Iskwelahang Pilipino Rondalla Performs Traditional Folk Songs

Galloping onto the stage, members of Iskwelahang Pilipino Rondalla, a Bedford-based traditional string ensemble, put on a colorful performance of Filipino songs this past Sunday.

Founded in 1976, the group consists of Filipino American youth aged from 12 to 25, including Sierra Jamir ’14. Iskwelahang Pilipino Rondalla is a non-profit organization run by a group of volunteers in the Greater Boston area to provide children of Filipino descent with the opportunity to learn about their heritage, according to the organization website.

Members of the rondalla, a string ensemble that originated in Medieval Spain, were dressed in traditional Filipino clothing and played traditional string instruments such as the bandurria, a plucked instrument similar to a mandolin and the octavina, a guitar-shaped Filipino instrument.

The performance was part of “Celebrating the Cultural Legacies of Catholicism III,” a series of Catholic events originally started in 2010 by Elizabeth Oppong ’12. This year, it was organized by members of Catholic Student Fellowship (CFS), Larry Flynn ’13, Andrea Yepez ’14 and Dr. Mary Kantor, Catholic Chaplain.

The performance included songs ranging from “Ba Ingles,” a traditional English dance, to folk songs like “Karaton,” and “Pobreng Alindahaw.” The rondalla also performed a cheerful medley of popular Filipino love songs such as “Ewan (I don’t know)” meshed with “Marry You” by American artist Bruno Mars, who is of part Filipino descent.

“The rondalla was disappearing in the Philippines. It was being forgotten, and I thought it should be revived, since at the time there weren’t any organized rondalla in the United States,” said Cristina Castro, who founded the group in 1986. He added that incorporating choreography in their performances is the group’s trademark.

“They weren’t just playing music. The songs had meaning themselves. They had the garments they were wearing, the instruments and the dance movements. It was very intricate, and it painted a whole picture,” said Sheena Hilton, Instructor in Chemistry and an audience member.

In Constance Guzman’s “Maalaala Mo Kaya (Would You Remember),” the members of the rondalla strummed their bandurrias to create a trilling harmony, paired with vocal accompaniments.

“I didn’t begin learning how to play the bandurria until I joined the group. With each performance, I think we are improving and opening the eyes of the audience to the Filipino culture,” said Katrina Sipin, a bandurria player in the rondalla.

The event also featured a traditional Filipino fiesta with a buffet, co-sponsored by CFS and South East Asian (SEA) Club.

Streams of multi-colored triangular flags, chiffon flowers and banana leaves brightened the Underwood Room as the audience and the rondalla feasted on traditional South East Asian foods such as Halo-Halo, a shaved ice dessert served with sweet toppings.

“The fiesta was amazing, just like the concert. There was this large pig that was the highlight of the dinner,” said Sequoia Chun ’14. “It was also really nice to see how everybody in the Filipino community was really close.”

Iskwelahang Pilipino Rondalla will spend this summer on a tour, starting in the Philippines on June 16, and teaching music at the Bayan-Bayanan Elementary School in the Phillipines. All of the proceeds from their tour will go to a selected charity.