Origin of the Rondalla

Several versions of the origin of the rondalla exist:

  1. A group of young men who went around regularly to play and sing in front of the houses.
  2. A group of musicians begging for alms, called murza or murga. Similar groups existed in Spain and Mexico.
  3. A musicians' group playing on the stage, called comparza.
  4. A typical music group popular among universities in Spain as the estudiantina, or tina for short. The members of the group played mandolins, violins, guitars, flutes, cellos, basses, tambourines, castanets, and triangles, and the students donned pirate costumes.

The terms comparza and rondalla were popular terms in the higher strata of musical society. They have the same connotation. In the Philippines, the term comparza was popularly applied to the group only during the Spanish regime and up to the early years of the American domination, and later on, the rondalla took over. Today any group of stringed instruments played with the plectrum is called a rondalla.

The rondalla instruments are as follows:

The bajo de uñas has become unpopular, and the orchestra’s string bass, or contrabass, a poor substitute, has taken its place. The piccolo and the percussion instruments (bass drum, snare drum, and cymbals) have also been added. In a larger combination, the conductor now adds the mandolin, the violin, and the viola and makes the percussion section more colorful by putting the marimba or xylophone, the tambourine, castanets, the triangle, and the tom-tom.

The guitar brought into the Philippines by the Spaniards have inspired the development of the rondalla in the country. Filipino ingenuity produced several other instruments modeled after it, and these instruments have joined the guitar in the group that developed into the rondalla.

Besides the native talent that produced the instruments, the Filipino's natural inclination toward music encouraged the Spanish friars to give free instruction in music and to recruit the musically talented for training in the playing of the various musical instruments. Many musicians later flocked voluntarily to the convents to study not only the playing of musical instruments but the theory of music as well. Those who took lessons from the friars studied the instruments of their choice. Among the instruments to choose from were the piano, the organ, the violin, the flute, and the guitar. Those who chose the guitar as their major study had also to learn allied instruments, such as the bandurria, and the laud, which were already being manufactured by Filipinos. Some Filipinos not only played the instruments but also went into business of manufacturing them.

With the proliferation of amateur players of stringed instruments, groups were organized and were called comparzas or rondallas. The rondallas were very much in demand at the beginning of the 20th century. There are periods when the interest in the rondalla fades, but there are times when it enjoys great popularity for years. Rondalla festivals and contests began to be sponsored by government offices and private entities. The ultimate goal behind the sponsorship was to raise the standard of the rondalla organizations and to develop further the talents of the performers.

The Filipino rondalla has a wide repertoire ranging from the simple folk songs to the modern and contemporary tunes as well as Filipino and foreign classics. The most commonly played are folk tunes like the balitaw, kundiman, balse, danza, marches, and lullabies. Modern rondalla repertoire includes ragtima, love songs, and Broadway music. The classical rondalla repertoire includes the composition of Bach, Beethoven, and Brahms. The rondalla also plays dance crazes like the mambo, the cha-cha, the rock-n-roll, the calypso and the jerk. It provides music for radio plays. It plays during baptisms, mass celebration, weddings, funerals and fiestas. It also renders accompaniment to vocal, violin, and other instrumental solos and to choral ensembles. Rondalla music brings cheer to everyone, filipinos and non-Filipinos.

The rondalla has become an institution. It is a distinct contribution to the musical culture of the nation.

1978. Filipino Heritage: The Making of a Nation, Volume 9, ed. Alfredo Roces, Manila, Philippines: Lahing Pilipino Publishing.

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