Symphonic music contest launched to heal Banaue Rice Terraces

Totel V. De Jesus

Posted at Apr 03 2018 01:51 PM

An elderly Ifugao musician. Composer-fellows of the Banaue International Music Composition Contest from all over the world will learn and try to integrate the sound of native Banaue to their entries. Photo by author

MANILA -- The hills, or to be more accurate, the mountains will soon be alive with the sound of symphonic music from all over the world. 

With prize money totaling US$24,000 and a chance for the winning entries to be performed at the Cultural Center of the Philippines, the first-ever Banaue International Music Composition Competition is accepting entries until April 15 to “create Banaue-inspired symphonic works.” 

“The aim is to create awareness of the current situation of the Banaue Rice Terraces and encourage people to participate and help,” said Dr. Milagros O. How of Universal Harvester Inc. and ToFarm, who, together with the local government of Banaue led by Mayor Jerry Dalipog, took on this mountainous task in line with the Banaue Rice Terraces Restoration Project.

“This is the first time that a competition of this magnitude will be held in the Philippines,” she added. 

From the entries submitted, the choices will be trimmed to 20 composer-fellows who will be part of the Banaue immersion program.

The contest director is noted Filipino composer-conductor Josefino “Chino” Toledo, who is tasked to choose the 20, who will then spend five days in Banaue to see how the locals live and experience first-hand how they perform their native songs. 

Asked on his plans for the immersion, Toledo said three days will be spent visiting the barangays where the native musicians live. 

“I am targeting three barangays. The fascinating thing is that each barangay has a distinct music. May kaibahan na kaagad, ganun ka-diverse, kayaman, ang musika ng mga Ifugao. Pero kahit magkaiba pa man, what’s important is the soul,” Toledo said. 

On the other days, there will be discussions on the use of indigenous musical instruments. There will be hours focused on the works of National Artist for Music Jose Maceda, the late, great musicologist-composer known for incorporating traditional and ethnic Filipino music in his works.

Composer-conductor Josefino “Chino” Toledo leads fellow organizers of the 2018 Banaue International Music Composition Competition (from left) Luz Corazon "Luchie" Roque of NAMCYA, Dr. Milagros Ong-How of ToFarm and Universal Harvester Inc., Jaime delos Santos of Banaue Rice Terraces Restoration Project and Banaue Mayor Jerry U. Dalipog, in explaining the mechanics of the contest. Here, dancers from the Ramon Obusan Folkloric Group gave a sample performance using Ifugao music. Photo by author

The 20 composer-fellows will then have the options to revise their entries and integrate what they’ve learned from the immersion before the semi-finals. Toledo will guide them all throughout the revision process. 

“After the immersion, it is hoped they can incorporate traditional music from Ifugao,” Toledo said. “In composing music, you start with imagined reality. Nakakagulat na noong araw malayo ang imagined reality pero ngayon closer because of the internet. Now, you can watch on You Tube what is ‘hudhud’. But what if you experience it first-hand?”

“Hudhud” is a narrative chant dating back to the 7th century, performed by the Ifugao people while planting and harvesting rice, during funeral wakes and other rituals.

“Baka akala noong iba, pasyal-pasyal lang ito,” Toledo added in jest. “Importante 'yung pag-iisip ng mga composers. I believe composing music is like going to a void. Yung pwede kang mag-isip. Naghahanap. Hindi maglalakwatsa.”

The composer-fellows will rehearse their symphonic pieces with an entire orchestra under the baton of Toledo. 

How said there are plans for their revised entries to be performed live in front of an audience composed of Banaue residents. 

Asked how long each piece would be, Toledo said they have to limit to 15 minutes per entry. Why that short for each composition is simple logic. Imagine if each entry is an hour-long composition and there are 20 pieces to be performed. Add to that the intervals for musicians and the performance would need the whole day, from morning till way past midnight. 

So the safest is a 15-minute orchestra music. On the finals night, the trimmed number of 10 entries will be performed and will still cover a total of 150 minutes or two hours and 30 minutes. And this doesn’t include intervals for musicians.

With the mere mention of “symphony music” or “orchestra music,” there’s the notion that they’re patronized only by old people. “It’s not true,” stressed Toledo. “A lot of young people, the millennials, are into orchestra music. In fact, most of the entries came from young people and you’ll be surprised how good they are.”

Toledo said there will be separate panel of judges for the semi-finals and the finals’ night. For the semi-finals, which will trim the entries to 10 composer-fellows, they are Kee Yong Chong, one of Malaysia’s leading composers of contemporary music; and Dr. La Verne Dela Pena, a top Filipino ethnomusicologist and current dean of the University of the Philippines College of Music.

For the chosen 10 composer-fellows, their entries will be performed on the finals night on July 25 at the Cultural Center of the Philippines. 

For the finals, Toledo said the judges are Cambodian-American composer Chinary Ung of the University of San Diego-California; Isao Matsushita, president of Japan Federation of Composers and vice president of Tokyo University of the Arts; professor-composer Ricardo Lorenz of Michigan State University; and National Artist Ramon Santos. 

The US$24,000 prize money will be divided into one major prize and two consolation prizes. The grand prize winner will receive US$12,000. Two winners of consolation prizes will each take home US$6,000.

As of posting, besides local entries, Toledo said there have been submissions from Estonia, South Africa, Italy, Russia, Colombia and Spain.

Details on how to submit entries for the 2018 Banaue International Music Composition Competition can be found at

Toledo said based on his experiences as composer and conductor, this is the first time a contest of this magnitude is happening. And it is for a good cause. 

“We want to let the world to know that the Philippines is home to great wonders, not just in terms of natural resources, but also in inspiring talents from all over the world,” How said.