The first Filipino American Symphony Orchestra marks its 5th anniversary

For FASO, only classical Filipino music or 'kundiman.' Photos: FASOfoundation.org

For FASO, only classical Filipino music or ‘kundiman.’ Photos: FASOfoundation.org

By Ludy Astraquillo Ongkeko, Ph.D.

When the Filipino American Symphony Orchestra (FASO) made its debut in the Beverly Hills’ Wilshire Theatre on May 16, 2009, it marked history. It was the first such organization was formed outside the Philippines.

That epoch-making event, called the Gala Night, under the aegis of Asian Journal Publications, led by the community-oriented husband-wife team of Cora and Roger Oriel, (whose brainchild is the FASO), fittingly conveyed to the Fil-Am community the role of music as a universal language. The same occasion touched on ‘timeliness,’ and how multi generations of the Filipino abroad, did dedicate themselves to music. Likewise, the same pioneering crusaders over time sought excellence in many other professional fields of endeavor.

I first heard about the FASO when it was in its infancy from Andy Tecson, a violinist who served as president of the Filipino American Press Photographers in Los Angeles, also a member of the orchestra. He was exuberant. Tecson informed me that through the combined efforts of the Oriels and others who had known of Philippine-born and bred Robert (Bob) Shroder, a multi-awardee in music and the arts, success was theirs in contacting him in the Los Angeles area. Thus, Shroeder became FASO’s conductor.

After spending tremendous time and dedication to the cause of music, the nucleus of the FASO was ready to make its appearance in the metropolitan area.

Shroeder taught flute and chamber music on the Diliman campus, University of the Philippines, and whose success in recordings for pop music, was a byword not only in musical circles, but also acclaimed by the home country’s movie industry. According to Tecson, their conductor’s confidence in the Filipino as an orchestra member is unshaken.

“As our conductor wields his baton during rehearsals, all of FASO’s members do not cease to marvel at his organizational skills,” he said.

Tecson continued to describe how their maestro expresses incessantly his deep and abiding faith in his fellow artists. He stated that their conductor is acutely aware of how “Filipino orchestra musicians in Southern California have long dreamt of founding a Filipino symphony orchestra not only for the Filipino community, but for everybody who appreciates classical music.”

FASO’s conductor has made emphatic what is central to the nature of their orchestra’s compositions: it is classical Filipino music, strongly reminiscent of the kundiman, along with pop and contemporary pieces including those from famous Broadway performances.

Shroder, in the eighties, won the Grand Prize in the National Music Competition for Young Artists in the homeland. When still in his youth, he was the principal flutist of the oldest symphony orchestra in Asia, the Manila Symphony Orchestra.

President Benigno S. Aquino (left) congratulates FASO Conductor Robert Shroder after a musical performance in his honor in 2012.

Philippine President Benigno S. Aquino (left) congratulates FASO Conductor Robert Shroder after a musical performance in his honor in 2012.

Before joining FASO, Shroder served as the conductor of the Boyle Heights Youth Symphony of L.A. His work in the Los Angeles region has been legend. As a freelance musician, member of Local 47, the American Federation of Musicians, FASO’s conductor is considered by the metropolis’ circles of music as an accomplished artist.

FASO’s conductor avers that there has been a tendency among Filipino musicians to join non-Filipino orchestras because there hasn’t been any orchestra organized such as the FASO. Shroder’s confidence in the Filipino as an orchestra member is steadfast.

“We don’t have any lack for Filipino talents here; we can form a 55-120 man orchestra with strings – violin, cello, double bass—and wind – flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon, trumpet, trombones.”

Interestingly, FASO has welcomed non-Filipinos because the organization’s leadership is aware of the ‘presence of Filipinos in orchestras formed by other nationals’ group in America.

Likewise, it was strongly felt that as long as FASO has a ‘core group,’ of Filipinos (it has morphed into 90 percent), the welcome is extended to musicians from other ethnicities. It was further learned that FASO welcomes high school and college students as ‘long as they can play a musical instrument.’ There should be ‘two groups,’ per FASO’s leader: junior and senior, reiterating the information he wishes to adhere to: ‘the heart of FASO’s music’ is “classical.”

Undeniably, FASO will, because of its role in offering the best of the ‘Filipino Musician’ on these shores, become a distinctive showcase of Filipino culture, representing wittingly and unwittingly the Philippines, its more than 7,000 islands and its people, illustrating what the Filipino spirit is all about.

This piece’s author conveys heartfelt felicitations to Cora and Roger Oriel who, as visionaries, have largely contributed in enhancing the name Filipino in numerous ways, and now, thanks to their unflagging support, a Filipino American Symphony Orchestra has become a reality.

As FASO continues to thrive, one popular melody comes to mind: “We’ve only just begun.”

Let FASO lead and show that the Filipino’s role in the universe of music is truly alive and well. Indeed, very well.

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One Comment

  1. melancholy music wrote:

    Great post

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