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The composer of the national sentiment

The composer of the national sentiment
MAY 19, 2018
WHEN we talk of great composers, we conjure an image in our minds of an expensive concert
hall and music appreciated only by the rich. But there are times when such quality music is gifted
to ordinary people.
There was once a man who was born on Labor Day of 1912. Although he wouldn’t be a labor
leader, he would bring great music closer to the people, and once his music was also sung by
freedom fighters. He would also be an activist championing the rights of his fellow composers by
establishing Filscap—Filipino Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers.
Felipe Padilla de Leon used well what he learned from the UP Conservatory of Music for he was
able to produce various kinds of music from pop songs, zarzuela, marches, religious music,
choral music, concertos, symphonies, even children’s song, happy birthday song, thank you
song, counting song. But as a scholar, he also documented various music from different groups
in the country and since he lived at a time when there were no tape recorders, he transcribed
what he heard using music sheets! He would then write about Filipino music in various
publications and media to make people appreciate their identity and culture.
This is how he was able to grasp the national sentiment in his music.
His son Felipe de Leon, Jr. who once chaired the National Commission for Culture and the Arts,
summed up his father’s principle: “This is really the basis of his Filipino way of thinking in
music. Why? Because he wanted to dignify the Filipino, I think that was the rallying call all
throughout his life. He wanted to dignify the Filipino. He didn’t just want to restage operas from
abroad, or symphonies, he wanted to Filipinize everything.”
According to Vicente Barranco, “If it is a national song, it must be by de Leon.” Even the
educated were mistaken thinking that he composed the National Anthem. This is because he was
able to compose many anthems for the state. His most famous ones unfortunately were
commissioned under duress. During the Japanese occupation he was asked to compose “Tindig
Aking Inang Bayan” as a pro-Japan song. Instead he wrote about the aspirations of a better future
not just of Mother Philippines but of East Asians as well. Its music was so catchy that even the
anti-Japanese Hukbalahap guerillas were singing the tune with changed lyrics.
He was commissioned by the Marcos dictatorship to compose stirring anthems for the regime
that even critics think were beautiful. He composed the stirring Hymn of the New Society and
the March of the New Society entitled “Bagong Pagsilang.”
During Martial Law, these anthems replaced “Bayan Ko,” which the regime banned, as a
nationalistic song. But his son Jun de Leon admitted that his father had written subversive
elements into the March of the New Society like a few bars from “Bayan Ko.”
To realize how close Felipe de Leon, Sr. is to the Filipino psyche even after his death on
December 5, 1992, one just had to recall the Christmas songs “Pasko na Naman” and “Noche
His composition “Payapang Daigdig” which talks about a silent night was always thought to be
about the peace of Christmas. But its creation was inspired by the silence of death and
destruction after the Battle for the Liberation of Manila in 1945 when the Pearl of the Orient
became “the second most destroyed Allied city in the world.” In this song, he reflected the
people’s aspiration for lasting peace in our country.
For all his contributions to music, he was awarded the Order of the National Artist for Music in
But he didn’t only bring national music close to the people, he also appropriated world music for
the Filipino.
Operas are always sung in a foreign tongue, but de Leon wanted to compose an opera for
Filipinos to appreciate in their own language. With Tagalog lyrics written by another National
Artist, sculptor and poet Guillermo Tolentino, they created an opera based on the novel, Noli Me
Tangere, by the national hero José Rizal. It was first staged in 1957 and is continuously being
staged, most recently by J & S Productions of Jerry Sibal and Edwin Josue.
Opera singer Fides Cuyugan-Asensio writes that de Leon “was the most prolific composer of
musical masterpieces that express the Filipino nation’s ideals, historical experiences and glorious
destiny. …he may well be considered the greatest Filipino composer of the post-war era, and
certainly the most well-known.”
If music is the language of the soul, then the musical artistry of our composers forms part of the
identity, honor and soul of our nation. Their masterpieces and works are reflections not just of
our common experiences but also of our collective dreams and aspirations.
Despite the terror and uncertainty brought by the Second World War and the Japanese rule in the
country, playing and listening to music were among the leisure activities that somehow made life
bearable for Filipinos.
Under their rule, the Japanese imposed their own music on the country. Japanese music was heard
daily in radio broadcasts. Their songs were also taught in public schools. Students, however, never
took these songs to heart.
The performance of jazz and Western music identified with the allied nations of the war was
prohibited. Hence, the Japanese held conferences and lectures on Oriental music in Manila with the
hope of diverting the loyalty of the Filipinos away from the Americans. The first was a Japanese
Musical Mission to the Philippines held on May 7, 1943, with the support of the New Philippine
Musical Federation headed by Kosak Yamada.
The Japanese nevertheless encouraged the creation and performance of music with native themes
through music contests. Concerts were also a common form of amusement for Filipinos at the time
and the Metropolitan Theater became an important venue for cultural events.
Classical music, including opera, flourished during the war. For instance, the New Philippine
Symphony, the first all-Filipino orchestra, was organized. It performed an all-Philippine symphonic
program in July 1942, with Francisco Santiago as conductor. The Philippine Conservatory of Music,
an affiliate of the Philippine Women’s University, was one of the few music schools in the country
that opened during the war.
Music-making remained a popular pastime in homes. Families sang and played musical instruments
to entertain themselves. On special occasions, families held special concerts for themselves, as well
as their friends. All these prove that even during turbulent times, Filipinos’ love of music could never
be suppressed.
Bañas, Raymundo C. Pilipino Music and Theater. Quezon City: Manlapaz Publishing Co., 1975.
Kasilag, Lucrecia R. “Music in a New Era,” Filipino Heritage: the Making of a Nation, vol. 10, 1978.
Kintanar, Thelma, et al. Kuwentong Bayan: Noong Panahon ng Hapon. Quezon City: University of
the Philippines Press, 2006.
Top 10 Songs to Bring Out Your Pinoy Pride
"Bayan Ko" by Ruben Tagalog
Freedom fighting spirit: Commonly heard in protest rallies, "Bayan Ko" has been evoking
nationalistic pride for decades since it was penned by the literary wonder Jose Corazon de Jesus
a.k.a. Huseng Batute during the American occupation. It was "popular during the Japanese
regime," but the most instant-recall version is that of Freddie Aguilar. It resonated in the streets
during the People Power Revolution, EDSA II, and the late Former Pres. Corazon Aquino’s
legendary eight-hour cortege on August 2009.
Kani ra akong gi copy kay mao ra ang related sa Japanese occupation era.