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Believe it or not, a Philippine band had taken part in a US presidential inaugural

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RON Michael Soriao conducts PA Band

The Philippine Army (PA) Band recently gave a tribute concert in honor of Walter H. Loving, founder of the prewar Philippine Constabulary (PC) Band, at the Philippine Army headquarters in Fort Bonifacio.

The concert was held in time for the launching of the book “In Performance: Walter H. Loving and the Philippine Constabulary Band,” written by Robert Yoder and published by the National Historical Commission of the Philippines (NHCP) on Feb. 28.

Some 98 musicians of the prewar PC Band were gathered and reorganized in 1945 to constitute the Philippine Army Band by Lt. Antonino Buenaventura, who became its commanding officer until he retired in 1962. The reconstitution was done in response to the order given by Maj. Gen. Basilio Valdez,  the national-defense secretary.

Loving, an African-American, had established the PC Band on Oct. 15, 1902. Loving went beyond engaging the band in military ceremonies. He transformed it from the parade ground to the legitimate concert hall, playing symphonic pieces.

Loving, who was loved and respected by the Filipino musicians, led the band from playing the usual band pieces into sophisticated symphonic pieces. The band played the symphonic repertoire regularly in outdoor concerts (serenata), initially at Binondo Square, Plaza Calderon de la Barca, in front of Binondo Church, then later, the more popular promenade, Luneta.

Outside the Philippines, the PC Band played during the St. Louis Exposition in 1904; Panama-Pacific Exposition in 1915; and Golden Gate Exposition in 1939.

Special place

It also played for the presidential inaugural of William H. Taft in 1909, accompanying him from the White House to the Capitol, where he took his oath of office.

The PC Band’s playing broke the long-held tradition of the US Marine Band’s playing and escorting the newly elected president to take his oath.

Taft, of course, had a special place in his heart for Filipinos since he was the first American governor general of the Philippines, during which time he played Big Brother to Filipinos and encouraged the band’s formation.

In the tribute concert, held at Security and Escort Batallion’s Bayanihan Hall, a bucolic makeshift performance venue adjacent to a pond, favorite pieces of Loving were played.

Lt. Ron Michael Soriao, commanding officer of the band; Maj. Jesus C. Diaz, former CO; MSgt. Crisanto Diaz; and Lt. Peterson de Vera took turns in conducting the band. Karel S. Dabu graciously hosted the program.

From the opening number, Daniel Fajardo’s “Col. Walter H. Loving March,” to John Philip Sousa’s “Hands across the Sea,” to the more sophisticated “Oberon” Overture by Webber, it was glorious listening to grand band symphonic sound.

Potenciano Gregorio’s “Sarung-Banggi,” purportedly a favorite of the prewar band, was also played with De Vera conducting.

A novelty piece, “Bohemian Rhapsody,” perked up the program as Soriao conducted the band with gusto.

Yoder receives a certificate of appreciation from Pedro C. Dulos as Eduardo Tubiera looks on.

Both Fajardo and Gregorio were members of the prewar PC Band.

Loving composition

When the band conducted by Diaz played “Beloved Philippines,” with a male quartet singing the text written by Loving himself, one felt a lump in the throat.

Incarcerated with his wife Edith at University of Santo Tomas, Loving composed the song and wrote the text. Seeing the country he loved so much being desecrated by the Japanese, he expressed the lofty sentiment of patriotism in the song that he scored in a hymn-like fashion, so noble and touching with the refrain: “We’ll fight for you; we’ll die for you, Beloved Philippines.”

Hearing the PA Band after a long, long while, one renewed familiarity with its unmistakable sound that became the toast of band enthusiasts and musicians in the past.

I was associated with it in the early ’70s, doubling as choral conductor for the band members and writer under then CO José Francisco G. Dunca Jr.

Dunca graced the program with his presence together with another former band CO, Gen. Eliseo Javier.

It is nostalgic to recall that, on Oct. 15, 1974, the PA Band gave its 72nd anniversary concert at the CCP with Colonel Dunca conducting. Under his incumbency, he put up the Col. Walter H. Loving Society, which included some 45 original PC Band members.

Mother of PC Band

More important, the concert was graced with the presence of Edith Loving. Dubbed Mother of the PC Band, she was happy to renew company with the prewar band members.

ROBERT Yoder with officers and members of PA Band and guests

The PA Band still weaves seasoned and well-honed sound. It still capably displays the hallmark of excellence honed by a long tradition of sensitive playing, which continues to allure.

It is unfortunate one rarely hears it perform nowadays, as it used to in the past in concert halls, such as Meralco Theater or the CCP, and outdoor venues.

Yoder presented a copy of the original manuscript of his book to the command. It was received by Col. Pedro C. Dulos, deputy commander of the headquarters and Headquarters Support Group (HHSG), witnessed by Lt. Col. Eduardo Tubiera, executive officer of the Security and Escort Batallion, and Col. Noel Buan, chief of staff, HHSG.

Yoder’s book is based on the thesis he wrote for his MA degree, which he earned in North Carolina Central University. A highlight of the book is the extra musical career of Loving treated in a chapter, that of being a military agent in 1916-19, which he pursued for the “welfare of his country.”

Magic wand

In his brief remarks, Yoder commended the band for their magical rendition, and the innate musical talent of the Filipinos.

He recalled several anecdotes of the band, including the incident when it played Rossini’s “William Tell” Overture in total darkness at the St. Louis Exposition. Instinctively, Loving tied a white handkerchief at the tip of his baton and waved it like a magic wand for an hour, accurately cueing the musicians who played from memory.

When the lights went on, Loving and his “little brown men” instantly became world celebrities. A plaque of appreciation was later given to Yoder.

In his response, Dulos said Loving’s task of establishing the band was a milestone in the history of band music in the country. He expressed admiration for the band’s sterling performance, and led the audience in giving it a hearty applause.

The glorious tradition set out by the PC Band continues to live on, and is carried on by the Philippine Army Band. A lasting legacy, the PA Band deserves to be heard more often.


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