It was almost four decades ago, in May 1975, when residents of Las Piñas started to celebrate the International Bamboo Organ Festival.
It was the beginning of the city’s celebration of its religious, cultural and musical heritage. At that time, the celebration was made to mark the return of the bamboo organ after having been shipped to and restored in Bonn, Germany, in 1973.
But the instrument has been around since 1824, eight years after Spanish Recollect missionary Fray Diego Cera de la Virgen del Carmel spearheaded its construction. Natural disasters, however, rendered the bamboo organ unplayable, thus, the instrument was stored in the old sacristy to be forgotten for a long time.
To this day, the bamboo organ remains one of a kind in that it has bamboo for pipes. Of the total number of 1,031 pipes, 902 are bamboo and the rest are metal. Very few Filipinos truly know its worth.
Questions such as “where is the sound amplifier?” and “does it run on electricity?” are common. Even some trained pianists, says organist Armando Salarza, are oblivious to the instrument’s fragile nature.
“You play the bamboo organ differently from the piano,” Salarza says. “There’s a special technique needed.”
Special playing technique
Salarza explains that the bamboo organ is first and foremost a wind instrument, the only one of its kind where the musician need not blow into it to make the air vibrate and produce sound.
In playing it, the organist has to go to it as it cannot be moved, and the instrument’s location plays a large role in how the musician should adjust his technique.
Playing the bamboo organ at St. Joseph Parish Church is not how one would play, say, the 33,000-pipe organ at the Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City, New Jersey, said to be the loudest musical instrument ever made.
And what of the organist? The international music festival has drawn guests from different parts of the world, both lovers of music and organists who want to play the instrument.
Ideally, Salarza says, he would want a Filipino to be playing the bamboo organ, and he is on the lookout for the next generation of passionate musicians to take over from him.
The Bamboo Organ Foundation, Inc. (Bofi), he adds, is there to ensure that, other than oversee the maintenance of the organ.
For this year’s festival, Bofi expects Filipinos to appreciate more the bamboo organ as it brings to life the music of El Siglo de Oro.
It was during this time when Spain not only claimed the Philippines but also experienced cultural affluence and became a global cultural force, as it remains today.
The festival begins on Feb. 20 with an invitation-only gala concert featuring music from Spain’s Golden Age, which includes the secular and sacred villacincos from the Late Renaissance to the Baroque period.
Performers include American Colin Andrews (organ); Salarza (organ); Villancico Vocal Ensemble; Las Piñas Boys Choir; Musika Sophia; Germany’s Carsten Linck (guitar). Eudenice Palaruan conducts.
‘The concert will have repeats on Feb. 21 and 26, which will be open to the public.
“Concert under the Trees” will be on Feb. 22 and will feature contemporary music from the World Championships of the Performing Arts artists, and the competition’s first Filipino world grand champion, Jed Madela.
Feb. 23 will witness “Evening of Organ Music,” with Andrews playing Spanish compositions on the bamboo organ and J.S. Bach on the auditorium organ. The auditorium organ was constructed to serve as a training instrument for future organists of the bamboo organ.
Surviving boys choirs
On Feb. 25 will be “Night of Two Boys Choirs—Dos Coros De Tiples,” featuring the two surviving boys choirs in Metro Manila, the Tiples de Sto. Domingo and Las Piñas Boys Choir.
Salarza says the two choirs will do a world premiere of two commissioned works. Both Salarza and Trummer will play on the organ.
This year’s festival is presented by Bofi with the National Commission for Culture and the Arts, Department of Tourism, Bishop Jesse E. Mercado of the Diocese of Parañaque, former Sen. Manuel Villar, Sen. Cynthia Villar, Rep. Mark Villar, Mayor Vergel Aguilar and the City Government of Las Piñas, Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation, Embassy of Austria, Embassy of the Kingdom of Belgium, St. James the Great Parish, Diego Cera Organ Builders, Via Mare, Manila Hotel, San Miguel Brewery, Martini Asti, Benjie’s and Alfonso’s Catering Services, Menzi Trust Fund, Banco de Oro, RCBC, Elan Vital, BPI Foundation, OOCL (Philippines), Meralco, D2P Research, Guido Dedene & Agnes Cabiara, Lamoiyan Corporation, Banco de Oro-La Huerta Branch, Riguera Realty and Development Corp., Sonny Zulueta, Social Security System, Royal Air Charter Service, CableLink, Marilag, Evergreen, Duty-Free, Casimiro Development Corp., and Nestlé.
Call 8200795, 8257190, 0999-5087838. E-mail [email protected]. Visit www.bambooorgan.org.