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Filipino Instruments

August 28th, 2013 pvfont13

On Tuesday, during my normal routine of going to the University of the Philippines, College of Music, I decided to forego looking at scores for the day or talking to professors about their compositions.  Instead I tried the indigenous instruments that UP’s Ethnomusicology Center has to offer.

Many of the instruments were built by the late ethnomusicologist and composer, José Maceda whose private collection formed the foundation for the Center’s wide variety of instruments.  With nearly 200 instruments from all over Southeast Asia available for playing, it is one of the most diverse instrument collections I’ve seen.  I tried two instruments: the Filipino Jaw Harp (also known as the Jews’ Harp) and the Filipino Buzzer.  The Jaw Harp is played like a traditional American Jaw Harp only that it is made from bamboo.  You hold the small stick like bamboo instrument in your mouth with your lips and pluck away on a small attached stick on its end.  Many indigenous techniques, particularly from the Southern Philippines in Mindanao, exist in adjusting timbrel quality moving the embochure (shape of the lips) to form new portals of resonance for the player to play.  The buzzer is also an interesting instrument.  Made of bamboo, it has a resonant vibrating sound that is highly distinctive.  While it is monodynamic (only one dynamic can be played).   Buzzers sound louder due to a larger number of forces.  Buzzer players usually play different interlocking rhythms as well in most Filipino musics inducing a trance like feel.  I also tried to play the Filipino nose flute, but I had a lot of trouble with it not knowing how to figure it out on my own.

These instruments are relatively simple in design and come from the same material: bamboo.    Bamboo is a life giving blood to many people in this country.  In a way, bamboo defines Filipino daily life.   Furthermore, all of these instruments are relatively accessible to anyone.  To me, I feel as though the Filipino musical language is born out of the music of the environment and likewise the Filipinos fashion their instruments into products of their desire to transcend the environment.

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Paul Fontelo '13

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