The Las Pinas Bamboo Organ: Centuries-Old Grandeur

The Las Piῆas Bamboo Organ: Centuries-Old Grandeur
Of the Music World
By Apolinario Villalobos

The bamboo organ of Las Piῆas was built in the early 19th century, particularly, from 1816 to 1824 by the Spanish missionary, Diego Cera of the Order of Recoletos. A remarkable man who got varied interests in the fields of architecture, natural science and agriculture, he became an organ builder by necessity. The stone church of Las Piῆas that he built, needed an instrument of such kind and having no fund for this undertaking, he decided to make one with the use of an indigenous material, the bamboo.

His lack of education and training in the field of music did not deter him from pursuing his project. He painstakingly selected hardwood for the frame, patiently pegging them together with dowels instead of nails to resist the high temperature and humidity of the environment.

He carved the 1,000 flute pipes with his own hands from the hardy bamboo stalks because it was then difficult to obtain materials of lead, copper and zinc alloys necessary for the parts. His ingenuity proved to be practical as the bamboo pipes resisted the moisture in the air which causes rust in iron materials. Later on, however, additional pipes of zinc-lead alloy imported from Spain were added to enhance the mellow sound of the organ.

The instrument, with its 3.5 tons of weight, remains one of the world’s largest single-manual organs. But remarkable of all, are its bamboo flutes that produce marvelous sound, an historical, musical and technical rarity.

In 1972, the private sector joined hands with the government in launching the “Himig ng Kawayan” Project to raise funds for the restoration of the centuries old bamboo organ of Las Piῆas which was damaged by a typhoon in 1880, after which, the organ remained idle. A sad description of the unique organ’s state was made by Fr. Marc Lesage, CICM, parish priest and curator of the bamboo organ, during the time.

As described, the base pipes were disconnected and only 500 out of the 832 pipes produced sound; horizontal trumpets numbering to 121 were not functioning, the dusty zinc pipes which imitated the sounds of birds were reduced to uselessness; the six stops ceased to function; and, a crack which developed in the wind chest that supplied air to the tubes, caused the volume to lose strength. Loose keys and pedals made it difficult to harmonize the notes. Still, other parts were missing.

When it was finally set for rehabilitation, the task was given to Hans Gerd Klais Orgalbau of Bonn, Germany. According to him, when he first heard it played in 1966, it sounded just basically alright. But due to years of neglect, it required immediate repair. He even added that he found a bird’s nest inside the instrument.

The instrument was dismantled and flown to Germany, and the consideration on the temperature was late in coming. The bamboo as a tropical material gave the repair group a headache. As a last resort, a special repair room had to be built, where the hot and humid climate of the Philippines had to be simulated to prevent the bamboo parts from drying and cracking. Replacements for the damaged bamboo pipes were especially made by the Yamaha-Hamamaku music firm in Tokyo, Japan. The rehabilitation of the organ was completed after two years of meticulous repair that included replacement of damaged parts and tuning to bring it back to its former glorious form.

Klais was not sure of the total cost he incurred, but estimated it to be more than 200,000 marks. It was Philippine Ambassador Mauro S. Calingo who received the totally repaired instrument in Germany. Finally, in 1975, the priceless musical heritage was again enshrined back in its “home”, the St. Joseph Parish Church in Las Piῆas City. A Filipino in the person of Marciano Jacela was trained by the Klais firm to maintain the organ.

Since 1992, Prof. Armando V. Salarza was given the privilege as its titular player. He is also the Artistic Director of the International Bamboo Organ Festival which is considered as the longest-running international music festival in the country held for one week, every February.

The bamboo organ has been declared as a national cultural treasure by the National Museum of the Philippines. Its preservation and maintenance are being undertaken by the Bamboo Organ Foundation, Inc., a non-stock, non-profit organization, which is also involved in the spiritual, social and educational uplift of the residents of Las Piῆas City. To date, it has already sent many scholars to Austria to hone their skill in playing the instrument, study church music, choir conducting, and develop skill in the maintenance of the organ. It also takes charge of the holding of the International Bamboo Organ Festival, held permanently at the St. Joseph Parish Church in Las Piῆas City.

Las Piῆas City is about 10 – 15 minutes from the Manila International Airport and Baclaran, depending on the traffic. Practically, every taxi driver knows the way to St. Joseph Parish Church where it is enshrined… just mention, “bamboo organ”.

“Anything can happen…”

“Anything can happen…”
By Apolinario Villalobos

There is an adage about the pen’s being sharper than sword which could just be true, as proved by the past revolutions, the fervor for which was fired by emotional poems and written rhetoric against the oppressors. Words written or spoken can either put across a direct message or leave readers or listeners hanging in the air.

In Philippine politics, words are mumbled to test the perception of the Filipinos. Past presidents who later, were judged to be not what the Filipinos expected them to be – righteous, clean, and just, invoked the Providence in staking their selfish interest to be at the helm of the country, but regrets for having installed them were late in coming, as damages have been done. From the day they were happily chosen by the trusting Filipinos to their last day of servitude, many things did happen…things that brought forth their real color, heavily tinted with bias, insensitivity, and selfishness.

The “anything can happen…” was minced with a smile by the president’s spokesperson, Lacierda. Although, he seemed to have said it with reference to the popularity of Binay who this early expressed his desire to become president, the sensitive Filipino can feel that he is referring to the “popular clamor” for another term for Pnoy, that has gone viral in the social media, via the facebook. Observers cannot help but perceive these as meticulous political orchestration.

The Filipinos can clearly discern the political design: from the impeachment of the then, Supreme Court Chief Justice Corona, which was supposedly funded by DAP; to the alleged buying of influence of lawmakers still with the use of DAP; to the haphazard implementation of “projects”, hence, half-finished, just so they can be listed as accomplishments, and the budgets of which confiscated in view of the supposedly slow-footedness of their “implementation”, and still supposedly in line with the President’s warning, “use it (budget) or lose it” that he mentioned during the SONA; to the President’s insistence about the constitutionality of the DAP, contrary to the findings of the Supreme Court; to the meeting with the World Bank representatives who declared that the country has a healthy economy, thereby, with good credit standing, a few days before the SONA; to the President’s special mention of the World Bank’s pronouncement about the healthy economy of the country, in his SONA; to the sudden deluge of clamor via facebook for Pnoy to extend his presidency; to the “hanging” of pertinent actions on important issues, some of which are about the freedom of information, Bangsamoro, wages of teachers, etc.; to the President’s ambivalent statements between listening to his “bosses” and supposedly his insisting of his non-interest for the extension of his term which would necessitate a charter change; and now the final, wait and see stance with the use of three words “anything can happen…” by no other than one of his alter egos, Lacierda.

What if Malacaῆan will finally tell the Filipinos, …sorry, but check what the bosses say in their facebooks…Pnoy must really run again…so the Constitution must be ratified, to amend the provision on the president’s term? What is apprehensive is the suggestion of a supporter in Congress to include the term extension issue to what is being discussed about the “loosening” of trade and industrial policies, to encourage more foreign investment in the country.

Obviously, Pnoy has the support of Congress and, although, majority of the senators have been silent on the issue, their careful statements are tweeted indirectly with a tone favorable to him. And, with the latest rumor about the move to impeach the Chief Justice, the wind of change seems to be gaining strength.

What is obvious is Pnoy’s insistence in mentioning projects that for him are successful every time he delivers speeches, the latest of which is the “one is to one” distribution of service arms for the police force but has been negated by findings. Then there’s the Yolanda disaster program, that he always mentions to have been successful, but which even the victims, themselves, negate, for how can it be successful when the rehabilitation program prepared by Ping Lacson has been submitted almost one year after the disaster? All his statements about immediate relief for victims have been negated not only by the victims but by the local and international NGOs that give succor to the victims. All the insistence about his “success” that he always mention in his speeches must have a reason….with a reminder, yet, that these should be continued for the sake of the welfare of Filipinos. If all political opponents, such as Binay, Cayetano, even Erap Estrada, are now being practically shot at, by exposing their anomalies, who will be left without “taint”? Your guess is as good as mine.

Indeed, anything can happen between now and 2016 election…it’s a long way to go. Even Senate President Drillon, himself, mentioned during one of his interviews that in politics, two weeks is long enough. How much more, then, for the almost two years? Coats can be turned and colors can be changed many times…while the hungry Filipinos gawk at the political circus, helplessly, with the greedy officials giving not a bit of damn.