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Las Piñas Bamboo Organ History & Padre Diego Cera’s Life [Musika ng Kawayan Pipe Organ Sample Music]

Bamboo Organ 

St. Joseph's Church - Las Pinas, Philippines - Church organ in the Philippines constructed out of bamboo.  The Las Piñas Bamboo Organ in St. Joseph Parish Church in Las Piñas City, Philippines, is a 19th-century church organ with unique organ pipes; Of its 1031 pipes 902 are made of bamboo. It was completed after 6 years of work in 1824 by Father Diego Cera, the builder of the town's stone church and its first resident Catholic parish priest.


The Home of the Bamboo Organ 


The St. Joseph Parish Church in Las Piñas houses the Bamboo Organ, and it is about ten kilometers south of the heart of Metro Manila. Built between 1797 and 1819, the church has a Baroque architectural style and is mainly made out of adobe stones. It had to undergo renovation with the assistance of the local community and the neighboring area, in order to restore the structure and the grounds to its original state. Architects Francisco “Bobby” Mañosa and Ludwig Alvarez effectively spearheaded the renovation from 1971 to 1975.

The Saint Joseph Parish (Spanish: Iglesia Parroquial de San Jose), otherwise known as the Las Piñas Church (Filipino: Simbahan ng Las Piñas) or Bamboo Organ Church, is a parish church in Las Piñas, just south of the city of Manila in the Philippines. 

Suite Cortesana - played by Prof. Armando Salarza

Suite Cortesana is a collection of dance tunes that evolved into instrumental form characterizing the baroque period. This particular examples shows the Spanish influence in the movement that use dances from the Spanish colonies such as the canarios, las vacas and el villano.

Suite Cortesana highlights the different tone qualities of the many organ stops in an instrument from soft and flute-like to loud and brassy-sounding. The bamboo organ merges western technology with the aesthetics of Philippine historical musical practices.

Armando Salarza ‎– Armando V. Salarza On The Historic Bamboo Organ

AFTER EIGHT LONG YEARS OF construction, Father Diego Cera finally finished his organ in St. Joseph’s Church in 1824. Although he was forced to include metal stops in the organ to retain its sound, every other piece was built entirely out of bamboo, creating a unique instrument. Today, not only is the organ playable, but it is the centerpiece of a concert called the Bamboo Organ Festival. With its strange construction, the Bamboo Organ has become a legend for organists around the world, who travel across the world to stroke the bamboo keys.



The Austrian sound-engineer Jozef Kamykowski (1928-2021), who produced the Highlights of the International Bamboo Organ Festival between 1981 and 2007 passed away at the age of 92 last June 8, 2021 in Vienna (Austria). 

He had among his clients famous pianists and ensembles. The Festival has been very fortunate that, thanks to him, the Bamboo Organ could be heard all over the world through excellent recordings. 

Several local ensembles entrusted their recordings to him: the Philippine Philharmonic Orchestra,  the Philippine Madrigal Singers, and the Philippine Singing Ambassadors.

Padre Diego Cera’s Life in Las Piñas

Padre Diego Cera’s Life in Las Piñas Bamboo Organ

On 5 November 1795, after a little over a year of service in Mabalacat, the Archbishop of Manila posted him in Las Piñas, a town of farmers and fisherfolks. The town flourished under his guidance. First, he initiated the building of a new stone church and upon nearing completion, started work on his masterpiece in 1816, the Bamboo Organ, which was finished with the installation of the reeds in 1824. The unique organ utilized 950 bamboo pipes, buried in the sand for 6 months to make them insect-resistant.

𝐏𝐚𝐝𝐫𝐞 𝐃𝐢𝐞𝐠𝐨 𝐂𝐞𝐫𝐚, 𝐭𝐡𝐞 𝐟𝐢𝐫𝐬𝐭 “𝐫𝐞𝐬𝐭𝐨𝐫𝐞𝐫” 𝐨𝐟 𝐭𝐡𝐞 𝐁𝐚𝐦𝐛𝐨𝐨 𝐎𝐫𝐠𝐚𝐧

Already during Fr. Cera's lifetime, disasters such as earthquakes and typhoons damaged both the church and the organ. Fr. Cera himself became the organ's first "restorer." 

Down through the years, natural disasters continued to take their toll; the organ was unplayable between 1982 and 1917,except for a few stops.

Repairs on the organ were partial, and carried out through the combined contributions of the government, town residents, and the Archbishop of Manila. A total of two hundred seventy pesos was the cost of the repair in 1888. Repairs were done by unskilled carpenters causing even more damage to the organ, so that another repair was needed a few year later.

Diego Cera (Father Diego Cera de la Virgen del Carmen) was a Spanish Augustinian Recollect missionary, organist, and organ builder. He was born in Graus, Aragon, Spain on 26 July 1762. He died in Quiapo, Manila on 24 June 1832. Born to Joaquin Cera and Francisca Badia, he was ordained priest in the Augustinian Recollect Order on 30 January 1787 in Barcelona. He is remembered as the builder of the bamboo organ at the Parish of St. Joseph in Las Piñas, Metro Manila.

In 1790, three years after his ordination in Barcelona, he left Spain for Mexico with other Augustinian Recollect missionaries. He arrived in Manila on 5 June 1792. In his first year in Manila, Father Cera constructed a piano that was regarded by then Governor-General Don Rafael Maria de Aguilar y Ponce de Leon and the Recollect provincial, Father Jose de Santa Orosia, as a worthy gift to Queen Maria Luisa of Parma, the wife of King Charles IV of Spain. It was believed that no piano constructed in Spain or England at that time could match it. In 1798, Father Cera completed a pipe organ for the San Nicolas Church of the Recollects in Intramuros, Manila. This organ had 33 stops, one of which was made of bamboo. The San Nicolas pipe organ was probably Father Cera’s first experimentation on the durability and performance of this type of material. It was damaged in 1898 during the siege of Manila. Although restoration work was done in the early 20th century, this pipe organ and the San Nicolas Church were totally destroyed in World War II that ended in 1945. Aside from the San Nicolas pipe organ, Father Cera also constructed the organ at the Manila Cathedral which is believed to have begun in 1802. The Manila Cathedral pipe organ suffered extensive damages during the earthquakes of 9 November 1828 and 16 September 1852. It was totally destroyed in the earthquake of 3 June 1863.

Father Cera’s first assignment was in Mabalacat Parish, Pampanga in June 1794. On 26 December 1795, he left Mabalacat to assume the position of parish priest of the newly organized Recollect parish of Las Piñas, amidst the opposition of the local secular clergy. The secular priests were favored by Governor-General Jose Basco y Vargas to serve as parish priests of Cavite Viejo and Parañaque, to which Las Piñas belonged. Nevertheless, Father Cera began his work as the spiritual director of Las Piñas in late 1795 until his death in 1832. His first chapel was built of bamboo and nipa in 1796, located near the seashore. It is worthy to mention that this small chapel already featured a small chorus and a small orchestra of string instruments for the accompaniment of religious services. In 1797, the site of the present church was purchased by Father Cera at the price of 150 pesos. On this site the stone church of St. Joseph was eventually constructed. In 1816, three years before the completion of the stone church, Father Cera began assembling the now famous bamboo organ. This has a striking resemblance to the old organ built by Father Martin Peruga in 1653 in the Cathedral of San Vicente, approximately 25 kilometers north of Graus. By 1824, the bamboo organ was completely constructed, the pipes of which were 85% made of bamboo and the rest, of metal. Father Cera is recorded in world history as the maker of the first pipe organ made of bamboo.

Other than his duties as parish priest in Las Piñas, he was also appointed prior of Taytay in Palawan, 1805; in Baclayon, Bohol, 1815; and in Tandag, 1825. These assignments did not require residency. His last appointment was president prior of San Sebastian Convent in Manila in 1832. On 15 May 1832, thirteen days after his appointment, Father Cera fell ill and resigned from his positions. He passed away at the San Sebastian Convent in Manila on 24 June 1832.



Fr. Diego Cera has been living in the Philippines for 20 years before starting work on the Bamboo Organ. He had already been practicing using bamboo to the construction on 2 other organs. He began work on the organ in 1816, while the church was still under construction. 

Fr. Diego Cera must closely examined this material which grew about him great abundance. He counteracted this advantage – a high susceptibility to insects because of its sap high sugar content by burying it in beach sand for a year. 

The salt water replaces the sugary sap – a method of conservation improved upon. Burying them would protect them from insects. It is assumed to have been conducted in October–December 1816 since as a natural scientist he knew that bamboos to be used must be tough, mature, and enduring.



Bamboo called “heaven’s blessing in Asia” is a grass, over 1,000 kinds of bamboo had been categorized. 31 of which grow in the Philippines. It is indispensable for daily use – in receptacles, construction materials, and methods of transportation, clothing, household items, and musical instruments. Its unique biological structure, a hollow body and surfaces hardened by a high concentration of salycic acid, not so nodes which appears its specific interholes and elastic fibers makes uses possible.

Source: Augustinian Recollects Archives

Padre Diego Cera’s Love for Music  

Padre Diego Cera

Padre Diego Cera monument

Recollect Historian Manuel Carceller surmised that, before entering the religious order of the Recoletos, Diego had learned the art of making organs. While studying theology in the seminary of the Recoletos, he served as organist, and continued studying the art of constructing pipe organs. Because the Philippines had been waiting for more than 30 years for an organ builder, Cera was assigned to Manila fill this vacuum.




Padre Diego Cera entered the Order of Augustinian Recollects (OAR). At age 24, he donned the habit of the Augustinian Recollects at their convent in Barcelona on 29 January 1786 to commence his novitiate year.

After the mandatory year of novitiate, he professed the three evangelical counsels on 30 January 1787. With the novice master Fray Manuel de San Joaquín present at the rite of religious profession, the prior of the Recollect Convent of Barcelona, Fray Mariano de Santa Bárbara, received Fray Diego’s profession of the monastic vows.

Fray Diego Cera, the Augustinian Recollect

Fray Diego Cera, the Augustinian Recollect who would put Las Piñas on the cultural map of the world saw the light of day on 26 July 1762. His Birthday is celebrated every year in St. Joseph Parish with a concert featuring local musical talents. 

The place of his birth is Graus, a village in the province of Huesca, part of the region of Aragón, located on the southern flank of the Pyrenees. 

Little is known about his parents Joaquín Cera and Francisca Badia. The baptismal records in Graus were lost during the devastation of the Civil War in 1939. Their names appear only in the act of Diego Cera’s religious profession in 1787.

The Pipe Organ as the Apex of Technology 

Las Piñas Bamboo Organ

Before the invention of the steam energy (around the year 1850), the mechanical clock and the pipe organ were considered the apex of technology. 

Diego Cera was not afraid to share his knowledge with local carpenters, so that they continued constructing pipe organs after his death in 1832.

original keyboard of the Bamboo Organ

pieces of ivory were covering the wooden keyboards of the bamboo organ

LOOK: In the museum, they are keeping the original keyboard of the Bamboo Organ. Until recently, pieces of ivory were covering the wooden keyboards. Several keys lost their ivory covers, which could not be replaced. Therefore, a new keyboard was installed during the restoration.

TRIVIA: Fray Diego Cera built only one organ with bamboo pipes. 

Las Piñas Bamboo Organ pipes history

For his own parish church, Diego Cera wanted to do something special:  using ONLY bamboo pipes, as an experiment. This is what made our town famous. Bamboo was then still abundant in Las Piñas. The flutes produced some wonderful sound, one would never have expected to come from an ordinary plant. On the other side, it was not easy to tune bamboo. 

The main challenge was that bamboo could not equal the glaring trumpet sound when using metal. He completed the entire set of 122 bamboo trumpets, tried them out, could not get the sound he wanted, and replaced them with another set of 122 metal trumpets placed them as decoration of the rear of the organ, and started making. This experiment with the trumpets took him 3 more years to complete the organ in 1824.



The Bamboo Organ was built by Fr. Diego Cera, parish priest of Las Piñas in the years between 1817 and 1824. It is essentially a Spanish instrument of the 18th century, his family having been organ-builders in Graus, Hauesca of Several generations. However, the pipes that would have been of wood in Spain were here made of bamboo, the best material at hand. In 1975, the organ was restored by Johannes Klais in his shop in Trier, Germany, and its return to Las Piñas gave rise to the beginning of this Festival. It is currently watched over by the Diego Cera Organ Builders of Las Piñas.

To know more about the History of the Construction of the Bamboo Organ, follow the link:



The unique and historic Bamboo Organ is composed of 1,031 pipes; 902 pipes are made of bamboo and the remaining pipes are made of metal. It took Fr. Diego Cera 8 years to finish the organ (1816-1824).

bamboo pipes bamboo organ
747 speaking labial bamboo pipes

bamboo pipes bamboo organ
36 dummy labial bamboo pipes

bamboo pipes bamboo organ
119 dummy bamboo reed pipes

The total number of pipes is 1,031 and consists of:

747 speaking labial bamboo pipes
36 dummy labial bamboo pipes
119 dummy bamboo reed pipes

Pajaritos - 7 speaking labial metal pipes of tthe Bamboo Organ that produces bird-like sounds.
Pajaritos - 7 speaking labial metal pipes of tthe Bamboo Organ that produces bird-like sounds.

7 speaking labial metal pipes (pajaritos)

speaking metal reed pipes bamboo organ

122 speaking metal reed pipes (horizontal trumpets)

vintage photo of the Las Piñas Bamboo Organ
A vintage photo of the Las Piñas Bamboo Organ from the National Anthropological Archives

The Las Piñas Bamboo Organ in St. Joseph Parish Church in Las Piñas City, Philippines, is a 19th-century church organ with unique organ pipes; they are made almost entirely of bamboo. It was completed in 1824 by Father Diego Cera, the builder of the town's stone church and its first resident Catholic parish priest.

The organ was declared a National Cultural Treasure of the Philippines in 2003. The St. Joseph Parish Church, the church museum at the old convent house, and the famous organ is a popular tourist destination for Filipinos and foreign visitors alike in Las Piñas.

𝐓𝐡𝐞 𝐁𝐚𝐦𝐛𝐨𝐨 𝐎𝐫𝐠𝐚𝐧 𝐛𝐞𝐢𝐧𝐠 𝐬𝐡𝐢𝐩𝐩𝐞𝐝 𝐭𝐨 𝐉𝐨𝐡𝐚𝐧𝐧𝐞𝐬 𝐊𝐥𝐚𝐢𝐬 𝐎𝐫𝐠𝐞𝐥𝐛𝐚𝐮 𝐢𝐧 𝐁𝐨𝐧𝐧, 𝐆𝐞𝐫𝐦𝐚𝐧𝐲 𝐢𝐧 𝟏𝟗𝟕𝟑.

𝐓𝐡𝐞 𝐁𝐚𝐦𝐛𝐨𝐨 𝐎𝐫𝐠𝐚𝐧 𝐛𝐞𝐢𝐧𝐠 𝐬𝐡𝐢𝐩𝐩𝐞𝐝 𝐭𝐨 𝐉𝐨𝐡𝐚𝐧𝐧𝐞𝐬 𝐊𝐥𝐚𝐢𝐬 𝐎𝐫𝐠𝐞𝐥𝐛𝐚𝐮 𝐢𝐧 𝐁𝐨𝐧𝐧, 𝐆𝐞𝐫𝐦𝐚𝐧𝐲 𝐢𝐧 𝟏𝟗𝟕𝟑

Almost 50 years ago, the Bamboo Organ was shipped to Bonn, Germany for restoration by Johannes Klais. The restored organ returned home in March 1975 to a joyous welcome by the Filipino people. Since then, an annual International Bamboo Organ Festival is held every February.



What happens to bamboo pipes, when they are brought to a country (Germany) with freezing temperature, and  low humidity?

bamboo organ being loaded in an old jeep

On July 28, 1973, the entire organ (except for the bamboo pipes) left Manila Harbor on the cargo ship "Essen" of the Hapag-Lloyd Line. 

The captain saw to it that the best and most stable in the forward hold was assigned to the container with the valuable Bamboo Organ.

Bamboo organ restoration transported in truck

Bamboo organ pipes for restoration

The precious cargo - luckily without the pipes -  got stuck in the Singapore port for a considerable time because of engine trouble, extending its travel time from Manila to Germany to more than three months instead of six weeks. If the bamboo pipes would have joined the cargo, even more damage would have been caused to them.  

Bamboo organ pipes traveled from the Philippines to Japan (through SABENA AIRLINES

Instead, the pipes traveled from the Philippines to Japan (through SABENA AIRLINES in April of the same year) where Klais-trained Yukio Tsuda restored the damaged pipes and replaced the lost 50 small pipes. The pipes were then flown to Brussels and then transported by thermo-freight train to Bonn. 

Through all this, the cargo was kept at a temperature between 18C and 32C with a humidity modified to be the same as in the Philippines. Even its special room inside the Klais factory in Bonn had the same conditions to prevent the bamboos from cracking.(see picture with humidifier and B.O. covered with plastic before and after the recital in Klais workshop on Feb.18, 1975)

It was again SABENA AIRLINES which - free of charge - returned the pipes to the Philippines together with the rest of the organ parts: it was too great a risk of letting the bamboos travel by ship, SABENA decided within a few days, that this was their duty to preserve world heritage.

The Natural Calamities that Destroyed the Bamboo Organ 

Natural Calamities that Destroyed the Bamboo Organ

There were series of earthquakes occurred (July 14, 18, and 20, 1880) that heavily damaged the organ. And in October 1882, a typhoon hit the country causing the rise of flood water, reaching within the church's vicinity. The rainwater and stones got inside the organ case, which destroyed the instrument and made it unplayable for years. 

After the incident, the Gobernadorcillo and other prominent residents of Las Piñas pleaded for help from the central administration in Manila. The pipes were stored in the old sacristy and were forgotten about until around 1917 when a tourist rediscovered its beauty.

The photo featured was the Bamboo Organ in a dismembered state, with parts scattered on the floor with some being drifted away by the flood.

The Bamboo Organ under the care of the Diego Cera Organ Builders of Las Piñas

The Bamboo Organ under the care of the Diego Cera Organ Builders of Las Piñas

When the Bamboo Organ was flown back to the Philippines in 1975, the question was raised:  if any serious damage occurs to the organ, do we have to ship it again to Europe? Why can Filipinos not do this, given the proper training? 

It was Dr. Johann Trummer who invited Cealwyn Tagle and Edgar Montiano to study organ building in Austria for this purpose. But they were so talented that 30 years later they are doing much more than just taking care of the Bamboo Organ: they construct new organs (here and abroad), restore the historic organs of the Philippines, and teach the new generation of organbuilders.


Las Piñas Bamboo Organ

The Bamboo Organ is a Spanish instrument., built by a Spanish missionary, who experimented with bamboo pipes, replacing its metal and wooden pipes. 


The Bamboo Organ survived during the American time: the bamboo pipes made it a “Filipino" instrument, thus avoiding the Spanish connection. Nobody cared about the 122 metal pipes in front (that were muted anyhow)

old photo of the Bamboo Organ in the church of Las Piñas
Take a look at an old photo of the Bamboo Organ in the church of Las Piñas, Luzon Island, Philippines. Date Created/Published: between ca. 1890 and 1923. Repository: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA. This is also available at

"Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam" - A documentary of the Bamboo Organ of Las Piñas, Philippines (1982)

Full Version

Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam

A portrait of the Bamboo Organ of Las Piñas – Metro Manila, Philippines

Produced in 1982 (45 min.)

A concept of Charly H. Fugunt

A production of the Philippine-German Cooperative in collaboration with the Goethe-Institut Manila, using the facilities of Studio-Preuss München (Dietmar Preuss & Christian Klein) under the supervision of the Presidents of the Cooperative:  Gerrit Bretzler (Director, Goethe Institut Manila) and Reynaldo Bautista (President of the University of Baguio)

Filming of the restoration of the church, transportation of the Bamboo Organ, concert in the Klais atelier, welcomed in Las Piñas by Fr. Mark Lesage, CICM using an 8-mm camera (1973-1975).

The soundtrack of the Handel concerto was provided by sound engineer Jozef Kamykowski (Vienna)

The following pieces are performed at the Bamboo Organ:

Sonatas by A.Soler

J.Pachelbel: Was Gott tut, das ist wohlgetan

G.F.Handel: Organ Concerto n.13in F major HWV 295 (3rd mov.)

More is known about Fr. Diego Cera and the Bamboo Organ since the time that this documentary movie was produced in 1982. 

In the meantime, we know that there are some 15 organs all over the world with bamboo pipes.

Diego Cera built only one organ using bamboo canes as pipes (except for the trumpets), the Bamboo Organ of Las Piñas, where he was the first parish priest from 1795 to 1832. But the Bamboo Organ is not the only pipe organ he designed.

As organ builder, he was very much needed:  He built three organs in Intramuros (San Nicolas, Manila Cathedral and San Agustin), one in Argao (Cebu) and one in Baclayon (Bohol).  At the same time, he trained apprentices from the parish who assisted him, and who later constructed organs by themselves, even after his death in 1832.  One in Sto.Tomas (Batangas), with documentary evidence, and four more still existing in Bohol (Dimiao, Loay, Loboc and Loon).  These apprentices (called the ‘Diego Cera School’) trained the younger generation to maintain/repair the organs. But they could not compete with the importation of pipe organs which started after the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869. The craft was again taught to Filipinos thanks to Dr. Johann Trummer, who made it possible for Cealwyn Tagle to study organ building with Helmut Allgauer in Austria and Klais Orgelbau in Bonn, Germany.  Tagle and his Diego Cera Organ Builders Inc. (since 1994) are responsible for the restoration of the few Spanish organs left in the Philippines , which otherwise would have been lost.



1.  Donna Ofrasio (Las Piñas, Philippines)

2.  Edgar Krapp (Munich, Germany)

3.  Wolfgang Oehms (Trier, Germany)


1.  Philippine Philharmonic Orchestra (PPO)

      Edmon Colomer, conductor (Spain)

2.  Pangkat Kawayan

      Chino Toledo, conductor (Philippines)


1.  Reinhold Bodis (Munich, Germany)

2.  Roberto Yñiguez (Baguio City, Philippines)


1.  Eduard de Guia (Baguio City, Philippines)

2.  Neithard Franke (Munich, Germany)

3.  Josef Kamykowski (Vienna, Austria)

Narrator - Jürgen Schmitz (Düsseldorf, Germany)


1.  Romeo Bagbagen (Baguio City, Philippines)

2.  Christopf Franke (Munich, Germany)

Archived Pictures and Documents:

1.  Francisco “Bobby” Mañosa (Manila, Philippines)

2.  Hans Gerd Klais (Bonn, Germany)

3.  Fr. Mark Lesage, CICM (Las Piñas)


1.  Fr. Leo Renier, CICM (Las Piñas)

2.  Ms. Helen Samson (Cologne / Manila)

3.  Hans-Gerd Klais (Bonn, Germany)

4.  Claudius Müller (Munich, Germany)

Regie and Editor:

1.  K.H. Fugunt (Munich, Germany)

2.  Franz Simon (Munich, Germany)

Musika ng Kawayan: Yaman ng Bayan, A Virtual Concert

The "Musika ng Kawayan, Yaman ng Bayan" virtual concert is a showcase of Filipino talents, highlighting the use of local bamboo musical instruments (BMIs).

The event aims to promote the versatility of bamboo as an excellent and sustainable material for musical instruments, and feature the various BMIs used across the country.

The concert is organized under the "Bamboo Musical Instruments Innovation R&D Program" of the DOST-FPRDI, in partnership with UP Diliman, PNU, and DOST-PCIERRD.

Featured Bamboo Musical Instruments:

Among many others, the musical instruments which was featured in this concert include the bungkaka which creates a buzzing sound, the guitar-like kollitong, the nose flute tongali, the koratong bamboo tubes, percussion instruments such as tambi, patatag, marimba, and tongatong, as well as banduria, ukelele, and an organ all made of bamboo.



Video Source:

Bamboo Music, Wealth of the Town ′′ virtual concert - held November 27, 9-11 AM. Performed Online on DOST-FPRDI Facebook page.

Performances: Joey Ayala, Mr. Armando Salarza featuring Las Pinas Bamboo Organ, Bamboo Team, Dulag Karatong Festival Performers, Benicio Sokkong, Huni Ukulele, Dipolog Community Rondalla, and PNU Himig Bamboo. This is part of National Science and Technology Week celebration.

Bamboo Music

The abundant year-round supply of the different species of bamboo and its inexpensiveness are reasons why Filipinos have found a variety of ways of using bamboo for construction, cooking, medicine, textile, paper, and music. As many as the number of different linguistic groups in the Philippines is the diversity of music instruments that the Filipinos have made out of the plant, and these instruments differ in terms of timbre (tone quality), name, manner by which sounds are generated from them, and significance in the lives of Filipinos.

Indigenous Philippine bamboo instruments existed long before the Spaniards came to the Philippines. Bamboo music was heard during rituals, feasts, courtship scenes, work, and recreation. Bamboo music instruments can be classified into aerophones, idiophones, and chordophones.

Instruments that produce sounds when blown are called aerophones. Bamboo aerophones include various types of flutes, panpipes, and reed pipes, the most numerous found throughout the country being the paldong or palendag (vertical end-blown flute). The tongali (nose flute) is widespread in northern Philippines, but few are found in southern Philippines. It is played mostly by men and is used for serenading and courting, for quiet moments of relaxation, or for funerals. Flutes of Northern Luzon are tuned in pentatonic scales with or without semitones. The saggeypo, a type of stopped pipes, are aerophones found in the northern Kalinga. Used for entertainment by youth and adults, the saggeypo is also played while walking along mountain trails and may be played individually or as an ensemble. Meanwhile, the diwdiw-as (set of panpipes) found in Northern Philippines consists of open pipes that are tied together.

Idiophones produce sound when struck with an implement or with the hand. The source of vibration is the instrument itself. Bamboo idiophones in the Philippines are the xylophone, quill-shaped tubes, stamping tubes, scrapers, buzzers, clappers, and mouth harps. Bamboo tubes can be struck against each other, struck by sticks or mallets, stamped against hard objects, or shaken. The half-cut bamboo tongues in mouth harps (also called jew’s harps) are plucked. The mouth harp is found all over the Philippines and called by various names such as kulibao, ulibao, aribao, and kubing. The bunkaka (buzzers), tongatong (stamping tubes), and patang-ug (quill-shaped tubes) are prevalent among the Cordillera highlanders who use them for rites, celebrations, and entertainment. The patatag, a set of xylophone blades or staves, is used by the Kalinga children to learn the rhythmic patterns of the gangsa (gongs). The bamboo xylophone found in southern Philippines is called gabbang and kwintangan. The bamboo tubes with notches etched on the tube, which can only be found in southern Philippines, are called tagutok and kagul.

Chordophones are instruments that generate sound through the vibration of strings, either by plucking, striking, or bowing. A zither is an instrument with strings that run parallel to the length of its body. The body serves as a sound box or resonator. The zither has no neck, and the number of its strings varies. Zithers are found in northern Luzon, Mindanao, and Palawan. A common type is a bamboo tube whose strips are detached from its body but remain attached at both ends, with small bridges being inserted between the strips and the body. They are of two types: polychordal zithers with several strings that run around the tube and parallel-stringed zithers that usually have two strings on one side of the tube. Polychordal zithers are found in the Cordilleras, Mindanao, and Palawan, and are commonly called kudlung or kolitong. These are used for expressing human sentiments, for self-entertainment, for courtship, and for festive occasions as dance accompaniment.

The parallel-stringed tube zither has two to four strings that are plucked with the fingers or struck with small bamboo sticks. Boys and men play them for entertainment, with rhythms patterned after those played on the gongs. The bamboo half-tube zither among the Ifugao is called ayudding, and the paired string zither with slight variations found in northern and southern Philippines are called pas­ing, banban, tambi, kudlong, or takumbo.

Aside from its use in indigenous cultures, bamboo is also used to play Western music, as in the bamboo organ in Las Piñas, the musikong bumbong (bamboo wind instruments), the angklung (Indonesian bamboo ensemble), and other diatonically tuned instruments.

The bamboo organ at Saint Joseph Parish Church in Las Piñas is considered a National Cultural Treasure. The instrument is the oldest bamboo pipe organ in the world. Fray Diego Cera de la Virgen del Carmen (1762-1834), a Spanish missionary, started to build the bamboo organ in 1816 with the help of the people of Las Piñas. Cera allegedly buried the bamboos that he used as organ pipes under the sand by the seashore for a year in order to wash out traces of sugar and starch in the wood and thus create tough, mature pipes. The organ was first heard in 1821 but without the horizontal trumpets. Cera completed the work in 1824 after deciding to use metal for the horizontal trumpets whose character of sound he could not get with bamboo resonators. For the general structure, native Philippine wood species, such as narra, molave, and kamagong, were used.

The bamboo organ measures 5.17 meters tall, 4.11 meters wide, and 1.45 meters deep. Hans Gerd Klais, who restored the organ in the mid-1970s, noted that the instrument contains a total of 1,031 pipes, of which 902 are of bamboo and 129 pipes are of metal. The pitch of each pipe is determined by its length. The organ has two unpitched accessory stops: the pajaritos and the tanbor, which produce the coloristic sounds of birds and the rumble of kettledrums, respectively. The Las Piñas Bamboo Organ is based on a typical Spanish baroque model, following the organ construction style of the era in which Cera lived. In 1978, the Bamboo Organ Foundation, a nonstock and nonprofit organization, was founded for the purpose of preserving the instrument. Since the bamboo organ’s return to the Philippines after its restoration in Germany in 1973-1975, annual concerts have been held at the Parish of Saint Joseph. The Diego Cera Organ Builders Inc, the first Filipino pipe organ building company, is specifically responsible for the maintenance and preservation of the bamboo organ.

The musikong bumbong is an ensemble of bamboo instruments that are reproductions of European band instruments. It flourished in the villages during the Philippine revolutionary period in the last quarter of the 19th century. The sound of each instrument, like the trumpet, trombone, horn, oboe, clarinet, saxophone, and sousaphone, is different from its original model because the instruments rely on the voice of the performers to produce the sounds. An instrument is open at both ends and has a hole on the side covered with a membrane, which produces a buzzing sound when the player hums rather than blows into the mouthpiece. Because it is not the instrument that produces the sound per se but the voice of the player, the band of such instruments is called banda de voca, which is literally “band of the mouth.” The air pressure produced by the hum makes the membrane vibrate, and the resulting sound varies in pitch and loudness with the player’s humming. The shape of the instrument helps amplify and project the sound.

The musikong bumbong proliferated in the villages, some organized by the Katipunero (Filipino revolutionaries) who fought against Spain in 1896-1898. These Katipunero used their musical talents to entertain their comrades, enlivening their unit’s activities by playing patriotic songs. Gathering as musicians and playing music also served to mask their secret meetings, according to accounts of their descendants who are at present members of musikong bumbong. Organized along the lines of the marching band, these all-bamboo ensembles were attempts by 19th-century Filipino nationalists and revolutionaries to create a uniquely Filipino sound. Through the years, the instrumentation of the musikong bumbong has evolved from the banda de voca to the inclusion of sound-producing bamboo instruments like the bamboo flute, bumbong (bamboo tube which at first looked like a sousaphone, but whose shape later on returned to straight bamboo tubes), clarinet, saxophone, trumpet, and trompas (French horn that sounded like the bumbong). This was the case with Malabon Musikong Bumbong. For the Obando Musikong Bumbong or Banda Santa Clara Musikong Bumbong, instrumentation has not changed much since its establishment. The group simply added sound-producing instruments like the harmonica, bamban (alto saxophone), cymbals, snare, and bass drums.

A possible offshoot of the musikong bumbong are the various bamboo ensembles that were organized during the late 1950s, which employed bamboo instruments tuned diatonically like the bumbong, talungating (bamboo marimba), tulali (bamboo flute), tipangklung (bamboo piano), and angklung. An idiophone, the angklung is an indigenous bamboo instrument popular in Java, Indonesia. It was copied in the Philippines also in the late 1950s when replicas were made by bamboo instrument maker Victor Toledo, who included it, among other bamboo instruments that he made, in the ensemble he founded called the Pangkat Kawayan or the “singing bamboos” of the Philippines. Other manufacturers followed suit. Also called alugtug or tugtug na paalog (played by shaking), angklung is played in groups, with each person playing an instrument traditionally in an interlocking or staccato manner. The angklung and the other diatonically tuned instruments, like the marimba, bumbong, talungating, tulali, tipangklung, angklung, mini tipangklung, lira gabbang, panpipes, chordal angklung, kalagong, kalatok, and kalavien, have been used in a variety of combinations by various bamboo ensembles all over the Philippines and in other countries as well, with repertoire varying from folk song, spiritual, modern to classical music for diverse occasions. Other manufacturers of bamboo instruments are Gilbert M. Ramos of Malabon Musikong Bumbong (now called Musikawayan) and Siegfredo B. Calabig of PUP Banda Kawayan (now called Banda Kawayan Pilipinas). The angklung is used in schools, universities, and the communities because the material is abundant and cheap. It is easily played by all ages and can be performed in any setting because of its interesting and beautiful sound. It may also be included in bamboo ensembles and other ensembles, like the rondalla (stringed instrument ensemble) and the orchestra. All these are factors for angklung’s wide acceptance and popularity in the Philippines.


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