Thursday, June 30, 2011

Cebu Harpists: Beggars? Entertainers? What?

I am a fan, I don’t care what others have to say.

Are there really harpists in Cebu anyway? Certainly. And there are many of them. But they are not your usual concert artists at such ‘alta sociedad’ venues as CICC or 5-star hotel lobbies and lounges. Some do not even know what those concert venues are or are for. But they certainly have something in common. Music and musicality in their blood. Yes, am referring to those ambulant beggars making the rounds of Cebu’s residential areas lugging their bulky instruments, to play in front of your gates to receive – if lucky enough – a coin or two.

The many decades I’ve been living in Metro Manila, I think I may have encountered something similar at least once. And am not even sure of that. Perhaps my memory is just muddled, as usual hehe! But in the Cebu home, for more than two years now, a week would be too long if I don’t hear, see or meet at least one of them. There are many during the Christmas Season. A permanent fixture that I love listening to though, is the manong at the lobby of Titay’s bakery store in Liloan. (You probably have seen my other video here)

I asked around, asked some of them and learned interesting details! Like?

Like almost all would tell you, they themselves made their instruments. How? One says, he just ogled at drawings and started making his own. Another says, as a child he would see his grandfather make harps and watch him play the instruments at home especially during special gatherings like… drinking sessions! He says his father also took into making and playing harps, so he ‘followed’ the tradition. Yet another told me he saw a friend make such a harp so he sought help to make his own. There is no set standard amongst them (many of them don’t know each other anyway) as to the size, length, height, curve or whatever kind of measure else for making a good harp. They ‘key’ it turns out is how to tune or fine-tune the strings so that a perfect “do re mi fa so la ti do” in so many octaves is achieved. Achieved? Well, the basis is satisfaction of the maker a.k.a. player/user of the instrument. In short, to each his own!

They are a group of folks on earth that I know have consistently long nails. I asked if it was necessary. The usual reply would be, “not really”, though apparently it is easier for them to pluck the strings with longer nails as fingertipss they say are thick and may accidentally stop a still vibrating adjacent string while playing. I asked ‘so what?’ and one of them educated me that “many times, a plucked string has to remain vibrating to sustain a sound needed to produce a beautiful melody. Therefore, it would be unwise to touch it even very slightly as the sound will be muffed and eventually fade unnaturally or unwantedly. Wow!

Why does a harp have to be as big as themselves? So I asked. One manong eagerly told me that “the bigger the instrument, the louder and more beautiful the sound. I noticed that the main stem (post, bar, whatever it is called), that is straight and towards the side of the player is usually big and hollow. That makes the instrument bulky to lug around. Some of these even have a pedal down at the base – just like in a piano. I learned that the hollowness of that post is necessary to make ‘bigger’ sounds, and that pedal also works in the same pursuit.

The music? Well, I don’t know if I have seen or heard anyone of them playing what I might call “noise”. None so far! And when I would ask them how they learned to play music on so many strings that they don’t even look at, I always get the same answer – constant practice.

The repertoire? Ah, anything they’ve heard from anywhere, usually radio. Clayderman, Visayan songs, English or Tagalog pop songs... name it! When I coaxed one, he even had Lady Gaga and Bieber pieces. Wohoa! Of course they’re playing their own brand of any piece, in that there may be some added or omitted notes here and there. But that’s what I call “individuality” hehe! These “musicians” are one reason I’m wishing the smallest coin denomination in this country would become P10. At least, if that is so, they’ll be assured of a ten-peso alm when anyone gives them a coin! Yes, I love their music. The sound is mellower and not too ear-piercing as would a violin, banduria or even the famous Mactan guitar itself would be! The harp sound is more attractive to me than any other stringed instrument. I think I can equate that to… I love the marimba sound better than the piano.

My dream. Yes I dream! That one day, someone will somehow think of preserving and presenting their instrument and music in more proper venues. Probably even document and preserve the process on how those harps are made and played. Why? Because as I see it, they’re part of the “now” culture of this province that could be vanishing in lieu of progress and the facebook generation – especially that their presence (count in their instruments) are reminders of, or associated with being poor and being beggar. Hmm, am I saying that “these harpists will disappear when Cebu becomes economically stable”? Aw, how cruel! Okay, let many a harpist remain poor please hehe!

For me, economic status of these “harp players” notwithstanding, they produce good music worthy enough to be played at weddings, churches, concerts, etc. Ah, am sure they can even play while models sashay on a catwalk or your candidates of Miss Cebu romp around in their evening gown competition. Close your eyes and imagine! Pwede, di ba?! Hah, with enough and proper tutelage, we should be able to let them play those harps as a group with a combination of “voices” like in a choir, or play counterpoint pieces like in duets.

Wouldn’t that be lovely?


  1. There is this blind guitar player who plays at Ibabao Mandaue (near buangan) around 4pm. I used to see him every time I go home from work. He plays really good music. I can hear him because along with his acoustic guitar, he has his portable speaker where he sits on.

    On the side, not too far from him is a woman, which I think is his wife, who watches over him (probably making sure no one grabs the money in the but I really think they're sweet. She sits there waiting until he finishes playing love songs (even modern songs) and they both leave.

  2. They are doing this because of poverty in our country. The government should take an action for this case their are tons of beggars around.

  3. I feel for these people. To think that they actually make their own instruments and as large as they are they carry it around everywhere, to make as little as 5 pesos or whatever will be given to them. It truly is very sad.

  4. I met a harpist in Parkmall. Such an amazing talent.

    Harpist in Cebu

  5. Hi Rene, we probably were in the same place together, we just don't know each other hehe! Here's my item on that Park Mall gig

  6. Thank you for this well written post! My father hails from Cebu but i never lived there. Would there be a way please to get their contact numbers and name? Where in Cebu do they frequent? I am a tv journalist and would like to feature them in my show. :)

  7. H! if there are interested about the guy on video you can contact me lendon.kazuya facebook account.
    That's my step dad feel free to message