Wednesday, April 27, 2011

*246. BANDA ANGELES: Marching to a Winning Tune

BAND ON THE RUN. The award-winning Banda Angeles was first place winner in the marching band competition of the 1909 Manila Carnival. ca. 1912.

Music bands, consisting of a marching group playing brass and woodwind instruments, are a staple of practically every Philippine festivity—livening up fiestas, weddings, sports competitions and even political campaigns. On the other hand, bands also provide the appropriate mood to a religious procession and funeral marches with their dirgeful pieces and sacred hymns.

In fact, in a 1521 fiesta in Cebu, Antonio de Pigafetta wrote about a retinue of women who created music while singing together, using a drum beaten with palm fronds, cymbals and a bamboo instrument called ‘subing’. With the coming of the Spaniards came formal musical training, and many musicians were employed in Spanish-formed bands that played in church rites as well as in popular entertainment like the moro-moro and the comedia.

In 1820, the first Filipino band was organized in Guimba, Nueva Ecija by Fr. Eliodoro Bustamante Chico, a Tagalog priest. He named a relative, Lorenzo Zabat, as its musical director—hence the name of the band, Banda Zabat. Its modern instruments replaced the old ‘musicong bumbong’, or native bamboo bands.

But it took an American—Lt. Col. Walter H. Loving to develop a world-class military brass band organized from the men of the Philippine Constabulary in 1902. Performing at the Louisiana Purchase Exposition in St. Louis, Missouri on May 1904, the 84-member Philippine Constabulary Band, under Loving’s baton, played the “William Tell Overture”, which they performed superbly without missing a note—this, despite a power failure in the middle of their performance. They won Second Prize and the adulation of the discriminating American audience.

The success of the Philippine Constabulary Band—they were invited to perform all over America after that—inspired musicians all over the islands to organize their own local bands. A scant five years after the PC Band’s American debut, Angeleños had their own band—Banda Angeles. The band was composed of 32 members and their first conductor was Prof. Higino Herrera of Angeles, followed by Jose del Prado (from Manila) and Lucino Buenaventura (of Baliwag).

Like all bands, Banda Angeles was maintained by a recamadero, a grand patron, who took it upon himself to supply the band with their instruments. Assuming this role was a wealthy music lover from Mexico, Don Mariano Cunanan, who helped provide the Angeles musicians with brass and woodwind instruments, most of which were made in Paris, France.

In January 1909, at their first national outing at the fabulous Manila Carnival, the Banda Angeles captivated the crowd with their rendition of Tobani’s “Crème de la Crème”. To their delightful surprise, Banda Angeles was awarded First Prize. Their victory was not lost among their kabalen and one cigarette manufacturer even proudly reproduced their image put on the package of its cigarette brand. The band, however, failed to keep their title in the next Carnival, but they continued playing locally.

Other towns with their own street bands included the Banda 31 of Sasmuan which was reputed to be the best band of Pampanga in the 1940s and the brass and reed band of Sta. Rita. The proliferation of bands in Pampanga saw the rise of inter-brass band competitions called ‘serenata’ that were usually held in the town plaza or the courtyard of the church. It was not just a test of musical skills but also of endurance, as the bands squared off by playing the most number of musical pieces—culled mostly from the operas of Verdi, Bellini, Donizetti—lasting till the early morning hours. When they ran out of classical pieces, the bands played folk songs. The last band standing was declared the winner.

From barangay bands, school bands to drum and bugle corps, Angeles City today has more top bands to be proud of, complete with baton-twirling majorettes, with smartly-dressed members all skilled at playing everything from the classics to the contemporary, playing the Philippine National Anthem as adeptly as Bruno Mars’ rearranged-for-a- brass-band,“Billionaire”. Let us just hope that they continue to bring musical cheer, and not go the way of “banda uno, banda dos”—an expression brought about by the proliferation of many contentious bands in every Philippine town, and which has come to mean disunity.

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