The villancico in Pasko sa Intramuros

SOUNDS FAMILIAR - Baby A. Gil - The Philippine Star

There was a time when the Yuletide celebration in the Philippines was not complete without the villancico. This is a form of music native to Spain, which was usually performed during important feast days of the Catholic Church. As time passed, the villancico came to be associated largely with Christmas festivities, like Christmas carols. The lyrics were usually in Spanish but Filipino composers soon took to adapting the form to Filipino and they then came up with their own versions of the villancico. Vicente Rubi’s Ang Pasko Ay Sumapit was one of these.

I can just imagine how moving were the Christmas services in the churches of Intramuros back in those days before World War II with choirs singing those beautiful villancicos. I recall one or two that I learned in school many years ago like Pastores a belen. I haven’t heard it in a long time. I guess I’ll have to hear Mass in a church in Spain or Mexico to be able to hear a choir sing a villancico or two. This is because just like the Spanish language, the villancico has fallen into hard times in the Philippines and has been proclaimed dead for many years.

But it might just start breathing again soon. This is because people in the local music scene have banded together to help bring back the villancico tradition to Intramuros. Now because of them, the joyful lilt of the villancico once more resounded at the Plaza San Luis Complex in Intramuros last Nov. 26 and 28. Those responsible for the event, Pasko Sa Intramuros, were the Friends of Intramuros and the Kapisanan sa Kalinangan ng musiKang Lahing Pilipino in cooperation with the Intramuros Administration.

The occasion was the first Villancico Competition ever heard in the Philippines in two or three centuries. The contest was among Intramuros School-based choirs, which spent a great deal of time learning the competition songs. Judged as the winners were the choirs from the Mapua Institute of Technology Cardinals Singers under Prof. Angelito Ayran Jr., (first place with cash prize of P50,000) and the Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila Chorale Society under choir master Alfie Malana Jacinto (second place, P30,000). The Lyceum of the Philippines University Cavite Chorale under Oliver Lee performed as guest choir.

The judges of the contest were University of Santo Tomas Conservatory of Music Prof. Eugene de los Santos, concert pianist and former Philippine Philharmonic Orchestra artistic director Zenas Reyes-Lozada and National Commission for Culture and the Arts chairman Felipe de Leon Jr.

The competition hopes to make the present generation aware of the traditional music of the early Christmas celebrations in the Philippines. Held as it was in Intramuros, the songs provided a fitting complement to the Hispanic structures in the Ciudad Murada. Then performed as the competition piece was Ea Pastores from the Manual-Cantoral de Santa Clara, that was published in Manila by the Litografia Oppel in 1871 to 1874. Take note that the Convento de Santa Clara was located in Intramuros in the old days. It was among those destroyed during the bombing of Manila. Ea Pastores was probably composed in the convent and first performed during Christmas by cloistered nuns within its walls.

Pasko Sa Intramuros also featured frenzied dancing by The Grupo Flamenco del Sr. Gomez at the Casa Blanca on Nov. 28, directed by no less than the foremost maestro of Flamenco in the Philippines, Guillermo Gomez. The University of Santo Tomas (UST) Symphony Orchestra next took center stage conducted by Prof. Herminigildo Ranera. They performed well-loved Filipino Christmas carols at the Plaza San Luis Complex patio.

The winners of the Villancico Competition also joined the orchestra to perform together the Ea Pastores, Ang Pasko sa Intramuros by Lucio San Pedro with lyrics by Levi Celerio. The famous Ang Pasko ay Sumapit originally by Cebuano composer Vicente Rubi and later on translated into Tagalog by Celerio closed the evening as the orchestra and the choirs were joined by the audience in singing the immortal Filipino Christmas carol.

Pasko sa Intramuros was made possible through the assistance of the National Commission for Culture and the Arts, the Department of Tourism, Manila City Mayor Alfredo Lim, Manila Bulletin, the Lyceum of the Philippines University, NYK-Fil Ship Management, Allied Metal Corp, Basic Machineries Corp., Hi-Cool, the Spanish Embassy, AECID and Instituto Cervantes de Manila.

Here is hoping that they would all band together again next year to treat music lovers to another evening of villancicos, truly a part of the Filipino Christmas tradition that should not be allowed to disappear or die.












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