Rufino Soliano



Rufino Soliano (b. 10 January 1932, Singapore–22 April 2017, Singapore) was an accomplished musician, composer and conductor. He was the former head of the now-defunct Singapore Broadcasting Corporation Orchestra.1 Soliano had been active in the local music scene as a violinist, drummer and percussionist from a young age, and later delved into music arrangement, composing and conducting. In 2013, at the age of 81, Soliano released his debut album of 12 original songs.2

Early life and musical training
Soliano was born in Singapore to a Eurasian mother, Esmeralda Varella,3 and a Filipino father, Concordio Alibong (Con) Soliano, who was born in Medan, Indonesia.4 Soliano’s paternal grandfather had moved his family from the Philippines to Singapore, where he worked as a pianist providing musical accompaniment for silent movies.5
Soliano is the eldest of nine children in a musical family: His father was a musician who played in clubs and cabarets, and three of his siblings later became professional musicians. His mother passed away when he was 13 years old.6 His uncle, Gerry Soliano, was a well-known bandleader and musician, and secretary of the Singapore Musicians’ Union.7

Concordio Soliano was a versatile musician who arranged music and played the piano, trumpet and accordion. He began teaching his son to read music and play the violin when Soliano was around eight years old. Soliano remembered his father being strict and insisting that he and his brother practise their instruments for four to six hours every day. Subsequently, Soliano took lessons from renowned violin teacher and orchestra conductor Goh Soon Tioe.8

Early performances and gigs
As a result of his diligent and frequent practice, Soliano picked up music quickly. When he was still in his early teens, his father sent him to work in a bangsawan (Malay opera) band at New World Park. The work experience exposed Soliano to Malay music, and he honed his musical skills from listening and improvisation. Later, his father made him work in a band playing at a Chinese restaurant in order to expose him to Chinese music.9 These stints increased his understanding and appreciation of various musical styles and instruments.10

When Soliano was 15, he formed his first band, The Marvel Boys, with his friends.11 The band was heralded in The Straits Times newspaper as the youngest jazz band in Malaya, as its members were all under the age of 17.12 The band performed in various clubs and cabarets. Soliano remembered that they were not so much concerned about payment for their gigs but for the chance to perform in public.13

Performing in dance clubs
Soliano’s first permanent job was in the Singapore Swimming Club band then led by Heinz Alexander. In order to get the job, Soliano had to play the drums as that was the only vacant slot in the band. He taught himself to play the instrument and practised on his brother’s drum set. However, Soliano stayed at the job for only about six months as he found it hard to work with the other European musicians.14

From 1950 to 1956, Soliano worked with his father and Uncle Gerry at the Raffles Hotel in an eight-piece band known as Gerry Soliano and the Boys.15 With many foreign “floor show” acts performing at the Raffles, Soliano improved his drumming techniques by learning from them, and in the process developed a love for the Latin music that the foreign acts mainly played.16 “I found out that Latin has good rhythm and it makes you want to move”, he said.17

When Gerry retired, Soliano joined a six-piece band led by his cousin, Jose Daroya. The band performed at Cathay Restaurant with Soliano playing Latin percussion, thereby cementing his passion for Latin rhythms.18

Radio and Television Singapura Orchestra
In 1960, Soliano joined Radio Singapura’s orchestra as a percussionist.19 The orchestra played at state functions and for radio programmes. Their multilingual repertoire included Western classical and popular dance music as well as Chinese, Hindustani and Malay music.20 The orchestra was subsequently renamed Radio and Television Singapore Orchestra when Singapore gained independence in 1965, following which Radio Singapura merged with Television Singapura to form Radio and Television Singapore (RTS).21

During his time with the orchestra, Soliano performed with musical greats such as P. Ramlee, Anita Sarawak and Kartina Dahari. He also started arranging and composing music. One of his compositions, “Esmeralda”, was sung by the late Ahmad Daud and later by Kartina Dahari. In 1971, Soliano was appointed deputy leader of the orchestra.22

Although Soliano held a full-time job with the RTS Orchestra, he remained active in the wider music scene. In 1967, he formed a group known as the Latin 6 Combo that played big-band music with a Latin beat. Comprising mainly Singaporean-Filipino musicians from the nightclub scene, the group had their own 15-minute radio programme that was later extended to a 30-minute show.23

Soliano was also a member of the Musicians’ Union and played in bands to support acts by overseas singers such as Shirley Bassey and Sammy Davis Jr. He was also in a band organised by Charles Lazaroo, providing backing music for several editions of the television singing competition,Talentime.24

Singapore Broadcasting Corporation Orchestra
In 1980, RTS was corporatised and became the Singapore Broadcasting Corporation (SBC),25 and the orchestra was thus renamed the Singapore Broadcasting Corporation Orchestra. Ahmad Ja’afar was then the leader of the orchestra and Soliano the deputy leader. As deputy, Rufino was involved in music arrangement and led the orchestra when the leader was away. When Ja’afar retired in 1982, Soliano succeeded him as orchestra leader.26

The SBC Orchestra was larger than its predecessors. The 1980/81 SBC annual report stated that the orchestra was “enlarged from 9 to 34 members to enable it to better meet the demands of the station’s increased musical productions”.27 As leader, Soliano added a string section to create “a new sound”, one worthy of a “concert orchestra”.28 He also insisted that the orchestra followed music scores exactly as they were written, improvising only in planned solo sections. Although musicians had to be disciplined, Soliano also valued improvisation, especially in cases when singers started on the wrong key and the orchestra had to quickly react and adapt.29

During Soliano’s time with the SBC, the orchestra also played outdoor concerts for the public30 and participated in musical events such as the annual jazz festival.31 Additionally, the orchestra performed in regional musical events like the annual cultural exchange performances with the Radio Television Malaysia Orchestra.32 For his service with the SBC, during the 1988 national day, Soliano was awarded the Efficiency Medal, and picked up the Long Service Award in 1992.33 He retired from the orchestra in 1995.34

Arranging and composing music
Soliano composed and arranged music throughout his musical career. One of his early successes was a winning composition for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) theme music competition in 1971. A joint effort with fellow RTS Orchestra musician Valentine Ortega, the piece was inspired by the letters in the acronym “ASEAN” as well as the rhythmic heritage of ASEAN member nations.35

Other notable Soliano compositions include a march for the National Trades Union Congress as well as the opening theme, “Let’s Celebrate”, for the inaugural Asian Broadcasting Union song contest.36 In 1998, Soliano was one of three winners of the Artistic Excellence Award presented by the Composers and Authors Society of Singapore in recognition of his contributions to local music.37

Retirement
After his retirement from the SBC Orchestra in 1995, Soliano continued to play at clubs, but stopped after a year due to poor health. After a stroke in 2010, he fell into depression. In an effort to help him, his daughter Kathleen suggested he start composing music again. “The doctor told me that he did not have any medication for me for the depression. But when I started writing, I forgot about everything else and I got cured. I finished composing and rearranging all the songs in a week,” said Soliano.38

In June 2013, Soliano launched his debut album, Endlessly, which comprises 12 compositions inspired by Latin music. The songs are all named after his family members.39 In December 2014, Soliano’s daughters organised a tribute concert for him, featuring artistes and musicians who had worked with Soliano, as well as members of his extended family. Soliano arranged the music for the concert, which was held at the Drama Centre at the National Library Building.40

Death
Soliano passed away on 22 April 2017 from heart failure. He was aged 85.41



Author
Stephanie Ho




References
1. Hands: Gift of a generation. (2014). Singapore: National Library Board, p. 82. (Call no.: RSING 959.57002 HAN-[HIS])
2. Eddino Abdul Hadi. (2014, December 8). Local media’s music man. The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
3. Eddino Abdul Hadi. (2014, December 8). Local media’s music man. The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
4. Teo, K. G. (Interviewer). (2012, July 1). Oral history interview with Rufino Soliano [MP3 recording no. 003704/06/01]. Retrieved from National Archives of Singapore website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/
5. Abisheganaden, P. (2005). Notes across the years: Anecdotes from a musical life. Singapore: Unipress, p. 5. (Call no.: RSING 784.2092 ABI)
6. Soliano, R. (2013). Endlessly. Singapore: Universal Music Singapore, p. 6. (Not available in NLB holdings); Teo, K. G. (Interviewer). (2012, July 1). Oral history interview with Rufino Soliano [MP3 recording no. 003704/06/01]. Retrieved from National Archives of Singapore website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/
7. Soliano, the new secretary. (1951, August 1). The Singapore Free Press, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
8. Teo, K. G. (Interviewer). (2012, July 1). Oral history interview with Rufino Soliano [MP3 recording no. 003704/06/01]. Retrieved from National Archives of Singapore website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/
9. Teo, K. G. (Interviewer). (2012, July 1). Oral history interview with Rufino Soliano [MP3 recording no. 003704/06/01]. Retrieved from National Archives of Singapore website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/

10. Soliano, R. (2013). Endlessly. Singapore: Universal Music Singapore, p. 8. (Not available in NLB holdings)
11. Phua, A. (2013, September 2). Rufino Soliano: Life is nothing but music. Retrieved from irememberSG website: http://www.iremember.sg/index.php/2013/09/02/rufino-life-is-nothing-but-music/
12. Youngest jazz band. (1948, August 8). The Straits Times, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
13. Soliano, R. (2012, September 29). Oral history interview with Rufino Soliano [MP3 recording no. 003704/06/02]. Retrieved from National Archives of Singapore website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/
14. Teo, K. G. (Interviewer). (2012, September 29). Oral history interview with Rufino Soliano [MP3 recording no. 003704/06/02]. Retrieved from National Archives of Singapore website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/; Soliano, R. (2013). Endlessly. Singapore: Universal Music Singapore, p. 9. (Not available in  NLB holdings)
15. Soliano, R. (2013). Endlessly. Singapore: Universal Music Singapore, p. 9. (Not available in NLB holdings)
16. Hands: Gift of a generation. (2014). Singapore: National Library Board, p. 82. (Call no.: RSING 959.57002 HAN-[HIS])
17. Phua, A. (2013, September 2). Rufino Soliano: Life is nothing but music. Retrieved from irememberSG website: http://www.iremember.sg/index.php/2013/09/02/rufino-life-is-nothing-but-music/
18. Soliano, R. (2013). Endlessly. Singapore: Universal Music Singapore, p. 11. (Not available in NLB holdings)
19. Eddino Abdul Hadi. (2013, June 5). Composer Soliano debuts album at 81. The Straits Times, p. 8. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
20. Radio Singapore: A story of progress 1945–1959. (1959). Singapore: Govt. Print. Off. (Call no.: RCLOS 791.44 SIN-[RFL])
21. Opening of the new TV centre. (1966, August 25). The Straits Times, p. 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Radio Television Singapore. (1973). Radio-Television Singapore: From many cultures one voice: Television Singapore tenth anniversary, 1963–1973. Singapore: Ministry of Culture, Broadcasting Division, pp. 2, 4. (Call no.: RCLOS 791.44 SIN)
22. Soliano, R. (2013). Endlessly. Singapore: Universal Music Singapore, pp. 12–15. (Not available in NLB holdings)
23. Teo, K. G. (Interviewer). (2012, September 29). Oral history interview with Rufino Soliano [MP3 recording no. 003704/06/03]. Retrieved from National Archives of Singapore website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/
24. Teo, K. G. (Interviewer). (2012, October 20). Oral history interview with Rufino Soliano [MP3 recording no. 003704/06/04]; Teo, K. G. (Interviewer). (2012, October 22). Oral history interview with Rufino Soliano [MP3 recording no. 003704/06/05]. Retrieved from National Archives of Singapore website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/
25. SBC directors. (1980, January 20). The Straits Times, p. 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Loong, M. L., et al. (Eds.). (1988). On television in Singapore. Singapore: Singapore Broadcasting Corporation, p. 34. (Call no.: RSING 384.554095957 ON)
26. Teo, K. G. (Interviewer). (2012, October 22). Oral history interview with Rufino Soliano [MP3 recording no. 003704/06/05]. Retrieved from National Archives of Singapore website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/; Who do we miss most? (1988, September 1). The New Paper, p. 15. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
27. Singapore Broadcasting Corporation. (1981). Annual report 1980/81. Singapore: Author, p. 16. (Call no.: RCLOS 384.540625957 SBCAR-[AR])
28. Teo, K. G. (Interviewer). (2012, September 29). Oral history interview with Rufino Soliano [MP3 recording no. 003704/06/03]. Retrieved from National Archives of Singapore website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/
29. Teo, K. G. (Interviewer). (2012, September 29). Oral history interview with Rufino Soliano [MP3 recording no. 003704/06/03]; Teo, K. G. (Interviewer). (2012, October 20). Oral history interview with Rufino Soliano [MP3 recording no. 003704/06/04]. Retrieved from National Archives of Singapore website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/

30. Lam, J. (1988, June 27). SBC orchestra to provide alternative to SSO. The Straits Times, p. 30. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
31. Cheah, P. (1983, August 18). September jazz. Singapore Monitor, p. 19. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
32. Tan, B. (1984, March 24). Dondang sayang updated. The Straits Times, p. 9; Orchestras cement cultural links. (1986, July 6). The Straits Times, p. 12. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
33. National day honours: Efficiency Medal recipients. (1988, August 10). The Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/; Veteran librarian with tales aplenty. (1992, December 4). The Straits Times, p. 30. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
34.  Eddino Abdul Hadi. (2014, December 8). Local media’s music man. The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
35. Teo, K. G. (Interviewer). (2012, October 20). Oral history interview with Rufino Soliano [MP3 recording no. 003704/06/04]. Retrieved from National Archives of Singapore website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/; Chew, L. C. (1971, September 16). Mystery winners of ASEAN music contest. The Straits Times, p. 10. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
36. Man with music in his blood. (1972, September 2). New Nation, p. 7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Teo, K. G. (Interviewer). (2012, October 20). Oral history interview with Rufino Soliano [MP3 recording no. 003704/06/04]; Teo, K. G. (Interviewer). (2012, October 22). Oral history interview with Rufino Soliano [MP3 recording no. 003704/06/05]. Retrieved from National Archives of Singapore website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/
37. Composers and Authors Society of Singapore. (n.d.). 4th COMPASS awards presentation. Retrieved from COMPASS website: http://www.compass.org.sg/cIndex56.aspx
38. Eddino Abdul Hadi. (2013, June 5). Composer Soliano debuts album at 81. The Straits Times, p. 8. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
39. Phua, A. (2013, September 2). Rufino Soliano: Life is nothing but music. Retrieved from irememberSG website: http://www.iremember.sg/index.php/2013/09/02/rufino-life-is-nothing-but-music/
40. Eddino Abdul Hadi. (2014, December 8). Local media’s music man. The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
41. Eddino Abdul Hadi. (2017, April 24). Music veteran Rufino Soliano dies at age 85. The Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/



The information in this article is valid as at 24 April 2017 and correct as far as we can ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.

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