Bayani M. De Leon

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Bayani Mendoza de Leon was born on 24 November 1942, the son of composer and Philippine National Artist Felipe Padilla de Leon and concert pianist Iluminada Mendoza, the second of seven other siblings, two of whom died before the age of five. Bayani Mendoza de Leon is most recently the recipient of the 2008 Pamana ng Pilipino Presidential Award conferred on him by Philippine President Gloria Macapagal. In conferring the Pamana ng Pilipino Award to Bayani Mendoza de Leon, the President "recognizes his genius and artistry for being a distinguished composer, musician, and educator who has tremendous influence in raising awareness and appreciation of traditional and contemporary Philippine music in the US".

As a young boy in Manila, Bayani would often return to his father's hometown in Penaranda, Nueva Ecija on his school vacations, and join the town band directed and conducted by the elder de Leon. As a high school junior, his compositions "Hibik sa Karimlan" and "Handog sa Diyos" were presented by the Student Council and attracted a wide audience across many schools in Manila. This early presentation earned him the "Musician of the Year" and "Student Composer of the Year" awards. Prior to his Fulbright-Hays scholarship to the US in 1979, and his Master's degree in Music Technology at the University of California in San Diego, he earned his Bachelor of Arts degree in Philosophy at the University of Santo Tomas, the oldest Catholic university in the Philippines. He was the News Editor and Pilipino Editor for the university's magazine, The Varsitarian.

De Leon is a versatile and multi-faceted artist, being a composer, musician, conductor, music director, arranger, writer, ethnomusicologist, folklorist, cultural scholar and community leader. He has exerted influence in raising the level of awareness and appreciation of Philippine music and culture within the Filipino-American community and the mainstream.

A musical prodigy, Mr. de Leon grew up in a home filled with music. His grandfather Ladislao Bonus was the first composer of a one-act opera in the Philippines. His father, national artist Felipe de Leon was the first composer who gave the Filipinos the first grand opera. And his mother, Iluminada Mendoza was a concert pianist. The family’s reminiscences of the artist’s childhood included Mr. de Leon’s mischievous playing of the piano using his feet. Even before he could read, he could distinguish and identify many different rhythms like the tango, cha-cha and rumba. At the age of nine, Mr. de Leon became the youngest member of Banda Peñaranda, a brass band directed by his father. He played the trumpet which he considered his first musical instrument. At 14, he wrote his first zarzuela called Hibik sa Karimlan, which attracted large audiences from several high schools in Manila. The artist became a distinguished member of the League of Filipino Composers in 1971. In 1979, he came to the US as a Fulbright-Hays scholar in music. He majored in Music Technology at the University of California in San Diego where he obtained his Master of Arts in Composition in 1982.

As a distinguished composer, Mr. de Leon successfully initiated mainstream audiences into works that reflect his Filipino heritage. He was the first Filipino-American composer to write a full-scale symphonic poem, Batong-Buhay for rondalla, a native Philippine string ensemble. He won an international prize in 1976 for his work Bantay-Bata that combined Philippine indigenous instruments with the Western harp and clarinet. Among his other major works are Beyond Forgetting, a tone poem for vocal soloists, chorus and dancers; Krokis for trumpet, clarinet and trombone; Okir, an avant-garde chamber work for flute, harp and contrabass; Vertigo, concertstruck for clarinet and orchestras;Pagkamulat, symphonic poem for orchestra; and Atlantis and Anting-Anting, both contemporary ballets. Moreover, he shared with the Philippine-American community some of his original works, which include among others, Villa Mariquita, a zarzuela; Silay-Parnaso, a rhapsody for violin and orchestra; and Mga Sugatang Perlas, a music-dance play. Also, his original guitar works, incorporating Philippine folk and indigenous motifs, have been widely performed in the US, the Philippines, and other parts of the world.

Mr. de Leon also generously shared his expertise in developing the rondallas, the choirs, and the kulintang and gangsa ensembles of two big dance companies based in San Diego, California - the PASACAT Performing Arts Company and the SAMAHAN Philippine Dance Company. He was the music director of both companies, composing original dances based on Philippine epics and legends. His interest to promote the rondalla extended to the East Coast where he became music director of the University of the Philippines Alumni and Friends Rondalla, the Paaralang Pilipino Foundation Rondalla, the Alay Philippines Performing Arts Rondalla, and the Foundation for Filipino Artists Rondalla. His rondalla arrangements range from Philippine folk songs and dances to Broadway and operatic airs, and standard classics. As a cultural scholar, Mr. de Leon contributed to a better understanding and appreciation of Philippine culture through his many lectures and workshops in both East and West Coasts of US. He also authored several books and articles that promote Philippine music and culture.

Aside from all his award-winning musical compositions, Mr. de Leon was also named one of the “2008 Most Outstanding Filipino American Achievers of America” and is listed in Grove’s International Dictionary of Music and Musicians.

Outside of his musical career, Bayani Mendoza de Leon had worked at the National Media Production Center where he was the vernacular section chief, and editor of "Pag-asa", a government-published magazine. His first love, however, had been literature. His short story, "Mga Luha Ni Lela" won a Palanca award in 1965, the Philippines' highest literature award. He is currently Managing Editor, Higher Division, of Pearson Education Publishing in Upper Saddle River, New Jersey.

Mr. de Leon was married to concert pianist Cynthia Guerrero, and had two children, Sarighani (now principal cellist of the Nashville Symphony Orchestra), and Lakasnubay (a recording producer and photographer). He currently lives with his wife, the poet Rhodora V. Penaranda, in the Hudson Valley in upstate New York, with their two children, Okir and Amihan.



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Citation

  • Office of the President of the Philippines, Commission on Filipinos Overseas (2008 Presidential Awards for Filipino Individuals and Organizations Overseas).
  • "Talaang Ginto," 1966

Reference

  • Samson, Helen F. Contemporary Filipino Composers. Quezon City: Manlapaz Publishing Company, 1976.

Citation

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