“Sorry to inform you – per our understanding with Apu Ceto [Archbishop Paciano Aniceto] and Msgr. Serrano [San Fernando, Pampanga], the usual violin group playing during Good Friday’s procession will not participate this evening. FYI. Thank you and regards.”
– Forwarded SMS from my violin teacher, Mr. Meynardo G. Lansangan from Dave Jimenez (March 21, 2008, 8:32AM)
It was supposed to be my seventh year to join the Mater Dolorosa procession during Good Friday and I was astonished that this yearly tradition will not push through this year. To my disappointment, I contacted my fellow violinist who is my schoolmate in UST and he was saddened by the news as well. Renowned local music mentor here in Pampanga and my violin teacher, Mr. Meynardo G. Lansangan, was also surprised on the decision of the Archdiocese of San Fernando, Pampanga regarding postponement of the violin-playing which is on its 56th year.
‘Stabat Mater,’ a classical piece made for several voices in violin accompanied by a Latin prayer sung by a chorale is annually played during the Good Friday Procession around the City Proper of San Fernando, Pampanga. Tourists and locals join the five-kilometer route of the procession which starts and ends at the Metropolitan Cathedral. At around 5:30 in the afternoon, after the Mass celebrated by the Archbishop and after the popular Crucifixion Rites in Cutud, all roads lead to the Cathedral for the said procession. One of the highlights is the ‘Stabat Mater’ violin-playing accompanied by the Metropolitan Cathedral Choir.
In the past six years that I have been playing the violin for Mater Dolorosa, I have been aware of what the tradition is really about. It has become a ‘panata,’ or a show of faith. I am one of the youngest violinists playing ‘Stabat Mater’ taught by Mr. Lansangan. The other violinists include influential local artists and society figures in Metro Pampanga like Dave Jimenez, Pat Esguerra, and Atty. Cicero Punsalan. Younger violinists come from families of good moral standing to whom the Stabat Mater piece was handed down; these include young professionals who earned degrees from UST and UP Conservatory of Music, students from local Catholic schools, overseas professionals, families coming from as far as Nueva Ecija, and college graduates from Manila, all of whom come home to San Fernando every Good Friday to play the violin for Our Lady of Sorrows.
Did not meet halfway
Last March 21, 2008, I invited a friend from Manila to join the procession, expecting that I was going to play the violin. Although I was already informed that the violin-playing will not push through, I still went to the Cathedral at around 3:00 in the afternoon to hear mass. I brought my violin just in case a miracle happens and I will still play ‘Stabat Mater.’
At around 5pm, the ‘karosas’ and the people were all getting ready for the procession. My friend and I stayed in Church and waited for any news regarding Stabat. I waited there and no one came. It turned out that my fellow violinists were all in the nearby town of Guagua.
Ms. Shirley, who is in charge of the committee for the procession explained that there has been a misunderstanding between the leaders of the violinists and the Msgr. Serrano, Parish Priest of San Fernando. The elder members of the violin group requested for a ‘truck’ because they cannot play the violin while walking several kilometres. In fact, for the past two years (2006 and 2007) this has been the practice. But with the new plans, it was agreed upon that all violinists should walk, just like the way it was practiced 50 years ago.
An uncompromising deal followed, wherein problems of the Metropolitan Cathedral Choir was mentioned. The noise and smoke of the truck were disturbing for the choir members. On the other hand, the elder violinists insisted that they cannot walk anymore because two of them had undergone bypass heart surgery and three of them are already weak.
Options left closed
Stabat is also played in nearby towns of San Fernando and every locality has its own version. Other parishes allow another mode of transport called the ‘Tri-Wheeler’ for old violinists so that they can still join the procession. It is a noise and smoke-free vehicle that can be used. Another town had a ‘recorded’ Stabat because no one can play the music live. The use of the elf truck was another option which was already done in the past two years but this has posed problems. None of the options were taken into consideration.
Not broken for now
When I joined the procession at 6PM of Good Friday 2008, I had my violin encased in a back pack and I immediately went near Mater Dolorosa. One tourist asked me, “Ikaw na lang ba ang natirang nag-va-violin (Are you the only one left to play the violin?).” I plainly said that the violin-playing will not push through. But then, the President of the Metropolitan Cathedral Choir approached and asked me to play the first note of Stabat. The Latin prayer couldn’t be sung by the choir without an accompaniment. At first I didn’t want to because I know it would not sound good without the other voices of the violin, but they needed the melody. I opened my violin case and started playing Stabat. The choir sang, and I, alone, played the violin for Mater Dolorosa. Every after ten Hail Marys, one Stabat is played. I continued until the end of the procession. The tradition was not broken.
“God’s AM to you! Thank you Earl for standing up for your conviction and panata. At the end of the day, it is between you and God. May your tribe increase.”
– Ma’am Shirley, head of the committee on the Good Friday Procession (SMS Message March 22, 2008, 7:41AM)
Stop the threat
Every misunderstanding and differences should be set aside especially when tradition is involved. Moreover, the Good Friday Stabat Mater Violin-playing is offered to God and to Mater Dolorosa. I am very concerned because after the incident, there were rumors that Stabat will never be played in San Fernando again. The elder violinists are planning to move the tradition to nearby towns or other parishes. Personally, I am a Fernandino and I will start and end my panata for the Mater Dolorosa here in my own city.
(Photos are personal copies of the author)