Like most of his friends and former students, I first could not believe the news that Danny Kalanduyan was no more. I could not respond to the news for some time because I did not want to believe it. He was one of my first teachers and a classmate in ethnomusicology at the University of Washington, and a very close friend before he moved to San Francisco in 1985.
It was in the fall of 1977 when I first met Danny. I had heard that a musician from the southern Philippines was teaching the gong and drum ensemble known as kulintang at the university and decided to visit his class just to see what it was like. After a brief greeting, Danny abruptly handed me the babandil (the medium-size gong to keep time) to play a simple rhythm, and without much explanation music began. Overwhelmed by the quick turn of events and the voluminous sound coming out of other instruments, I simply tried to play the rhythm as steadily as possible. Ever since this unexpected initiation, my life has been so much richer with the joy of playing this music and I am eternally grateful for Danny to initiate and navigate my life-long musical journey.
Kulintang is a form of community music where anybody can participate irrespective of age, gender, and the level of expertise. I particularly enjoy a great deal of musical interaction between players. Playing dabakan (drum) to accompanying Danny on other instruments was my favorite role in the ensemble and I had many blissful moments when he went off to play something extraordinary. I owe Danny almost everything I know about the kulintang music as played by Magindanao people who live in the western part of Mindanao. I soon became a member of his student ensemble and performed many times both on campus and beyond.
Danny and I shared the joy and agony of living in the United States as recent arrivals from Asia and I think that brought us closer. When he lived in Seattle, we spent a lot of time together, not just playing music but did many things outside campus such as squid fishing and cooking. We also shared many personal stories and private thoughts, including some tragic events during the dictatorial regime under Marcos.
Danny also had a lighter and fun-loving side. When I first had coffee with Danny, I was shocked to see him pour eight packets of sugar into a small cup. I would tell him that taking that much sugar will ruin his health, and at the next occasion he grabbed only four packets and said, “See? I am cutting down on sugar” with a very mischievous grin. He enjoyed humor and told me many humorous stories from back home, many involving music.
As my interest in kulintang music grew, I decided to analyze the music in addition to learning how to play it. For my master’s thesis, I chose gandingan, a set of four hanging gongs and one of the five instruments of the kulintang ensemble, in which Danny specialized as a soloist and competed with rival musicians before moving to the United States. His skills for improvisation were flawless and breathtaking. Every time I saw him go deeply into his solo, I felt so blessed to be able to witness the work of a genius being unfolded right before my own eyes and ears. My academic side of interest was to discover the hidden theory of kulintang music which had been orally handed down but at the same time I was hoping that a close analysis of his playing will give me hints to be a better player myself. He was happy to collaborate with my project and extremely generous with his time. I recorded many samples of his performance, which I notated and analyzed with many hours of working together. With the completion of the thesis, I am not sure if I became a better player but the findings made me appreciate the complexity of his musicianship more deeply than before.
In 1993, Danny and I managed to secure funds to do research in his home province of Cotabato in Mindanao Island and we spent six weeks documenting music of all kinds. Danny introduced me to so many of his relatives and friends who were all competent musicians, and I will never forget the experience of playing music together with them. Looking back, this trip deepened my understanding of kulintang music, especially the contexts for music making and the diversity of playing styles in Mindanao.
It was a time when the “peace and order” was an imminent issue in Mindanao and we were advised not to stay overnight in small towns and villages for security reasons. We stayed in a hotel in Cotabato, provincial capital city, and made frequent daytrips to Datu Piang, his hometown where many excellent musicians lived. Even in Cotabato city, Danny would not let me go outside of the hotel alone. We documented musicians of all ages and specializations, but decided to focus on the older musicians who had distinct styles of playing instruments and singing, different from those of younger generation to which Danny belonged.
When we had to endure with uncomfortable situations on this trip, he would say, “Charge it to your experience.” Now I realize that is what he was saying to himself all along during his long journey from the Philippines to Seattle and to San Francisco. I know he had to face challenging moments and experiences of discomfort due to cultural differences, some of which I shared myself.
As widely publicized, Danny reached the zenith as a musician when he received the prestigious Heritage Award in 1995 from the National Endowment for the Arts as the first Filipino to have the honor. With an unshakable reputation as a master musician and teacher, Danny was surrounded by many dedicated students and friends in the Bay Area and had very active performance schedule. I am certain he was content with his achievements and the public recognition he had received, but I also sensed that he was missing the scholarly activity, the kind in which he was engaged as a student of ethnomusicology. I believe that Danny enjoyed our research trip in 1993 and we discussed the possibility of doing follow up research in Cotabato. I was waiting for the right time, which I should not have done in retrospect.
Toward the end of his life, he visited the Philippines more often and even built a house to retire in. His final plan never materialized and the circle remains incomplete. I only regret I did not have much time together for the past 10 years or so excepting occasional online communications.
Danny was an extraordinary performer by any account. He was one of the most talented musicians I have ever encountered, regardless of genres. His speed and precision in playing music was spectacular, his musical imagination extraordinary. In the history of Philippine music, he will be remembered, along with Usopay Cadar, as a master musician who contributed greatly to the dissemination of kulintang music in North America and beyond, but I remember him mostly as a gentle, kind and caring friend who happened to be a great musician.
Terada Yoshitaka is a professor at National Museum of Ethnology, Japan.