Article: Re-sounding the Abelardo Hall: Vignettes of an Imminent Revival
Re-sounding the Abelardo Hall: Vignettes of an Imminent Revival
By Lisa Decenteceo
It was in February, during the second semester of the 2022-2023 academic year, that the University of the Philippines (UP) fully re-opened amid what seemed to be a waning pandemic. University instructors have been allowed to hold in-person classes for at least half of the semester, a development welcomed by many but embraced by the College of Music (CMu; also known as the Abelardo Hall) at the UP campus in Quezon City, Manila. Although the college persisted with virtual events (despite a perpetual struggle with Philippine internet structures), it has been hard, even somewhat an identity crisis—a sonically vibrant space in the university campus had been “silenced,” as it were, deprived of the diverse, near-unmediated musical activities at its helm and the cultural dynamism that these resonate. Thus, the UP’s re-opening worked like an elixir of sorts that reawakened musical experiences foundational to the CMu.
March 17, 2023 saw the launch of a book called Maceda, Spahlinger and the Dialectics of a “New Music” Praxis in Southeast Asian Modernity by composer and scholar Jonas Baes. Baes offers a Hegelian understanding of modernist art music composition by drawing from the philosophies of German composer Matthias Spahlinger and Philippine National Artist for Music Jose Maceda, and an analysis of select works. Held at the UP Vargas Museum, the launch brought in performances by percussionist Max Riefer of the University of Lübeck, Germany-based clarinetist Nina Janben-Deinzer, and students of the CMu. The event rekindled an Abelardo Hall tradition of re-examining musical identity through stimulating discussions and live music as it sustained the creative-intellectual heritage of Maceda, the revered ethnomusicologist-composer who laid the groundwork for the CMu’s music research programs.
CMu students and guest artists perform for composer and scholar Jonas Baes’s launch, (photo
courtesy of the University of the Philippines Center for Ethnomusicology, 17 March 2023).
Music research at the Abelardo Hall extends toward hosting guest artists from overseas. On February 17, the college welcomed Leonard Eto, an accomplished Japanese percussionist. Although he identifies as a specialist on taiko drums, Eto employs a range of possible approaches on the instrument, as well as on many others, cognizant of the role of hybridity in musical creativity. In effect, Eto offers a refreshing “insider” response to lingering valorizations of authenticity, cultural purity, and on the necessity of innovations within tradition. On March 14, meanwhile, the Traditional Music Society (Tradsoc) of the University of College Cork, Ireland held an Irish traditional music workshop while on an international tour that celebrated St. Patrick’s Day. Organizers moved the event from the UP CMu Museum of Instruments to the UP Dance Studio. The latter provided better accommodation for an unexpectedly large turnout and for the cultural exchanges that took place: CMu students attempted Irish folk songs and step dancing while Tradsoc members tried the Philippine dance tinikling. The audience offered an enthusiastic, if not boisterous, reception, one that had, until that point, been rarely seen and that the guest artists and organizers found immensely rewarding.
Leonard Eto during the Traditional Japanese Drum Workshop
(photo by Ma. Patricia Brillantes Silvestre, 17 February 2023).
Members of the Traditional Society of Music at the University College Cork, Ireland treat
the CMu community to a workshop on Irish step dancing. In an exchange, CMu dance students
teach them the basics of the tinikling dance(grabbed from videos by
Ma. Patricia Brillantes Silvestre, 14 March 2023).
Toward the end of March, the UP Tugtugang Musika Asiyatika (TUGMA), one of the CMu’s student organizations, hosted the seventh iteration of “Asian Music Week: Samot-Sari” (roughly, “various,” “diverse,” or “mixture”). It included a culminating concert that featured performances of music from the Northern and Southern Philippines, on the rondalla ensemble, and the Javanese gamelan, following days of traditional music workshops led by the organization. Although overwhelmed by participants, TUGMA enjoyed the privilege of educating students who are not typically exposed to “non-Western” musics. Further, the inability to use the Abelardo Hall Auditorium, a default venue for most CMu happenings, due to a long-haul renovation, was perhaps less of an inconvenience than a blessing that week. Obliging the use of an outdoor venue, it helped to create a familiar soundscape of gong, bamboo instruments, and percussion that permeated from the Abelardo Hall courtyard through the college and beyond.
An assembly of Southeast Asian gongs and drums at the CMu courtyard for the TUGMA’s
Samot-Sari culminating concert (photo by Ma. Patricia Brillantes Silvestre, 30 March 2023).
A rondalla ensemble takes center stage during the TUGMA’s culminating concert
(photo by Ma. Patricia Brillantes Silvestre, 30 March 2023).
To be sure, music schools everywhere revel in the emergence from quiet and isolation, but the feeling that comes from one’s own reinvigoration is special. Although the above snapshots merely amount to four within a span of a month and exclude many other musical moments, they readily reveal a glimpse into the wealth of music-making that takes place at the CMu and serve to enliven the spirits of CMu community members who had barely set foot at the college in the past three years. Most of all, perhaps, they offered a sense of nostalgia and rootedness—admittedly, a sense of home—to those who know the college best.