The “Panagbenga Hymn” is Baguio’s LSS (last song syndrome). It has become an indelible part of Baguio similar to the tiger grass brooms, bottles of peanut brittle and strawberries.
It has been jazzified, countrified and is already one of the most downloaded ring tones among Baguio residents. But its most heartfelt rendition will be heard on Thursday when the Saint Louis University (SLU) Band plays the “Panagbenga Hymn” during the burial of its composer, Macario “Mac” Fronda. He died on March 14 due to complications from prostate cancer.
Fronda, 91, may have been linked forever to the hymn (which incidentally was first known as the “Tribute to the Cordilleras” when he composed it in 1989), but his life and music was itself a hymn of the pioneer spirit of Baguio.
Born in La Union on Dec. 8, 1921, Fronda was a son of a local bandleader. He would join his father in the band’s trips, playing xylophone using coconut shells. He would later be an expert in wind instruments.
Fronda decided to try his luck in Baguio, armed only with his music and an elementary school diploma. He was taken in by the then Saint Louis College in 1953 to be its first bandleader, with only nine band members under his wing.
Fronda traveled to La Union and Pangasinan, looking for potential band members, promising them free education. Hundreds of recruits eventually became scholars and professionals because of Fronda’s guidance.
Fr. Evarist Verlinden, director of the SLU Clinical Pastoral Center, who first met Fronda in 1965, says the bandleader was a jolly man. “He was also very dedicated and very respectful. SLU had taken care of him but it was more of Mac taking care of SLU,” says Verlinden.
“Music education in the city would not have been this way had it not been for Mac,” says Mercedes Coloma, a former music teacher at SLU Boys’ High School (now SLU Laboratory High School).
“He helped us all music teachers and the Saint Louis Youth Choir always won under his tutelage,” she says.
Fronda was so dedicated to his music that his wife, Ildefonsa, says it was Fronda’s mother who practically wooed her. “He always said that music is the language of the heart. But always added that I am his greatest love,” Ildefonsa says.
They have 10 children (two of them adopted). The boys, incidentally, became members of the SLU Band.
His daughter, Fely, says her father was well-loved but was very strict and a perfectionist. This would explain why one would hear repetitious music from the family house in Barangay New Lucban even at midnight.
From January onwards, Fronda’s neighbors would hear the “Panagbenga Hymn” played over and over again in the morning so their dreams had the same flowery soundtrack.