The Rondalla in Philippine Community Life

Rondalla music plays an integral role in community life as music for fiestas, weddings, baptismal, birthdays, Holy Week processions, Christmas traditions such as daygon and pastores, courtship, even funeral rites.  Rondalla music is highly associated with the performance of traditional folk dances. As a resilient musical tradition, it has adapted to the times through innovations and transformations in the musical instruments and musical repertoire.

Party tendered by Jose Desiderio in his estate at Barrio San Antonio, Cavite, Cavite Renacimiento Filipino. August 28, 1910

The sustainability of the rondalla tradition may be traced to the strong support of families who comprised the core group of musicians in a community from one generation to another. In the province of Bicol, the family-based music ensemble flourished. At present, the Espejo family continues the tradition with the advocacy to develop rondalla music for a contemporary audience.

In Pampanga and Cebu, families of instrument makers of rondalla instruments have flourished into the present, handcrafting and innovating their processes and products.

Aside from community-based groups, there were rondallas and comparzas formed by family members, especially in the province of Bicol where the music tradition has also flourished. Some of the members of these family rondalla groups joined and won the NAMCYA competitions

In Negros Oriental, the Dauin Rondalla, the Canlaon Senior Citizens Rondalla, and the Tanjay Rondalla are being supported by their local government.

In the early 1900s the rondalla spread to America through luxury shipping lines that included cultural performances in their voyages. Many of Filipino musicians and dancers were employed in these ships to perform Philippine folk dance with the rondalla  as accompanying music, such as the Comparza Joaquin (1905-1913) among others.

In 1940, the Manila Yellow Taxicab Rondallawas organized by the owner of the company, Don Enrique Montserrat, composed of amateur musicians and drivers. Some of the conductors who led the group were Antonio Molina, Honorato Asuncion, and Felipe Padilla de Leon. Another rondalla group composed of drivers and bus operators in Bohol is also documented.

The Manila Yellow Taxicab Rondalla organized in 1940 by the owner of the company, Don Enrique Montserrat

Initial research suggests that rondalla music was introduced in Mindanao when settlers from Luzon and the Visayas came to Davao as part of the migration project initiated by the government in the 1930’s. Migrants from Ilocos, Baguio, Pangasinan, Bulacan, Bohol and Leyte tilled the rich natural resources prevalent in Mindanao, while other migrants provided services to a developing city, including comparza music and eventually, rondalla music in the schools.

Mrs. Kelly’s School in Bua, Benguet (ca 1890), from the American Historical Collection