Capt. Pedro B. Navarro was the first Filipino conductor of the famous Philippine Constabulary Band (Jan. 1916-Dec. 1917) and a celebrated band director and composer during his lifetime. Born with the name “Pedro Navarro Bravo” on September 17, 1879, he came from humble beginnings as the only child of a fisherman, Pedro Bravo, and his wife, Bartola Navarro, in the rural town of Tagudin, Ilocus Sur. His father was lost at sea before Pedro reached the age of nine. (Left) Pictured in Raymundo C. Bañas’ book Music and Theater of the Filipino People, 1924. Manila, p. 100.
At the end of the Spanish-American War in 1898, Pedro left the convent and joined several American military bands in Manila. He changed his last name from Bravo to Navarro, his mother’s maiden name. Between 1899 and 1903, Navarro was a member of the Philippine Band of Manila, directed by American conductor Charles Mindt, the 29th U.S. Volunteer Band, the 6th U.S. Artillery Band, and the 30th U.S. Infantry Band (Bañas 1924:99). He was already making a name for himself when Lt. Walter H. Loving heard him playing and convinced him to join the newly forming Philippine Constabulary Band in 1902.
Navarro toured the United States and Asia with the PC Band in 1904, 1909, and 1915 as piccolo soloist, chief musician, and assistant conductor to Walter H. Loving. When Loving toured Europe for several months (1911-1912), Navarro conducted the band in the Philippines. During the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition, Loving became ill and Navarro substituted as the band’s conductor for several months. He received a gold medal for serving as acting director (Letter to Bañas in 1919, Philippines National Archive) and compliments from the world’s most famous band directors including John Philip Sousa.
When the PC Band returned from the U.S., Loving requested retirement for health reasons. On Monday evening, January 17th, 1916 a farewell concert was given for Major Loving at the Luneta (Cable-News American 18 January 1918, front page). He conducted up until the final piece “Auld Lang Syne” when he signaled to Navarro to take the baton. Stepping up to the podium, Navarro seamlessly conducted the rest of piece and took over as director of Asia’s most famous band. “Navarro’s receiving of the baton was followed by an incessant applause of the public, showing their love for him who was the right man to take Maj. Loving’s place” (Bañas 1924, 32).
After serving for almost two years as the PC Band’s director and conducting many concerts at the Luneta. He often programed his own compositions. Suddenly, Navarro was sent to the front lines for purportedly defying President of the Philippine Senate Manuel L. Quezon (Navarro family legend). Music historian Raymundo C. Bañas asked Navarro why he left the PC Band, but Navarro was elusive: “some of the questions are so hard to comply with and they are impossible to describe as requested…” (Letter to Bañas in English, 1919, Bañas Collection, Philippines National Archive).
In 1926, Navarro retired as Captain from the Philippine Constabulary and went on to become the band director of the National University Band for almost two decades. He founded the all-girls Banda Ligaya that included his daughters and won many band competitions. In 1932, both the NU Band and Banda Ligaya respectively took first place in the Manila Carnival’s annual Band Contest and first National Band Championship. Newspapers often referred to Navarro as the “John Philip Sousa of the Philippines.”
Navarro remained close with Lt. Col. Loving until the latter’s death during WWII. Navarro’s daughter Leonora remembers being touched at the sight of the two consoling each other while Loving was under house arrest by the Japanese in Ermita, an historic section of Manila. Capt. Navarro remained active in music until his death 1951. In his funeral procession, many of Manila’s brass bands marched him to his final resting place in Manila’s North Cemetery.
Navarro’s compositions have been lost for many decades, but several of his pieces were saved by his daughter Irene and handed down to his great grandchild Mary Talusan who became an ethnomusicologist. Another of Navarro’s daughters, Concepcion Navarro Salanga, passed many compositions to her son Al Peter Salanga who then shared them in 2009. These precious compositions were performed on July 18, 2013 by the UP Symphonic Band with an educational photo exhibit by Dr. Talusan. Some pieces are light marches while others feature difficult solos for brass instruments. A Spanish rhythmic lilting underlies the harmony of many of Navarro’s works. Recently, Al Peter Salanga donated dozens of pieces to Dr. Talusan who will have them cataloged, preserved, and performed.
Forthcoming: An entry of Capt. Pedro B. Navarro in CCP Encyclopedia written by Mary Talusan.
For articles on the Navarro, see the Publications link above.
SEE ALSO PHILIPPINE INQUIRER ARTICLE: http://lifestyle.inquirer.net/112723/up-symphonic-band-to-play-navarro-works
News! Navarro is honored by his hometown of Tagudin, Ilocos Sur.
He was given a posthumous award as an “Outstanding Tagudinian” in 2014. Thank you Mayor Atty. Jose V. Bunoan, Jr. for delivering the award to us in California on your visit in August 2014.
Photo Exhibit on the Life and Work of Navarro, Tagudin, Jan 2014
University of the Philippines Symphonic Band Concert and Exhibit, July 18, 2013
The following educational exhibit highlighted the contributions of Pedro B. Navarro who became the first Filipino conductor of the famed Philippine Constabulary Band in early 1916. He was chosen by African American conductor Walter H. Loving to take over when the latter retired from the PC.
Navarro served as the piccolo soloist in the PC Band from 1903-1915. He was Loving’s assistant conductor, and substituted for him when Loving was away. Navarro’s musical legacy as a composer and band director continued after he left the PC Band to fight on the front lines in 1918. He retired from the Constabulary as a Captain in 1924, but continued to direct bands and to compose music until his death in 1951.
Panels of the Photo Exhibit: