Concert at the Park presents
Rondalla Music at the Park

There are several versions of the origin of the rondalla. One says that in the beginning it was a group of young men who went around regularly to play and sing in front of houses. Another says that it was a group of street musicians begging for alms. The group, it says, was called murza or murga, and there were also groups like it in Spain and Mexico. Still another says that it was a musician's group playing on the stahe and that it was called a comparza. And there's that one saying that it was a typical music group popular among universities in Spain as the estudiantina - or tina for short. The members of the group played mandolins, violins, guitars, flutes, cellos, basses, tambourines, castnets, and triangles. The students donned pirate costumes.

The terms comparza and rondalla seemed popular in the higher strata of the musical society. They had the same connotation, although in the Philippines, the term comparza was popularly applied to the group only during the Spanish regime and up to the early years of American domination, when rondalla took over. Today, any group of stringed instruments played with the plectrum is called a rondalla.

The rondalla instruments are the bandurria, the laud, the octavina, the guitar, and the bass-guitar (bajo de unas). The bajo de unas has became unpopular and the orchestra's string bass, or contrabass, a poor substitute, has taken its place. The piccolo and the percussion instruments (bass drum, snare drum, and cymbals) have also been added. In a larger combination, the conductor now adds the mandolin, the violin, and the viola and makes the percussion section more colorful by putting in the marimba, or xylophone, the tambourine, castanets, the triangle, the tom-tom, and the like. Of all these instruments, the bandurria is the mainstay of the group. It has the biggest number of players in the family of instruments to which it belongs. Other instruments on the string and percussion sections are added when the rondalla must assume a symphonic nature. In this case, the number of players increases to 60 or more, proportionately doubling or tripling the number of original and authentic instruments of the group.

The guitar, brought into the Philippines by the Spaniards, may be said to have inspired the development of the rondalla in the country. Filipino ingenuity produced several other instruments modelled after it - and these new instruments joined the guitar in the group that was to develop into the rondalla.

Besides the native talent that produced the instruments, there was the Filipino natural inclinatrion toward music, which the Spanish friars encouraged by giving free instruction in music and recruiting the musically-talented for training in the playing of various musical instruments. Many musicians later flocked voluntarily to the convents to study not only the playing of musical instruments but the theory of music as well.

Those who took lessons under the friars studied the instruments of their choice. Among the instruments to choose from were the piano, the organ, the violin, the flute, and the guitar. Those who chose the guitar as their major study had also to learn to play allied instruments, such as the bandurria and the laud, which were already manufactured by the Filipinos. The popularity of the stringed instruments was such that the study of the instruments often became a family affair. Some Filipinos not only played the instruments but also went into the business of manufacturing them.

Some of the personalities connected with the history of the rondalla in the Philippines: Pedro Buencamino; Victorino Carrion; Manuel Antonio Mata; Natalio Mata; Leonardo Silos; Rosalio Silos; Telesforo Sucgang and Nicanor Abelardo.

Rondalla festivals and contests began to be sponsored by the government offices and private entities. The motive behind the sponsorship was to raise the standards of the rondalla organisations and to develop further the talents of the performers.

The rondalla plays music ranging from the simple folk songs to the complicated classical and romantic forms. It achieves better sonority, however, when it plays native dance music and folk music. The professional groups play selections from operetas, operas, and the like. Overtures are among their masterpieces. The rondalla also plays dance crazes like the mambo, the cha-cha, the rock 'n' roll, the calypso, and the jerk. It provides music for radio plays. It plays during baptisms, weddings, funerals, and fiestas. It also renders accompaniment to vocal, violin, and other instrumental solos, and to choral ensembles. Rondalla music brings cheer to the tired farmer and inspiration to the homemaker.

Not all the Filipino composers wrote for the rondalla. Some composed and arranged music for the rondalla on request. There were composers directly or indirectly connected with rondalla groups and some composers saw the rondalla as a medium for expressing their musical ideas or as something with which to create unique effects in tone color.

Some of the composers involved with the rondalla: Toribio David; Antonio J. Molina; Capt. Fulgencio Gragera; Bayani M. de Leon; Octavio V. Cruz; Lucino T. Sacramento; and Jerry Dadap.

The tone quality of the rondalla is a new cohesion of musical sound, entirely different from that of a symphony orchestra or band. The cohesiveness lies in the fact that the instruments in the group are all played with the plectrum, making for a certain uniformity in the manner of playing.

The rondalla has became an institution. It is a distinct contribution to the musical culture of the nation. The rondalla is the most practical music group for out-of-town engagements, for the instruments are portable. If the rondalla is popular, it is because it is easy and simple to organise, the instruments being comparatively cheap.

The rondalla is versatile. It can tackle all types of music, from simple folk songs to classical overtures and operatic selections. It is not surprising that it has become an essential part of social gatherings.

The views and opinions expressed on this web site are those of the authors, and do not necessarily represent the views of The Centre for the Arts. This webpage is last updated on the 17th June 2002. Content by NUS Rondalla.