pinoy Kasi, UP
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