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Lucrecia Kasilag, grand dame of RP music, dies at 90

INQUIRER.net, Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 17:55:00 08/17/2008

Filed Under: Obituary, Music, death notices

MANILA, Philippines?(UPDATE) Distinguished composer, music educator, former president of the Cultural Center of the Philippines and National Artist for Music Lucrecia Kasilag passed away Saturday night in her Perdigon, Paco home. She was 90.

Kasilag remains lie in state at the premier chapel of Loyola Memorial Chapel in Guadalupe, Makati City. A special mass will place on Monday at the Loyola Chapel, with pianist Fr. Manuel Maramba officiating.

Necrological services will be held on Thursday, August 21 at the CCP Main Theater, and interment at the Manila South Cemetery.

Born in 1917, Kasilag, or ?Tita King?, is the author of more than 200 compositions (folksongs, opera and orchestral works), and was once the head of the Asian Composers League and was composing till this year.

Her last work was the Filipino opera "Why Flowers Bloom In May," which was staged at the Cultural Center of the Philippines in March 2008 with Fides Cuyugan Asencio as librettist. This opera was the National Artist's last date with the CCP. "I gave Tita King her first and last music theater piece," said Asensio.

Kasilag was also one of the pioneers of the world-famous Bayanihan Dance Company, which benefited from her music research of Filipino ethnic dances.

Named National Artist for Music in 1989, Kasilag was also president of the Cultural Center of the Philippines during the Marcos years, which music lovers like to describe as the "golden age of CCP" in terms of world-class presentations. She also served the Aquino administration as special consultant.

As composer, teacher and performer, Kasilag involved herself wholly in sharpening the Filipino audience's appreciation of music. Her pioneering task to discover Filipino roots through ethnic music and fusing it with Western influences led many Filipino musicians to experiment with the fusion of Eastern and Western music.

She dared to incorporate indigenous Filipino instruments in orchestral productions, such as the Divertissement for Piano and Orchestra, the prize-winning "Toccata for Percussions and Winds, Divertissement and Concertante," and the scores of the "Filiasiana," "Misang Pilipino" and "De Profundis."

Her orchestral music include "Love Songs," "Legend of the Sarimanok," "Ang Pamana," "Philippine Scenes," "Her Son," "Jose," "Sisa" and chamber music like "Awit ng mga Awit Psalms," "Fantaisie on a 4-Note Theme," and "East Meets Jazz Ethnika."

Kasilag was Dean of the Philippine Women's University (PWU) College of Music and Fine Arts from 1953-1977. Upon her retirement, she became Dean Emeritus of the PWU College of Music and Fine Arts. Among the many positions she held were as Director of the Center for Arts and Humanities of the PWU, honorary adviser to the Asian Arts Festival, Chairperson of the League of Filipino Composers, and CCP president and artistic director, to name a few.

In 1957, Kasilag established the Bayanihan Folk Arts Center, which undertook research and organized theatrical performances. She became Chairperson of the Philippine Society for Music Education in 1971, and Chairperson of the Asian Composer's League in 1975. She worked closely as music director with colleagues Lucrecia Reyes-Urtula, Isabel Santos, Jose Lardizabal and Dr. Leticia P. de Guzman and made Bayanihan Philippine Dance Company one of the premier artistic and cultural groups in the country.

Kasilag was born in San Fernando, La Union on August 31, 1917. She graduated from Paco Elementary High School as valedictorian in 1930, and from the Philippine Women's University as valedictorian in 1933. She continued her education at the PWU and graduated Cum Laude with a Bachelor of Arts in English. In 1939, Kasilag received her Music Teacher's Diploma from St. Scholastica's College (SSC). She taught piano and music theory at SSC, and at the University of the Philippines Conservatory of Music from 1946 to 1947. She obtained her Bachelor of Music degree at the PWU in 1949. In the same year, she pursued graduate studies at the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, New York under a Fulbright Travel Grant. She received an Eastman School of Music fellowship, and studied theory under Dr. Allen I. McHose and composition under Dr. Wayne Barlow. She completed her M.A. in 1950.

Kasilag was the subject of the book, "LRK: An Artist for the World" by Visitacion de la Torre. She also wrote her autobiography called "Lucrecia Roces Kasilag: My Story" where she chronicled her early years in Perdigon, Paco, Manila, up to her swift ascent to the world of music.

The PWU conferred on her a doctor of laws honoris causa for her meritorious work in music education.

Said former PWU head Helena Benitez of Kasilag's life: "Dr. Kasilag has consistently devoted herself to the pursuit of excellence specifically in music, in her cultural leadership and interrelationships with students, colleagues and friends. Her autobiography reflects her greatness as a person as she shares her joys and experiences with depth and meaning through her interactions with musical masters all over the world. She exemplifies the artist as conscience of the world."

Philippine Daily Inquirer music critic Tony Hila refers to Kasilag as the grand dame of Philippine music who pioneered in the blending of two great traditions of music, the Eastern and Western, which showcased the dynamism of Philippine musical culture.

Journalist and baritone Nestor Mata said upon learning of Kasilag's death: "We mourn the death of a great pillar of Philippine music and culture. Long Live Tita King!"

Meanwhile, Manila's music world mourned the death not just of a great composer and music educator but a nurturing mother of budding musicians.

Pianist Cecile Licad, calling from New York, told the Philippine Daily Inquirer that Kasilag's death, would be a big loss to Philippine music.

"I consider her an icon and of course during her years at CCP, she initiated the formation of the Young Artists Foundation, the National Music Competition for Young Artists (NAMCYA), and other programs which benefited young talents and that included me. Her years at the CCP was the golden age of the growth of all the arts specially music. I will miss her presence in my concerts," said Licad.

Said pianist Jonathan Coo, graduate of the Philippine High School of the Arts and who, like Kasilag, also studied at the Eastman School of Music in New York: "Tita King is the mother of all Filipino artists. During her healthy years, she never missed a concert, art exhibits, book launching or any cultural event. When I was doing my cultural research at Eastman, she practically mailed all her piano works and entrusted the interpretation of her music to me. That's how giving she is."

Soprano Fides Cuyugan Asensio with whom Kasilag collaborated with several musical productions told the Inquirer: " Tita King is the Philippine pioneer in the creation of Filipino avante garde music this country. I was her willing guinea pig in her experiments of vocal music, which were then considered a novelty. Her original music and arrangements of folk songs always have an underpinning of humor which were reflective of her witty self underneath a scary bespectacled exterior."

Pianist Ingrid Sala Santamaria who was soloist in Kasilag's Divertissement for Piano and Orchestra under the baton of the composer herself said she would remember Kasilag for her generosity of spirit and her endless advocacy of the development of youthful talents.

"Her innovative musical fusion of eastern and western technique, form and style enriched Philippine music without distracting from each other's uniqueness," she added.

Violinist and PPO member Jeffrey Solares said: "We in the orchestral music scene consider Kasilag's 'Philippine Scenes' as one of the Big Four Filipino orchestral works alongside Buenaventura's 'By The Hillside,' San Pedro's 'Buwan sa Kabundukan,' and Pena's 'Igorot Rhapsody.'

Soprano and UST voice professor Gloria Coronel considers Kasilag a great musician who left inspiration to the young in the musical world. Said she: "She is always hardworking and very focused. I performed her folksongs in Florence, Italy, for my masters degree and her song cycle with Prof. Regalado Jose at the Concert at the Park. I'd like to think she contributed a lot to the development of Philippine music."

Actress Boots Anson Roa said Kasilag was not just a national artist but an international artist as well, a global educator, performer, creator and exponent of Philippine music in its purest form. Recalled Roa: "About five years ago, Mowelfund honored her at the CCP. Although blind and disabled, she performed with aplomb her inimitable "Basura Rap" with Andrew E. She is the only music queen called King and she deserved it."

Jazzman Richard Merck and wife, Roni Tapia Merck, former CCP's public relations head, said Kasilag was a loving ninang to them. Said the Merks: "She cared and she gave her very all to the music industry. There will never be another Tita King. "

Painter Marivic Rufino said Tita King composed and performed music that revealed the true Filipino soul. "She was an amazingly ageless, modern, youthful and prolific artist. She was my idol and ninang who inspired countless other artists. She will live forever through her music."

The 35th National Music Competition for Young Artists (NAMCYA) is also dedicated to Kasilag. Said NAMCYA program director Ramon Acoymo: "Tita King inspired a whole generation of young musicians and it is but fitting that we dedicate this competition to her who was also one of the moving force behind this program for young artists," he said.

Report filed by Pablo A. Tariman, contributor, Philippine Daily Inquirer, with Gerry Plaza, INQUIRER.net

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