Paul Fontelo '13

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This past weekend I had the privilege of attending the Fulbright Alumni Conference in D.C. Alumni came from all over the world and spanned generations of Fulbrighters. I was particularly amazed to see an American Fulbrighter to France, 1950, undoubtedly among the first of a generation of Fulbrighters since the program’s inception in 1946. I was equally impressed by the number of fields represented at the conference, everything ranging from academia, legal work, journalism, and the arts. Despite all the differences in experience, age, and profession, everyone at the conference cherished the same commitment to mutual understanding and exchange between nations and bring what Senator J. William Fulbright called “a little more knowledge, a little more reason, and a little more compassion into world affairs.”

Presenters at the conference were just inspiring, sharing a wealth of experience both during and after their time as grantees. One grantee to Latin America helped to bring a journalism program to poorer areas to increase agency and information in underrepresented areas. Another grantee put on an innovative stage production of Spring Awakening (which struck a chord with me as I did the same musical my senior year at Holy Cross) in South Africa that changed the setting of the musical from Germany to South Africa and gave it a distinctive South African feel through language (some dialogue and lyrics were changed to Xhosa and Afrikaans) and sets (the backdrop was a distinctly South African tree) allowing the South Africans who took part in the production to be part of an experience reflective of their diverse culture. Altogether, the presentations showed a beautiful canvas of experience, people committed to their craft and making it not just a point of individual accomplishment but also a point of connection towards dialogue and mutual respect for others across the globe. I also found new understanding that the Fulbright grant does not end at the conclusion of the grant. It keeps going. Their experiences, like my own, cannot be summed up into one idea, one 9 month period, nor a piece of paper that summarizes grant activities; instead, the Fulbright grant is a continuing and growing commitment to getting “a little more knowledge, a little more reason, and a little more compassion into world affairs.”

It was a great time to reflect on my grant with alumni of the program and work towards a new understanding of where to go after the grant. It was inspiring to see alumni of this program who continue to draw on their experiences. Their lives have been inexorably changed by the exchanges and experiences they had in their respective countries. The Fulbright experience becomes much like a garden. It is an event and turning point that must be grown and cultivated, reaching into the hearts of many in different fields and walks of life. The theme of the conference was to dare, dare to do something different. I can only hope that I dare to respond to the inspiring stories I heard this past weekend. Bahala Na (God Willing)

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.


After a month of readjustment to America, I finally made my way up to the Hill from home.  I admit I picked a rather odd time in Senior Week but in many ways it is rather fitting.  It was a year ago of this same week that I left the Hill.

Walking up and down this famous Hill, I’ve been reflecting quite a bit on the things that could have been during my time at Holy Cross: the academics could have been stronger, I could have done more activities, and most importantly I could’ve gotten to know people better, but I have equally been focused on what I have accomplished on the Hill.

Holy Cross left a profound foundation that serves as my mantra.  Ever since partaking in my Montserrat, World Religions and Music in the Global Cluster, my mission has been to be a more conscious global citizen.  From my concert experiences, I have been driven to discover as many new world musical traditions that I can.  With a Holy Cross’ definitive Jesuit foundation, I have found music as a means to work for social justice.  Everything from instrument materials to performance practice reveals the little nuances that define and mold a culture and people, little intricacies that allowed this D.C. suburbanite to learn to play the music of people a world over.  Music has become more than an academic subject for me; it has become a conduit to understand the human experience.  And I honestly don’t know a place where these things could come together better than at Holy Cross.

For any of you awesome seniors in the class of 2014 reading this blog, congratulations!  You’ve made it.  After a year in the real world, it really isn’t so scary.  You’ve created your own foundations that will serve you in the real world and take you to incredible heights.  Although you may not see it now, Holy Cross will take you places that you cannot even fathom.  Don’t worry about what happens in the upcoming months, stay true to what you’ve learned on the Hill. Chu Chu Rah Rah!10342509_2571360483123_8104360736167512244_n


In the few weeks that I have been back in the States, there have already been glaring differences and adjustments back to living in America but none more so than taking public transportation.  Public transportation is the beating heart of a city.  It helps residents go from point A to point B but it also helps define deeper layers of the city’s character.

As a regular in Manila, I often took Jeepneys aka Jeeps, the staple of public transportation in the Philippines.  Modeled after American World War II era jeeps, these vehicles are ubiquitous within the Philippines and are always an eye catcher due to their flamboyantly colored designs.  Their interior can consist of massive stereo speakers or live TV depending on the drivers’ funds.  Also distinctive in Manila’s city streets are the blaring waves of Jeepney horns.  Horns can be customized to sound more bizarre or catchy.  Destinations are printed on hand-painted signs hung up in and out of the jeeps.  No two jeeps are alike.  Their exteriors are decorated with everything from Dragonball Z to national heroes, from Playboy bunnies to religious imagery.

Riding Jeepneys presented its own challenge.  Many passengers were on board jeeps daily with customers ranging from students to professionals, rich and poor.  Technically, a jeep could fit 18 people but in many cases, many passengers would board no matter what the capacity.  Many passengers would hang on the railings on the side and back of the vehicle.  “Ghost riding” an action that I once considered to be one of the most dangerous things you could do with a car is a mundane activity for some who ride jeeps.

Also prevalent are “barkers,” men and women who organize the flow of passengers in and out of jeeps.  Screaming loudly and emphatically, the barkers allow the endless series of passengers to board the Jeepneys with ease.

In my current state, I find myself taking the D.C. area public transportation system of buses and metro trains.  Each bus and train is uniformly colored.  Station information is presented in big monitors and announced out loud on PA systems.   Each arriving and departing train is synced to the monitors on screen.  It goes without saying this has been a far cry from taking Jeepneys on a near daily basis.

Some may consider D.C.’s transportation an upgrade over the “low-tech” Jeepney system in the Philippines, yet I feel nostalgic and miss the Manila system.  I miss the cacophony of honking horns and shouting barkers, endless streams of people boarding jeeps, and the vibrant, pastel colors of each Jeep.  While they do not offer a technical superiority over public transportation systems in the states, the Jeepney systems offers passengers a sense of humanism.  The Jeepney drivers painstakingly create their own individual and beautiful designs of their jeeps.  In a way, the Jeeps’ bodywork embodies the drivers’ desires to express themselves through a moving piece of the self, reflective of the time, money, and resources spent to make the Jeeps their own.  In many ways this is in keeping with the traditional views of arts and crafts from the ancient traditions of the first Filipinos, the Cordillieras.  Many instruments and crafts are decorated with personal touches designed by the owners to self-identify that they are Cordillieras and proud.

In the Philippines, I have found a reverence for tradition that drives the Filipinos to be in sync with ancestral traditions in modern times, one with centuries’ old past and a post-modern present.  There is a state of being in which past and present are in harmony with one another.  It is the drive for preserving tradition and the humanism that goes into making traditions possible that allow Filipinos to live through adversity in all forms.  Sakay na! (Hop on)

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 In 1959, Rod Serling introduced the world to his brand new, seminal sci-fi anthology series, The Twilight Zone.  The first episode, entitled “Where is Everybody?” depicted an astronaut stuck in an old familiar town, seemingly devoid of human contact.  I bring this up in my post-Philippines chapter because adjusting to America has become its own Twilight Zone episode.  I have ventured into a realm where the familiar has spun on its head.

In Manila, I had grown accustomed to hearing the non-stop hustle and bustle of traffic, yelling on the street, and roosters crowing.  Now back in America, I hardly hear anything.  I was surprised when for the first time in a long time; I did not hear the sounds of karaoke or fireworks going off at 2 in the morning.  While visiting the National Mall in Washington D.C., I was made uneasy when seeing the monuments dedicated to American founding fathers rather than the monuments of the Filipino founding fathers.  The national narrative has changed as well.  While Filipinos are content with displaying their heroes as martyrs for freedom, Americans depict their heroes as victors.  For Filipinos it is sacrifice that defines the national consciousness, not victory.  It is subtle changes like this that let me know that I am in a different place, a new dimension of sorts.

When going out in public, I still need to get a grip over how so few people there are.  I was used to travelling in subway cars with sixty other people and small jeeps with nearly twenty people.  My mind is still in the Philippines and alarmed at how different the way of life is in America.  And yet through all of this, I remember that America is my home, where I was born and where I have grown.  The Philippines is my ancestral home, where I was born before I was born, the source of my heritage, culture, and identity, my life before it became life.  I have become the astronaut in “Where is Everybody?” lost in an old familiar world that seems deserted.  I am finding my way between two homes, over 8000 miles apart.  This tale of repatriation seems as though it can only find its place in the Twilight Zone.


To quote my mentor, Harry Thomas ’78, “set no barriers to what you can learn.”  This has certainly been a grand experience. I’d like to thank my family, friends, teachers, mentors, and everyone who helped me on my journey of musical and cultural understanding.  And with everyone I mean everyone, I have learned so much from everyone from security guards, to cab drivers, to the nice woman who xeroxed copies of scholarly articles and music for me.

In the Philippines, I have found musicians who have created a school of thought dedicated to preserving the notions of Filipino traditions strewn all across the whole country, opening a gateway into the soul of how Filipinos feel and operate, a notion of transcendence of the routine and the ritual.  They have dedicated their work to outlining not only what type of music Filipinos play but also why they play it.  I am still surprised with what I have found during my stay.  The collective response on the state of Filipino music prior to my research was “Asian mixed with Spanish music.”  But I have learned the Philippines ought to be examined beyond labels of having mixed Spanish and Asian heritage or a densely populated country in Southeast Asia.  The same musical has been played in these islands for the past four thousand years and what has come and gone in between has created a cumulative experience anchored in tradition and each generation adding their own respective stories to the fold.  What I have discovered is far more complicated then that and that has made this trip all the more worth while.

Maraming Salamt! (Thank you very much)

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My Montserrat at Holy Cross was World Religions and Music with Prof. Todd Lewis and Prof. Shirish Korde.  In the first year seminar, I grappled with a notion, which at the time was a totally new and bizarre concept: the religions of the world and music of the world are separate, unique entities.  While you can find similarities between Hindu concepts of Reincarnation  with concepts of Resurrection in Christianity, they are ultimately different sets of dogmas and beliefs that leave people with a different understanding of how religion works in their lives.  Likewise, drones of Indian Carnatic music are not the same as drones in Russian Orthodox chanting.

Due to Prof. Korde’s involvement with his opera Phoolan Devi: The Bandit Queen, Prof. Bandem taught the Montserrat for a good portion of the second semester.  My first impressions of Bandem were a little funny; all I could think about was that he seemed like he was Filipino.  The gongs of the gamelan ensemble instantly reminded of gongs I used to play when I was much younger for Filipino heritage celebrations.  I spoke to Bandem extensively about the similarities, as well as differences, of Indonesian and Filipino musical traditions.  I was surprised to learn of the vast differences that surpassed the number of similarities between Filipino and Indonesian music.  However, I took solace in acknowledging the fact that Filipino music and Indonesian music are unique entities onto themselves and provide the world’s diversity.  The pursuit of combining the knowledge and passion for understanding other worlds and musics became the genesis of my grant proposal.

Now, four years on, I am conducting extensive research of Filipino national artist Jose Maceda and continue to be delighted by his extensive body of work.  As an ethnomusicologist, he collected recordings by native Philippine and other Asian musicians from over a hundred different groups and langauges.  After he completed his opus one (first composition a composer gives credit toward) in 1963, he completed around fifty works by the time of his death in 2004.

I was pleasantly surprised with the neat overlaps in my life and Maceda’s life while conducting my study.  Maceda’s brother was a Jesuit and I have been a proud Jesuit product since 2005.  We both seem to be bonded over French musical minds whether it is Edgard Varese or Olivier Messiaen.  But the real corker was seeing that his middle name was Montserrat.  Seeing that my Montserrat experience at Holy Cross had led me to another “Montserrat” on a mission of musical discovery and understanding has been deeply profound.

My time in the Philippines has undoubtedly become my second Montserrat.  In studying Jose Montserrat Maceda, I have worked to better understand the nature of music, to ask the right questions: Who is making this music and why?  What does music have to do with anything?  In many cases, Maceda’s storied research detail accounts of music being used in rituals of all types, everything from removing dangerous illnesses to courtship (dating) traditions, proving music is a resourceful tool in the Philippine, as well as other Asian cultures, sense of cosmology.  Out of the compositions he wrote, he explored the relationship of music to native groups around the Philippines, expanding an understanding of the ethnographic relationship between people and their music while pushing listeners’ understanding for what concert music could become.  He pushed those who listened to come to an understanding that Asian musics are a world of their own.

I’m glad to report that my second Montserrat has taught me something deeply profound in that although there are similarities among the musics of the world, they remain unique, individual aspects of culture that transcend and define who we are in palpable terms.  In searching for what makes the individual unique, we may just find ourselves that much closer to finding what can bridge cultures in the hopes of finding dialogue through understanding.

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Throughout my stay in the Philippines, I have spent time in the “ancestral homes” (communities from which my relatives come from) of my father, mother, and all four grandparents.  For me these have been uplifting experiences that bring me closer to understanding of my own Filipino heritage.  It has been a culinary, physical, emotional, and spiritual collective journey into the past.  I have seen relatives that I have seldom seen and in many cases never seen.

In each community, I have tried local foods, gone to hangout spots, churches, and other places of importance, and in each case, I have found something unique and gratifying in my own ancestral history.  In the Visayas region, I discovered a people with a yearning for simplicity, an admiration of living a sustainable life in farming or fishing with a strong desire to be a humble person.  In Bicol, I discovered a culture that admires delicacies and specializes in treating friends and family the best.  I have lit candles in a centuries’ old Spanish Church in Dumaguete, climbed rocky waterfalls in Bacolod, and gazed at an active volcano in Legazpi.  Every experience has felt just right.  Each time I go to any of these places, it doesn’t feel like I’m going to a destination, it feels more like I’m forming a state of mind, reuniting with a collective consciousness of the ways of life that have preceded me.

Upon reflection of spending time in the “ancestral homes,” I was quickly reminded of the phrase in the title, “Everything that Rises Must Converge,” a short story by Flannery O’Connor.  Flannery O’Connor’s story stems from the Omega Point theory by the French Jesuit, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, the idea that we are all working to transcend to a greater, higher state of being with God.  O’Connor and Chardin suggest that rising to that Omega Point is a movement forward, but my own journey forward to that Omega Point is slightly different.  I have been looking toward the past for a state of transcendence in finding solidarity with those who have gone before me and using that past understanding in my own present as a music researcher.  In other words, I am looking backwards so that I can move forward.  Throughout my stay, I have worked towards gaining a shred of knowledge in what it means to live and be Filipino through tapping into traditions and spiritualities that have existed for thousands of years and still exist today in some modern incarnation.  Through thoughtful reflection, doing new things, and talking to relatives, friends, and even complete strangers, I am working to find that higher state of being, to rise to that place of convergence where the past, present, and future feel much clearer.

Bahala Na (God willing)

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This week I received my first Balikbayan box.  The Balikbayan box, which literally translates to back to the home, became a popular trend under Ferdinand Marcos who arranged legislation and passage of Filipinos to work overseas and for boxes of personal goods coming to the Philippines by the ever-growing overseas Filipinos to be tax-free. The Balikbayan box is made of a wide variety of goods ranging from toiletries to food that is shipped back to overseas Filipinos’ homes for families and friends.  ‘Balikbayans’ is a term used for overseas workers who ship these boxes to help their community at home through the contents of the boxes and through monetary remittances.  Balikbayan boxes have come to represent a tradition of Filipino culture called Pasalubong, a tradition of giving to family and friends after travel both abroad and domestically.

In the history of this relatively young nation, Filipinos have proven to have one of the largest Diasporas in the world.  Balikbayan boxes are something that allows Filipinos to still have their traditions and help their communities in spite of the distance between family and friends.  These boxes re-negotiate the Filipino the world over, allowing the always-family first Filipinos to stay close.

Economics and culture talk aside; this was an eye-opening experience.  For years I had dutifully helped my parents and other relatives pack boxes full of goods that I really could only refer to as “stuff.”  I never understood the significance, nor did I understand why the recipients in this far off exotic place, the Philippines, even needed such a random collection of “stuff.”  These were going to relatives I had never met or rarely seen.  But after my extended stay here, seeing relatives, returning to the “ancestral homes,” I get it.  These boxes are more than a 18″ X 16″X 18″ piece of cardboard.  They are cultural agents made by a people who refuse to let circumstances tear apart their family and friends.  Balikbayan boxes evoke the same spirit of the Filipinos following Typhoon Haiyan/Yolanda of unwillingness to break community and familial ties against the odds.  I feel part of that Filipino sense of community across the globe.  My Balikbayan box allowed me to feel closer to my parents thousands of miles away but also to the relatives and friends with whom I will share the contents of the box.  For me, this box represented a unity of an old world and a new world, a merger of the life I have lived with the lives of those who came before me.

“He who does not know how to look back at where he came from will never get to his destination.”

-Jose Rizal, Filipino patriot, founding father, and artist


Two weeks ago, I was fortunate to catch Cuerdas ng Pagkakaisa, an international music festival that prominently featured Filipino Rondalla, hosted by one of my mentors at the University of the Philippines, Ramon Santos.  The Rondalla is a plucked string ensemble made up of several western imported instruments in the Philippines: the bandurria (mandolin like tremolo plucked string instrument), octavina (mandolin like instrument an octave lower than the bandurria), the guitar, the string bass, and assorted percussion.  These ensembles have become staples in Filipino communities up and down the islands.  Their repertoire ranges from Filipino folk songs, to western classical music, and original compositions specifically for the ensemble, many of which were written by Dr. Santos.

With its title Cuerdas ng Pagkakisa (Strings of unity) the festival featured multiple plucked string instrument musicians of different cultures.  Other ensembles included the Indonesian Kacapi, the Taiwanese guitar band, and a Vietnamese ensemble made of instruments like the Đàn bầu and the đàn nguyệt.  Their repertoire ranged from folk songs, religious songs, and “Do Re Mi” from The Sound of Music.  The festival celebrated the shared notion of the plucked string ensemble with these other ensembles from all over Asia yet even with these similarities, these musics can still be identified as being explicitly Vietnamese, Taiwanese, Indonesian, or Filipino.

The Festival was a great experience because it touched on several of the themes that I have been researching with my project including the notion of musics, plural, and issues of complexity in how we use musical traditions around the world.  All of these other Asian instruments are from the same continent as the Filipino rondalla, yet you wouldn’t confuse them for the mandolin like bandurria and octavina in a heartbeat.  There is some confusion even to the exact identity of the Rondalla ensemble.  Is it truly Filipno, a product of the 7,100 islands?  It’s a western instrument but the performances are always in full Filipinana (Filipino clothing) regalia and its performers have a performance practice defined by intense smiling with one another as the performance goes on that is collectively defined by the performers themselves as a “Filipino thing.”  If it’s not a Filipino ensemble, is it a western import from Spain?  Many of these instruments that are derived from Spain are in turn imports from the Mediterranean and the Middle East.

I believe that it is wishful thinking to just say that music is all “universal” and that we all have the same “music.”  Cuerdas ng Pagkakisa helped dismiss that notion and promoted something healthier on behalf of musical traditions.  Music is a nuanced field with people at the heart of its study.  Everyone needs equal representation when talking about musical traditions.  The spirit of this festival promoted the idea that musics are a means to communicate with people of other backgrounds, ethnicities, faiths.  Cuerdas ng Pagkakisa showed me how similar we are but that we must acknowledge our differences as well.  If there is one thing that you must acknowledge in understanding Filipino music is that there are musics, musics from different cultures and traditions but all in dialogue with one another in the Philippines and all of Asia.  The festival acknowledged global complexity through diversity but encouraged working with one another to create a world of connection through musical tradition.

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