MANILA, Philippines?When I started studying at the University of the Philippines in 1956, the UP Carillon, one of the institution?s landmarks, was beautifully seen and heard. The first carillon in the country, its distinct music was played early in the morning to announce the beginning of the academic day. In the afternoon, before sunset, another set of tunes was played to bid students good night.
Classical tunes as well as local favorites delighted the Diliman community. The UP Carillon was also played during special occasions, like the historic Diliman Commune in 1971, when UP was declared a Republic by its activist students and faculty, and the ?Internationale? was played to the delight of the Left-leaning constituency.
I had wonderful memories of the Carillon in the late ?50s, because the instrument was played by the College of Music?s Crisostomo Ibarra Gonzales?a composer from Antique. Upsilonians would visit him high in the Tower to keep him company, with cheap gin and pulutan in tow. Climbing that tower?s 400 or so steps was a feat, even for teenagers!
However, time took a toll on the bells, and the maintenance budget was no longer available, so in the ?80s, they stopped ringing. The carillon?s ?demise? broke the hearts of those who once enjoyed its music.
For the UP Centennial, a special committee was set up by the UP Alumni Association to replace the damaged?and expensive?bells, purchase a modern keyboard, and clean up the tower. Fortunately, there were enough alumni who valued the tradition of carillon music and they pitched in generously.
However, the University needed an expert in carillon music-playing: Belgium?s Josef Haaxen, who has been playing the intricate musical instrument for 50 years. Jo, as he prefers to be called, started playing at age 13. The Esperanto-speaking Cultural Ambassador of Flanders has played in Tokyo, Washington, DC, and San Francisco in the US, and in Western European countries.
Jo is the Dean of Carillon Music at the Jef Denyn Royal Carillon School, and teaches the art form at the State University of St. Petersburg in Russia. But, he avoids playing what he calls ?commercial? music, because it lacks permanency and distinction. He says the carillon is best appreciated when heard live, because the combination of weather and wind has an effect on the quality of music produced.
The musician inaugurated the new UP Carillon by playing ?UP Beloved? and ?Push on UP.? Jo is training a new generation of carillon players, so the music that we loved listening to in the ?50s continues to touch the hearts of the 21st century?s Iskolar ng Bayan!