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.
Paul Fontelo '13