Ryan Cayabyab and singers bring 100 years of Philippine Music to Los AngelesBy Cecile C. Ochoa
Northridge, CA – The capacity-filled concert hall of Plaza Del Sol Performing Arts at Cal State University in Northridge (CSUN) welcomed the popular Filipino musician and composer Ryan Cayabyab and his singers ( RCS) to several standing ovations Sunday October 23. With no fanfare or stage pomp Mr. C, as he is known in Manila, took to the piano and the mic annotating the night’s two-hour repertoire like a master painter lining his canvass.
The concert was divided into two segments where Part I included medleys of Cayabyab’s originals dating back to the 70s to the millennium. These songs include Gloria, Lamb of God from St. Michael’s, Tsismis, Da Coconut nut, Kahit Ikay Panaginip lang, Can This be Love?, Kailan, Sometime Somehere, Paano na Kaya?
Part II were renditions of the best of 100 years of Filipino music starting with the father of Kundiman Francisco Santiago’s “Madaling Araw composed in 1917 to tributes to Manila’s own “Tin Pan Alley” ( Raon street) heartthrobs Eddie Pergrina, Edgar Mortiz, Victor Wood, Florante (“There’ll be no Sunshine in my Life/Rain”; “Mr. Lonely”; “My Pledge of Love;” “ Anak”); Metro pop medleys highlighted by “Kay Ganda ng Ating Musika;” OPMs (Original Pilipino Music) popularized by Basil Valdez, Regine Velasquez and others.The concert did not disappoint. In response to the numerous calls for encore at the culmination of the show, Ryan presented a major musical scene from Cuyugan-Asencio’s Filipino opera “Spoliarium” whose music he composed and was presented last year in Tribeca Performing Arts Center in New York. It was fortuitous that the seven-member RC Singers were part of the original cast of “Spolarium” captivating the audience with a repeat of their genius during the show.
“Spoliarium”, is an opera about the life and times of the celebrated painter and hero Juan Luna, centering on his turbulent life, love and career while he lived in Paris. The opera takes from its eponymous painting that won the Gold Prize at the 1884 Exposicion National de Bellas Artes in Madrid.
The RC singers are Celine Fabie,Sheerleen DelaCruz, Kaye Tiuseco, Anthony Castillo, VJ Caber, Poppert Bernadias and Erwin Lacsa who are graduates of the University of the Philippines and the University of Santo Tomas in Metro manila, according to Annie Nepomuceno, the show’s producer and an accomplished singer herself.
Ryan said he auditioned some 180 talents before coming to the final seven who continued to interpret and render justice to his compositions and arrangements. The singers are accomplished performers with their own style but how they come together complementing each voice make for an enriched performance, he introduced his team with pride.
“I’s truly an inspiring show, full of nostalgia, history and entertainment. This balance is achieved by a learned musical director, skilled enough that he is usually the lone musician/accompanist in any of his compositions or production,” said Nepomuceno who was a student of Cayabyab at the University of the Philippines ( UP).Annie and husband Ed Nepomuceno has been for the last four years been bringing to Los Angeles, musicians from the Philippines and locally who have excelled in their field and recognized internationally in the music industry including The Filharmonic, the Harana Men’s Chorus, among others. This year’s opener to RCS concert were the Los Angeles Youth Ambassadors who sang some of Cayabyab’s compositions: “Bata,” Bukas” and “Paraiso”. In an interview with this writer, Cayabyab said in the midst of numerous awards he had received, he wish to “write more symphonic works or concertos when time permits”.
He said among his memorable work are: Kay Ganda ng Ating Musika- “It was a landmark composition since it won for me the 1st Metro pop Song Festival. Tuwing Umuulan at Kapiling Ka “because this song that I wrote for Basil Valdez became a hit song, with the Eraser head’s and Regine Velasquez’s version also becoming popular;” and Kailan, a song that he wrote for Smokey Mountain (a popular band that he formed in the 80s) was number one on national airwaves for eight straight weeks and the album hit gold, platinum, and double-platinum status within months of its release.
At 62, Ryan Cayabyab has received all awards in different genre in music excelling as a composer of the modern, popular, eclectic, hymnals, masses, among others. He graduated from the University of the Philippines College of Music with a bachelor’s degree in music composition and went on to teach music theory and composition there for almost two decades.
At 38 he received in 1978 the TOYM Award (Ten Outstanding Young Men) of the Philippines and in 2001 he emerged as the only Asian winner of the Onassis International Cultural Competition in Greece with his MISA 2000.
His works range from commissioned full-length ballets, theater musicals, choral pieces, a Mass set to unaccompanied chorus, and orchestral pieces, to commercial recordings of popular music, film scores and television specials.
His “Gloria,” was a crowd favorite and was from his first mass written after his stints for the king of Morocco. The Greece competition winner was Misa 2000, his second mass, according to Nepomuceno.
He had received a Gawad CCP (Cultural Center of the Philippines) Award for Music in 2004. He was also one of the recipients of the 100 awards of the CCP Centennial Honors for the Arts; the first recipient of the 1996 Antonio Barreiro Achievement Award for the unsurpassable contribution to Filipino music. He was also a recipient of Awit Awards in 1996 which gave him the Lifetime Achievement Award for his valuable and outstanding achievements in the development of Filipino music. In 1998, he was conferred the Professional Award in music by the University of the Philippines Alumni Association.
“He is known as the ‘maestro’ here in Bulacan” commented Aida Tabulog, a business owner from that Tagalog-speaking province known for its “balagtasan;” she was following his concerts vicariously by reading postings on the social media.
Arnold Cayabyab Dacusan, a medical technologist from Northridge doesn’t know if he is related but he said he has been a fan for the last 28 years and carried with him Ryan’s autographed albums and music sheets from 1987, 1990. “His songs are well thought out and now I’m glad he’s branching to opera – you can’t get any better than that as a composer!”
Families came together from the parents, to grandparents to great grandchildren all mesmerized by the sentimental lyrics and playful, folksy ditties that is characteristic of RCS.
“ Umiikot, sumisirko, Damdami’y di mapalagay, Lumilipad ang puso ko, Sa awit na aking taglay. Siguro nga’s ganitong umibig, Umaawit na parang luku-luko. (“Ako’y hibang sa Awit”, music by Ryan Cayabyab Words by Jose Javier Reyes).
Gerald Sambulan, 29 came with his relatives to the show because “we enjoyed his songs while in the Philippines and it makes us look back to those good times at home.”
Ryan is married to the former Emmy Punsalan and they have two children Cristina Maria and Antonio Maria. The couple runs the Music School of Ryan Cayabyab, for more than two decades now.
It’s been said that Ryan’s mother who passed away when Ryan was 6 did not approve of anyone to pursue a profession in the music industry, because being an opera singer, she knew musicians don’t make enough money. But somehow in college, music came to Ryan when as a working student he met former Philippine Vice President Salvador Laurel then, an accompanist in the Development of the Philippines Chorale Ensemble. This opened doors for him to get a scholarship in music.
“My wife Emmy and I did not push our kids to be musicians but both of them eventually ended up in the music field. I guess they noticed or sensed that we lead happy lives performing, teaching and creating music in our everyday lives and they eventually pursued training and education in music, and are now professional musicians (my eldest daughter Krina) or taking a 2nd degree in conducting (Toma, our son) or masters (Krina) in Musicology,” he told this writer.
A sentimental epilogue to his concert is RCS’ mix rendition of “Bayan Ko” and “The Impossible Dream,” which he introduced with an emotional message to the audience to unite behind “our country” in these difficult times.
RCS performed in New York, San Francisco, and Los Angeles and is now in Hawaii for the conclusion of its US tour this year. (An earlier version of this story appeared in Inquirer.net, a content partner of TheFILAMLA.com).