By Ace Gangoso
A few weeks ago, I wrote a blog post honoring the start of Asian American & Pacific Islander Heritage Month and Chamber Music Month. Today, I offer another blog entry as we find ourselves at month’s end. First, some exciting news: composer Lori Laitman’s newest album was released through Acis Productions this week, which features the quartet with Andrew Rosenblum and Maria Sumareva performing Are Women People? It is available to purchase, stream and download, and you will find more information at https://lorilaitman/hearnow.com.
I mentioned in my last post that kundiman songs of the Philippines are typically written to appear as songs of love and courtship while also carrying subtle undertones of Filipino pride in the face of Spanish colonization. The song “Bayan Ko” (My Country) is a bit of an exception in that its references are anything but subtle. In the opening line, the Philippines is called by name and is then likened to a bird in a cage longing to fly freely.
The song was written by Constancio de Guzman in 1929, over 30 years after the Spanish-American War which marked the end of Spain’s three-century-long occupation of the islands. While this may sound like a great triumph, this was ultimately a shady deal involving a staged “battle” in Manila where the Spanish agreed to transfer power to the US while totally excluding Philippine revolutionaries. Despite uprisings against further occupation, the US asserted and maintained their power by force. The Philippines would finally be granted independence in 1946, but not before going through another period of occupation by Japan during World War II.
The weight of this history still lingers today. You may sense the persistent heaviness present in these very pointed lyrics as well as the music, even after it modulates from D minor to D major. What begins as a lament becomes more and more martial, sounding just how one might expect a patriotic song to sound. Many consider “Bayan Ko” the second national anthem, and it continues to be used as a protest song in rallies and demonstrations. It is a song of immense pain and struggle, but also one of great hope and indomitable spirit.
Mabuhay ang Pilipinas!
By Ace Gangoso
May is a month worth celebrating! This month is Chamber Music Month AND Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month here in the United States. During this past season’s Origin Stories concerts, I was thrilled to explore and share my heritage through some of the music of the Philippines. One of the most fascinating and treasured musical genres of the country is called kundiman. On the surface, kundiman present as songs of longing, courtship, and love, but they have double meaning: the beloved represents not just one person as a love interest, but the Philippines itself and the pride and resilience of its native people. These creations were a means of coping with and challenging the oppressive Spanish colonial rule beginning in 1565 and lasting three centuries.
There was an interesting dynamic of resistance, a phenomenon some refer to as “Filipinization”---in a way, a form of “reverse colonization”. Filipinos learned to embrace the educational, social, and cultural practices forced upon them, but utilized them for their own benefit, recreating their own native identity through these foreign mediums. Kundiman songs illustrate this perfectly, adopting the musical idioms of Spanish dances, and scored music in the formal western classical tradition that university-trained musicians know well today.
The earliest known iterations of kundiman date back to about 1800, evolving through the century to more broadly resemble art song compositions of Europe. The composer Francisco Santiago (1889-1947) is often hailed as the “father of Kundiman Art Song,” and his 1917 song, simply titled “Kundiman” (sometimes subtitled “Cancion Filipina” or “Anak-Dalita”) is one of the most widely performed of the genre. The poem by Deogracias A. Rosario (1894-1936) is a serenade of one beckoning a love interest to come to the window to accept one’s pleas of love. It carries the characteristics most typical of kundiman: plaintive melodies, abundant tenuto and rubato, ascending tessitura, lush accompaniment, and modulation from minor to parallel major---a simple but effective way of symbolizing the journey from despair to hope.
This is the story of my ancestors, but I am sure that the feelings of loss and captivity have been ever-present to all of us this past year. May this music be a beacon of light in the darkness for you as it has been to many.
Hello, and welcome to the blog! We are Fourth Coast Ensemble, Chicago's classical vocal quartet. Join a different member of our ensemble each week for insights into our favorite art songs, links to archival and new recordings, and reflections on why we value and continue to come back to this musical medium. We proudly present, your weekly #artsongfix!