In the nineteenth-century Philippines, the colonial military bands provided the musical soundscape in the different cities. Due to problems with sending Spanish recruits from Europe, salaried military positions of the Spanish colonial government were opened to the natives of the Philippine islands in the eighteenth century. Foot soldiers were recruited from the lowest rung of the racial and economic class in the Spanish colonial caste system: the indios. The local soldiers had the option to train as military musicians. These drafted musicians formed the famed Philippine military bands that played the latest popular tunes from European operas and concert music, as well as local songs and sarsuwela (local adaptation of the Spanish zarzuela) melodies.

In 1898, the anti-colonial revolutionary army won its struggle for independence against Spanish rule. Though short-lived, the Philippine Republic was established with its military band accompanying the newly liberated government’s official function. The first Philippine independence was cut short when the US took the country under its colonial control. The Philippine military who unsuccessfully fought the Philippine-American war were offered pardon if they would switch allegiance to the new US-colonial government. Under this new arrangement, the military musicians were recruited to form the Philippine Constabulary (PC) Band in 1902.  

The PC Band would be instrumentalized in the US imperialist ambitions. In 1904, the band was displayed as part of the St. Louis Exposition to justify to the American public the need for the colonization of the Philippines. They were displayed side-by-side “anthropological” displays of the different Philippine tribal groups with the underlying narrative that within five years, the US was able to civilize the “savage Filipinos” into classical-music playing soldiers. Disregarded in this narrative is the three hundred years of cross-cultural relationship of the Filipinos with Europe through the Spanish empire and the seizure of the Philippine independence as a constitutional republic. 

One of the band’s main patrons under the US rule was the first Philippine chief civil governor William H. Taft, who nicknamed the band ‘Taft’s Own.’ Taft would become the 27th US president in 1909, and as one of the crowning glories of his American colonial project, he saw it fitting that the PC Band escorted him in his inaugural procession from the White House to the Capitol as the new American president.   

During their 1909 US trip, a concert tour was organized for the PC Band starting from San Francisco to Washington D.C., and then further to the East Coast. The PC Band’s program included performances in Boston, Cincinnati, Chicago, Madison, and Denver. They were also contracted to perform daily concerts at the Hippodrome Theatre in Atlantic City, which ran for several months until the end of August. They were also hired to perform for fifteen days at the Alaska Yukon Exposition in Seattle, Washington.

Audio recordings were also planned during the PC Band’s trip to the US. A surviving recording of the band Edison Amberol wax cylinder is kept and was digitized by the University of California Sta. Barbara Library Audio Archive. Not much information is available regarding the context of these recordings and if they were commercially released. The audio recording that you can listen to above is one of the two versions of the wax cylinder recording of El Sampaguita. A danza composed by Filipino composer Dolores Paterno in 1879 and arranged for a brass band, this piece was probably played at a faster tempo in the recording than the original tempo marking in order to fit the entire song in the 4.5 minute- capacity limit of the wax cylinder. I have not found other recordings of the band, but this extant audio recording resonates for us the Philippine military musicians’ history of struggle to ensound the aspiration for an independent Philippine republic amidst and against colonial occupations.

yamomo, meLê. Sounding Modernities: Theatre and Music in Manila and the Asia Pacific, 1869–1946. Cham: Palgrave Macmillan, 2018. 

Archival Audio Source: 
Edison Amberol: 8018: Banda de la Constabularia Filipina, “Sampaguita.” University of California Sta. Barbara Library Cylinder Audio Archive. 

To cite this page:
meLê yamomo, “[Sound Bite] Ensounding Nation and Empires: Sonic Traces of Nineteenth-Century Philippine Military Musicians”, Sonic Entanglements Website, 21-07-21,

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