The Bamboo Organ and Philippine-German Relations Print E-Mail
Written by Philippine Embassy Webmaster   
Friday, 17 October 2008

By: Helen Samson-Lauterwald, PhD


During the almost 200 years of its history, the Bamboo Organ of the Philippines has immensely contributed to international cultural understanding by way of music. Constructed in the years 1816 – 1824 by Father Diego Cera de la Virgen del Carmen, a Spanish Recollect missionary, for his little parish of Las Piñas near the shores of Manila Bay, this unique instrument has already brought about the cooperation of citizens coming from 19 countries. The German participation is especially remembered because it came at a crucial point in the history of the instrument. Its total restoration in Bonn in 1973–1975 endowed the Bamboo Organ with a second life.


The first known account of German interest in the Bamboo Organ came in 1960 through the efforts of his Excellency, Friedrich von Fürstenberg, German ambassador to the Philippines. He helped solicit a donation of 150,000 DM for the total repair of the famous instrument in Germany. However, objections were raised from certain quarters in the Philippines because of the risks involved in an international journey. The instrument therefore remained at least for the time being in Las Piñas. During the next few years, attempts at repairs were conducted by a Spanish organ technician, José Loinaz, and a German missionary and organ-builder, Father Hermann Schablitzki, SVD. The latter had been in the Philippines since 1950 and had already installed and repaired several organs such as those of the Christ the King Seminary, the Manila Cathedral, and the Ozamis City Church.


Sometime in 1970, the incumbent Belgian parish priests of Las Piñas, Fathers Mark Lesage and Leo Renier, both CICM, decided to exert all possible efforts to have the Bamboo Organ finally restored. Of all the individuals consulted, Father Schablitzki was most emphatic about the necessity of having the whole instrument disassembled and repaired. Not only the pipes but also the bellows were malfunctioning. And for an organ, that meant everything.


Inquiries were made about a reliable company with a properly outfitted workshop which could undertake the job. It was discovered that the Johannes Klais Orgelbau in Bonn, Germany, already had filed data about the Bamboo Organ. It had inspected the instrument in 1961 but was not allowed to take the instrument out of the Philippines for reasons mentioned above.


In 1971 Hans Gerd Klais, executive partner of the firm, flew to the Philippines to personally conduct a final investigation of the organ. He came to the conclusion that the Bamboo Organ was truly in an advanced state of deterioration, but it could still be salvaged and rehabilitated. However, bringing all the necessary equipment and technicians to the Philippines would entail at least doubling all costs. Hence, the previous plan of shipping the organ to Germany was revived as the less expensive option.


In March of 1973 Michael Tramnitz and Joseph Pick of the Klais Orgelbau arrived in Las Piñas to carefully dismantle the instrument and prepare it for shipping to Germany and Japan. Five crates containing organ parts were shipped to Germany, and 4 crates of organ pipes were flown to Japan. These pipes repaired in Japan were later flown to Germany, enabling the Klais Orgelbau to assemble the complete organ in Bonn, Germany.


A Klimakammer or a special room which simulated the temperature and humidity range of the Philippines was built as the Klais Orgelbau. After two years of thorough and painstaking repairs, the restored Bamboo Organ was introduced by the Philippine Embassy and the Johannes Klais Orgelbau to 400 guests at a 1-hour concert featuring organist Wolfgang Oehms on February 18, 1975. This event is noteworthy in that it was the first time in many years that the Bamboo Organ was played again in the manner Diego Cera himself did in 1824.


During the event, the incumbent Philippine ambassador to Germany, his Excellency Mauro Calingo, expressed that: “the love of music is something that Germans and Filipinos hold in high esteem. There is no language barrier between us because music is a medium that needs no translation.” The first long-playing album of the Bamboo Organ with Wolfgang Oehms doing the honors was released shortly after this event. Recording was done by the Norddeutschen Tonstudio für Kirchenmusik under the supervision and of Theo W. Ritterbecks.


The German interest in the Bamboo Organ also included the training of a Filipino organ technician who would later be responsible for the servicing and maintenance of the famous instrument. Strongly recommended by Father Schablitzki and Father Lesage was Marciano Jacela, one of the owners of a local piano factory. He was granted a scholarship for this purpose by the Karl Duisberg Foundation. He arrived in Germany ahead of the organ and actively participated in its restoration. He and Ulrich Busacker, a German colleague at the Klaus Orgelbau, flew with the organ on the same plane for its trip back to the Philippines.


The Bamboo Organ landed on Philippine soil on March 13, 1975. Its homecoming to Las Piñas three days later was accompanied by a motorcade and a foot parade. Jacela and Busacker started reassembling the organ on the day after its arrival at Las Piñas, preparing it for a gala inaugural concert held May 9, 1975.


Hans Gerd Klais arrived in the Philippines a few weeks before the concert and was himself given a rousing hero’s welcome. Next to land on Philippine soil was Wolfgang Oehms. He was featured organ soloist at the gala inaugural concert.


The Bamboo Organ’s restoration further enhanced German-Philippine cooperation within the next coming years. Wolfgang Oehms did not limit himself to concertizing. He also conducted much appreciated pipe organ seminars/workshops and even arranged several Philippine folksongs for the Bamboo Organ. CD’s of these are still available at the Bamboo Organ Foundation in Las Piñas, Metro-Manila. Moreoever, Oehms came five more times as guest organist at five different Bamboo Organ Festivals from 1976 to 1990. He passed away in 1994, and his death was felt deeply not only in Las Piñas but also by the Philippine musical world.


Other German artists who have been featured so far as guest performers at the yearly Bamboo Organ Festivals are (in alphabetical order): Martin Behrmann, Norbert Blume, Hans Braun, Wolfgang Brotschneider, Bernhard Emmer, Edgar Krapp, Hermann Max, Michaella Ratte, Gabriele Schreckenbach, Barbara Vogel, Gerd Zapf, and members of the Bartholdy Quartet and the Musica Sacra from Lübeck.



Last Updated ( Thursday, 22 July 2010 )