RAMON SANTOS, who underwent surgery last week after a heart attack, was a composer of the first order.
Santos had been elected by the joint board of the Cultural Center of the Philippines and the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) after a rigorous selection process to be named National Artist for Music.
But President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, in what arts and culture sectors said was a grave abuse of power, removed him from the list of new National Artists and instead named her own adviser for culture and the arts, Cecile Alvarez-Guidote, as National Artist for Theater. Alvarez herself remains an NCCA official (despite having reached retirement last year) and is disqualified from the award.
The President also named Carlo Caparas as National Artist for Film and Visual Arts. Caparas is noted for his ?massacre? films showing gratuitous violence and komiks novels which, however, were illustrated by other artists.
Santos earned his doctorate degrees from Indiana University and State University of New York. But he didn?t specialize on the likes of Samuel Barbers and George Gershwin.
Instead, he explored the aesthetic frameworks of Philippine and Southeast Asian artistic traditions and came up with versatile uses of the country?s indigenous instruments.
While he respected the country?s Western musical heritage, he spent a lifetime in field studies of Philippine traditional music such as the musical repertoires of the Ibaloi, the Mansaka, Bontoc, Yakan and Boholano.
His areas of relentless concern, aside from the above cultural communities, also include Philippine art music, Philippine contemporary music and selected music from Southeast Asia and the cultural communities of South China.
While his countrymen were preoccupied with pop music and a small but influential sector propagated Western classical music, Santos zeroed in on Philippine contemporary music and became a distinguished though relatively unheralded composer.
His work ?Dw?gey? was premiered at the Biennale of Contemporary Music in Israel in November 2006 and again performed at the Asia-Pacific Week Festival in Berlin in September 2007. His work ?S?geypo? for 16 flutes was performed by the French Flute Orchestra in Paris in September last year.
He wore many hats ? as music writer, composer, lecturer and promoter of Asian music ? in such traditionally Western-oriented music competition as the National Music Competition for Young Artists. In this arena, contestants ? thanks to Santos ? have to master not just Bach and Beethoven but Kasilag, Maceda, Pajaro and, yes, Santos.
In the deliberation for National Artist Award this year, Santos got the highest votes in the music category.
So why does he deserve to be National Artist?
Music critic Tony Hila pointed out to the NCCA and CCP screening committee that Santos spearheaded programs to promote new perspectives about Asian and Filipino life and culture by organizing international rondalla festivals and composers? forum on traditional music.
Hila added that Santos rediscovered and showcased Philippine cultural traditions and, most of all, his compositions are ground-breaking, espousing Asianization of Philippine art through integration and use of mixed media, such as music, dance, theater, poetry, visuals, incorporating as well ideas about nature and the metaphysical universe.
On the whole, Santos succeeded in recreating Philippine traditional music in modern forms of expression.
While Santos lies in his hospital bed being closely watched for a rare case of aneurysm, Filipino cultural workers should be informed that he has composed over 130 works on various aspects of tradition, culture and techniques, ranging from large-scale experimental, interactive to environmental works.
That he got international acclaim for his works and very little from his countrymen ? and outright rejection from a Malacañang ?honors committee? none of whose members know anything about music ? reflect the sad plight of the Filipino as substantial composer.
The author is a recipient of the Outstanding Pasigueño Award in Music, along with composer Ramon Santos and the late violinist Carmencita Lozada.