I Hear Drums

NEW articles daily! Subscribe below to receive daily updates with our new articles!

Please enter your name.
Please enter a valid email address.
Something went wrong. Please check your entries and try again.

When I first met my wife she told me she played on a basketball team in high school. I’m thinking, “Wow, an athlete. Just like Hoosiers or those university teams I’ve seen on the news in Cebu City.”

But after I knew her for a few days, I learned that what she meant was, that a few of her girlfriends in rural Samar borrowed a ball from one of their brothers and played “basketball” once at the court next to the church in the middle of her barangay. For her, that was, “I played on a basketball team.”

Visa Assistance

So when I met this guy here in Cebu and he told me he played in a band, once again I thought,

“Dude, it’s Mick Jagger or the Eagles or at the least one of those cover groups that play at local bars and restaurants. Some of those guys are pretty good.”

It turns out that it was when he was 15 and in high school; he’s 40 now AND the band??? Well, it was a drum and lyre band.

I didn’t know if this is only in Cebu City; I doubted it, and I didn’t know if this steps up when it gets closer to Cebu’s January’s Sinulog Festival, but there are Drum Groups practicing everywhere. On street corners, in vacant lots, behind the grocery store. I mean these are not your typical American marching bands that fill halftime fields at high school and college football games. These are Drums Only, with an occasional Lyre thrown in.

What’s the deal? Why all these Drum bands in the Philippines? And on the day of the festival, a color guard, (who has been practicing separately) shows up too.

It’s because it’s cheap!

Wikipedia, that esteemed research source, reports…

“A Drum and Lyre Corps is a marching ensemble consisting of strictly percussion instruments and a color guard section. The Drum and Lyre corps originated in the Philippines, as it is easier to finance than brass bands or a drum and bugle corps. The instrumentation of a drum and lyre corps consists of a typical marching band (snare, tenor, and bass drums, and cymbals) with the bell lyre section. The lyre sections consist of bell lyres, glockenspiels, a set of tuned metal bars arranged on a tray or in a frame in keyboard fashion for marching band, as well as vibraphones and marimbas. During competitions, drum and lyre corps usually include a pit section which consists of the typical pit instruments used by drum and bugle corps.”

One of the reasons that Catholicism took root in the Philippines so easily was that Filipinos liked the pomp and circumstance of the Catholic Church. They liked the robes, the crucifixes, and gold colored stuff, the gilt-edged accouterments of the Catholics from Spain and Mexico.

I believe that Drum and Lyre Bands and Color Guards are just another facets of this. The bands are loud and showy. They draw attention to themselves, and of course, once you get a drum, there isn’t much upkeep. Also true for color guard uniforms.

This allows young people, and even some into their 20’s and 30’s to be a part of something, to perform, to be a part of a team, and to be showy about it, all valued behaviors in Philippines culture.

There are even a Philippine Drum and Lyre Associates Inc. (PDLA Inc.) “a non-profit organization dedicated to the uplifting of Filipino Drum and Lyre (Bell) corps all over the country as well as raising the standards of excellence on the grounds of musicianship, sportsmanship, choreography, discipline, and camaraderie.”

These all sound like noble goals.

And if you like Drum and Lyre bands that you see at a local fiesta or hear on the street corner, you can even rent one, for your daughter’s birthday, your Lola’s anniversary or the company picnic.

I discovered that In Metro Manila you can “rent” Drum and Lyre Bands for your events from 7000 pesos to 25000 pesos depending on just how large and complicated your “gig” is. It is a true Philippine Business; a Cottage Industry.

And, after doing some reading about it, I am beginning to understand why I’m hearing so many drums and why I keep driving by all these small groups of young people, “Beatin’ It,” as Michael Jackson sort of said.

It doesn’t cost much. It’s very loud and it fulfills that desire to perform and the “Hey. Look at Me,” in many of us. And in the Philippines, it’s rural; it’s urban; it’s everywhere.

So here is one of these groups. Just a bunch of kids, sitting in a field, playing Despacito, that hit song by Daddy Yankee you hear all the time playing in the malls and grocery stores.


And you know what? They sound pretty good.

Rob Ashley

After travelling to the Philippines and SE Asia perhaps 15 times between 2007-2011, I decided to retire in Cebu and moved here in August 2011. Things changed fast. A month after I was here I met my wife Rachel; In 6 months I decided I was bored after having taught high school English and in a graduate school of education at a Portland, Oregon university for 30+ years; I looked around; I was hired as the Head of the English Department at a Cebu international school. Rachel and I got married; we bought a condo in Cebu City; we got two cats. After 3 years here I was offered a similar position at a Japanese international school, so we went to Japan. After two years there I was offered another position of Coordinator of Languages at a Vienna, Austria international school. Living in Europe was nice, but Rachel said, “It’s too cold here.” So, finally last August, we returned to Cebu for good, and I really am retired. I have learned that you pretty much take your life with you wherever you go. I have a PhD from the University of Oregon and I’m a diehard Oregon Ducks fan. Likewise an NBA Portland Trailblazers fan, so I am often up at 3 am on Sundays or Mondays to watch football and basketball games. Cebu is home now and many thanks to Bob Martin for LIP and the services and opportunities he offers us Expats.

Most Shared Posts

Leave a Reply

3 Comment threads
3 Thread replies
Most reacted comment
Hottest comment thread
4 Comment authors
Cordillera CowboyPaul ThompsonRob AshleyDavid Haldane Recent comment authors
newest oldest most voted
Notify of
David Haldane
David Haldane

hmmm, very interesting, Rob. My wife says she used to play the lyre in her high school group, and now we’ve enrolled our second-grade son in a Saturday-morning drum corps at his school. So far, he loves it! Thanks for the background; never knew any of this, but now I’m starting to get it. I guess the beat goes on…

Rob Ashley
Rob Ashley

David: Thank you. I have been thinking about writing about this topic for quite awhile and finally got around to it. In the past week I kept passing practicing drum groups and so I started reading and finally got around to putting down my thoughts. It is a unique type of band, that’s for sure, and has its origins here in the Philippines. As always, thank you for your comments. -Rob

Paul Thompson
Paul Thompson

Rob: I came in off a ship, and both our girls were very excited (1 Aged 12 &13), they dashed off to their room(s) (I’ll explain that in a future article) and came back in their new Cheer leading Uniforms. The sport? The High School Badminton Team. I didn’t say a word, but now I was required to go to the school and show my support for my girls which I did with great enthusiasm. But badminton? I’d gladly take the drums instead. But after every match I’d take everybody to Shakey’s Pizza. The second trip I noticed the teams… Read more »

Rob Ashley
Rob Ashley

Paul. Ha. That is sooo Filipino. Back in the day, (well 10 years ago) I used to look on Filipina dating sites from my cozy home in the US and about 80% of the young women would write that the wanted True Love (of course), that they didn’t have any work (of course) that they were “Simple” (of course) and that they liked to music and playing BADMINTON? I had this idea of a country filled with short skirted badminton players, shuttlecocks filling the air like swallows coming back to Capistrano. When I got here I learned that “Badminton” was… Read more »

Cordillera Cowboy

Hello Rob, I’ve never seen one of these groups. But I do hear drums being played from the closest college campus from time to time. I just figured there was a sporting event of some sort going on. I have seen kids carrying badminton racquets around. Some of the kids in our student boarding house are involved in sports of one sort or another, mostly basketball. Two or three are in martial arts of one type or another. One kid taking martial arts asked me to sign a permission form in her parents place. In the list of previous medical… Read more »

Rob Ashley
Rob Ashley

Cowboy: I’m renting a drum band and sending them to your house on your birthday. Ha. There is musical diversity in the Philippines. I always wondered about the guy in our Cebu City neighborhood who would turn on his loud speaker at 4 am and sing Ave Maria. He beat the chickens by 30 minutes. Be well Pete and thank you. Rob


Make sure you've signed up to our newsletter to get exclusive newsletter only content! Also be updated about all our important events and other important info that our readers rely on.


Something went wrong. Please check your entries and try again.