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Father of Kapampangan Liturgical Music, 'Among Greg' has written 900 hymns

The one who sings, prays twice.

St. Augustine, the holy Bishop of Hippo, uttered this famous line to mean that voices are gifts that the faithful can offer in worship.

Monsignor Gregorio Lazatin Canlas, Among Greg to many, had this in mind when he began writing songs in his early 20s.

Now 79, Among Greg  by his reckoning has composed some 900 mostly liturgical songs.  He also did the musical arrangements for these. 

His vast body of music are mostly songs, but some of these works include responsorial psalms and short hymns sung during a Mass.

For this, Among Greg has been called the “Father of Kapampangan Liturgical Hymns,” a title he said he holds dear because his music and lyrics are not just for the Church and for God, but also for the Kapampangan culture and people.

"I started to compose very simple songs using Kapampangan melodies, and I found out that the people liked them. They’re beyond the rates of ordinary music," said the priest who hails from Sto. Tomas, Pampanga.

After being ordained in 1967, he spent his first three months of service in a small village in Pampanga and was later called to serve in the seminary.

"So I was there for four years. I was mainly in charge of the music of the seminary kasi in my own formation as a musician while I was in College in Theology, for about seven years I was fortunate enough to be the organist of the seminary sa San Carlos sa Makati," he said.

Among Greg credits his Belgian professor, the late Fr. John Zwaenepol, CICM, from whom he had learned most of his liturgical music background that he now used in composing.

"My education back then was a bit informal," he said, adding he continued honing his skills through self-study.

In 1972, he flew to Paris, France where he "really started to compose."

"Since I was in a foreign country, I was homesick. I was really obsessed with the idea that we need songs to use in Pampanga in the vernacular," he said, stressing that he took the challenge of creating songs using the
Kapampangan dialect.

"Mamatay ang aming dialect unless somebody takes up arms for it and luckily, sa pagshift ng Latin, English to Kapampangan, nasasagip ang Kapampangan language," he said.

In 1991, he started serving as the parish priest of St. James the Apostle Parish. Popularly known as Betis Church, the Baroque-style church can be found in Guagua, Pampanga.

The church is home to the Philippines’ second bamboo organ, which began serenading churchgoers in 2019.

Among Greg’s songs are being used in every Kapampangan mass, led by the Liturgical Music Ministry called "Mirabilia Dei Children's Choir."

Some of his popular songs such as "Datang na ka Ginu," "Nanung gewa mu," King gamat mi," and "Migising na," are popular hymns in mass in various churches in the area.

Among Greg feels fulfilled that the people can have songs of praises in Kapampangan.

Looking back, he said, "these songs have been used for 20-30 years. Parang meronna silang sariling history.”

In one mass in a small village, Among Greg said he heard people singing his compositions in A capella.

"See, that's me. You have been singing my songs without knowing that I am the composer," he said.

He said his inspiration in writing are mostly from sacred texts, scriptures,
and liturgical occasions or seasons, like Christmas, Lent, Easter, and other special Catholic occasions.

His compositions to date are in nine volumes of songbooks.

Asked about his favorite piece, he said “That’s a tough question, para
bagang tinanong mo ang isang Ama o Ina sa mga anak niya kung sino ang paborito niya, syempre sasabihin niya, lahat mahal ko yan. Walang favoritism, but really, I can’t say which one is my best.”

One of the groups which gave life to his pieces was the Mirabilia Dei Children's

He said he has witnessed the choir members grow up together singing his songs.

“God allowed this to happen, this is a blessing from God. The fact that these young kids were interested in music, wow, that inspires me,” he said.

Among Greg said he hopes his songs would continue to find their way into many people.

"It's not just for the church, I think music is important in life. People sing
because they're sad, they sing because they are happy, all human emotions can be expressed through music. As it has been said, when we sing, we pray twice,” he said.—LDF, GMA Integrated News