This rondalla rocks!

By Gia Sidro/The Philippine Star – When composer Ryan Cayabyab (a.k.a. Mr. C) gifted a song to a small cultural school in Boston, he unknowingly gave inspiration and a sense of Pilipino-ness to children ages three to 19. His folk rhythm gave the song and the children, as the lyrics go, “many reasons to be proud.” This hymn has now become the anthem to these little Pinoy-Bostonians every other Sunday from September to July. With fervor, the kids sing along with hand signs/language.

Mr. C will again collaborate with the school along with Rachel Alejandro, Jon Joven, Celeste Legaspi and Jim Paredes in a concert at the Resorts World Manila on Thursday, July 4, a celebration for the Philippine American Day.

Who are these children from Boston?

Folks from all over New England take their family vans and drive to Bedford, Massachusetts, a suburban town 24 kilometers northwest of the City of Boston to spend an afternoon in the Town Hall where children have fun knowing about their Filipino heritage through stories, the language, cooking lessons, music and dance. Iskwelahang Pilipino (IP) was formed in 1976 by a group of parents who needed to create this learning environment for their children. A volunteer based not-for-profit organization, IP is the “longest continuously running Filipino school in the United States” (FAHNS, Seattle, Washington).

The rondalla program was established at IP 10 years later by Cristina Castro. Under the musical direction of Christi-Anne Castro, the IP Rondalla has developed into a versatile ensemble capable of playing folk, popular and art music, as well as contemporary compositions for rondalla. The students quickly found that they could incorporate dance and movement into their repertoire, a first for rondallas in general and a signature of the IP Rondalla to this day.

Boston is one of the oldest cities in the US, and with many colleges and universities in the city and its surrounding area, it is an international center for research and education. It is also a city of culture and the arts, boasting world-class writers, artists and musical ensembles. In these creative and vibrant surroundings, IP and its Rondalla Ensemble have thrived. Over the years, the IP Rondalla has matured as a truly Filipino American expression. The Rondalla regularly performs at colleges, folk festivals and other Filipino American events raising awareness about Filipino Americans and the Philippines and eliciting nostalgia for the homeland among Filipino expatriates through familiar tunes. Other highlights for the rondalla in the US include playing at the United Nations in NYC, twice performing for then Pres. Fidel Ramos, and devoting a concert to the Filipino maestro, Nitoy Gonzales.

The rondalla has two CDs: Crossing Over (1995) and Pasko Sa America! (2002), an album of Filipino and Western Christmas favorites.

As in Make Way for Ducklings, a classic children’s picture book by Robert McCloskey that was also immortalized in sculpture in the Boston Public Garden, each generation of IP rondalla students follows their peers from beginners with instruments as big as they are to advanced performers with a large memorized repertoire. Nurtured by that natural growth, teachers and leaders of the rondalla emerge from within the group itself, thus sustaining the ensemble and ensuring a new generation to carry on the tradition.

The IP Rondalla first toured the Philippines in July of 1990. The trip was an amazing cultural exchange, and the rondalla members were enriched by a wide range of experiences, from meeting young children from Smokey Mountain in Tondo to playing for then-President Corazon Aquino at Malacañang Palace. In 1998, with a host of new members, the IP Rondalla returned to the Philippines for the Centennial of the Republic. Though the most impressive performance took place at the Cultural Center of the Philippines, some of the students’ most fond memories are of hiking up a mystical mountain in Tayabas with local villagers and giving a benefit concert to help combat the ecological destruction of the mountain caused by illegal logging. In February of 2004, another generation of the rondalla returned for Cuerdas Nin Kagabsan: 1st International Rondalla Festival in Bicol. The group has also toured Europe twice, first in 1994, performing in Belgium (including a concert at NATO), Germany, The Netherlands, Austria and England, and again in 2008, playing in Switzerland and Austria.

For the upcoming tour of the Philippines, IP’s ambassadors of goodwill have been instilled with the civic spirit to donate all the proceeds of their concerts to the charitable causes of their Philippine hosts. They also have the opportunity to interact with peers and gain insight into the social milieu of the youth in the Philippines.

The rest of the Philippine itinerary will include:

•Performing with the local rondalla of the public schools (San Pablo, Laguna and the Central Luzon State University) and with the cultural groups of the sponsoring towns (Loboc Children’s Choir and Dimiao Children’s Rondalla of Bohol).

•Providing free concerts for the rural folks in Sorsogon and helping them raise funds for the St. Michael’s Parish Church in Irosin and for the Bulan Elementary Public School; in Batangas City through St. Bridget Academy as part of the centennial celebration; in UP Los Baños to help them raise scholarship funds.

•Jamming and interaction with the aetas of Bayan-Bayanan, the students of Lewis College in Sorsogon and the students of Precious Gem Academy in Fairview, Quezon City.

•Attending workshops on Philippine music and performances with their respective cultural groups at the UP, PUP and PWU to be led by Rondalla director Christi-anne Castro.

•Performing with the children with special needs of Paaralang Pagibig at Pag-asa and of the National Orthopedic Hospital.

•Meeting government officials (P-Noy and department secretaries) and attending a workshop on good governance organized by Marian Pastor Roces, Jim Paredes and Leon Flores of People Power Institute.

The children and their families are looking forward to this gig. The success is being made possible by the following kababayan who have given this road tour their full support: Tourism Secretary Ramon Jimenez for mobilizing his tourism staff in Manila, Cebu and Bohol to organize the performances and provide accommodations and meals to the Rondalla Ensemble members and their families; Education Secretary Armin Luistro for facilitating the visits to Bohol through his staff, Lillian Luna, who continues to help out in spite of having retired from the department last March; Bohol Gov. Edgardo Chatto, Bulan Mayor Marnellie Robles and Sta. Magdalena Mayor Alejandrino Gamos for hosting our performances in their respective province and towns; Lutgardo Labad of the National Commission on Culture and Arts who recommended visits to Cebu and Bohol; Harvey DyChiao who tirelessly solicited the support of the Harvard Filipino Club to be a co-presenter at the Resorts World concert; with the MIT Club in the Philippines and St. Scholastica Alumnae Foundation, Inc. (SSAFI) lending their support as well as performing for the Ayala Mall in partnership with the Subic Bay Management Authority to help with their tourism efforts; Loida Lewis for supporting our performances in Bicol; PUP Research and Extension Foundation and Vest Foundation for sponsoring our visits in San Pablo, PUP and Bataan; the families Villaseñor, Balisnomo, Rubico and the Secillano Family for hosting our visits in their respective hometowns; Asian Air Safari for taking video footage of our performances to lend to the Department of Tourism for possible marketing collateral; and Cebu Pacific Air for providing discounted air travel to Cebu.

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