FORT BONIFACIO, Taguig City – There is a lot more to being a soldier than guns and explosives.
Once these macho men snatch the saxophone or pluck those strings, it hints a night of overflowing notes and tunes.
More to being men of battles, our Army soldiers are also men of music. Our constant companions during social events is our very own Philippine Army symphonic band.
It is composed of the combo orchestra, and the well-known Los Caballeros Alpha and Bravo.
They are the uniformed personnel you see in parades, ceremonies, fiestas, funerals, seminars, and other military or even civilian events carrying instruments instead of guns.
Their service lies in touching lives through songs, and comforting a day’s lassitude with melodies.
A war outlived
In 1902, the first Philippine Army Band was founded with the pioneer name Philippine Constabulary Band.
Organized by a talented musician Lt Col Walter H Loving, the PA Band is the fulfillment of the first American civil governor William Howard Taft’s promise of forming a Filipino military band that would be a counterpart of the famous US Marine Band.
Its first members were musicians who played in brass bands for fiestas and funerals from the small towns of Luzon. None of them were high school graduates but music is their bread and butter.
They were trained to form a professional symphonic band doing drills and military overtures. Being a symphonic band, they play critical instruments that are not usually found in other regular bands. Among them are oboe, bassoon, English horn, and bass clarinet.
They later became a highly accomplished musical organization crossing bridges and oceans, wowing audiences here and abroad.
Among their remarkable performances in those early times were the St. Louis Exposition in 1904, the inauguration ceremony of President Howard Taft in Washington D.C. in 1909, and the Pan-Pacific and Golden Gate Expositions in San Francisco, California in 1938.
Those smartly-uniformed men brought home visitors from all over the world through their excellent performances.
After the war, late President Ramon Magsaysay sent the band to Jakarta, Indonesia to represent the country in the First Floating Exposition around Southeast Asia.
The band’s First Sergeant and one of the oldest members, Master Sergeant Crisanto C Diaz, recalled the highest point in the bands’ history.
“Towards the end of our 100th year celebration in 1992, then Army Chief Lt Gen Arturo Enrile sent us to Singapore to participate in their National Day Parade as part of the ASEAN festival,” said Diaz.
As the Drum Major, Diaz shared that they have awed the crowd as they performed the national dance ‘Tinikling’.
“Among the bands that performed, we received the most claps from the crowd. I thought of performing the Tinikling because it is very unique for a symphonic band, at the same time very Filipino,” Diaz recalled.
Aside from the symphonic band, they also have a combo orchestra who plays to different Army activities and celebrations.
Currently, the 89-player band is housed at the Security and Escort Battalion (SEBn) at the Headquarters Philippine Army led by 1Lt Ron Michael M Soriao.
From bandits to knights
Found in the basement of the Philippine Army Officers Club House are the Los Caballeros Alpha and Bravo.
They are the groovy combos of the Army who mastered the oldies and goodies genre.
In downtown Cebu, then Army Chief Maj Gen Josephus Q Ramas discovered the young but skilled Los Bandidos band playing in a local restaurant.
He brought them to Manila to perform in different Army functions and entertain the soldiers. They played for the Army from 1983 to 1989 as civilians until they were enlisted in the latter year.
In 1992, General Enrile changed their name to Los Caballeros. During the same year, the band went to the United States and what they left were crowd hungry for their old tune.
It is when the Army formed the Los Caballeros Alpha presently led by Master Sergeant Peter M Florin.
When the original ‘Bandidos’ returned, they became the Los Caballeros Bravo now led by Technical Sergeant Crisanto D Caparida.
“Having two Los Caballeros has actually helped us a lot. When we were starting, our schedules are really tight that after a gig, there will always be our service vehicle ready to bring us to our next appointment,” Caparida said.
Caparida also shared that there were times that they had to leave their families on a vacation or had to postpone grieving for deceased loved ones in the name of duty.
“We were like doctors who are always on call anytime of the day, but we never complained because we love giving joy to people through our music. We were hired because of our skills so we might as well do our best in it,” Caparida added.
He also described their music as a uniting means. “When we were in Indonesia to play for a state function, there was an obvious tension between some of the groups there, but when we started playing our rendition of La Paloma, they loosened up a bit. We took advantage and played our best songs, later on the crowd went singing and laughing and dancing. The Prime Minister personally thanked us for that.”
The Los Caballeros Alpha has also its own share of story. Four out of its five members are all Florins, three being the children of Master Florin.
“Even if most of my members are my kids, I teach them the value of discipline. When we are at home we are family, but at work we are soldiers,” Florin shared.
Florin was discovered in Iligan when the 24th Infantry Battalion was based there. His band who also used to play in local restaurants were all invited to enlist as soldiers.
With a handsome offer of a permanent job in the Army while they still get to play their music, his band joined the uniformed service.
“My band used to perform during battalion events like anniversaries and birthdays. We also play for our fellow soldiers before and after operations. This is our way to somehow ease the anxiety of an upcoming battle against the rebels or to celebrate their victory,” said Florin.
In 2000, Florin transferred to SEBn and later on recruited to join Los Caballeros.
Both Alpha and Bravo are flexible in their music. Alpha continuously learn new songs to cope with modernization while Bravo plays songs in the language of their audience.
They have learned a different discipline by being a soldier at the same time a musician. Both have found a unique kind of fulfilment playing with an Army seal on their shoulders.
“It was very different when we were just Bandidos and now that we are Caballeros. We have learned to become more professional in our music and our behaviour. We have started out as monkeys, and through the years, we have become humans,” Caparida said with humor.
Soldiers are humans
Army bands also accept invitations to perform outside the military. In all occasions, they get the same reaction, “Wow, you are a soldier? Do you hold a gun? And you play well!”
Apparently, people are surprised to learn that soldiers can do music, and that they can do it well.
“Everytime, we just laugh and happily share our piece of story as Army musicians. We also hope that we can share inspirations not only with our music but also with our stories,” shared Caparida.
Diaz also thinks that music in the Army is very important. “This is our way to show support to our soldiers in the field, by bringing the Army closer to the people through our music,” said Diaz.
Interested to join?
There are different ways to join the Army, and one is being a musician. People who are highly skilled in any field can join through the Special Enlistment program.
If interested, you can inquire at the Army Recruitment Center in Fort Bonifacio, Taguig City or in any Army division across the country.
Army bands also welcome new breeds of talents. You can contact them at (02) 845-9555 loc 5032.
If you wish to experience music, Army style, you can send a letter request to the Support Group at the Office of the Assistant Chief of Staff for Operations of OG3 or contact them at (02) 845-9555 loc 6603.