Friday, March 02, 2007

strings of unity

If there is anything that could transcend barriers of geography, politics, language and culture, music may well be one of its most vital keys.

In celebration of the second International Rondalla Festival, the musical concert was held at the Claire Isabel McGill Luce Auditorium last February 22, plugged as One: Cuerdas sa Panaghiusa or Strings of Unity showcasing unique and world-class performances from Israel, Russia, and our very own Philippine representatives.

It was presented by the National Commission for Culture and the Arts.

“‘Strings of Unity’ means that with music, with sound, with art, we can connect. We build a bridge where politics and economies have separated us,” said Yueal Avital of the Three Strings Plucked group from Israel, a war-torn country knowing full well the significance of unity and peace. “Through this, we find ourselves in our highest form of expression.”

It may be distressing to find that the rondalla is said to be on the verge of disappearing in the music scene. But thankfully there are various groups and organizations that uphold the rondalla as part of their country’s rich cultural heritage. This then counters the stringed instrument’s lack of palatability in the popular market.

“We attend workshops every summer para malalaman din namin kung anong bagong piyesa ang maaari naming matutunan,” said Andrew Duma-up, one of the lively children of the Kabataang Silay Performing Arts and Rondalla Ensemble.

One composition, Yueal Avital’s “Dark Red City”, showed such adoption of popular contemporary trends in music. Collaboratively played by Silliman’s own Kwerdas group with the Israel ensemble, Avital remarked, “For me, the words ‘experimental’, and ‘avant garde’ are just terms of freedom: freedom to express yourself, freedom to put something from yourself that has not been done already.”

Avital further stressed that there are certainly risks to be expected because the expression he mentioned were not familiar to the listeners. The instruments employed weren’t very familiar, either.

“My musical instrument is called the double-bass balalaika -- the large triangular shaped guitar. I’ve been playing it for quite a long time,” Radi Gareev, one of the players of Quartette Phoenix from Russia, proudly said, having played his unique instrument for thirteen years.

Rondalla music has indeed summoned music lovers and players together, ranging from countries in the West like Mexico to the East like Japan and China. Many delightful surprises have been in store for them, as well as for us in the host province. Also, for all it’s worth, we’ve just made the world a little more united.

“Once in our lives we have been part of this international event, and it is overwhelming that there is music like ours played in different parts of the world. Experiences like these are very memorable,” expressed Mathilda Erojo, who led Silliman’s own contingent.

“It is a big opportunity of us to be in the 2nd Rondalla international festival. We were concerned because we might make mistakes when performing our pieces, however well screened and pinaghandaan they were,” said young Andrew of Kabataang Silay, the group from Negros Occidental. “Because in some cases, it happens on the spot. Meron talagang lapses na mangyayari and therefore we cannot avoid that. But seeing the audience’s smiles at what we had done is always really priceless.”

“The festival is a bond,” said Yueal.
“It is very profound and philosophical,” said Radi.
“It is heavy?” jokingly said the pregnant Mathilda.
“It is an honor,” said Andrew.

Now three years after the first festival was held in Naga City, Bicol, during the National Arts Month of 2004, this year’s second edition was given as a gift to everyone who cares for the art of the rondalla. Even with the different tunes, players and instruments, the same familiar objective still remains—to unify.

(photos taken by Leon Medado)

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