About the UPAFR

The New Jersey-based University of the Philippines Alumni & Friends Rondalla (UPAFR) was established in 1992 as a cultural/educational nonprofit 501(c)3 organization. Its membership later expanded to include non-alumni and interested friends age seven and older. Pieces range from simple folk songs and dances, to beautiful symphonic arrangements of beloved Philippine kundimans, Broadway, classical, religious, popular tunes, and well-known melodies from around the world. Its first mentor and music director was the late Professor Bayani Mendoza de Leon, a renowned ethnomusicologist and Philippine Heritage presidential awardee. Its current music director is Maria Leonor Llorin, a two-time bandurria champion in the National Competition for Young Artists in the Philippines.

This instrumental group was formed for the following purposes:

To promote the Philippine cultural heritage through indigenous string instruments
To preserve and promote the native music of the Philippines
To propagate the Rondalla as a native string ensemble

The UPAFR has held concerts at the Library of Congress, World Bank, the Smithsonian Institute, Pope John Paul Cultural Center in Washington D.C.; Lincoln Center and the Philippine Consulate in New York; and at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center. It figures prominently in Independence Day celebrations in New Jersey, New York, Ohio, and Texas. This rondalla has performed at Lycée Français, the United Nations International School, Princeton University, Rutgers University, Drew University, and other colleges. It has performed the music for the New York Public Library's videotape collection of Philippine dances.

This string ensemble has spread its musical wings abroad at the World's Fair Expo in Portugal in 1998; at a concert in Montréal, Canada, in 1999; at a diplomatic reception at the Philippine Consulate in Jordan in 1999; at a cultural exchange at the Teatro de Havana in Cuba in 2004; and at a Filipino Festival in Toronto, Canada, in 2008.

The UPAFR group members are committed to increasing greater participation and attendance in rondalla performances and workshops by offering free weekly lessons to all ages with all levels of musical ability, who are interested in learning to play a rondalla instrument.

Over the years, UPAFR has made meaningful connections with communities by regularly performing at heritage festivals; cultural diversity celebrations in schools and churches; important government social functions; outreach programs for underserved groups such as war veterans, the infirmed, and the elderly. Accordingly, the New Jersey Council on the Arts has continued to provide special funding for the UPAFR for its contribution to the cultural milieu of the state of New Jersey. The group has also received citations and awards from civic organizations in recognition for its exemplary service to the Filipino-American community and for its pre-eminence in culture and the arts.

The UPAFR has recorded three CDs consisting of well-loved Philippine songs and dances masterfully arranged by Professor de Leon. Proceeds of UPAFR performances and CD sales have helped calamity and Typhoon Haiyan victims, and also provide rondalla instruments for children in underserved areas in different parts of the Philippines on an ongoing basis.

Click to enlarge photos.
Preserving a Musical Heritage
The University of the Philippines Alumni & Friends Rondalla was established in October 1992 with the late Bayani Mendoza de Leon (front), a versatile composer, arranger, and conductor, as its music director who coached and developed the group for 10 years. In December 1994, the UPAFR was formally incorporated as a nonprofit 501 C-3 organization in New Jersey.
The group’s current concert director is Maria Leonor Llorin (center, front), a two-time national champion (Bandurria category) in the Philippine Government’s National Competition for Young Artists.
The UPAFR performed at a cultural exchange program at Escuela Latino Americanos del Ciencias Medicinas in Havana, Cuba (April 2004). Other international performances by the group included World’s Fair Exposition in Lisbon, Portugal, concerts in Montréal and Toronto in Canada, and a diplomatic reception at the Philippine Consulate in Amman, Jordan.
Gawad Parangal Award (June 2006) for outstanding service to the Philippine-American community. The UPAFR also received the Dr. Jose P. Rizal Circle of Excellence Award for Culture and Arts in 2005 from the Knights of Rizal. In recognition of its invaluable contributions to the enrichment of the State’s cultural environment, the NJ State Council on Arts had awarded the UPAFR special funding of its activities.
The Philippine Society for the Performing Arts presented the UPAFR in Concert in Corpus Christi, Texas (May 2001). Also in the picture is the local high school Mariachi Band. The UPAFR presented other musical convergence concerts with non-Filipino groups such as the Spanish Alborada Dance Theater, Puerto Rican Cuatro, and Cuban Septeto.
The UPAFR was the first Philippine cultural group to present a theatrical concert at the newly-opened New Jersey Performing Arts Center in November 1997. The group undertook several performances in celebration of the Philippine Centennial.
The group figures prominently in Philippine Independence Day celebrations in the Tri-State area. It was featured at NBC’s Channel 4 during the Philippine Independence Day Celebration in New York City, and at NJN’s public service television station.
The UPAFR undertakes meaningful connections with communities by performing in cultural diversity celebrations in schools, heritage festivals, and underserved groups. The group brings its programming to audiences that cannot go to regular concert venues such as audiences at veterans homes, senior centers, nursing homes.
The UPAFR members share their knowledge on the rondalla by attracting more participation and attendance in classes and performances. Free weekly lessons are held Sunday afternoons for anyone (age 7 up) interested in learning to play a rondalla instrument.
In November 2012, UPAFR celebrated its 20th anniversary with a gala concert at Drew University, designating as concert beneficiary the Pagyamanin Likas Musika Rondalla Instruments Lending Program offered to underserved students in different villages in the Philippines.
In February 2013, the UPAFR turned over 16 donated rondalla instruments to St. Anthony Academy in Mondragon, Northern Samar – located in one of the poorest areas in the Philippines. The student council president, music teacher, and school principal received the two sets of rondalla instrument in behalf of the school.
UPAFR welcomed 700 attendees with their music at the Hilton in Staten Island, NY in January 2014 during the Relief for the Philippines Fundraiser presented by the Filipino community through the San Lorenzo Ruiz Association of Staten Island. The UPAFR also performed for various fundraising events in Connecticut and New Jersey to benefit Typhoon Haiyan victims.
UPAFR was one of eleven Philippine-American string instrumentalists who donated their music towards a collaborative CD entitled “Pamanang Pinoy” where 100% of the proceeds went towards relief and rehabilitation programs for Philippine calamity victims. The CD was produced by the Pagyamanin Likas Musika, and $11,488 has been shared from the CD proceeds as direct assistance to various displaced communities in Bohol, Zamboanga, Leyte, Samar, and Iloilo.
In 2017, the core members and pioneers of the UPAFR presented a 25th anniversary concert in celebration of its milestone year of propagating the Filipino rondalla tradition in the United States and abroad. The Pagyamanin Likas Musika (PLM) Rondalla Instruments Lending Program for underprivileged children in the Philippines was again designated as concert beneficiary. The UPAFR continues to co-sponsor annual PLM rondalla festivals where these children beneficiaries perform to show their acquired musical skills.
Timoteo Paez Elementary School Rondalla in Pasay City is one of various PLM beneficiary groups from the UPAFR's 25th anniversary concert fundraiser.
The diverse backgrounds and ages of the UPAFR members provide the organization with an abundance of energy and creativity in its musical pursuits.

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