More than half a century before the famed duo of Rodgers and Hammerstein thrilled Broadway with the romantic “Some Enchanted Evening” (from South Pacific), somewhere in the Bicol region a similar musical drama is unfolding.
“Sarung Banggi”, Bicol’s signature love ballad, and among the country’s most well-loved folk songs was composed by Potenciano Gregorio, a musical giant from Libog town (now Sto. Domingo) in Albay, 12 kilometers from Legazpi City.
The song which literally means “one night” tells about an enchanted evening encounter between a love-struck man and a lovely provincial lass. Using poetic courtship language, just like in the Broadway musical, a love affair flourished in an age of innocence in a most romantic setting.
Completed on May 10, 1910, the song was premiered three months later in the town fiesta of Guinobatan, birthplace of the composer’s wife.
Gregorio arranged the song for band in 1918 and was performed by Banda de Libog, the municipal brass band and was arranged for symphony orchestra in 1930.
Gregorio joined the famed Philippine Constabulary Band under Col. Water Loving and was given the rank of corporal. He was named the band’s representative to the 1939 San Francisco World Expo in the United States but died of pneumonia en route to the event.
He was buried at the La Loma Cemetery in Caloocan and was almost forgotten after more than six decades.
Through the years, the song found itself in the soundtracks of various movies, productions, concerts and TV commercials (the most recent of which is the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office ad) making it the trademark Bicol song. Because of this musical hit, Bicol is perhaps the only region in the country which can claim to having a regional folk song which captures the character and aspirations of its people.
This rich musical tradition was immortalized as the municipality of Sto. Domingo held the Sarung Banggi Festival last May to celebrate of Gregorio’s 131st birthday and the 101st anniversary of the song’s composition.
Sto. Domingo mayor Herbie Aguas said the festivity showcased Gregorio’s musical legacy and the town’s gift of music.
Lolo Poten, as he is fondly called, is also credited for composing a series of “dotoc” or religious music used for the May-time Santacruzan in collaboration with his brother, as well as a song which tells of the seemingly endless rumbling of Mayon Volcano, on whose feet the town is situated.
Now on its ninth edition, the event was highlighted by an evening street parade with participants interpreting Sarung Banggi through folk dance.
A musical presentation and reunion was hosted by the Gregorio Clan on May 19, Potenciano’s birth anniversary, showcasing talented descendants of the late composer.
To give the song a contemporary twist, a singing contest was held where participants performed modern variations of Sarung Banggi.
Aguas said that because of Gregorio’s monumental contribution, Sto. Domingo has been named by Albay governor Joey Salceda as the art and culture center of the province.He said that plans are afoot to form musical ensembles and visual arts group to make the town a repository of music and other forms of art.
His remains were exhumed in May 2005 led by Aguas, then Albay governor Fernando Gonzales and Congressman Edsel Lagman, and brought home to Sto. Domingo for a municipal vigil and reinterred with military honors. A mausoleum was erected in his honor in 2006 at the town plaza and Gregorio was declared a Municipal Artist by the Sangguniang Bayan (Municipal Council) in 2010.
(With additional photos by Alvic Esplana / Pullout Productions)