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Half Rests

Music was everywhere in my childhood, ubiquitous like the 23 other sounds I had learned to distinguish by the time I was four. The phonograph my grandfather built out of cylinders, styli, motors, and pivots, stayed faithful to his sousa and kundimans, even as music styles were transformed into contemporary rock and pop.

Nostalgia and pathos are syncretic elements of the kundiman. A derivative of the kumintang (Tagalog war song), and a counterpart of the lied (German art song), it is an evolved genre, retaining both Philippine and Western musical forms and traditions. Its melodic contours are defined by parallel minor and major keys in moderate triple time; the relationship between pattern and meaning is formalized in its 12-syllable poetic verse structure. The kundiman's narrative thematically centers on undying love:

Ang tangi kong pag-ibig ay minsan lamang / Ngunit ang 'yong akala ay hindi tunay / Hindi ka lilimutin magpakailan pa man / Habang ako ay narito at may buhay. [1]

and the presage of hope and deliverance:

Sa dilim ng gabi / Aking nilalama'y / Tanging larawan mo / Ang nagiging ilaw / Kung ikaw ay mahimbing / Sa gitna ng dilim / Ay iyong ihulog / Puso mo sa akin. [2]

The 1896 Revolution against Spain fomented a sense of nationalism among composers, such that the kundiman became an important channel for the expression of love for country. In Jocelynang Baliwag, later known as kundiman ng himagsikan, the real person object of Pepita Tiongson Y Lara was transposed into the image of the motherland. [3] Early in American colonial rule (1898-1946), the kundiman was raised to the level of art song. At this time, recording companies such as Victor and Columbia, produced kundiman and sarswela songs by Francisco Santiago, Constancio de Guzman and Nicanor Abelardo. During the Second World War, the occupying Japanese banned all American and allied music, favoring instead Philippine and other Eastern musical forms. Interestingly, Japanese music failed to influence Philippine style and content. In the 1950s, Villar Records resisted the Western pop trend, and began producing kundimans, folksongs and local pop songs, including Mike Velarde's Dahil sa Iyo and Leopoldo Silos' Diyos Lamang ang Nakakaalam. By the 1970s, Pinoy rock started gaining acceptance, and songs characterized by sentimental subjects and lyrics in combined Tagalog and English were introduced. Protest songs including Constancio de Guzman's Bayan Ko, helped form an alternative music, such as those by Joey Ayala and his Bagong Lumad, focusing on sociopolitical and environmental ills. Although Philippine popular music is largely Western-inspired, traditional views on love and fate prevail in local ballads. Towards the end of the 20th century, all-Filipino recordings rose to 60%, reversing the conditions of the 1980s. [4]

In a measure are intervals of silence as resonant as echoic memories. Like two beats and semitones, shifting keys invoking unshakeable things: ventanillas bearing witness to the passage of slight winds; floral patterned cottons savoring mango-scented skin; sounds riding in grooves etched on paraffin. If I had sufficient emotional stamina, I would have written about my grandfather, as the young man with the phonograph. Maybe another time. Kung hindi man, his music, too, is an unshakeable thing, resting where it cannot be moved. Songs at 10 and at 70 are all between a beat and a beat.


[1] Constancio de Guzman (composer), Alfredo Buenaventura (arranger), Ang Tangi Kong Pag-ibig (Audio recording accessed [20 June 2004]), <http://www.seasite.niu.edu/Tagalog/Tagalog_Default_files/
Tagalog%20Songs/ tagalog_love_songs_fs.htm
>. (The date of composition is unknown. It became a hit in 1952 when it was recorded by Carmen Rosales. Following its success, it was translated into English by Xavier Cugat and recorded by Carina Afable in her album "Forgive and Forget" under Columbia Records. In the 1960s, the song became the theme and title of Dely Magpayo's radio program. Source: mrmusiko.com)

[2] Francisco Santiago (composer), Levi Celerio and Deogracias A. Rosario (lyricists), Anak Dalita (Midi sequence courtesy of Ian-James R. Andres, accessed [20 June 2004]), <http://www.geocities.com/philippinemusic/santiago.html>. (This piece was sung upon the request of Alfonso XIII before the Royal Court of Spain. Source: mrmusiko.com)

[3] Ramon Santos, Constructing a National Identity Through Music (Accessed [20 June 2004]), <http://www.ncca.gov.ph/culture&arts/perspectives/natlidentitymusic.htm>.

[4] 'Philippines, §III, 1: Western art music', Grove Music Online ed. L. Macy (Accessed [21 June 2004]), <http://www.grovemusic.com>.

© Aileen Victoria Ibardaloza

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