Musica Moralia

Resil B. Mojares


The following essay is an excerpt from MR Senior Editor Resil B. Mojares’s new book Isabelo’s Archivepublished by Anvil Publishing Inc.


By Gabrielle Lamontagne B.

{1} Their name is synonymous with music. In Manila’s Sampaloc district in the mid-nineteenth century, the Buenaventuras were famous musicians. Camilo Buenaventura was a musician and singer in the local church. His sons Camilito and Cosme served as musico mayor (chief musician) of Spanish infantry regiments in the colony. Music brought Cosme to Cambodia in1869 as one of the Filipino musicians who formed the nucleus of the royal band in the court of Norodom I. A nineteenth-century account describes a grand performance of these musicians on the occasion of the visit to Cambodia of the Spanish ship Marques del Duero in 1879.1

{2} In the late nineteenth-century, another Buenaventura, Lucino Buenaventura (1848–1923), was cornetin solista of the famed Banda del Regimiento Peninsular de Artilleria in Intramuros. He became its musico mayoraround 1888. He is said to have hailed from Lucban (Quezon) andhad settled in Baliwag (Bulacan) after his marriage to a local girl.2 Like the other Buenventuras, he was highly skilled in his art. To be a bandmaster in the Spanish Army required the candidate to pass a government competitive examination and Lucino had the choicest of postings, in Intramuros, the nerve center of Spanish colonial power.

It was the heyday of brass bands (banda). These bands flourished under the auspices of Church and State because they served a need as adjunct of the army and for the many ceremonials and festivities of the church (processions, patronal feasts, and such rites as funerals). The army bands were the most prestigious bands of the day.

{3} Yet, when the anti-Spanish revolution broke out, Lucino joined the Katipunan. He organized Banda Baliwag, a brass band that marched with the revolutionaries to battle, inspiring them with patriotic and martial airs. What bands like Lucino’s did for the Spanish army they now performed for fellow-Filipinos, building morale in the liberated areas and accompanying troops to the battlefield. There is no detailed information, however, on theactions Lucino and his band participated in.

An insurgent account of a battle in Lian, Batangas, in mid-October 1896 creates this vivid image of an unnamed band:

… The brass band continued playing lively music throughout the enemy attack; when the firing subsided somewhat, the musicians relaxed by lying flat on their backs. Still they continued playing and those with big instruments, like the bass drum and the bass horn, played with their instruments on their bellies. Thus relaxed, they played even more loudly than before. But when the enemy’s bullets began flying low over the ground, the musicians took to their heels and fled for their lives.3

To stir patriotic sentiments, bands did not only play martial tunes but music like the kundiman, a plaintive, melancholic Tagalog love song that, while addressed to a woman, easily translated into a deep, diffuse lament for home, family, and the native land. The most famous example is “Jocelynang Baliwag,” which has been called “the kundiman of the revolution.” The work of an unknown composer, it has been attributed by some to Lucino Buenaventura, and one version of its lyrics is said to have been penned by Isabelo de los Reyes, a friend of Lucino.4

{4} After the United States “pacified” the islands, Banda Baliwag continued to play. As towns prospered in the turn to the twentieth century, bands were organized under the patronage of local leaders and propertied families (who sponsored the musical instruments and uniforms). A banda was needed for civic festivities and theatrical performances, and the presence of a band conferred status on a town and its patrons and fostered community pride and cohesion.5

When Lucino died in 1922, leadership of the band — rechristened Banda Buenaventura — passed to his son Feliciano Buenaventura (1898–1976), a pianist, conductor, and composer. The band thrived, winning inband competitions, performing in various parts of the country, and, with the advent of a modern music industry, even doing sound recordings.

Another son, Federico, played the trumpet and later became band leader of the Selangor State Band in Malaysia, where he died in 1935.

As a boy, Antonino dreamed of becoming a conductor of the famous American-led Philippine Constabulary Band, which was organized in 1902and went on to gain fame in the country and abroad. In 1937, he joined the military and, with the rank of captain, became an instructor and conductor of the Philippine Constabulary Band. “My first love was the band,” he said,“ and it was in the military that this love was fulfilled and blossomed.”6

He was prolific and naturally gifted. It was said that he could set even a laundry list to music. Most of his compositions were institutional and commissioned pieces — marches and parade music for the army (like “America, We Stand Beside You,” a march for mixed chorus and band composed in 1941), institutional hymns for schools, clubs and organizations, and compositions for civic occasions (such as “Philippines Triumphant” for the first anniversary of the Philippine Commonwealth in 1936).

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By Delfina Utomo

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By Delfina Utomo

{6} After the Japanese occupied the country, Antonino was conscripted to conduct the Japanese-sponsored New Philippines Symphony Orchestra. The orchestra was organized after the Manila Symphony Orchestra refused to take an active role in the musical program of the occupation government. The MSO conductor, Herbert Zipper, was arrested and most of the orchestra’s members eventually joined the NPSO.

Artists and intellectuals struggled with the role they should play in a time of enemy occupation. There were those who believed that music mustcontinue to be heard, that the band must play on. The Japanese actively encouraged performances of European classical, Filipino indigenous, and Japanese music, in the spirit of “high” culture and “Asianism.” “Propaganda” music was also commissioned for civic, morale-building purposes under the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere. There were many occasions and incentives for musical work. It was a good time for musicians.7

Practically all the leading musicians participated in the musical life of the period, some more enthusiastically than others. Felipe de Leon was among the most active. He set to music the winning lyrics in a Japanese sponsored contest for a song that would best express the spirit of the new order. Premiered in a special concert at the Metropolitan Theater on 20 December 1942, “Awit sa Paglikha ng Bagong Pilipinas” (Song for the Creation of the New Philippines) virtually replaced the Philippine National Anthem (which, even in a reworded version, was not encouraged). De Leon was optimistic about a nativist revival under the Japanese. “With the outbreak of the Greater East Asia War,” he said, “the Filipinos have, at last, awakened from their lethargy.” “A general racial reawakening is in the fore.”8

De Leon also composed “Dai-Atiw ng Kalibapi” (Kalibapi March), the official march of the pro-Japanese Kalibapi organization. Its lyrics were so “unabashedly pro-Japanese” that a group of writers meeting secretly, after determining it was Kalibapi head and Tagalog poet Benigno Ramos who penned the lyrics, passed a resolution denouncing him “a scoundrel and a traitor and threatened him, in absentia, with liquidation when the ‘appropriate time comes’.”9

One imagines it was not easy for Antonino Buenaventura to assume as conductor of the New Philippines Symphony Orchestra. He conducted the orchestra in the inaugural ceremonies of the Japanese “puppet republic” in front of the Legislative Building in Manila on 14 October 1943. Here the orchestra played Japanese Etenraku music, music traditionally played at the Japanese Imperial Court.

Antonino shortly relinquished the orchestra’s directorship and withdrew to the relative quiet of San Pablo in Laguna, his wife’s home town, where he ran a music school. But he remained active in Manila’s musical scene, composing such pieces as “Bagong Pagsilang Symphonic Poem for Chorus and Orchestra” (1943) and “Rhapsodietta on Manobo Themes”(1943).

{7} In 1945, after the Americans returned, Antonino reorganized the Philippine Constabulary Band, now called Philippine Army Band. For the inauguration of Philippine Independence in 1946, Antonino composed a symphonic piece for orchestra, “Youth,” and for the Independence Day celebration of 1949 “Ode to the Republic.” He built the band as “one of the finest military bands in the world” and was its commanding officer and conductor until 1961.

His music was praised for keeping the “nationalist tradition” alive and capturing “the Filipino Soul.” He used ethnic materials in his orchestral works and compositions for Philippine folk dances, and insisted that music should be rooted in the rhythms of local life. Stimulation came from the “musical nationalism” that has been an almost constant current in local music history — promoted in the American period of nation-building (as in the work of Antonino’s mentors in the U.P. Conservatory of Music), and in the “Asianizing” of local culture encouraged during Japanese rule (as shown in the works of Buenaventura, de Leon, and Antonio Molina).

In 1988, Antonino Buenaventura was declared a National Artist of thePhilippines.10

It is quite remarkable how the story of one family can encapsulate a century of musical history.

{8} How does one trace the relationship between music and politics? What happens to music through the many changing contexts in which it is created and performed? What (as Theodor Adorno asks) is its “truth-value”?11

Master musician Daniel Barenboim writes: “The power of music lies in its ability to speak to all aspects of the human being — the animal, the emotional, the intellectual, and the spiritual.” “Music teaches us,” he says, “that everything is connected.”12 By this same measure, music and politics cannot be dissociated.

Investigating the politics of the musical act is extremely difficult, if by “act” we mean all the acts from composition to reception that make music exist. To think of music in this way means that we are not dealing with asingle agent, situation, or moment in time.

This does not mean that no one is responsible. There is clearly a moral weight, even political judgment, to be assigned to sounding parade music for Spanish troops, playing battle tunes for insurgents on their way to battle, composing hymns to U.S. rule, or performing Japanese imperial music at the inauguration of an occupation government.

Yet, the judgment to be made is not easy, particularly in those cases where the variables we need to attend to are not always clear or available— the text or score, its structure and content, and (more difficult in the absence of sound recordings) the performance itself, and then its effects.

What does it mean that, with whatever deliberation or intent, melodic motifs and passages from the Philippine National Anthem are woven —by a reversion of melody or some other technical move — into such pro-Japanese compositions as Felipe de Leon’s “Awit sa Paglikha ng Bagong Pilipinas” and “Dai-Atiw ng Kalibapi”?13

Barenboim says: “Music is neither moral nor immoral. It is our reaction to it that makes it one or the other in our minds.”14 This after he has cited such examples of abuse as Wagner’s music being played as Jews were sent to the gas chambers. I am not entirely convinced.

Is “musical nationalism” a self-evident good even when it is produced under the patronage of an occupation government or a local dictatorship? Does music create that private space in which one can preserve one’s autonomy and keep one’s freedom alive, or does it nourish instead a quietist acceptance of things as they are? Does the turn towards “ancient musical roots” signify an accumulation of power for the future, or a withdrawal from an inconvenient present?

While music may not be about the making of explicit statements, it creates a “meaningful” experience. What is the trajectory and truth of this experience? A musician composes and performs sounds to create tensions, play with dispositions and oppositions, build anticipations and undermine them, open up spaces of uncertainty, release emotions and thoughts. Why, and to what ends?

A musical masterpiece, Barenboim says, is a “conception of the world [that] cannot be described — because were it possible to describe it in words, the music would be unnecessary.” “But,” he adds, “the fact that itis indescribable doesn’t mean it has no meaning.”15 There may indeed be something futile about describing music, but — knowing how powerfully music shapes our consciousness — describe it we must.

Below, watch Michael Dadap and Florante Aguilar play “Jocelynang Baliwag.” Taken from the film, Harana by Florante Aguilar and Benito Bautista:




  1. Gabriel Beato Francisco, Casaysayan nang Bayan nang Sampaloc (Manila: Imprenta de Santa Cruz, 1890), 82–83. Also see Francisco’s “Ang mga Pilipinong Nagsidayo sa Kotsintsina,” Sa Labas ng Tahanan at sa Lilim ng Ibang Langit (Maynila: Limb. ng “La Vanguardia” at “Taliba,” 1916).

  2. On the Buenaventuras of Baliwag: Rolando E. Villacorte, Baliwag: Then and Now [Baliwag: The Author, 1970], 207–11; Helen F. Samson, Contemporary Filipino Composers (Quezon City: Manlapaz Publishing Company, 1976), 37–48.

  3. Santiago V. Alvarez, The Katipunan and the Revolution: Memoirs of a General, trans. P.C.S. Malay (Quezon City: Ateneo de Manila University Press, 1992), 59.

  4. See Villacorte, Baliwag, 174–77; Felipe Padilla de Leon, “Poetry, Music and Social Consciousness,” Philippine Studies, 17:2 (April 1969), 266–82.

  5. Felipe P. de Leon, “Banda Uno, Banda Dos,” Filipino Heritage, ed. A.R. Roces(Manila: Lahing Pilipino, 1977–1978), VIII:2213–17; Gilbert E. Macarandang, “Banda San Francisco de Malabon Grande” Isang Historikal na Pag-aaral sa Pangmartsang Banda sa Panahon ng Kastila,” GSEAS Graduate Journal (De La Salle–Dasmariñas), 11:1 (2006), 119–41.

  6. See Ma. Beatriz Lourdes Buenaventura Salipsip, The Life and Music of Col. Antonino R. Buenaventura (Mandaluyong City: Lourdes B. Salipsip, 2004).

  7. For an excellent essay on music during the Japanese occupation: Ramon P. Santos, “Nationalism in Philippine Music During the Japanese Occupation: Art or Propaganda?”, Panahon ng Hapon: Sining sa Digmaan, Digmaan sa Sining, ed. G.V. Barte (Manila: Sentrong Pangkultura ng Pilipinas, 1992), 93–106.

  8. Felipe P. de Leon, “A New Note in Philippine Music,” Philippine Review, II:2 (April 1944), 38.

  9. Teodoro A. Agoncillo, The Fateful Years: Japan’s Adventure in the Philippines, 1941–45 (Quezon City: R.P. Garcia Publishing, 1965), II:618–19, 622–25.

  10. See Artista ng Bayan: Antonino R. Buenaventura & Lucrecia Reyes Urtula (Manila: Cultural Center of the Philippines, 1988), 5–23.

  11. See Robert W. Witkin, Adorno on Music (London: Routledge, 1998). Adorno looks for “truth-value” in the homology between music and society, analyzing the work’s structure and internal relations to determine how it acts on the subject’s condition.

  12. Daniel Barenboim, Everything is Connected: The Power of Music (London: Phoenix, 2009), 134

  13. Agoncillo, Fateful Years, 624; Santos, “Nationalism in Philippine Music,” 101–02.

  14. Barenboim, Everything is Connected, 119.

  15. Daniel Barenboim & Edward W. Said, Parallels and Paradoxes: Explorations in Music and Society, ed. A. Guzelimian (New York: Vintage Books, 2004), x.