Our humble beginning...

How did this small band of musicians come to existence?

To speak of the Rondalla On Wheels, one has to start with the birth of Bahay Mapagmahal – the temporary abode for the physically challenged  children and youth, an extension home project of the National Orthopedic Hospital (NOH) through the Philippine Society for Crippled Children, Inc. (PSCC). The PSCC is a private, non-profit organization composed of members whose main interest is to alleviate within its capabilities, the flight  of the handicapped children and youth in our country, providing sustaining activities for self and group development .

It was in 1971 when the PSCC, Inc. was able to construct a prefabricated Home-School, called Bahay Mapagmahal or Loving Home. This dormitory houses handicapped children who have no opportunity to go to school in their places of origin. Most of them come from rural and depressed areas all over the Philippines. They enjoy free education from Elementary to High School at the NOH School for Crippled Children. The majority of them are victims of poliomyelitis and are in wheelchairs.

One special feature of Bahay Mapagmahal is the Rondalla On Wheels, a small orchestra that serves as therapy for the residents and for their creative outlet. Disabled people can find their own proper niche in this world once they realize that it is ability that counts, and not disability. This has been the philosophy of the people behind the Rondalla On Wheels who have been harnessing the music potentials of the children and the youth with disabilities.

The Rondalla On Wheels was the cherished “dream-come-true” of Sr. Roos Catry, ICM, a Belgian missionary who arrived in the Philippines in July, 1970, worked at the NOH as a volunteer and later got employed as a Remedial Gymnast. Since 1973 up to the present time she’s the in-charge of Bahay Mapagmahal. She was so impressed by the performance of the Metro Manila Youth Rondalla under the baton of Prof. Antonio Tallada during the NOH Christmas Program on Dec.1977, and decided that there must be something like this Rondalla for special children to occupy their free time. Eventually she sought Prof. Tallada’s help, who readily agreed with her idea and gave his services for free. He was a graduate of the University of the Philippines, a professor at the Far Eastern University and the University of Manila, and Ulirang Nakatatanda awardee who devoted his time, too, in teaching music to the poor, particularly the out-of-school youth, the street children and the handicapped children who had musical talent but could not afford to further their studies. For him it was a great and wonderful privilege to teach the poor children.

With Divine Providence, with Prof. Tallada’s generosity, patience, love and dedication for his extraordinary students, and also with the help of donors, friends and benefactors, instruments started to come in. The first music class was held on the 8th of February, 1978! Thus, the Rondalla On Wheels was born!!! 

After one month, the children already knew how to read and interpret musical notes and other basics of music. They proudly played some musical pieces during the School Graduation in March, 1978. All were happy that music changed the ambiance in Bahay Mapagmahal. The children were gifted indeed! They were very enthusiastic of their newly discovered talent. With discipline and assiduous practices they arrived at playing different    musical instruments like banduria, guitar, octavina, laud, base, rhythm and drum. They learned well and fast. They could play music of different countries, aside from their repertoire of local pieces, native songs and classical selections. Most admirable was that they played by heart and without musical sheets.

Their popularity spread far and wide so that the Rondalla On Wheels was invited to grace and animate fiestas and other entertainment programs. They accompanied Church Masses, organized and participated in several concerts together with famous singers and personalities like Pilita Corales, Jose Mari Chan, and others They also helped in fund raising activities and other musical functions for the community.

Their fame became proverbial, so much so that they were invited to Europe, particularly Germany and Belgium, where they were warmly welcomed with enthusiasm and sincere appreciation. Every presentation of German songs, opera, classic pieces and Filipino songs, was given a standing ovation. This trip to west Germany in 1992 was really most memorable.

Among the several top awards and certificates of Appreciation to the Rondalla On Wheels was the Apolinario Mabini Award given at the Philippine International Convention Center and sponsored by the Philippine Foundation for Rehabilitation of Disabled, Inc (PFRD) as the “1980 Model Disabled Group of the Year”, given on July 1980. And the group received the same award on March 2006 as the “2005 Model Disabled Group of the Year” given at the Malacanang Palace by her excellency, President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and sponsored by the Philippine Foundation for Rehabilitation of Disabled, Inc (PFRD). 

Mostly during summer vacation, the group accepts invitations to the different provinces all over the Philippines. In the north, they reached Bontoc, Mt. Province (1986), Banaue, Mt. Province (1986 & 2002), Kiangan/ Lagawe/ Lamut – Ifugao, Mt. Province (1996 & 2000), Baguio (1997 & 1998), Vigan – Ilocos Sur (2000), Solano – Nueva Vizcaya (1989), Olongapo (1985, 1986, 1987, 1988, 1989, & 1990), Bagac – Bataan (2002 & 2003), Orani – Bataan (2003), Nueva Ecija (2006), Pangasinan (2000, 2001, & 2005), Meycauayan/Marilao/Balagtas/Malolos/Sta. Maria – Bulacan, Sta. Rosa – Laguna, Lipa City, Silang – Cavite, & Tagaytay City; Lupao-Nueva Ecija (2011). In the south, they have gone to Iloilo (1988 & 2002), Antique (2002), Cebu (1994), Negros Occidental (1995), Bacolod City (1995), Cagayan de Oro (1998 & 1999), Bukidnon (1998 & 1999), Camiguin Island (1999), Saranggani Province (2006), General Santos (2006), IGACOS (Island Garden City of Samal) 2006 Davao (2006) and Dumaguete City (2012). Travelling by bus, boat or airplane, seeing new places and meeting new friends, give the group immense joy and drive them to exert more effort towards excellence.

But alas! In the midst of these successes and general acclaim for 19 consecutive years, a severe blow came upon Bahay Mapagmahal and its Rondalla On Wheels with the death of Prof. Antonio Tallada on August 16, 1997 after a lingering sickness of emphysema. The hand that wielded the magic baton fell off, leaving a deep gloom over the Rondalla On Wheels. However, true to their years of efficient training the Rondalla On Wheels did not succumb. The elder members showed their loyalty, felt responsible and took the initiative to carry on.

For almost two years the group was left on their own, until another blessing came about in February 1999, with Prof. Enrico Toledo accepting the challenge of maintaining the life and growth of the group. An equally dedicated and well-experienced person in music, and with a sensitive heart toward the poor, he now manages to keep the beacon light shining and leads the Rondalla On Wheels to continuing performances with much success. In a short time of about one year, he was able to improve the group very much with a new repertoire of about 40 pieces, many of which are classical ones. On March 24, 2001 a selection of the new repertoire was tape-recorded by Concertech Recording Studio.

The year 2003 marked a very significant event for the Rondalla On Wheels. It was the celebration of its Silver Jubilee with a Concert Tour in Japan from May 13 to 27, 2003 upon the invitation of a Japanese Professor and friend Tsuyoshi Amemiya. He was an English professor in Aoyama Gakuin University  in Japan, and who from 1986 –2002 brought yearly his students for a study tour in the Philippines with a visit at the Bahay Mapagmahal and the playing of the Rondalla on Wheels always a part of the exposure of his students. His desire was through a good encounter and experience with the Filipino people his students would discover an awareness of life and become better persons.

The concert tour was a success although hectic and tough – since usually two performances were given per day. They performed mostly in schools, rehabilitation centers, churches, municipal halls, and the climax was to be allowed to play at Tokyo Disneyland, since the group passed the audition as “A Special Guest Group”.

The group's latest stint was in Hong Kong.

Through the ROW’s activities, these young people with disabilities not only learned discipline and value of time, they have also been able to bring out the best in themselves and share their God-given talents to society, in spite of their disabilities. Some of the former members of ROW are now professionals and successful in their own careers. They cherish the memories of the group in their younger years when they worked hard to play music in unison.

May they who have been members, or are still members of the Rondalla On Wheels continue to live and to teach to others the ROW-motto: 

                       “It is not disability, but ability that counts”

May those who have the chance to read the Story of Rondalla on Wheels be animated to discover their hidden abilities, God-given talents, and to use  and to share these with others.

© Rondalla on Wheels 2012