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Kulintang – An Oral Tradition

March 2013
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The beauty of kulintangan lies in the collective artistry of all the members of the ensemble. As an oral tradition, one has to hear it repeatedly until it ‘gets in the blood.’ Once a musician has trained his or her ear to recognize rhythms and melodies, one can perform the required improvisations, still following the traditional formats. While one musician establishes the tempo, another will direct the general theme. The piece then evolves: they will listen to each other carefully, augmenting and playing in counterpoint to one another. It is at this moment that the diversity of their musical instruments come to life.

This particular video was found on the web and is a fantastic demonstration of how Kulintang ‘gets in the blood.’ You’ll notice there are no music sheets by which the musicians follow. There is no conductor.

Kulintang has survived centuries by being passed down orally from generation to generation. Unfortunately, most cultural practitioners do not have the means to learn directly from a master through one­-on-­one training. Bernard Ellorin – the founder of Pakaraguian – is an ethnomusicologist and has travelled to the Philippines on multiple occasions project, to research and document this ancient tradition.

He is in the process of creating transcriptions in cipher, modern staff, and western notation. First, using cipher notation, Arabic numerals will be assigned to each boss knobbed gong in a kulintangan set. The numbers will then be arranged in staff notation to direct the right and left hand as to which knobbed gong to strike by a wooden stick. Staff notation is critical for future kulintang players to learn through transcription. Western notation will be used to transcribe the rhythmic patterns of the accompanying instruments of the ensemble, which are Western notes will roughly display the tuning scale of the instruments, extremely helpful as most musicians are familiar with the sound of the western music scale.

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