“The Greatest Showman” has occupied a lot of space on our feed the past several weeks. Such a beautiful film that has entertained and inspired us, especially those of us who work in music. So when a friend gets booked to be part of the ensemble that will sing and dance with Keala Settle to present “This Is Me” as nominee for Best Original Song at the 90th Annual Academy Awards, it’s news you just need to share with everyone.
I’m as excited for Lito Villareal at this moment as I was many years ago when a couple of truly remarkable events led to his decision to move to the US:
For those who don’t know who Lito is: he’s a big guy with a beautiful tenor voice. I met him through the late Greg Caro, an active jingle producer for whom we both recorded in the late 90’s. Around that time, Lito was doing music for such Philippine musicales as “The Little Mermaid” and “The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe” where he also performed as Aslan, the lion king of Narnia. He also performed in the Philippine production of “Les Miserables” and “Joseph The Dreamer.”
I cannot help but think how perfect Lito was for the ensemble. “This Is Me” is an artist's anthem, a song about finding what makes you different and celebrating it. It could very well have been inspired by Lito himself. He was born with a deaf right ear, which caused him a lot of physical pain in his early childhood. Doctors and specialists told his parents his condition had no cure. But one day when he was about 11, a missionary couple visited him and prayed a simple prayer for Lito to be healed. After years of deafness, pain and suffering, Lito was healed completely. This molded him into a person with rock-solid faith in God, which would be reflected in his work as an artist.
With hardly anything more than people’s encouragement and his own faith that moving to the US was what God wanted for him, he did so in the early 2000’s to build a career from scratch. He worked for a talent agency first, and then some other media company after that. Both were full-time jobs, which made it quite difficult to squeeze in time for auditions as a singer and actor.
Well, it seems God has always had big plans for Lito. Last July, circumstances led to Lito’s decision to go free-lance. Now on a flexible schedule, he found himself in the audience of The Price Is Right. Not only did he get picked to play, but he actually ended up winning the Grand Prize at the end of the show! Watch Lito's segments of that episode here:
And then some time last week, he got an email from a theater company looking for actors who could sing. He sent in a video, proceeded to audition, got called back and was eventually told that he would be one of 26 people singing and dancing with Keala Settle on Oscars Night. He was fitted for a Calvin Klein suit, scheduled for rehearsals, and even got picked along with 3 other people to record the song with the original singers who sang in the film, some of them flown in from New York. What a surreal experience!
Had he not decided to go free-lance last July, neither The Price Is Right nor the Oscars would have happened to Lito. We can’t help but marvel at God’s perfect timing, and how He reveals Himself to us in such wonderful ways.
Here’s hoping and praying more opportunities and great experiences come your way, Lito! You make us proud! We’ll always be rooting for you.
I celebrate my 25th year in the business this year, and this is my "passion project" to mark this milestone in my life. Please give it a listen. (Click HERE to access via Spotify, or just search this album if you are a Spotify listener.) Or even better, click HERE to download the album on iTunes.
And for an enhanced listening experience, allow me to share with you tidbits and stories behind each of these songs (below). Enjoy!
1. REALLY OVER YOU
Arranger: Jay Durias
Guitars: Noel Mendez
Background vocals: Zion Aquino
Zion has always liked soul as a genre, and he has always been described to have this “soulful” voice, so I felt this was the best way to open the album. This song has been previously recorded, but I added a new bridge and intro, and had him sing several tracks to highlight his voice.
Sexy, groovy arrangement is by no less than South Border’s Jay Durias, who has been a friend of ours for years, and I’m so glad we got him to arrange this track. It took him a while – we waited for about 3 months! – but the wait was SO worth it!
2. EVER MY ONLY LOVE
Arranger: Arnold Buena
Our first independent single. We had no plans for a full album at the time we released this. Purely experimental. We just wanted to put his voice out there and see what would happen. The single climbed to #6 on Home Radio, played against mostly foreign songs.
I believe a big part of this song’s appeal is its being a relatable positive love song. It makes for a great wedding song and has in fact, already been used by some for their wedding videos.
3. GIVE YOU MY HEART AND SOUL
Arranger: Noel Mendez
All guitars and blues harp: Noel Mendez
Background vocals: Allan Feliciano, Noel Mendez, Jhett Baroma, Eugene Cailao, Brenan Espartinez, Jay Marquez, Oliver Conda, Zion Aquino
Second single we released, another positive love song (which from my experience has always had greater potential for income and placement), but this time with a more stripped-down arrangement so that Zion’s voice is focused on. Also wanted something with a more acoustic and livelier feel to it, as opposed to just another slow ballad. Noel Mendez, arguably one of the best guitarists in the country and who has been playing for my recordings for the past couple of decades, also plays blues harp. Had him do it on this arrangement of his to give the track a touch of soul.
4. FOR LOVE (WHAT PEOPLE WOULD DO)
Arranger: Arnold Buena
Background vocals: Trina Belamide, Eugene Cailao
This song started it all for us. I asked Zion to record it for submission as my Philpop entry in 2015. We didn’t make it to the Top 12 (apparently we were #13). Zion and I had become so attached to this recording that we decided against re-entering the song the following year and including it in this album instead. The song is about the extreme lengths people go to for the sake of love, any kind of love. It’s becoming a favorite among friends of ours who have listened to all the album tracks.
Arranger: Arnold Buena
Strings: Dino Decena, DJ Salonga, Claudia Berenguer, Gerry Graham Gonzales
I had always liked the dark string lines in Britney Spears’ “Toxic” and thought I’d incorporate something like that into an uptempo track, so I came up with this 8-bar intro and had it reoccur after the bridge. I’ve also really liked songs with this kind of a groove that had a heavy, steady, pulsating kick. This is Zion’s 3rd single from this album.
6. BRAVE FOR YOU
Arranger: Arnold Buena
Strings: Dino Decena, DJ Salonga, Claudia Berenguer, Gerry Graham Gonzales
A totally “hugot” song from personal experience. I literally wept while writing this. I wanted no less than something that would come across as authentic, so I did what I had to do and revisited thoughts and emotions from a past relationship. Emotionally challenging, but absolutely worth it. This track brings out Zion’s vulnerability and best demonstrates what he can do with his voice. It’s one of our favorite cuts for that reason. Plus who doesn’t love real strings on a piano-and-strings arrangement?
Arranger: Arnold Buena
Background vocals: Dada Supnet, Niner De Pano, Trina Belamide, Jonel Mojica, Jay Marquez, Oliver Conda
An somewhat anthemic and driving “we can do this” song. Zion has been through so much in life, and he was my inspiration in writing this. It’s also my rah-rah song for him and me as a team, as we continue to face the challenge of putting our sound out there and growing his audience.
8. ONLY I
Arranger: Arnold Buena
Drums: Michael Alba
I wanted to include a song that would sound like an old standard to show how versatile Zion is. This was originally recorded by Gary V – his version had a pop/RNB flavor. I edited and updated some of the lyrics (this was written almost 20 years ago and there were lines I was no longer happy with), and had Michael Alba play live drums as this was the only way to get that real brush sound I wanted.
9. EVERYTHING ABOUT THIS (featuring KidWolf)
Background vocals: Trina Belamide
I have lately been enjoying listening to some EDM tracks and feeling quite envious of their creators, so I collaborated with renowned EDM artist KidWolf on this track. After hearing his initial instrumental output, I was inspired to do some pad vocals to play up his melodic passages. He took my vocal tracks and did an amazing job with it on this track. It has become one of my favorite cuts in the album. I think it’s also an effective tool to get Zion’s voice heard by a broader audience, as this will get played in clubs. Some of our DJ friends have already started playing it.
10. SO GRATEFUL
Arranger: Arnold Buena
Background vocals: Gail Blanco, Elke Ortiz, Suy Galvez, Suey Medina, Yosha Honasan, Arla Concepcion, Trina Belamide, Eugene Cailao, Jay Marquez, Oliver Conda, Brenan Espartinez, Zion Aquino
A gospel waltz song. I was fortunate to bank on several individually-great-sounding powerful singers to lend their voices for this recording – each of them strong soloists in their own right - to give this recording a black gospel feel. This track took the longest time for Zion to record because of the range and stylizing required. Challenging for sure, but we’re happy with the outcome. I wanted a song written from his perspective, too, after everything he has gone through in life. He cried when he first heard the demo I forwarded to him, said it sounded like he had written it myself.
Most of the arrangements were done by Arnold Buena, my arranger of more than 20 years. He has become one of the best in the biz and I’m so glad he was as passionate about this project as I was.
No less than Angee Rozul mixed all the tracks (except for Kidwolf’s), and this is the first time I’ve had tracks mastered in the US. Jett Galindo, a former choirmate, was summa cum laude at Berklee and now works for The Bakery in Los Angeles, CA. She has mastered many foreign works and I’m so proud to have had her on board with this project.
I am grateful for all the help I got from my friends. Studio owners Allan Feliciano, Brian Cua and Paulo Zarate allowed me to record for little to no studio charge. Same thing with my arrangers and singers. I would have had to spend double or triple what I did if not for having been able to bank on social capital I have been able to build up in 25 years.
This is the best album I've produced so far. Very proud of this and I thank all of you who have taken the time to listen to it, allowing me to share a big part of me with you.
Gloc-9 is a friend of mine. ‘Di kami close, but I quite adore the guy. I love his work (and he knows I do!) and he’s such a nice, mild-mannered guy who has an amazing humble beginnings backstory that will inspire any artist who hears it. I feel so bad for him that he has been attacked for performing at Binay rallies. Napaka-sakit to lose fans and to be accused of being mukhang pera. I read his statement and I feel like giving him a comforting hug. I respect his choice to do what he did, and he will always have my friendship.
I’d like to share my thoughts though on the “trabaho lang walang personalan” view, particularly in light of the elections.
It’s true that a person can give his vote to one candidate and render services to another as work or for money. A printing company will print tarps for a candidate they don’t support. This guy who supports Duterte was hired to draw Mar’s comic campaign material. A friend of mine sang a radio jingle for a candidate he’s not necessarily voting for. Its all about just money and work. Nothing wrong with these. Naiintindihan natin ito.
With artists who perform at rallies, though, it’s not quite as simple as that kasi ang mga artists, dala nila ang pangalan at buong pagkatao nila on stage. An artist is a brand. It takes years to build an artist’s image, and authenticity is key in any artist’s success. Fans take to an artist because they relate to the artist himself as a whole: his life, his relationships, everything he does, even what he wears, what he eats, his beliefs... everything.
That “brand” is what candidates pay for when they get artists to perform at rallies, or to even just be present at the event. It’s not just the skill of performing a few songs to entertain people. Kung skill lang, maraming performers na magagaling na hindi sikat. They are no different from the company that printed tarps, the guy who drew the comic strip, the anonymous jingle singer. These are not seen as endorsements, just skilled work that is paid for. And therefore the “trabaho lang walang personalan” phrase applies in these cases.
But we artists need to realize that we have gone beyond skilled work. May value na yung pangalan natin, whatever it is we choose to do. And because we are artists, mahirap mag-invoke ng “trabaho lang walang personalan” because guess what: our work as artists IS personal. That’s precisely why people believe us. That credibility is what these candidates are after, because they want to win people over to their side. And they are willing to pay us good money for the use of our names.
When we appear at political rallies, people will see it as an endorsement. That cannot be helped. Of course, we can always deny it and just say oh, this is not an endorsement, I just did it for the money. I'm actually supporting another candidate. Which only makes things awkward, not just for the candidates who hired us and may question our work ethic, but for our image as artists as well, when our authenticity may now take a hit.
It's all up to us how we choose to use our names. An artist’s name is a brand. And all brands are careful about public perception. We need to be more conscious about this.
I think that the backlash against Gloc-9 comes from a place of disappointment for fans who actually love him and have become so invested in his brand. That brand means something to them kasi. I just wish wala na lang yung backlash kasi masakit, and I hurt for Aris kasi kaibigan ko siya. I hope he weathers this storm, and that people understand him.
But I think there is a lesson to be learned in all this. If there is any bright side to this whole thing, it is a reminder of the power that any artist wields. At sana, tayong mga artists ang unang maka-recognize nito, at magamit natin to our own benefit in the future.
Anyone who has been following me on Facebook would know about a new song I’ve put out called “Ever My Only Love” performed by Zion Aquino.
Zion and I were at the Elements Songwriting Camp in November 2014. It was my 3rd time to be one of the camp’s mentors. Zion was one of 60 lucky campers who got to join that year. During that farewell lunch before we all headed back to Manila, he approached me and asked to have his photo taken with me, telling me we had met a few years ago through my good friend Chad Arrieta. “Oh, that’s right!” I said, and he quickly snapped this selfie. Neither of us knew this moment would be a turning point for both of us.
Not long after camp, Philpop 2015 was launched and I thought about joining the songwriting contest again. I had a song in my “baul” which I thought needed a strong vocal on it to get noticed. I could not think of anyone else with a more remarkable voice than Zion. I asked him to sing my entry, and he was so excited to do it. I loved that he loved the song so much. And I loved hearing his voice on it. We were both proud of our recording.
We bonded over our anxiety over whether the song would make the Top 12 or not. We fantasized about Finals Night. He said it would break his heart to not be this song’s singer, but that he understood that the final decision rested with the organizers. I told him I was beginning to feel we wouldn’t even make the Finals. He was so sure we would, and made a bet to treat me to coffee if we didn’t. I was amused by his optimism.
Listening to our entry over and over again, I began to think about how not having him be the song’s interpreter, if indeed it made it to the Finals, would be heartbreaking for me as well. We had started to dream about it, and I wanted to see that become a reality. We had embarked on a journey, and I didn’t want it to end. My desire for the world to hear his voice slowly began to outweigh my desire to become a Philpop finalist for a second time.
When the Top 12 Finalists were revealed and my song wasn’t one of them, I realized my disappointment wasn’t so much for myself as for Zion. I so wanted to be the one to give him that break I felt he needed. So I made a decision to not have this setback end what we had started. We had one song, and we would work on more, I told him. I asked him who his manager was and he said he didn’t have one. “Ikaw na!” he said. I laughed and initially dismissed his proposal. I didn't know the first thing about managing talents. But he was serious about it, and after thinking about how no one else I knew seemed to want to see him rise to fame as much as I did, and how no one else seemed to have the time and resources to try and make it happen, I found myself reluctantly agreeing to it.
Over coffee he owed me, and over talks and online chats in the days and weeks that followed, I got to know Zion a little more: his work in advertising, his indie band, successes and failures, his bout with cancer and desire to use music to help others battling this disease. His passion for music had always been there, but past disappointments made him apprehensive, perhaps even scared, to dream again. I told him the trials were a thing of the past. This was a new beginning and his time had come. There were people who believed in him, I reminded him. He thanked me for being one of them.
I went from believing in him to trying to get others to do the same: as mentor, manager, adviser, vocal coach, vocal arranger, record producer, record company, website builder, fan page co-administrator, a willing alalay, assistant, fan and friend. Some people have told me how lucky they thought Zion was to have me. But I tell them he’s a blessing in my life, too. I feel like I suddenly grew and acquired a male voice, a good one. And I am excited to hear this voice on new songs I had not thought of writing before. I don’t remember being this driven on any other project where money was not the motivation. Together, Zion and I are learning, meeting new people, fulfilling our creative needs, and perhaps most importantly, enjoying the whole process.
"Ever My Only Love" isn't the Philpop entry we recorded. That first song we did had been sitting in my "baul" for years, and Zion breathed new life into it, and it turned out good. But I wanted his first single to be a song created especially for his voice, a positive love song people could relate to, something with a hook that could give the song broad appeal.
The release of this single, its airing on radio, creating a music video, interviews and so on... all these are just the beginning of a journey with Zion that I look forward to and I am grateful to be on. But I look back at how this all started and my thoughts bring me to that selfie taken at Jun Sy's house. Where would all this be without the Elements Songwriting Camp?
Obviously, Elements is a life-changing experience for campers: 5 days of lectures on songwriting and the music biz, networking and bonding with like-minded individuals would surely give any new artist enough inspiration to last a lifetime. But talk to the camp mentors and you’ll know why each one is eager to come back every year. I remember how Gerard Salonga said he wasn’t sure who benefited from the camp more, the campers or us mentors. I couldn’t agree with him more.
Thank you Jun Sy, Twinky Lagdameo and Maestro Ryan Cayabyab for the gift of Elements Songwriting Camp. You have 300 campers and counting, plus a whole bunch of industry practitioners who have been part of Elements for the past 5 years, who will never be able to fully express their gratitude to you for an experience that has changed and continues to change our lives.
To all songwriters age 18 to 35, do yourselves a favor and audition for this year's camp. Click HERE for details.
Last week, I had the time of my life once again at Bahura Resort in Dumaguete where the 5th Elements Songwriting Camp was held.
Anyone who has ever been a part of the Elements Songwriting Camp would surely tell you what an inspiring and life-changing experience it is each time. Each year, 60 very lucky campers selected from all over the country through online and live auditions get to spend 5 days in Dumaguete listening to talks and lectures, networking with fellow-musicians, and simply bonding and hanging out with the likes of South Border’s Jay Durias, Gloc-9, Joey Ayala, Jim Paredes, Gerard Salonga, and many more industry greats.
Jun Sy of TAO Corporation, Twinky Lagdameo and Maestro Ryan Cayabyab are the 3 people behind this project. Words are not enough to express my gratitude to these three people for giving us songwriters such a big gift. I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to mentor thrice so far, and each year has been memorable and special for different reasons.
Year 1 was special to me because of a more active role I played. During its inception, Mr.C met with me to discuss the project and I pulled in my colleagues Jungee Marcelo and Jonathan Manalo to help us audition and select the 60 lucky campers. We got to travel around the country for the live auditions and made our selection. At camp, I shared emceeing duties with Jungee, and it was a joy to see him shine as a host. His humor, quick wit and ability to provide icebreakers whenever things were getting monotonous, has made Jungee an invaluable part of the annual camp as its main emcee.
I also did a short talk on lyric-writing as sort of a “front act” for that module’s main speaker, Gary Granada, whom I was happy to introduce to a generation of young songwriters who were not quite familiar with this genius. His “Saranggola Sa Ulan” was a favorite of mine, so I used it as an example of a song with all the elements of a good lyric – and everyone was of course blown away listening to the song – right before he walked in to a crowd that gave him a standing ovation. Gary whispered to me “parang binayaran kita para gawin ito ah!” He, Joey Ayala, Noel Cabangon, and many other mentors started a tradition of jamming during the camp’s last dinner. Everything was spontaneous and organic. Nowhere else would anyone ever see Gary V dancing with Jungee and Rico Blanco! That first year was certainly magical.
I was invited back in 2012, and this time I was there as part of a panel of speakers during one of the modules. Much less work for me compared to Year 1, but I encountered a couple of problems that year: I got sick (there were a few of us that got major tummy troubles due to perhaps something we ate) and that limited my participation in the physical games. And then there were personality clashes within the team assigned to me for mentoring. One of my campers apparently had just come out of drug rehab and was a bit of a challenge to handle, even for other mentors who tried to reach out to him. It was probably the only time in the camp's history that a team actually split up into separate factions! They were, of course, ultimately told they had to work together for their group presentation, which they did manage to do in the end.
The upside of this experience was getting to know the other mentors a little better, particularly the band lead singers like Chito Miranda, Gabby Alipe and Ebe Dancel. I had not known these guys prior to camp, as I had little exposure to the band scene. Whatever preconceived notions I may have had about rock stars being indifferent disappeared when I saw how they reached out to this difficult camper and sort of rallied behind me when they heard about how our breakout sessions had gone. Such sweet and caring guys! They were what made that year’s camp special for me.
Third time’s a charm, they say, and it certainly was for me. I was back at camp last week and this time, my mentoring experience was the most enjoyable. Aside from having been able to mingle with a lot more campers this time through the various activities, the team I co-mentored with Gabby Alipe was such a joy to work with. One of the highlights of camp each year is the group presentations. Each group has to come up with a song according to the topic or genre assigned to them. This time, mentors were allowed to intervene or contribute to a group’s work.
We picked “musical theater” and the campers decided they wanted to do a musical based on something everyone could relate to, which was camp itself. It took the group 4 hours to complete the song, another hour to arrange it plus some extra time to choreograph and rehearse. The result was this number, which brought the house down and deemed best presentation for this year.
This year's group presentations were emceed by Jungee and Quest, with the special participation of Ogie Alcasid, who had us all in stitches, as you can see here.
Touching base with fellow mentors is also always one of the best things about camp for me.
Gerard Salonga joined us for the first time this year and gave an inspirational talk during the campers' graduation ceremonies at Siliman University. I thought he hit the nail on the head when he said he wasn't sure who was benefiting from the camp more, the campers or the mentors. We feel this way every year. While we are always happy to share what we've learned from our own experience, we draw so much inspiration from the campers.
When I got home, I re-read a thank you note given to me by Jerome Cleofas, a camper in my team (who was voted Mr. Congeniality). Being someone who has played my song in church, he believed it was no coincidence that he landed in my team, got to interact with me and found validation and inspiration to continue writing songs. I teared up (and it still tears me up writing about this!)... hard to explain why. I guess it's many things, one of which is just sheer gratitude that the Elements Camp gives me this kind of a gift. It really is a gift when you are able to give someone hope and inspiration. It's also a little scary, too, I guess... because you want the best for them and hope they succeed. And it has made me grateful for my own journey that has brought me to this wonderful position of having access to so many awesome new songwriters, of being part of their community as well.
Thank you, campers. Thank you, fellow-mentors. Thank you Jun Sy, Twinky Lagdameo and Ryan Cayabyab. Thank you, Elements Songwriting Camp!
Not everyone can say they’ve represented the country in an international competition and won. Fortunately for me, I had this experience last month as member of a choir. When you see your country’s flag hoisted as your national anthem plays throughout the stadium, it’s hard not to be emotional.
I joined the Ateneo Chamber Singers (ACS) in 2008. The last time the group competed and won was in 2006. When our conductor Jonathan Velasco brought up the idea of competing again, like most of us in the choir, I was a bit apprehensive about it. Aside from traveling costs, it would mean hard work, pressure and stress. When you join a contest, you’re in it to win it. What if you don’t win? In a country where it seems almost every choir that competes abroad brings some award home, there is that pressure to not return empty-handed.
In spite of my apprehensions for ACS, ultimately it was easy for me to go along with the idea. The selfish part of me started thinking only of myself, of my personal reputation. I had nothing to lose. This would have no bearing on my career. I would sing my best and if it wasn’t good enough, so what? I’d get to travel with friends and have a good time. It wasn’t going to be my name out there but the choir’s. And that of our conductor.
I felt more nervous for Jojo. He’s known to many as the President of the Philippine Choral Directors Association (PCDA). He’s an expert in the field of choral music, he gets invited to judge in the most prestigious international choral contests, gives workshops on conducting and choral music all over the world. He’s one person who could very well just rest on his laurels. Instead, he’d be putting himself in a position where his colleagues and people he’s lectured to can say, “okay, let’s see you walk your talk. Let’s see what you can make YOUR choir do.”
It’s either this reputation thing meant nothing to him, or he was that confident about our choir’s abilities. Through most of our rehearsals though, it was hard to believe the latter, because he was critical about everything – our diction, intonation, harmony and so on – as of course, he had to be.
We had a running joke in the months leading up to our tour. He told us a story of a choir that competed and everything seemed okay until the last part of the song where they messed up, and one of the judges gave them a score of 50/100. From then on, every time he didn’t like how we sounded, he’d tell us “hay naku, cinquanta, cinquanta!” And when things got really bad, he’d “give” us a score of 40. We’d all just laugh about it, but sometimes we also felt we were still so far off the mark we were aiming for.
Although he’d rarely show he was very pleased with our sound, Jojo wasn’t panicking over our progress either, so we wondered what was really going through his mind about us. Several days before our departure, we asked him how he felt. Was he nervous about the competitions? Any message for us as we prepared for the trip?
What he said came as a heartwarming surprise, and probably the best thing I’ve ever heard him say to us. He said that what he felt was excitement. He was excited to let the European audience hear us because he has been bragging to them about us for a long time, and finally we were going on this trip. He was rounding up his friends in Europe, telling them to make sure to catch our performances.
I teared up. And I’m sure I wasn’t the only one who did. It was like you have this very strict parent whose approval you so badly sought, and you find out he’s been proud of you all along. I guess it didn’t matter much to him whether we won in the competitions or not. He believed in us more than we did ourselves, and wanted to share what we could do with the rest of the world. Winning would be a bonus.
I, on the other hand, wanted for us to win. I wanted it more than I dared to admit to myself for fear of disappointment. I’m not sure how my other choir mates felt. There would be prayers during rehearsals where some of us would say, “Lord, we want to glorify You through this competition.” I’d always have a hard time meaning those words because my idea of glorifying God was through other means that didn’t involve my own selfish desire to achieve something.
But was I really being selfish if this wasn’t something I was doing for personal glory? What was I doing this for?
A bit of introspection led me to, perhaps quite disappointingly, not a very profound reason but at least I knew it wasn’t selfish either: I wanted our choir to win for Jojo to earn the recognition I thought he deserved. I wanted victory for him.
And hey, it wasn’t a bad thing to want. After all, there was a bit of glorifying God in it, too, because I know Jojo to be a spiritual person, one who gives of his time to his parish church even if it means having to wake up very early to accompany the choir in a simbanggabi mass. Someone told me he’s also very devoted to Mama Mary.
So secretly, that was my prayer. “God, I want the ACS to win for Jojo,” I said. “He believes in You, he makes time to serve You. He’s shared his talent and knowledge with us and with the rest of the world. It would make me very happy for Jojo to win.”
In Latvia, when our choir was declared Category Champion for Musica Sacra and we all ran to the stage jumping, screaming, hugging one another, I caught a glimpse of Jojo on the wide screen, and saw him crying as he was being handed our trophy and gold medal. It was like God had tapped me on the shoulder to look up, and His voice could not be any clearer. An answered prayer, without a doubt. That’s when I lost it and started crying, too.
We also won in Spain. No "ugly cry" on Jojo’s part this time. He stood among the conductors of other winning choirs, smiling as he held the biggest trophy. Standing alongside my choir mates in the audience section, I beamed with pride for him.
Our tour ended with a stop in Puig Reig, a little town in Catalonia that Jojo first visited as a member of Saringhimig Singers. He was just a teenage chorister back then. This time, he was returning as a conductor, bringing with him his own choir to meet the same people who had hosted his stay 35 years ago. He came full circle.
The competition victories were just the icing on the cake. One of our basses, Pastor Rainier, led us a number of times in prayer saying we looked forward to the ways in which God would reveal Himself to us through this tour. And He most certainly has, for the tour and all the preparations for it has fed our souls in so many ways. A month after we've come home, our hearts are still overflowing.
One of the ways we are hoping to give back is through our Thanksgiving Concert this Saturday, August 30 at the Ateneo High School Chapel. The concert is for free. We really hope a lot of people make it and share in our joy.
I'm so glad Jojo convinced us all to do this. What a ride it has been. For him and for all of us. Thank you, Sir Jojo, for taking us on this journey with you.
May 4, 1996 was a day I will never forget. It was Mr. C's 42nd birthday. It was also the Finals Night of the Metropop Song Festival and it was a much-anticipated event because this prestigious contest was back after 10 years. Mr. C was also given a special award by the Metropop Foundation that evening. A few days prior to the event, I was a panicking finalist because my singer Ima Castro could not make it back from Japan due to visa problems. It was Mr. C and Bob Serrano who came to my rescue by recommending Sweet Plantado as instant replacement. I spoke to Mr. C on the phone, he gave me Sweet's number, I auditioned her, got her to sing for Finals Night, and "Shine" won 2nd prize that night.
I was going to have a win-or-lose party at home (which fortunately turned out to be a win party) and invited Mr. C to come. He was merely an acquaintance at this point. My invitation was sincere, but I didn't think he'd actually take it because, well, he was the famous and in-demand, that-evening's-sepcial-awardee Ryan Cayabyab. And so I was over-the-moon delighted when he and Emmy came to the house to join our little celebration. Imagine, THE Mr. C celebrated his birthday at my house!!
And so Mr. C went from being an acquaintance to more of a colleague. A few years later I became President of KATHA, the Organization of Filipino Composers, which Mr. C was one of the founders of. I had organized a number of songwriting seminars for our members and one of the most exciting ones we had was when I managed to gather 3 "heavyweight" mentors for this one seminar: Jim Paredes, Joey Ayala and Mr. C. It was quite remarkable to have successfully invited such busy people to our event and what a treat it certainly was for those those who attended. I remember my friend Moy Ortiz (musical director of The CompanY) telling me, "Napag-sama-sama mo sila? Grabe - ang lakas mo kay Mr.C!" Lovely thought, but the truth was that Mr.C was always supportive of the organization and its activities so inviting him was no problem.
As head of KATHA, I got invited (along with these 3 guys) to be one of the participants of the First Philippine Forum in 2000, a gathering of leaders in various fields (the arts, the academe, government, business, media, etc.) and that gathering resulted in the forming of a group called Pagbabago@Pilipinas which I was part of. One of its projects was a CD which I produced of values-oriented songs, and I got to collaborate with both Jim and Mr. C on a song called "Magbabago Ako." Mr. C did not hesitate at all in contributing his talent and lending his name to this cause.
A few years later, KATHA died on my watch. This fact weighs heavy on my heart to this day. Only 2 things allow me to live with myself knowing this. The first is that I did everything I could to save it: I dipped into my own finances to try to keep it going when I couldn't gather enough support from the membership; I sought advice from people I looked up to like John Lesaca and Bert de Leon who knew how hard I was working and told me everything was pointless if there wasn't enough support from our members.
The second one is Mr. C. I felt like I had failed the organization's founders, and I made it a point to write Mr. C to tell him what had happened and apologize. I don't remember now if it was a private message to him, or perhaps a message to our entire membership to announce KATHA's closure. It always brings me to tears (oh boy...here they come...) remembering how Mr. C replied to my message. Instead of holding me responsible for the demise of a good thing he had started, he said "Bravo, Trina" (Dang... I'm glad I'm alone in this room... no one to see my ugly cry...haaaayyy....) - and he said I had done very well and that it was time for me to move on to other things and he thanked me for all my efforts. It felt like a pat on the back and a warm hug of consolation and appreciation that I sorely needed, and it meant everything to me.
I'd like to think that Mr.C's continued faith in me has proven to be beneficial to him somehow. In 2010, he invited me to a lunch meeting to discuss a project and I chose Chef's Quarter in Megamall. I think that was the first time I realized how much he loved to eat and how appreciative he was of good food. It was his first time there and he loved the food, and said he'd come back and bring Emmy.
He met with me to tell me about this songwriting camp he was organizing with Jun Sy of TAO Corporation and Twinky Lagdameo. He was enlisting my help in recommending other songwriters to bring in as mentors and to audition campers nationwide. Aside from suggesting and providing contact information for the likes of Gary Granada and other colleagues, I also brought in my pals Jungee Marcelo (multi-awarded gospel and pop songwriter) and Jonathan Manalo (also an award-winning songwriter, record producer and A&R for Star) for the screening of applicants.
Mr. C asked Jungee and me to emcee the Manila press conference launching the Elements Songwriting Camp. I remember my turn came to give some kind of intro about Mr. C before calling him to take the stage. As I spoke about some of his achievements, I was looking at him and he was unmoved if not almost embarrassed by all the build-up. But when I said "he's also my friend," that's when he smiled and nodded. Ever the humble Mr.C. I will never forget that moment.
If there was any "official" start to our friendship, that must have been it. Jungee, Jonathan and I screened applicants for him, sat through auditions here and traveled with him to Dumaguete and Cagayan De Oro for this purpose.
The short trip was such a blast! Mr. C, Twinky, Jungee, Jonathan and I stayed in Jun Sy's house in Dumaguete...
... and in some hotel in CDO where we had an instant pajama party at the hotel room. The boys had joined Twinky and me in our room for some late-night chit-chat and we thought Mr. C had gone to sleep. We texted him anyway to tell him where we were and a few minutes later, he was knocking on our door. So cute!!!
And then came the Songwriting Camp. Mr. C was in his element as teacher and mentor. I was amazed at his energy, enthusiasm, generosity with his time and talent and his determination to give as much as he could to our campers and to everyone present. Grabe siya. When our campers - who were all in their teens, 20s or early 30's - refused to go to sleep despite having to wake up early the next day and wanted to bond with their mentors to learn more, Mr. C was there giving them late night lessons. He truly is the heart and soul of the Elements Songwriting Camp (which is now on its 4th year).
The Elements Music Camp is his way of trying to equip new songwriters with skills. He has another advocacy aimed at expanding OPM and encouraging the creation of new Filipino songs, and that is the Philippine Popular Music Festival or PhilPop. He is the PhilPop Music Foundation's Executive Director and works tirelessly every year to bring people together for this cause.
I joined this contest when it was launched in 2012. As a result, I got to go to Davao and Baguio with him post-contest to promote it for the following year and it was a great and fun experience. Below are some pics of that two-day trip.
I remember how about a decade ago, Mr. C came very close to leaving the country for good and take his career elsewhere. He changed his mind and chose to stay. I think it was the San Miguel Foundation for the Performing Arts, which offered him a great opportunity to do something meaningful for Filipino music, that made him stay. What a blessing that decision has been for our country and for every individual whose life has has touched. And he has touched and inspired so many.
My friend Mickey Muñoz, whose idea it was to hold yesterday's tribute concert in celebration of Mr. C's 60th birthday today, had read my Part 1 blog about Mr.C and thanked me and said "nakakaiyak." At yesterday's matinee show,
Gerard Salonga spoke about Mr. C's place in his life and he, too, got all choked up doing so. And when Mr. C gave his closing spiel at the end of the concert and sang to us these words from one of his most memorable songs:
"Ang lingap mo ay hahanap-hanapin
sa entabladong minsan ay sa akin
At kung ako ay malimutan, kahit sa awit ko man lamang
Iyo sanang matandaan bago tuluyang lumisan
na minsan ang minahal ay ako"
...those of us waiting to enter the stage from the wings had to hold back our own tears (many of us in vain). That's just the effect Mr. C has on us.
Each of us has our own experiences of and with Mr. C, and however varied they may be, one thing is clear: that we have fallen in love with this man - with his music and with the person he is. He is a gem, he is our hero, and I don't know why the heck he doesn't hold the title National Artist yet but I believe he deserves it and I hope he gets the title someday very soon.
Our conductor Jonathan Velasco and Mr. C go back a long ways and I remember him saying, "Si Mr. C, isa 'yan sa mga taong palagi kong pinagdarasal." I must say that I, too, have become one of his prayer warriors. I pray for many more blessings for this great man, and that our country may continue to be blessed as well with his talent and generosity for many, many more years to come.
Mr. C, mahal na mahal ka namin at hinding-hinding mangyayari na ikaw ay aming malimutan. Maraming salamat sa lahat ng binigay at patuloy mong binibigay sa amin.
HAPPY HAPPY 60th BIRTHDAY, MR.C!!! WE LOVE YOU!!!!
P.S. "The Music of Ryan Cayabyab" - an AWESOME show -will air on ABS-CBN some time in June. Watch out for it!
If you are a music-loving Filipino and you hear the word "maestro," in all likelihood only one name enters your mind: Ryan Cayabyab. His music has moved us for decades and it comes as no surprise that the ABS-CBN Philharmonic Orchestra has chosen to pay tribute to him on his 60th birthday as part of their Spotlight Series.
"The Music of Ryan Cayabyab" has 2 shows at the CCP Main Theater tomorrow, May 3: a matinee show at 3pm and a gala show at 8pm. Some of our country's best performers like Martin Nievera, Noel Cabangon, Ogie Alcasid, Celeste Legaspi, Mitch Valdes, Piolo Pascual and many more will perform some of his most notable works. Musical direction is by no less than Gerard Salonga.
My participation in this show is as one of its choristers. A 60-piece choir made up of two groups - the Ateneo Chamber Singers and Mass Appeal - was assembled by Philippine Choral Directors Association (PCDA) President Jonathan Velasco, who is Mr.C's longtime friend, especially for this occasion. These 2 choirs sang together in "Do You Hear The People Sing" (a Yolanda fundraiser produced by Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schönberg with the help of siblings Lea and Gerard Salonga). Apparently our presence and performance didn't go unnoticed. ABS-CBN wanted "the wonderful choir" from that fundraiser to sing again for this Mr. C tribute, and so this is our second time to work with Gerard and the ABS-CBN Philharmonic Orchestra. (We now jokingly call ourselves TWC a.k.a. The Wonderful Choir. LOL!)
It has been a joy for me through the years to have sung and to continue to sing many of Mr.C's choral works. I must say my love affair with Ryan Cayabyab's music began when my dad bought a cassette tape of his "One" album. It was probably my first exposure to a capella music.
As a member of the Ateneo College Glee Club from 1986 to 1990, I got to sing the songs from this album. Limang Dipang Tao is one of them.
We also got to sing other compositions of his that perhaps only choristers really have an appreciation for: pieces like "Buligi" which I think was a competition piece at NAMCYA (National Music Competitions for Young Artists) and his "Gloria" which we sang in Europe in 1989. The piece impressed foreign audiences and had them asking for copies of it.
Perhaps most Filipinos only started getting to know Mr.C's choral and orchestral works when he became the Executive and Artistic Director of the San Miguel Foundation for the Performing Arts, which gave us the San Miguel Master Chorale and the San Miguel Philharmonic Orchestra. Although the SMMC and SMPO existed for just a few years, I think it was fortunate that they were able to record a few albums we Filipinos can most certainly be proud of.
If you've never heard a single cut from Pasko I and Pasko II, this video will give you a different appreciation of our very own Christmas songs given this kind of an arrangement by Mr.C.
Of course, everyone knows Mr. C wasn't just an arranger but a brilliant songwriter as well. One of his songs that didn't become as big a hit as say, "Paraiso" and "Kailan" by Smokey Mountain is this ballad "Iniibig Kita" originally recorded by James Coronel. According to Jonathan Velasco (who was one of the SMMC's conductors), during the first rehearsal of this song, as the tenors and basses read through the piece, all the SMMC girls were so moved that they started crying. And I do agree that this is one of his best love songs. See if this moves you, too.
Another one of his works that I've sung since college is his "Aba Po Santa Mariang Reyna" (Hail Holy Queen). This one and many others he's written are compositions meant to be performed by choirs (as opposed to existing songs given a choral arrangement). When I joined the Ateneo Chamber Singers in 2008, we sang this on our US Tour. Here's one of our performances of this beautiful piece, which we'll also be singing in July when we compete in Europe.
The Ateneo Chamber Singers has also sung Mr.C's works at the Three Festival (a biennial concert performed with Japan's Gaia Philharmonic Choir and Singapore's SYC Ensemble Singers). "Anima Christi," which we performed in Tokyo in 2009, is another one of my favorites.
As a member of Mass Appeal (a choir based in La Salle Greenhills which sings there every fourth Sunday of the month), I get to sing songs from Mr.C's Mass For Peace, which has always been part of our repertoire.
And so it all comes full circle for me as far as the music of Ryan Cayabyab goes to be part of this tribute as a member of this show's chorus. I've been singing his songs since I started out as a chorister in college and and I continue to do so to this very day. To sing with the 2 choirs I am currently active with is the best way I can give back to a musician and friend who means so much to me on the occasion of his 60th birthday.
Don't miss this show tomorrow. Tickets are (still hopefully) available at TicketWorld 891-9999 or you can try booking online by clicking HERE.
TO BE CONTINUED
If you haven't heard of Balesin Island, it's probably because it's a fairly new resort and because it's exclusively for members and their guests. I had long been envious of friends who had been there, and finally, I got a chance to fly there myself last weekend. My dad's friend was a member so we asked him if he could arrange for us to join him on his next trip.
To get to Balesin, one takes a plane from the Alphaland hangar to the island (ours was a 30-seater, I think, but some of their planes are smaller). It was a short 25-minute flight to the island, located east of Quezon Province. Upon arrival, we were welcomed with buko juice and were whisked away on golf carts to their clubhouse where we checked in.
The clubhouse has a modern tropical feel and has about 3 or 4 infinity pools to swim in close to the beach.
The 500-hectare island has 7 themed villages patterned after some famous tourist destinations around the world. So in just 3 days, it's like we were able to do some serious globe-trotting. These are just a few of the photos I took. Let me take you through each of these areas on this lovely island.
BALESIN. This area has calm waters and fine white sand. Tropical paradise. This and the clubhouse area, both located on the west side of the island, would be the best places for a dip in the ocean.
BALI. Also on the west side of the island. Enjoy cocktails and watch the sun set at the Nusa Dua bar which is flanked by 2 water villas. Such a lovely area at dusk.
PHUKET is another Asian-themed village. If I'm lucky enough to return, I think I'd like to book here and try their outdoor shower and jacuzzi! Loved the use of apple green on their furniture.
MYKONOS. One of the must-see areas. Enjoy authentic Greek cuisine and wander amidst the blue and white villas and structures that blend perfectly with the clouds and skies. You'd swear you were really in Greece!
COSTA DEL SOL gives you a taste of Spain. Since this area is located on the east side of the island facing the Pacific Ocean, the waves here are big and probably more suitable for surfing rather than swimming (I didn't see any surfers though), but they certainly make for breathtaking views. We spent our first evening here and had Spanish food for dinner, complete with a trio of musicians who serenaded us (and they were actually pretty good!).
ST. TROPEZ, also located on the east side of the island, is where we chose to spend our second night. We stayed in a 2-bedroom suite that had both a garden patio and a spacious beach patio leading to the swimming pool. I loved all the colors and attention to detail in every room, hallway and restaurant, which included a creperie. So pretty!
TOSCANA brought me memories of Loreto and other places I had been to in Italy. Its entrance was imposing at night. We enjoyed a brick oven-baked pizza for dinner here.
Another must-see area is the all-white Balesin Spa which has 2 rooms for couples massage and several other rooms for individual massage. One also has the option for having a massage by the beach.
If, like me, you cannot afford to be a Balesin Island Club member but may have friends who are, find a way to get them to get you to visit this place. Even if you have to pay for your own villa and food, I'd say it would be money well spent. In our case, total cost per person for a 3D/2N stay came down to approximately P20-25K, all in (flight, accommodations, food). This is something you'd end up spending in other high end resorts and hotels around the country, especially if it's somewhere you need to fly to. (I've actually spent more than that on a luxury resort whose food was nothing great and whose service left much to be desired). But this is the only place that offers all these sights - 7 themed villages and more - that make you feel you went on an instant world tour!
Good food, excellent service, lots of activity options (they have a fully equipped sports center/gym and you can even go biking and horseback-riding), and lots of privacy (the island had about 500 guests last weekend and we couldn't feel it at all because of the distance between villages).
And since it's only a half hour trip from Manila, you don't feel tired when you return and feeling like you need another vacation from your vacation. It's the perfect place to relax, unwind, recharge.
I know, I know... I wanna return, too. =)
Tomorrow, one of the country's best male singers (and I daresay an absolute favorite of mine to work with) will celebrate his 10th year in the business with a concert at the PICC Plenary Hall.
I met Jed about a decade ago when he was still doing "puwesto" with a band and even then I was already blown away by his talent. As far back as those days, my dream was to write a song for him.
Last year, I begged him to sing this song I wrote called "Home To You" if it made the finals to PhilPop. It was one of two entries I submitted. Jed said he had had it with contests, too much pressure. My other song "Bigtime" became a finalist but "Home To You" did not, and perhaps it was a blessing in disguise because if it had made it, another singer would have had to sing it. Since it didn't, I gave it to Jed for his All Original album.
This is a song I had poured my heart and soul into, a song I spent a lot of time writing because I didn't want to settle for anything less than one whose lyrics made use of internal rhyming and still made sense. I wanted something with a moving melody, something that would soar and highlight Jed's fantastic vocal range, something that would hopefully give people goosebumps.
I got to produce the song myself and had the pleasure of working with Jed. He was better than I imagined. I can't say enough about what a skillful singer he is. The result is this recording, which I am proud of.
Jed has since performed this song live in the US when he was honored last July at the World Championships of Performing Arts (WCOPA) in Hollywood, CA. I wish I had been there!
Congratulations on your 10th year, Jed and more power!
My name is Trina Belamide and I'm a songwriter and record producer.
GreatSongsToSing is my online store and I thank you for dropping by! Do comment on my blog posts. I'd love to hear from you!
Learn more about me on www.trinabelamide.com.