Edna profile2

Edna Marcil “Michi” Martinez

Edna Marcil “Michi” Martinez graduated from the U.P. College of Music (TD Viola, BM  Music Literature, MM  Musicology), with the distinction of being the first viola graduate of  UP.

She is  former Chair of the Department of Strings and Chamber Music. She now teaches  and also conducts  the U.P. Orchestra and   U.P. Arco ( String Orchestra).   A member of the NPO-World Federation of Amateur Orchestras of Asia-Pacific, she trained with Prof. Rey Paguio of UP, Maestros Harold Farbermann and Eduardo Navega of  Bard College, New York, and  Maestra Helen Quach.

Also a musicologist, she did research work for the Smithsonian Folklife Festival in 1998 in the  US, helped establish the Museo Ilokos in  Ilocos Norte in 2000, and  co-authored a book on  Marcelo Adonay, published by UP in 2009 and recipient of the Best Book in the Art Category prize of the National Book Awards in 2010.  She is finishing a PhD in Philippine Studies at UP.

Edna title

This essay is a chapter-in-progress from my dissertation, THE CULTURE OF THE ORCHESTRA IN THE PHILIPPINES 1896-2015. My interest in this grew from my deep involvement with the tradition, having spent four decades of my life playing in the orchestra.

Philip Bohlman, in his essay “Music and Culture, Historiographies of Disjuncture”, published in The Cultural Study of Music (ed. Clayton et al., 2003), writes:

…historically there is a far greater acceptance that music and culture are related… The historiography of music and culture begins with the moment of encounter. Music marks the moment of encounter, for it stands out as a form of communication that is at once most familiar and most incomprehensible…Music represented culture in two ways, as a form of expression common to humanity, and as one of the most extreme manifestations of difference.

I share Bohlman’s view on the significance of a person’s moment of encounter with music which leads to another form of shared communication. This in turn becomes a form of expression reflecting the uniqueness of one’s culture and people.



At age seven I joined a children’s orchestra – Pasaknungan Philippines Youth Talent Development Center, founded by violinist-pedagogue Vicente Sales, an employee of the Government Service Insurance System (GSIS). With the noble objective of introducing violin music and giving free lessons to children of GSIS employees, Prof. Sales was assisted by his musician-friend and co-worker Primitivo Marcelo, both of whom were once members of the famous Manila Little Symphony Orchestra of the esteemed Spanish conductor and Manila resident, Maestro Federico Elizalde.

When Pasaknungan (Tagalog, “bearing one another’s load”) later opened to children of non-GSIS employees, my parents took  my two brothers and I to the auditorium of the old GSIS building on Arroceros street Manila. This was Pasaknungan Philippines’ first home.

On Saturdays, around 50 children, clustered into groups of 10 or so, did violin lessons simultaneously. Group lessons taught us the value of teamworkand discipline at a young age. Soon the number grew to a hundred. Most of us came from lower-middle and middle- class families.  As the members increased, Prof. Sales invited other musician colleagues to join him in teaching. Then, Pasaknungan caught the attention of former first lady Imelda Marcos, who offered the Vigan House  at the Nayong Pilipino (Philippine Village) park in Pasay as the new venue for the weekly classes.

The move provided more space for the group classes and the opportunity for more children to join. It also gave birth to the Pasaknungan Children’s Orchestra, a major innovation by Prof. Sales and his team. Years later many of us who were trained in Pasaknungan contributed to the country’s big pool of string teachers and orchestra musicians.



Having been colonized, the Philippines was influenced by and borrowed extensively from the West. One such borrowed tradition is the Western orchestra and its set of performance practices and literature.
Some historical essays on the colonial Philippines point to the years  1600-1601 as those of the first recorded accountsof the Westernorchestra in the country. At least two accounts state that perhaps the first orchestra was that organized by the Augustinians at Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe church.
Fr. Pedro Chirino in his 1604 chronicles (Blair and Robertson, XII:253) wrote of his encounters with the early Filipinos’ musical abilities:   “ ….They preserve it in songs which they know by heart and learn when children, by hearing these sung when they are sailing or tilling their fields…” A similar observation was made in 1609 by Spanish historian Antonio Morga, who wrote of the extraordinary musical ability of the young boys in the seminary schools: “… (they) play very well together and as a whole are lovers of music…..They serve masses either by singing plainchant or playing the organ…
In her essay “Pulse of the Music Makers”, published in  The Filipino Heritage, Vilma Santiago-Felipe traces the orchestra’s beginnings in the Philippines to the efforts of the  Spanish clergy who formed instrumental ensembles in the churches in the 17th-18th centuries. Led by Fr. Juan de Torres (Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe Church, 1643) and Fr. Toribio Varas (San Agustin Church, 1871), assisted by Marcelo Adonay, its first Filipino Maestro Capella, these “church orchestras” were famous for their splendid interpretations of classical works by German, Italian and Spanish composers. They played sacred music for Masses and other rituals…”
Outside the churches there were the “secular chamber orchestras”, which provided music for Spanish zarzuelas and operas. Notable among these were Alejandro Cubero’s San Juan del Monte Orchestra, Ladislao Bonus’s Orquesta de Marikina, Pedro Morales’s Orquesta Fernandez, Pedro Gruet’s Orquesta Gruet and Juan Molina’s Quiapo-based Orquesta Molina.
There was also the piccolo orchestra, smaller than a secular chamber orchestra, which performed non-liturgical music too, but featured prominently in social gatherings. Its repertoire was dance music, operetta selections and other light music ,preferred at informal gatherings. Of the various groups, only the Orquesta Molina was said to have devoted itself seriously to classical works. Hence it may be said that the tradition of performing orchestra music as we know it in the Philippines today began with the Molina Orchestra.
After three centuries of Spanish rule, a new era of musical activities brought about significant changes. The orchestras of varied sizes still prevailed but had to co-exist with the band, which in turn was the mainstay of American culture. The various types of orchestras continued to function in the churches, in society, in zarzuelas and in veladas. The establishment of the University of the Philippines Conservatory of Music and several other music schools encouraged more students to study varied orchestra instruments.


The establishment of the Nicanor Abelardo Hall (the University of the Philippines College of Music) in 1960 was a much-awaited event. From the time of its transfer to the Diliman campus in 1948, it took 15 years for the Collegeto have a home. It had been established as a conservatory and was first housed in the Villamor Hall of the University of the Philippines in Manila from 1916 to 1945.

Many were excited over the new and “legitimate” concert hall of the new building. Ideas flourished for the various kinds of performances possible in the venue. Leading the list was the UP Symphony Orchestra, the pride of the Conservatory since its inception in the 1950s. The orchestra, composed of students and faculty of the College, was directed by then Dean Ramon Tapales. In its active years, the Orchestra collaborated with various professional, faculty and student artists. Its heyday lasted until the 1970s.

In the mid-1970s the UP College of Music instituted reforms under Dean Ruby K. Mangahas. One such reform was the formation of a youth orchestra in place of the existing student and faculty orchestra. Thus was born the Philippine Youth Orchestra (PYO), composed of young musicians from different elementary schools, high schools and universities of the regions. ThePYO was the first all-student orchestra in the Philippines, and had a number of students from the UP College of Music in its roster.

It actively performed for over a decade, with Professor Sergio Esmilla as conductor. The PYO was teeming with life, owing to the youthfulness of its members. It was deemed the nursery of orchestral music in the Philippines and  was the seedbed of hope for music and the arts. It had its peak in the 1980s, performing often at the Cultural Center of the Philippines, the UP Abelardo Hall Auditorium and on provincial tours as part of its community outreach endeavors.  Being a member of the PYO at that time, confirmed the career path I chose. Sadly, Dean Mangahas’s dream project gradually waned and quietly ended in the early 1990s for reasons I was not privy to.

However in 1998, hope was reborn when then UP College of Music Dean Reynaldo T. Paguio initiated the revival of the university orchestra. He was determined to bring back a performance tradition that the University lost after the “demise” of the UP Symphony and the PYO. The challenge of rebuilding landed on my lap, with Dean Paguio at the helm. The biggest problem we faced was how to establish the string section, the orchestra’s backbone, considering the small number of enrolled string majors. Dean Paguio immediately found solutions. He tapped the music performance courses already instituted and the Music Extension Program of the College. Within the semester, a string chamber group of students was formed and became the core of the envisioned orchestra. It was aptly called the UP String Chamber Orchestra. Between the years 1998-2003, it underwent rigorous training until it gained strong roots in performance.

In 2003, Dean Ramon Acoymo saw that it was time to launch the full symphonic orchestra. Once more I was tasked with its leadership. Two orchestra performance (laboratory) classes of the Strings and Chamber Music Department and of the Winds and Percussion Department were merged to form the group. Thus, the rebirth of the UP Orchestra with its twofold function: as a class and as a university performing group.

Today it is independent of the laboratory classes and has been recognized as the Official University Orchestra. The string section of the UP Orchestra, when it performs independently, is known as the UP Arco – The University of the Philippines String Orchestra. Both groups, through their varied performances, strive to maintain a culture of excellence, imparting their vision of developing and performing world-class music while serving to inspire the next generation of musicians.

The present batch of UP Orchestra members doesnot differ from themembers in my generation. Like the children in the Pasaknungan orchestra and in the PYO, almost all UP Orchestra members come from families in the middle- and lower- income social strata. When we participated in the First National Orchestra Festival, some of the students’ parents were awestruck upon entering the Cultural Center of the Philippines for the first time.

My most memorable encounter was with one of the member’s parents, a tricycle driver, who entered the CCP for the first time and saw his son performing on a borrowed cello, looking very confident in a borrowed tuxedo. He was close to tears when trying to describe to me the emotions that were flooding him at that moment. For this father, he was not only seeing his son perform. He was already face- to- face with his son’s bright future.

In that meaningful encounter, I realized that the UP Orchestra, with its high regard for discipline, focus and work ethics, has scaled new heights in music performance in connecting with the Filipino audience. Moreover it has opened doors of opportunity to young musicians and their families whose outlook in life is limited and obstructed by poverty.

In this orchestra, I witnessed the adage “music is one of life’s greatest equalizers” lived out. It is evident in the way members treat each other with great respect regardless of their socio-economic status and in the way they openly relate to  and affirm each other’s strengths while being quick to help a colleague work out a perceived weakness. Trust, faith and a high level of team spirit are what bind the group together. The UP Orchestra is one of the best teams I have handled so far.  They are every orchestra conductor’s dream team.

Thus, if teachability, academic excellence, camaraderie, and passion for music are a shared culture that has and will sustain the orchestra for years to come, then the UP orchestra is a worthy model for others to follow. With the baton of music and culture raised, I say: “Let the encounters take place and let the music begin!”


Chirino, Pedro, S.J.
The Philippines in the 1600.
Translated by Ramon Echevarría. Manila: Historical Conservation Society, 1969.
Clayton, Martin, Herbert, Trevor and Middleton, Richard (eds.). The Cultural Study of Music: A Critical Introduction. New York: Routledge, 2003
Irving, D.R.M. Colonial Counterpoint: Music in Early Modern Manila. New York: Oxford University Press Inc., 2010.
_______. The Filipino Heritage. Vol. 9