A rondalla is an ensemble of stringed instruments that are played with a plectrum or pick. They originated in Spain but became most popular in Philippine folk music after their introduction to the islands during the 19th century. Philippine instruments are made of native wood and played with a tortoise-shell plectrum.
The word "rondalla" is from the Spanish ronda, meaning "serenade." The core instruments of Spanish ensembles are the guitar, the mandolin, and the lute. Rondallas usually are accompanied by at least one singer and sometimes by percussionists playing handheld instruments. Though ensembles of stringed instruments have existed in some form in Spain since at least the 16th century, this form dates from the early 19th century, and it soon thereafter traveled to the Philippines, which was a Spanish colony at the time.
In the Philippines
Early Philippine rondallas played Western European songs, mostly operatic arias and symphonic overtures. Although they still play such songs, the repertoire has become much more diverse. Modern ensembles might play more contemporary music, such as show tunes and Latin American dance music, in addition to Philippine folk songs and European classical music. It is a socially important form of folk art seen at community events such as weddings and fiestas.
The major Philippine rondalla instruments are the banduria, the guitar, the octavina, the laud, and the bass guitar or double bass. The banduria is the central instrument of the ensemble and, along with the octavina and laud, is unique to the Philippines. The guitar and double bass each have six strings, but the other instruments have 14 strings grouped into six tuning units to produce a richer sound.
Eight-piece Philippine ensembles typically have four bandurias, one guitar, an octavina, a laud and a double bass. Many groups are quite large, with 30 or 40 members, especially for important social events. A 30-piece ensemble usually has 16 bandurias, three piccolo bandurias, three guitars, three octavinas, three lauds and two double basses. Of course, the number and type of percussion instruments can vary for any size of rondalla.
Popularity through the Years
During the 1960s, rondallas were extremely popular in the Philippines, and they regularly competed with each other on television and radio programs. The bands received funding from schools, government officials and business moguls, all of whom tried to have the best ensemble. The popularity of these groups in the Philippines has waned somewhat in the late 20th and early 21st century, but groups based in other countries, including the United States and Japan, help keep the tradition alive.