There’s nothing more culturally devastating than having traditions slowly fade from practice into the dark corners of memory. Music, especially its forms deeply rooted in specific events and experiences, belongs to those traditions. This is why the UP Center for Ethnomusicology is such a high-value cultural resource.
The center started out as the UP Ethnomusicology Archives in 1997, when the University Board of Regents recognized the groundbreaking work and authorship of National Artist for Music Jose Maceda. He put together the center’s core collection: an ethnomusicological treasure of around 2,500 hours of recordings, field notes, musical instruments, transcriptions, song texts, photographs, and compositions, among many others, as well as roughly 2,000 books and journals.
In 2007, that collection was recognized as documentary heritage and inscribed in the UNESCO Memory of the World Register.
The change in name signaled the evolution of the center from archival work and digitization of its collection to conducting its own research, linking up with similar institutions, and pursuing multidisciplinary initiatives. It has ethnomusicological materials from the Philippines, Southeast Asia, and representative areas from different continents.
It currently has four facilities: a library, archives, an instrumentarium, and an audio conservation laboratory.
One of its biggest projects was Laon Laon, the brainchild of former Executive Director Ramon Santos, who was later named National Artist for Music. Laon Laon was a venue for music research centers across Asia to come together in pursuit of preserving and sustaining music amid the changes brought by modernization.
More than safekeeping
College of Music Dean LaVerne de la Peña, who also serves as the center’s Executive Director, says that the center does more than just hold artifacts for safekeeping. Its work is geared toward safeguarding. “I believe there’s a distinction,” he asserts.
De la Peña describes safeguarding as not only preserving resource materials, but also ensuring that these keep cultural traditions alive by allowing them to be used for research, practice, and performance, and by “repatriating” what materials the center can to the cultures they belong to.
He finds the idea somewhat strange since “We’re supposed to be learning from them and not the other way around.” But the reality is that in some cultures, the younger generation no longer practices these traditions or even knows how to do or perform them. Santos recalls that he, an “outsider,” was asked by teachers and students in a public high school in Baguio to “teach” them the badiw of the Ibaloi.
Marking its 25th year
In 2022, the center turns 25. It has laid out a roadmap detailing seven goals: to be equipped with state-of-the-art facilities that are at par with similar centers around the world; to improve services by adopting best practices and procedures; to become a dynamic hub of research activities; to further expand the collection and make it more accessible to the public; to enlarge and improve the production of new knowledge; promote awareness of ethnomusicology among students, teachers, and community leaders; and to ensure the permanence and sustainability of the institution as a research unit within the University.
De la Peña says one of the biggest challenges is widespread dissemination. These days, it’s mostly done online, but there are still issues with intellectual property that are being worked out. Until then, researchers and the curious will have to go to the UP Diliman College of Music, where the center is located. It is currently in the process of moving into the recent addition to the complex, the Jose Maceda Hall.
“Our dream is to have communities set up their own centers for ethnomusicology, where they have documentation and records of their musical traditions. We can help them do these, help them put up these centers and provide information on how to maintain their collections. Ultimately, they are the best guardians of their own cultures,” de la Peña declares.
Listen to some of the Center’s collections here: http://upethnom.com/sounds-from-the-archive/