Philippines: The Bamboo Organ of Las Pinas and It's Builder
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Philippines: The Bamboo Organ of Las Pinas and It's Builder

Padre Diego Cera started to build the bamboo organ in 1816, while the church was still under construction. Having the experienced on building organs in Manila with some organ stops made of bamboo, he decided to built one using only bamboo for the pipes. The organ was first heard in 1821 yet without the bamboo pipes as horizontal trumpets. He completed the work in 1824 after finally deciding to use metal for the horizontal trumpets whose character of sound he could not get with bamboo resonators. These bamboo resonators now stand as the rear facade pipes of the organ.

PHILIPPINES: THE BAMBOO ORGAN OF LAS PIÑAS AND IT'S BUILDER

Padre Diego Cera started to build the bamboo organ in 1816, while the church was still under construction. Having the experienced on building organs in Manila with some organ stops made of bamboo, he decided to built one using only bamboo for the pipes.

Bamboo was abundant in the area and used for hundred of items. The organ was first heard in 1821 yet without the bamboo pipes as horizontal trumpets. He completed the work in 1824 after finally deciding to use metal for the horizontal trumpets whose character of sound he could not get with bamboo resonators. These bamboo resonators now stand as the rear facade pipes of the organ.

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THE BAMBOO ORGAN OF LAS PINAS

The final result conforms very closely to the classic Mediterranean organ, built in a style that essentially looked backward to the eighteenth century. It has one manual, divided registers with separate knobs for the bass and treble, horizontal trumpets in the facade, a few short pull-down pedal notes plus of course a few of the favorite effects: Pajaritos and the Tambor. It is a curious fact that the sound of many Spanish and Italian organs built quite late in this tradition has a unique charm, only emphasized in the Bamboo Organ by the choice of the material.

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Through the years, earthquakes and typhoons damaged both church and organ. The first repairs were still done by Fr. Cera and later by locals who were trained by the builder himself. At the start of the 20th century, the organ is hardly playable. Several attempts were made just to keep it playing until an inevitable restoration is badly needed after the Second World War.

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The History of the Builder

At the first arrival of Fr. Diego Cera in the Philippines, his love for music and his knowledge in making instruments showed early on when he constructed a "Piano-Forte" dedicated to the Queen of Spain, which was sent to her on 31st of October, 1793. As tokens of gratitude, the Queen later gifted Padre Diego Cera a church bell, a caliz and a vinajeras made of gold.

His first missionary assignment took him to Mabalacat in the province of Pampanga (around 100 Km. north of Manila) on June 1794.

On November 5, 1795, the Archbishop of Manila assigned the parish of Las Piñas, a small town of farmers and fishermen to the Augustinian Recollects. Padre Diego Cera became its first pastor, arriving on the second day of Christmas, 1795. Shortly after, he began the planning of a new stone church which was completed in 1819.

In 1798, he constructed a monumental organ for the church of his order in San Nicolas in Intramuros, Manila. It is said to have had 33 stops, among them a bamboo stop. It is also said that he constructed the old organ in the Cathedral of Manila. Unfortunately both organs were completely destroyed during the liberation of Manila from the Japanese forces at the end of the World War II.

In 1816 when the stone church was already on its final stage of construction, he began the construction of the Bamboo Organ. He finished the organ but without the horizontal trumpets in 1821. And in 1824, the installation of the reeds completed the instrument.

He proved to be more than just a priest. It is believed that Padre Diego Cera was also the first urban planner of Las Piñas after constructing two bridges and paving roads along the church. He also improved the salt gathering from the salt beds. He had written works about dyeing, perfecting the art of dyeing using native raw materials. He was also very knowledgeable in the tanning of leather and hides.

He served as Parish Priest of Las Piñas until the 15th of May, 1832 when he was forced to give up his duties because of severe illness. A month later, on June 24, he died in the convent of San Sebastian in Manila.

International Bamboo Organ Festival

Mission

"To engage in a cultural / musical presentation where festival artists, foreign and local visitors and friends meet with the purpose of creating new and rekindling old ties, enhancing musicality and further promoting tourism development through the historic Bamboo Organ - the Philippines' and the world's priceless treasure."

The restoration of the Bamboo Organ in the specially built acclimatized room in the Klais factory in Bonn culminated in a special concert by the Trier Cathedral organist Mr. Wolfgang Oehms on February 18, 1975. The concert was appreciated as a musical-cultural event of special significance attended by prominent persons, artist and musicologist.

In 1972, through the efforts of the CICM priests of St. Joseph's Parish, Fr. Mark Lessage and Fr. Leo Renier, a contract for restoration was awarded to Johannes Klais Orgelbau of Bonn, Germany. The entire instrument was disassembled and shipped to Germany in 1973 and was restored under climatic conditions simulating those at Las Piñas. While the restoration of the organ was taking place in Germany, the church and grounds were restored to their original state with the help of the entire parish community.

The restored organ returned home in March 1975 to a joyous welcome by the people of the Philippines. Since then the scene of many concert festivals, the Bamboo Organ is described by international organ masters as one of the finest old organs in the world. Its construction of bamboo is noted as being one of the major factors that gives it a truly unique and lively sound.

The Bamboo Organ is played on every celebration of the mass. The Parish of St. Joseph, being quite populated has at least seven regular masses on Sundays and two everyday, plus the weddings that are celebrated very often in this lovely church. The countless tourists that visit the Instrument are also welcomed by the sound of the Bamboo Organ.

Reference:

Klais, Hans Gerd . The Bamboo Organ, translated by Homer D. Blanchard, The Praestant Press, Delaware, Ohio, 1977

George A. Miller. Interesting Manila, Revised Edition. Manila, E. C. McCullough & Co., Inc., 1912: pp. 97-123.

http://www.bambooorgan.org

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Comments (5)

Simply fascinating, to actually build an organ out of so humble a building material such as bamboo. Great article, mate!

Amazing, yet so fragile. Fantastic job. Voted and appreciated.

What a wonderful story Ron.

Ranked #1 in Philippines

I dearly much appreciated your wonderful comments. This Bamboo Organ is one of the Philippines pride, thank you so much.

I enjoyed this article and the pictures very much! If I had sound on my computer I would've listened to the clips! Excellent!

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