Cuerdas Nin Kagabsan 2004

CUERDAS NIN KAGABSAN: The First International Rondalla Festival

08-14 February 2004/ Bicol region, Philippines

Cuerdas Nin Kagabsan (“Strings of Unity” translated in the Bicolano language) was made possible by the collective effort and joint resources of the National Commission for Culture and the Arts, the Development Institute for Bicolano Artists Foundation, Inc. (DIBA) from the private sector; and the city governments of Naga City and Legazpi City in the Bicol region, respectively under the leadership of Mayor Jessie Robredo and Mayor Noel Rosal. The University of the Philippines College of Music and the Cultural Center of the Philippines also contributed greatly to the success of the Festival.

The Participants

From the 34 local groups that registered, 12 were chosen. Their various ensembles consisted of members with ages ranging from 7 to 71, representing various institutions: Celso Espejo Rondalla, a family group from Las Piñas City, Metro Manila; the Candelaria Community Rondalla, a community-based group supported by their local government in Quezon province; the Davao City National High School Rondalla from Mindanao region; the Naga Central School I from Bicol region, consisting of elementary school pupils; the Handuwaran: Andres Bonifacio Elementary School Alumni Rondalla composed of talented under-privileged children from Tondo, Manila; the Kabataang Silay Rondalla Ensemble, a youth organization of the cultural office of the City of Silay, Negros Occidental province; and the Sta. Rita de Cascia Children’s Rondalla, a church group from Binagbag Angat, Bulacan province. The five selected college ensembles were the Kaanyag Pilipinas Dance Company and Rondalla from West Negros College in Bacolod City, Negros Occidental province; the University of Santo Tomas Rondalla from Manila; the University of the Philippines Rondalla Ensemble from Quezon City, Metro Manila; the six-member Kwerdas from Silliman University in Dumaguete, Negros Oriental province; and the Philippine Normal University Rondalla from Manila.

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The international participants who answered the call for participation were: the Rondalla Motivos from Guadalajara, Mexico, representing the Mexican rondalla of guitars and bass; the Three Plucked Strings, a trio from Israel playing the mandolin, guitar and harpsichord; and the Duet Phoenix from Russia with a domra-prima artist and a guitar-double bass balalaika player-singer. Among these international participants were Filipino-descent groups: the Iskwelahang Pilipino Rondalla Ensemble from Boston, USA; the Fil-Am Veterans Rondalla from San Jose, California, USA; and the Rondanihan from Canberra, Australia, consisting of Filipino expatriates and local Australians.

The Performances


Spread over three days, a total of five concerts (matinee shows and evening performances) were held at the Universidad de Santa Isabel auditorium in Naga City. The richness of the Philippine rondalla literature was doubly enhanced by the contributions of the international participants of the festival. Their combined resources produced a rare program of music ranging from classical virtuoso works, folksong medleys, religious compositions, modern pop tunes, dance pieces, parodies, love songs, as well as contemporary and experimental pieces.

Naga City Metropolitan Cathedral
Opening night concert

The festival proper concerts also included those of the opening night at the Naga City Metropolitan Cathedral; and of the closing night at the Peñaranda Park in Legazpi City. Here, one highlight was the rendition of the famed Philippine folksong Sarung Banggi (One lovely night) by the Three Plucked Strings group from Israel. The closing concert became the most spectacular of the Festival as it gathered the more than 300 participants on stage for the grand finale where they performed three ensemble pieces by different Philippine composers: Philippine Medley No.2 by Alfredo Buenaventura, Hagikhikan by Katherine Trangco, and the commissioned Festival composition by Maestro Josefino Toledo fittingly entitled Unison for Unity (Isahan sa Pagkakaisa). The music consists of a repeated motif and includes percussions such as claves, gong, and tam-tam.

Outreach performances

To ensure wider reach and deeper appreciation among different kinds of audiences, namely from different municipalities of Camarines Sur province, outreach performances were organized in selected sites: at the barangays Carolina, Goa, Iriga and Calabanga; as well as at the Camarines Sur National High School. In Naga city, additional performances were mounted at Plaza Quince Martires, at the Ateneo de Naga and the Naga Central School; and also in Legazpi City at the Pacific Mall. In the barangays, the performances were preceded by highly stimulating orientations conducted by Mr. Lakan Bunyi who also served as emcee and audience facilitator, giving preliminary insight about the festival and its performers.

There were a total of 10 outreach performances which generated audiences of approximately 17,000 people composed of community folks, primary, elementary, high school and college students from public and private schools, academe from all levels, professionals etc. Government officials and employees also formed part of the audience.

Spill-over concerts

After the Festival, select rondalla groups that included the Duet Phoenix and Three Plucked Strings were featured in concerts at the Cultural Center of the Philippines in Manila, in Nueva Ecija province and in Baguio City.


Theme: “The Rondalla: Diversity within a Shared Heritage”

(Arupe Hall, Ateneo de Naga University)

The morning sessions of the seminar-workshop consisted of lectures, seminar talks and interactions between resource persons/groups and participants of the festival. The seminar sessions were intended to provide participants with general information – historical, technical, and theoretical – about the rondalla, as well as expose them to other kinds of plucked string traditions from around the world. The flow of the seminar was designed, first, to introduce the rondalla in the Philippine context; second, to present other plucked string instruments ensemble traditions outside the Philippines; and third, to show the diaspora of the Philippine rondalla through its emergence and formation in the Western regions of the world. The speakers for the morning sessions therefore included not only local, but also foreign, experts and performing artists.

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The objectives of the workshops, on the other hand, were to provide hands-on training to rondalla teachers, trainors and conductors. Participants were required to bring their own 14-string rondalla instrument as per the request of the workshop facilitators. The workshops in the afternoon were conducted by four rondalla and bandurria experts from the Philippines and the U.S.A, namely Celso Espejo (from the Celso Espejo Rondalla), Edna Culig (from the UP Rondalla), Pacita Narzo (from the PNU Rondalla) and Michael Dadap (from the Iskwelahang Pilipino Rondalla). Celso Espejo stressed the importance of rondalla fundamentals in building a strong rondalla ensemble. Edna Culig oriented the participants on the preparations needed for and the management aspect of rondalla performance. Pacita Narzo provided important pointers for conducting and interpreting rondalla music. And finally, Michael Dadap talked about techniques for solo bandurria playing.


Title: “Cuerdas: Music, Lives, Memories”

(The exhibit was also part of the celebration of the National Arts Month, an initiative of the National Commission for Culture and the Arts)

The exhibit sought to highlight the strong rondalla tradition in the Bicol province that has been preserved by families, the schools, and the musicians who played for Good Friday processions and whose music has strong links to the church cantor of the past. Focus was placed on the role of the rondalla tradition in the lives of its practitioners and their communities. Research on the old rondalla families was presented. The musical lives of all these practitioners were for the first time given recognition and prominence.

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The exhibit also envisioned to be interactive for the visitors, making them familiar with different kinds of instruments, musical production and different cultures. Interaction activities such as instrument making demonstration, musical performances and musical/cultural sharing from international participants were scheduled.

The targeted visitors were the students coming from the Bicol region, the local community of Naga City and its environs, and all the participants of the festival.

Corollary event

The International Music Council (IMC) Executive Committee, upon invitation of Dr. Ramon Santos then Vice-President of the IMC, chose to hold their meeting to coincide with the International Rondalla Festival since the project was intended to promote the IMC Action Programme on cultural and musical diversity as a fresh strategy in advancing the cause of world peace and understanding through the celebration of common and related cultural heritage. The members who came were from such countries as Jordan, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Norway, France, China and Hungary.


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