National Artist for Music (2014)
Ramon Pagayon Santos, composer, conductor and musicologist, is currently the country’s foremost exponent of contemporary Filipino music. A prime figure in the second generation of Filipino composers in the modern idiom, Santos has contributed greatly to the quest for new directions in music, taking as basis non-Western traditions in the Philippines and Southeast Asia.
He graduated in 1965 from the UP College of Music with a Teacher’s Diploma and a Bachelor of Music degree in both Composition and Conducting. Higher studies in the United States under a Fulbright Scholarship at Indiana University (for a Master’s degree, 1968) and at the State University of New York at Buffalo (for a Doctorate, 1972) exposed him to the world of contemporary and avant-garde musical idioms: the rigorous processes of serialism, electronic and contemporary music, indeterminacy, and new vocal and improvisational techniques. He received further training in New Music in Darmstadt, Germany and in Utrecht, the Netherlands. His initial interest in Mahler and Debussy while still a student at UP waned as his compositional style shifted to Neo Classicism and finally to a distinct merging of the varied influences that he had assimilated abroad.
His return to the Philippines marked a new path in his style. After immersing himself in indigenous Philippine and Asian (Javanese music and dance, Chinese nan kuan music), he became more interested in open-ended structures of time and space, function as a compositional concept, environmental works, non-conventional instruments, the dialectics of control and non-control, and the incorporation of natural forces in the execution of sound-creating tasks. All these would lead to the forging of a new alternative musical language founded on a profound understanding and a thriving and sensitive awareness of Asian music aesthetics and culture.
Simultaneous with this was a reverting back to more orthodox performance modes: chamber works and multimedia works for dance and theatre. Panaghoy (1984), for reader, voices, gongs and bass drum, on the poetry of Benigno Aquino, Jr. was a powerful musical discourse on the fallen leader’s assassination in 1983, which subsequently brought on the victorious People Power uprising in 1986.
An active musicologist, Santos’ interest in traditional music cultures was heretofore realized in 1976 by embarking on fieldwork to collect and document music from folk religious groups in Quezon. He has also done research and fieldwork among the Ibaloi of Northern Luzon. His ethnomusicological orientation has but richly enhanced his compositional outlook. Embedded in the works of this period are the people-specific concepts central to the ethnomusicological discipline, the translation of indigenous musical systems into modern musical discourse, and the marriage of Western and non-Western sound.
An intense and avid pedagogue, Santos, as Chair of the Department of Compositiion and Theory (and formerly, as Dean) of the College of Music, UP, has remained instrumental in espousing a modern Philippine music rooted in old Asian practices and life concepts. With generation upon generation of students and teachers that have come under his wing, he continues to shape a legacy of modernity anchored on the values of traditional Asian music.