Music in the form of bamboo: the Las Piñas Church and its Bamboo Organ

Mention the name of that southern metropolitan city which is Las Piñas and automatically, the first thing that comes to mind is its renowned and beloved treasure that is the Bamboo Organ found in the old Las Piñas Church, known formally as St. Joseph Church.

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And to tell the story of the Bamboo Organ, one cannot disassociate it with the history of this Baroque-inspired, stone-built Catholic church. In 1795 to be precise, when the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Manila deemed it necessary to have a church built in a growing fishing village south of the city we now know as Las Piñas. The task of building that church fell in the hands of the Augustinian Recollect priests, headed by Fr. Diego Cera, who would also be appointed as the town’s first parish priest. Construction would begin two years later and would be completed in 1819. Fr. Cera supervised the construction of the church, making sure it would be as earthquake-proof as possible.

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sculpture of Fr. Diego Cera depicting him selecting the bamboo for the organ he was planning to build

As the church was nearing completion, Fr. Cera turned his attention to an important aspect needed for this new church: music. Being a gifted organist and organ-builder (it is said he built the organ of the old Manila Cathedral and San Nicolas de Tolentino, both now lost) as well, he thought of building a “home-grown” organ using whatever resources available to him. That resource turned out to be bamboo which was then abundant in the village, especially near the coastline of the nearby Manila Bay. He painstakingly chose the bamboo wood to use for each organ pipe. In total, about 902 bamboo pipes were used, with an additional 129 metal pipes which were for the trumpet stops. The reason for the metal pipes was because Fr. Cera could not get the sound he was looking for in the bamboo pipes, especially for certain notes. It took about 8 years (1816-1824) for the Bamboo Organ to be completed and to be played in the newly-constructed church.

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some bamboo wood that were originally part of the bamboo organ which were eventually replaced due to wear and tear, now preserved

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keyboards of the original Bamboo Organ

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Over the years, the church and its organ suffered from natural disasters, notably a typhoon in 1882 which tore the church roof and damaged the organ in the process. There were partial restoration works that were made on the organ, it never worked the way as it was before until it was decided to have the organ fully restored to its former glory. The restoration project was undertaken Johannes Klais Orgelbau, the renowned German organ-building firm based in Bonn, for a period of 2 years. (1973-1975) During the period, the organ was disassembled and transported to Germany for the time being while it also served as an opportunity for the church to get a needed restoration as well, spearheaded by architect Francisco Mañosa.

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Restoration work was a tedious process as Klais Orgelbau made sure to place the organ parts in a simulated climate that is the same as it is the Philippines to make sure it would work well. The hard work would pay off with the completion of the restoration on February 17, 1975 during which the organ was played for the first time in its fully-restored glory. It made its way home the following month in the midst of a joyous crowd, happy to see the organ playing as well as it is supposed to be.

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To celebrate the legacy of the Bamboo Organ and to ensure its preservation for future generations, an event dubbed as the Bamboo Organ Festival every year in February (commemorating the time of the completion of the Bamboo Organ’s restoration) during which different performers hold performances each night accompanied by the organ.

At the same time, a museum was opened right beside the church which not only preserves some important aspects in the history of the church and the organ, but also provides some insight on the workings of the organ. Entrance is at P100 as of this writing in which you will be accompanied by a tour guide and  get to hear the bamboo organ being played as well.

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May the music of the Bamboo Organ play on for generations to come.

Acknowledgements to the Bamboo Organ Foundation and BambooMan.com

© The Urban Roamer

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