Goodbye to Celerio and San Pedro
SOUNDS FAMILIAR - Baby A. Gil () - April 8, 2002 - 12:00am
Filipino music mourns the passing away of two men, whose remarkable talent, artistry and generosity of spirit helped shaped the sounds of several generations. Levi Celerio, National Artist for Music passed away last April 2 at the Delgado Hospital of multiple organ failure. He was 92. Three days earlier on March 31, Lucio San Pedro, another National Artist for Music died at 89 at the Angono Medics Hospital.

Celerio or Mang Levi, as he was often called, was born and grew up in the slums of Tondo. He studied to be a violinist at the University of the Philippines and was later accepted as a scholar at the Academy of Music in Manila. He later performed as the youngest member of the Manila Symphony Orchestra. A hand injury though kept him from becoming a great violinist and took his music career elsewhere. This turn of events gave local music the most prolific lyricist and composer the Philippines has ever known. He has more than 4000 songs to his credit, many of them classics of the past 50 years.

Celerio was conferred an honorary degree in humanities by the UP in 1991. He is listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the World’s Only Leaf Player. This knack for playing music with a leaf earned him a stint in the legendary Ed Sullivan Show of American television. He also worked as a komiks illustrator and published several books. Up to a few weeks before his death, he was a fixture at a Quezon City restaurant where he would play his violin and regaled guests with his witty tales.

It was a good, fulfilling life for Mang Levi as an artist. I really find it lamentable though that most of the songs listed in his large catalogue are often mentioned in the same breath as the names of the composers who wrote the music and with seldom any credit at all for him. Truth to tell, the lyrics written by Mang Levi were also very important factors in their popularity.

Among his most famous works are Dalagang Bukid, Ang Tapis Mo Inday, Dungawin Mo Hirang, with Santiago Suarez; Pandangguhan, with Antonino Buenaventura; Hatinggabi with Antonio J. Molina; Ang Pasko ay Sumapit with Vicente Rubi; Matud Nila with Ben Zubiri; Bagong Pagsilang, Pasko Na Naman with Felipe de Leon; Ugoy ng Duyan with Lucio San Pedro; Rosas Pandan with Manuel Lopez; Saan Ka Man Naroroon with Restie Umali; Gaano Ko Ikaw Kamahal, Kahit Na Magtiis, Kalesa with Ernani Cuenco; Pitong Gatang, Sapagkat Kami ay Tao Lamang, Kapag Puso’y Sinugatan, with Tony Maiquez; Waray-Waray, Alembong, Basta’t Mahal Kita, Ikaw Kasi, with Juan Silos, Jr.; Walang Kapantay; with Manuel Villar, adaptations of foreign hits like Kahit Konting Pagtingin plus the many Filipino folk melodies that he gave lyrics to like Salakot, Carinosa, O Maliwanag Na Buwan, Ako ay May Singsing, and Ang Maglalatik.

San Pedro studied music at the UP and the Julliard School of Music in the US of A but his best classroom was the band that his father put up in Angono, Rizal when he was just a boy. He is fondly called Maestro Lucio because it is believed that it was as a teacher at the UP and other schools that he did his best work. He is best known in the pop music circle for his lullaby Ugoy ng Duyan, with lyrics by Celerio. The song was used as the theme of the award-winning motion picture Abakada, Ina a year ago and has been recorded several times by a number of artists ranging from the great Pilita Corrales to the local boy group Jeremiah.

Some of San Pedro’s other laudable works are the oratorio The Redeemer, presented at the Cultural Center of the Philippines; the symphonic poem Lahing Kayumanggi, which won the Republic Cultural Heritage Award in 1962; the cantata Sa Dalampasigan, a Violin Concerto in D, a Suite Pastorale, the Santo Nino Mass, as well as music for the movies, Sakada and Darna and stage presentations like the Lenten play Martir Sa Golgota and other hymns, masses, tone poems and many more.

My condolences to the families of Levi Celerio and Lucio San Pedro and I wish to add that Filipinos are eternally grateful they came along and helped us enjoy the music more.

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