I’d like to throw a shout out to my advisor during the duration of my Fulbright Grant, Ramon Santos. Dr. Santos has been selected with five other artists in different fields as a Philippine National Artist. Philippine National artists are innovators in their field who have contributed significantly to the development of the Philippine Arts. The selection process goes through two departments: the National Commission for Culture and the Arts and the Cultural Center of the Philippines before it is bestowed on the recipients by the Filipino president.
National Artists work to define “Filipinoness” through an aesthetic, an expression that goes beyond the confines of a dance, a film stock, or a recording, forming a palpable expression of national identity. Dr. Santos has made a career as a musician answering the deeper questions of Filipino identity while bringing in as many people to the fold. As a composer, he has written (and continues to write) music that brings different planes of musical expression: post-modern composition with established Filipino folk traditions. As an ethnomusicologist he has compiled musical instruments, recordings, and interviews from far reaching parts of the Philippines and all over Asia. Dr. Santos is still active as a conductor and administrator, providing the Philippines with concerts that ask the question what makes our music Filipino? Through these concerts, Dr. Santos provides the public with music that is intellectually stimulating in its discourse but easy to understand in its experience.
Dr. Santos opened my ears to what the Philippines had to say. He helped guide me through what would be an otherwise non-negotiable maze through many different cultures and voices. More importantly, he introduced me to wonderful artists dedicated to making their own Filipino sound. Someone like Beni Sokkong, Kalinga musician of the Cordillieras would otherwise be a case study, a name in a textbook, not someone with whom I would have a coffee and cassava snack. Through his study in Europe, he also gave me a link to established western 20th century composers like the late Karlheinz Stockhausen, who is as real to a music major as Adam Smith is to a political science major. And yet, he always kept my head in the right place, suggested that I approach the music of the Philippines not like any other music that I had studied but as a separate tradition on its own, thriving and flourishing in its own way. He expanded my critical thinking substantially, making my time in the archipelago a highly rewarding one. I couldn’t have asked for a better mentor during my time in the Philippines.