Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Las Piñas Bamboo Organ of the Philippines

The Las Piñas Bamboo Organ, in the Parish Church of St Joseph in Las Piñas City, Philippines, is a nineteenth-century church organ made almost entirely from bamboo; only the trumpet stops are made from metal.

The organ, the church and the surrounding buildings have been restored to their 19th century state by Architect Francisco "Bobby" Mañosa and partner Ludwig Alvarez, making a trip to the site a popular excursion for Filipinos and foreign visitors alike.

The builder of both the church and its organ was Fr. Diego Cera de la Virgen del Carmen, a priest under the Augustinian Recollects. A native of Spain, he served as parish priest in Las Piñas through many endeavors. Historians portray him as a gifted man-natural scientist, chemist, architect, community leader, organist and organ builder.

Having previously built organs in Manila area with some organ stops made of bamboo he chose bamboo for most of this organ, and only the trumpet stops are made of metal. The choice of bamboo was probably both practical and aesthetic - bamboo was abundant and used for hundreds of items, both a practical and an artistic nature.

Fr. Cera began work on the organ in 1816, while the church was still under construction, and the organ was completed in 1824. During Fr. Cera's lifetime, disasters such as earthquakes and typhoons damaged both church and organ and Fr. Cera himself was the organ's first "restorer." Down through the years, natural disasters continued to take their toll; the organ was unplayable for years. Somewhat unexpectedly reassembled early in the 20th century, partial restoration took place from time to time up through World War II.

In recent years, several concerted attempts were made to save the instrument. In 1972, a contract for total restoration was awarded to Johannes Klais Orgelbau KG in Bonn, Germany, and it was shipped there in 1973. While the restoration of the organ was taking place in Germany, a massive project was completed at the church. With the help of the community of Las Piñas and many others in the Manila area, the church grounds were restored to its original state.

The restored organ returned home in March 1975, to a joyous welcome by the people of the Philippines. The joint restoration of church and the organ was a triumph of local and international cooperation. Since then the scene of many concerts and festivals, the Bamboo Organ is described by many 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 National Museum of the Philippines officially declared the Las Piñas Bamboo Organ a 'National Cultural Treasure' on November 24, 2003 for its uniqueness and significance. To retain a high standard of quality and reliability, the Bamboo Organ underwent a general overhaul from September, 2003 to November, 2004. This time, the work was done locally by Europe-trained organbuilders of the Diego Cera Organbuilders, Inc. who are also tasked to maintain the instrument so that future generations will be assured of hearing and experiencing the unique sound of a Philippine treasure.

From 1992 until present, Prof. Armando Salarza is the Titular Organist of the Bamboo Organ. Currently, he is also the Artistic Director of the International Bamboo Organ Festival. The 34th International Bamboo Organ Festival was held last February 2009 and is considered to be the longest-running International Festival in the Philippines.

The parish belongs to the Roman Catholic Diocese of Parañaque. Its present parish priest is Rev. Msgr. Albert Venus. Msgr. Allen Aganon, parish priest from 1999 to 2004, is currently serving his missionary work in Peru.