IN my time in grade school and high school, the Las Piñas Bamboo Organ was always mentioned as one of our heritage treasures together with Pagsanjan Falls and the Salinas Salt Mountain in Nueva Vizcaya. There were others, of course, but having been a stamp collector at that time of high school, I remember vividly stamps depicting these three iconic Philippine treasures. So much so, that they were filed in my mind at that time in Baguio City to some day seek them. And I did.
Pagsanjan Falls near Manila was an excursion, the Bamboo Organ in Las Piñas was a short drive from my residence in Pasay City and finally, on the way to Cagayan Valley, I took a side trip to see the mountain of salt. All of these efforts were fulfilling because I was taught about their beauty as natural wonders and their value as heritage objects.
The Bamboo Organ Festival, an institution here since 1975 when the organ came back from Germany after much needed rehabilitation, takes place every February at the Las Piñas Church which itself was restored to its former glory sometime in the 1970s. International and local artists participate in the festival attracted by the unique instrument that is the Las Piñas Bamboo Organ.
Built between 1817 and 1824 by Fray Diego Cera, a Recollect priest assigned to the parish of Las Piñas, it is a unique instrument that has worldwide fame for its use of bamboo instead of metal pipes. Fray Cera was already 56 years old and had been in the parish for 17 years when he started building it. He came from a family of organ builders from Huesca in Spain and he built the organ in the manner of an 18th century Spanish organ. It is said that he had the bamboo cut under close supervision and then immersed in the saltwater of the Las Piñas coast. It seems to have done the bamboo good because when being cut in Germany during the organ’s rehabilitation, it was like cutting glass so sturdy and so compact, so long-lasting and so solid it was.
With the return of the Bamboo Organ from rehabilitation, the Bamboo Organ Festival was born and among musicians is famous and attractive enough to hope for an invitation to participate. There is a well-known Filipino organist, Armando Salarza, who is the titular organist of the Las Piñas Bamboo Organ who is also a composer. He plays the bamboo organ as part of the festival program. In fact, the Bamboo Organ Festival encourages and welcomes Filipino composers to produce music for it. It has an ongoing organ composition competition.
The festival has the full support of the Las Piñas Local Government, the NCCA and the Department of Tourism. The musical community is very well represented in its week-long program with classical music contributions from the Manila Symphony Orchestra, various choirs including the Las Piñas Boys’ Choir, the UP Jazz Ensemble, Sitti, the Bossa Nova singer, leading tenors and sopranos and foreign participants, including conductors and instrument players. The latter this year aside from an organist and pianist were pan flute and piccolo soloists.
The gala evening on February 18 opened with the Magnificat of Francesco Durante (18th Century) followed by Jesu Meine Freude, a Motet by Johann Sebastian Bach, two concerts by Vivaldi, a composition for bamboo instruments and the bamboo organ titled Caña performed by Las Piñas choir boys concluding with the Misa Criolla of Ariel Ramirez, an Argentinian composer.
Within the brightly lighted church, with the cool starry evening and an incipient full moon outside, the music was heavenly, soothing, gracious, bringing on serenity and joy to the audience.
The Bamboo Organ has brought to existence the Diego Cera Organ Builders of Las Piñas who are building classical organs with traditional materials (metal pipes) for the world. At the back of the program brochure they have an ad with an image of the pipe organ they built for the Catholic Cathedral of Vladivostok, Russia.
They also have CD s showing historical organs of the Philippines for the education of young Filipinos and all Filipinos. In these times of many distractions, most of them ephemeral, we must underline the permanent, the historically valuable and the artistic models that we have and should always revere as part of our identity and cultural achievement.
Lately, the Bamboo Organ Festival lacks more support from private individuals who simply need to buy more tickets and attend the performances. If pop singers and popular bands can fill our concert halls and arenas, there should be more than enough music lovers that could enjoy the Bamboo Organ Festival. It is felicitous to note that the Local Government of Las Piñas, the Department of Tourism, the NCCA and others like Glenda Barretto of Via Mare are making their contributions for its success. But there is a need for more corporate sponsors, more ticket-paying audience and other private institutions that believe in culture and the arts to help.
It is an enormous undertaking to put on the Bamboo Organ Festival. It requires many resources but it is well worth it as expression of the history and art that define us.