Thursday, May 27, 2010

Misa Baclayana: ancient beauty that sounds so new

WHILE THE ELECTION frenzy was at its peak, the National Heritage Month was being celebrated. The charged atmosphere of the campaign and the election itself had all but eclipsed the various heritage-related activities in the month of May but it was good to take time out for some cultural treasures that were offered for us to relish and marvel at.

One of the events I attended was the performance of the Misa Baclayana at the Manila Cathedral in Intramuros with the famous award-winning Loboc Children’s Choir of Bohol singing. It was one of the heritage offerings of the Intramuros Administration headed by Bambi L. Harper.
I was impressed. In terms of grandness Misa Baclayana may not be in the league of the famous "Masses" by Mozart, Bach or Brahms but it has its own melodious allure. Although the sung parts from the Misa Baclayana were in Latin, the Mass, officiated by Archbishop Jesus A. Dosado, was in English. At the pipe organ was Alejandro Consolacion.
The music blended well with the post-Vatican modern liturgy as we know it. I don’t know if it will stand out just as well within the Tridentine Latin Mass that traditionalists are trying to revive. I liked the sound of the old hymns blending with contemporary liturgical worship. To paraphrase and juggle some words from St. Augustine, it was ancient beauty that sounded so new.
Discovered only a few years ago in Baclayon Church in Bohol, Misa Baclayana is an old musical score believed to have been written in the 1800s.

But a lot of credit must go to Maria Alexandra Inigo-Chua, musicologist, professor, researcher and author of “Kirial de Baclayon Ano 1826: Hispanic Sacred Music in 19th Century Bohol, Philippines” (Ateneo de Manila University Press, 2010). Her study focuses, in particular, on the “Kirial de esta Yglesia de Baclayon” dated 1826 which contains Mass cycle compositions used in the liturgy of the Catholic Church.

Inigo-Chua graduated magna cum laude from the University of Santo Tomas (UST) Conservatory of Music (major in piano) and holds a master’s degree in music (major in musicology) from the University of the Philippines. Inigo-Chua is with the UST faculty.

For more than a decade Inigo-Chua frequented several churches of Bohol and pored over the surviving cantorales or libros de coro (choir books) that contained hymns and music composed for Masses in the 1800s. She talks about her discovery: “It was in November of 1997 that I came in contact with this veritable treasure trove of sacred music. My travel to the province of Bohol that time became a turning point that ignited my lifelong interest and passion for the music of our past and my continuing odyssey into the rediscovery of our glorious Hispanic sacred musical heritage.”

For Inigo-Chua, the pursuit proved to be exciting, stimulating and exceedingly challenging. Kirial de Baclayon the book “is the culmination of the initial journey that I traversed in the course of seeking the correlated meaning, value and significance of these once silent musical treasures.”
Silent no more, these musical treasures are no longer just pieces to be seen in the ecclesial museums. They have, in fact, been transcribed into modern notations, thanks to Inigo-Chua, so that they could be played, sung and used for worship.

But as museum pieces they also are to be marveled at. A couple of them were exhibited at the Manila Cathedral. Intricately written on huge parchments (a page is about 1 ½ feet high and 1 foot wide) and with carabao hide covers, they looked like they were straight out of a medieval monastery archive or the time of St. Gregory. (I’ll put some photos in my blog.) The drop letters are so ornate you wouldn’t find them in your computer font library.

At first glance the notation looks Gregorian but they are not. In our music subject in St. Scho we had to learn how to read Gregorian (square notes on four lines—not five--and without measures and time signature, if I remember right) and sing in a flowing style with a rounded mouth--as part of a, uhm, well-rounded liberal arts education. But that’s another story and once upon a time.
The cantorales have square notes on fives lines. It’s amazing how Inigo-Chua made sense of all these and transcribed them into modern notation so that they could come alive again in church worship. Her scholarly book shows both the ancient and the modern notations. (It includes a music CD, by the way.)

According to Inigo-Chua, cantoral music culture forms part of an important tradition of liturgical music that developed in Hispanized communities all over the Philippine archipelago. There are, she says, other extant cantorales found in various repositories in different parts of the country.
It is in Bohol, however, that one can find a complete collection which is intact and unadulterated. Inigo-Chua adds. “Also, much of the archival sources and material evidence of the period are preserved and well-kept. The Bohol cantorales serve as primary source materials and a valuable representation in the development of this particular Filipino-Hispanic sacred music patrimony.”

Musical continuities from this tradition are still evident, she points out. “The musical features and influences present in sacred and secular vocal forms, i.e., folksongs in present-day Bohol, are deeply connected to this liturgical music tradition that was widely cultivated in the area for more than a century.”

So who wrote the music in the cantorales? Inigo-Chua strongly believes Filipinos were directly involved in the music making process. I can only say, but of course.