International Bamboo Organ Festival is a cultural, historical, and music festival held at Las Piñas City, Metro Manila, Philippines every February. It is a celebration of the Spanish colonial-era, wind-powered bamboo organ, a National Cultural Treasure of the Philippines, installed at the St. Joseph Parish Church.
Bamboo organ of Las Piñas
Las Piñas was inhabited by fisher folks and salt-makers by the Manila Bay. During the Hispanic conquista, it was part of Parañaque until a pueblo was established in 1762, and its church which began as a visita became a parish in 1775.
Fr. Diego Cera dela Virgen del Carmen, born in Huesca, Spain, was its first parish priest when he was assigned to take care of the spiritual administration of the parish on December 26, 1975. He oversaw the building of the stone church between 1797 and 1819. He also initiated the construction of the bamboo organ between 1816 and 1824. The bamboo organ was made of 1,034 pipes, 920 of which were made of bamboo while the remaining pipes were made of metal.
Bamboo was used as a suitable building material for the musical instrument as it is locally available and inexpensive. Bamboo trees were hacked, cut into shafts, and laid under the sand. These were unearthed after a period of several years, and those that survived from the elements and insect infestations were carefully handpicked, cleaned, and turned into musical pipes.
In 1821, a few years shy before it was completed, it was hailed as the first and finest bamboo organ in the Philippines. Three years later, the horizontal reed pipes were installed.
A period of deterioration
Years after it was unveiled, tragedy occurred. A series of earthquakes struck in 1829 and destroyed the rooftop where the instrument was located, exposing it to the elements.
In subsequent decades, its deterioration worsened. It was damaged from natural calamities—an earthquake of 1863, from an earthquake and typhoon in 1880, and destruction from insects—and man-made disasters such as the Philippine Revolution towards the end of the colonial period, the Filipino-American War, and Second World War.
In 1880, the instrument was disassembled and the pipes were left in storage in the sacristy. In 1888, church repairs were carried out but the instrument remained untouched.
Between 1911 and 1913, it was rediscovered and attracted visits by tourists.
The parish community worked towards its repairs throughout history, however some attempts brought further harm to its condition. In one such repair, the pipes were cut short to fit a tuning valve and as a result the instrument’s overall pitch was permanently altered.
In 1917, a repair work was undertaken and an electric motor for the supply of wind was installed in 1932. Another attempt by a kin of Japanese Emperor Hirohito to improve its condition was made during the World War II.
Another partial repair work was done in the 1960s. By the 1970s, it was discovered that over three hundred pipes were not functioning, tens were missing, and birds had made a nest within the instrument.
A project for its restoration was launched in 1972. Johannes Klais Orgelbau KG of Germany was awarded the contract. The pipes were sent to Japan, while the organ was shipped to Germany and placed in a special room that was designed to imitate the Philippine environment.
The pipes were then placed in a flight from Japan to Germany where the instrument was assembled. On February 18, 1975, it was played for the first time in many years in an hour-long concert in Klais shop in Bonn, Germany. In the following month, the organ weighing over five metric tons was placed in crates and flown in via Belgium-based Sabena Airlines. Upon landing in the Philippines and on the way to its home in Las Piñas, it was greeted with rapturous welcome in a parade witnessed by thirty thousand people.
On May 9, 1975, it was unveiled in an inaugural concert led by Wolfgang Oehms, a musician-organist from Trier Cathedral in Germany.
National Cultural Treasure
The Bamboo Organ of Las Piñas is known for its mellifluous tone, organic vibrato, and natural sound. The production of its music is enhanced by the acoustic environment of St. Joseph Parish Church. It has been used in many public performances and concerts by renowned artists and musicians, and utilized as accompaniment in different musical genres.
It was declared a National Cultural Treasure by the National Museum of the Philippines on November 24, 2003. The distinction is a testament to its outstanding cultural, heritage, and historical value, a product of Filipino creativity, and it is the only functioning 19th-century bamboo organ of its kind in the Philippines.
History of International Bamboo Organ Festival
Since the restoration initiative in 1975, a musical event has been conducted every February. Organized by the Bamboo Organ Foundation Inc, it has become known as the International Bamboo Organ Festival, an event that showcases the culture and tradition of Las Piñas and draws participation by local and foreign artists.
Bamboo Organ Foundation Inc. is also tasked to preserve the Bamboo Organ and in charge of Padre Diego Cera Hall that contains museum pieces and historical account of the bamboo organ. The organization offers membership program and tour packages.
International Bamboo Organ Festival Activities
The calendar of International Bamboo Organ Festival is filled with musical presentations, gala events, lecture, concerts, recitals, and Festival Mass. Some of the events are open to the public free of charge and others can be attended through the purchase of a ticket. In 2024, its schedule’s for two weeks between February 18 and March 3.
How to reach Las Piñas City
Arrange for a land travel from Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) to Las Piñas City, which is a distance of about nine kilometers.
- Bamboo Organ. Las Piñas. Retrieved February 11, 2024
- Jerome Carlo Paunan. Time to visit Las Piñas Bamboo Organ: Probably the oldest and biggest in the world. Philippine Information Agency. March 15, 2023. Retrieved February 11, 2024
- Simbahan ng Las Piñas. National Historical Commission of the Philippines. October 2021. Retrieved February 11, 2024
- Bamboo Organ—Philippine Musical Novelty. AWAKE! CORRESPONDENT IN THE PHILIPPINES. Retrieved February 11, 2024
- National Cultural Treasure. The Manila Times. February 11, 2017. Retrieved February 11, 2024