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
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!
As part of the Madrigals' 50th year celebration, they treated Filipino choristers to an experience of a lifetime.
"2 For The Gold" was a 2-day event featuring 2 great artists: 2-time European Grand Prix winner (for non-choristers: that's like the ultimate worldwide choral competition) the Philippine Madrigal Singers, and the world famous Swingle Singers from the UK, who are also celebrating their 50th anniversary this year. Aside from the 2-day concert, there was an option to attend their Workshop and Masterclass.
A few chorister friends and I attended last Saturday's workshop. I thought it would be a typical lecture-based or lecture-heavy workshop with the Swingles doing most of the work and singing or demonstrating vocal techniques. Instead, the entire workshop required our active participation - wtih the Swingles themselves! We got to sing with them and exercise our improvisation skills. Fun!!
Two brave vocal groups nervously performed and allowed themselves to be critiqued by the Swingles, who gave very interesting and helpful tips to improve on performance.
At the end of the workshop, we got a chance to have our photos taken with them, and we each got a certificate of participation signed by each member of the Swingle Singers. What a treat!
And then I watched yesterday's concert. It felt like a choral community reunion at the CCP lobby. Some of my choirmates from both the Ateneo Chamber Singers and Mass Appeal were there. Members of the Philippine Choral Directors Association were present. Pop vocal group The CompanY was there, too. As well as choristers who came all the way from different provinces.
Part 1 of the concert was by the Madz, and they were in tip-top form. Wonderful sound, great choice of songs including a classy and fresh rendition of their famous "Italian Salad" (which could be challenging to pull off in front of an audience that has seen the song performed many times - but they did a great job).
Madz Conductor Mark Carpio closed their set with a wonderful short spiel about how the Madrigals' semi-circle was a circle completed by the audience, from which they continue to draw strength and inspiration. And how they - like the rest of us - draw inspiration from great artists, including that night's main feature. They sang "Circle of Life" to close Part 1 (which gave me goosebumps - in a good way! I loved how they were able to give the song an African flavor and sound, and I was impressed by their bass soloist (who made me think of Mufasa!). After that, the choir, instead of exiting to the wings, came down from the stage to be part of the audience - to be one of us, and one with us, in what was to be an unforgettable musical experience.
Obviously we all knew that the Swingle Singers were excellent and highly skilled performers. But even that knowledge and that already high expectation did not prepare us for what we witnessed. Every single song - and I am not exaggerating - had me shaking my head in disbelief at the level of skill and artistry this group showed. There were no fancy stage effects, no special lighting, no instruments. Just 7 people singing a capella.
My choirmate Roger Sigwa could not have put it better when he posted this status on Facebook late last night: "Still on musical high after watching an amazing and fantastic concert! This batch has 4 alternating vocal percussionists, 2 alternating basses, 2 sky-is-the-limit sopranos and impeccable sound engineer. Best music experience of CCP so far!"
I don't remember ever watching a concert before where there was not a single song that felt like a filler. Watching several concerts through the years, even those by my favorite artists, there would always be highs and lows in terms of energy from the artist or my own preference for the songs being performed. With the Swingles, EACH song had its own magic and had something new to offer us. Each song would highlight a different strength, put us in a different mood, entertain us in a different way.
They made us laugh and they made us cry. They brought the house down with their version of "Single Ladies" - oh, the memory of their 2 tenors Oliver and CJ doing Beyonce's moves! I think we're scarred for life! LOL!! What great entertainers! And their rendition of Debussy's Clair De Lune was so beautiful it brought tears to the audience's eyes. Maybe choristers are weepy, emotional people. Or maybe it was simply because we know beauty when we hear it.
Another emotional point for us was their final song. After the group said their thank you's to the Madz and making sure we all knew that their trip to the Philippines was the best tour they EVER had, they told us that their final song was arranged by one of Madz members. The moment soprano Sara sang "Ili-ili tulog anay..." the entire audience went "Awww...." I got teary-eyed because I felt it was such a thoughtful gesture on their part to sing a Filipino song, and for them to put their heart and soul into it. They sang it so well it sounded like they had been singing this song forever. I thought about the friendship ties the Swingles had most certainly built with the Madz, who had hosted them for an entire week, taken them to Subic, fed them, entertained them, sang with them. And these thoughts must have run through Sara's head, too, because towards the end of the song she got all choked up and fought back tears while trying to sing her last few lines. That was it. There was not a dry eye in the house after that.
After the show, the audience flocked to the Swingles table to have their CDs signed and photos taken. This was also bonding time with fellow choristers and we all pretty much felt the same way. My good friend Moy Ortiz of The CompanY took the words right out of my mouth when he said "I feel so inadequate!" Many of us were saying the same thing as we left our seats. We were like, "oh so THAT'S what singing is supposed to be!" and "Nakakahiya ang mga pinag-gagagawa nating pagkanta!" Of course, more than this feeling of smallness, we all felt inspired to strive to be better artists. Mark Carpio had said it in his spiel. This was one group we would really draw inspiration from.
This was one concert where the adrenalin I had after watching the show matched my adrenalin level during our own performances! Ibang klase talaga. "Hindi ko kinaya!" - 'ika nga ni Moy and we were laughing our heads off because it was true - this concert was something else and something that will take some time for us to get over, even though we were mere members of the audience. I can't imagine the kind of high this experience has been for the Madrigals!
Congratulations, Madz! What a successful project to celebrate your 50 years! Thank you for giving us this once-in-a-lifetime inspiring experience, and for also giving the Swingles what was surely a memorable experience for them as well. We can only hope they'll come back soon so we can experience their music again.
I don’t remember when or how Bituin and I met and became friends. I do remember when I first saw her perform: it was the musicale Rent showing in Music Museum, and she blew everyone away with her solo part in “Seasons Of Love.”
In 2000 my friend Arnold Reyes became a Metropop finalist and looked to me for some help recording his entry “Paano Na.” My “suki” arranger Arnold Buena worked on the instrumental arrangement, and I helped out with the vocals by giving Bituin some directions so that the song would start out mellow, build up and fly at the end. A bit of "contest formula" that had worked for me in the past. "Paano Na" won 2nd Prize that year.
I didn’t get to see much of Bituin after that, but we’ve been in touch the past few years thanks to wonders of social media.
Last Easter was the 10th year anniversary of Mass Appeal, a choir I’m a member of that sings every fourth Sunday of the month at the La Salle Greenhills Chapel. To give this special anniversary mass a bit of “sindak” power, I invited Bituin to do the solo of “Joyful Joyful” (that famous Sister Act version) for our recessional song. The whole choir was over the moon with excitement when she agreed to do it. With her family and 2 babies in tow, she arrived middle of the mass and was apologetic about not being able to come earlier, but the absence of an opportunity for us to rehearse with her didn’t faze us one bit. We knew she would be awesome and she was, and the whole number was truly a joyful one for us all. You can watch that performance right here.
A few days after that, Bituin invited us to her upcoming gig at Balete@Kamias where she would perform Cole Porter and Gershwin songs. I watched the show with my parents who came all the way to Manila from Silang, Cavite (this cool couple found out about the gig through posts on Facebook – yes they’re both on FB – and gave me a call when they read about the show to ask me to get tickets) and a bunch of Mass Appeal choristers (including our musical director Inday Echevarria, choir founder and Route 70 vocalist Ding-Dong Eduque, Tux members Popo Suanes and Manny Aquino and a few others).
I found myself hanging on to every note and word Bituin sang. I was so caught up in her music that I forgot to order a drink! Ding-Dong and I talked about her on the ride home after the show. "Ang sexy ni Bituin kumanta no?" I remarked. Ding-Dong went, "Hindi na nga sexy eh...bastos na!" We meant it in the best way possible. I found the right expression later on and told Bituin through a thread on Facebook what we thought of her singing: "Ang libog mo kumanta!" It was the best compliment I could give her and I think she knew it.
What sets Bituin apart from many other artists is this: you have many great singers who aren't good actors, and many great actors who aren't good singers. Bituin is both an excellent singer and a trained theater actor. She combines her skill in stylizing and belting out notes with the ability to express what a song is really all about because you know that she understands her material. She's an intelligent and expressive storyteller with an awesome set of pipes. That's what makes her different. And THAT is what real singing is all about. Right now, I can't think of any other local performer who can do it the way she does. Certainly not at the level Bituin does it.
She performs again at 7th High's Apex Lounge on April 30. You can find details of that show HERE. Do yourself a favor: watch Bituin perform and treat yourself to some REAL singing.
Jose Mari Chan's "Christmas In Our Hearts" is probably the biggest selling Filipino Christmas album of all time, and I was part of it. As a member of the Ateneo College Glee Club at the time the album was recorded in the early 90's, I got to sing in 2 of the album's songs and got to do the vocal arrangement for one of them.
Two decades later, I am part of Jose Mari Chan's new Christmas album, but this time, aside from vocal arranging and singing backup on one of the tracks, I actually got to co-write 2 songs with him! A dream come true for any songwriter!
His second Christmas album is called "Going Home To Christmas." Work on this album began - believe it or not - over a decade ago, which was when he gave me a cassette tape of this beautiful melody he had come up with and asked me to write the lyrics. It was a challenge for me because Joe's melody was the kind you wouldn't want to mess with nor alter even a tiny bit. It was also a melody that any skilled lyricist would know required some internal rhyming. And knowing his audience and picturing an orchestral arrangement for the song, I wanted a lyric that would give the song universal and timeless appeal. Given all these parameters I came up with a lyric called "Christmas Air." The song has 2 versions in the album - Joe's vocal version arranged by Homer Flores, and a special instrumental orchestral version produced, arranged and conducted by Yaron Gershovsky, recorded in New York. With all the hard work Joe put into this song, it's obviously one of his favorites in the album and I am so honored to have co-written this song!
I also wrote a Christmas love song lyric which he edited and set to music. The song is now called "Starlight" and performed by guest singer Noelle Cassandra. The other song I got to work on was the album opener "Ring In The New" arranged by my friend Marvin Querido. This cut is a reunion of sorts for us, as we had worked on the song "Sound Of Life" from Joe's first album while we were still in college.
Today is Christmas Day and I am thankful for many things - for family and friends, for love and many blessings which include this wonderful chance to collaborate with a great artist. Joe, thank you for your friendship and for your trust. May you continue touching people's hearts with your music for many years to come.
Even before the show started, I already knew she had lost her voice earlier today. Got the news from one of my friends also performing in the show asking for prayers for her, plus I ran into my choirmate Melf, who was Reg's doctor. Apparently things were pretty bad. They seriously considered calling off the show in the morning, but decided otherwise as Regine got her voice back - or at least some of it - later in the day. With some medication, she still managed to perform and give her all.
She opened the show with an uptempo version of my song "Shine" - which, oo nga naman, was the perfect opener for a show called "Silver" - and she still managed to sing and hit the high notes, but the audience could immediately tell something was wrong. After that, her opening spiel was an unscripted and sincere one expressing frustration that of all days for her to get sick, it had to be today. She promised to still do her best, and she most certainly did.
I was moved to tears when, during one of her first few numbers (I think it was "Dadalhin"), she remained quiet during the song's chorus, and you could hear the audience singing as if to reassure Regine of their presence, or to encourage her to sing back, or to sing in her place and sort of say "don't worry Reg, we got this for you."
And when Regine spoke, in tears, about how her audience deserved so much more than she could give, you would hear people randomly shouting back at her "Okay lang 'yan!" or "Kaya mo 'yan!" It was heartwarming, to say the least.
With that kind of appreciation from her fans, it wasn't hard to understand Regine's frustration over losing her voice. She said she had worked so hard for months to get back in shape because she wanted to be perfect for everyone. She really wanted to give her audience the best, and even though she did actually manage to sing (and actually sing pretty well and manage to belt out some high notes - just not as well as she usually does) for Regine, her current state was just not acceptable.
And so she made a spur-of-the-moment promise (which must have made the show's producers nervous) to do the concert again for free when she got better. Later on, to show it wasn't all lip service, she told the audience to keep their tickets so they could see the repeat for free. She was absolutely serious about giving her audience the perfect show. And of course, the audience was absolutely thrilled over this bit of news.
So beyond celebrating 25 years of Regine's commitment to her craft, the evening became a testament to an important part of her success: the unconditional love of her fans. In my opinion, it unexpectedly made this anniversary concert perfect. After all, where would any artist be without their fans?
Vice Ganda, whom Regine called onstage for some impromptu entertainment, said it best and spoke for everyone there: "Hindi mo na kailangang bumirit at patunayan sa amin na magaling ka. Alam na alam na namin 'yun. Andito kami kasi gusto ka naming makasama ulit."
So much love in that arena tonight. I'm glad I was there to see it.
And finally, one of the best things I got out of PhilPop was my very first big band song. How many people get to hear their song performed live by a big band? Then again, come to think of it, I guess it's not something every songwriter dreams of. Not a lot of people are exposed to the big band sound after all.
Well, I wouldn't consider myself a fan of jazz, and I didn't grow up listening to this genre, but there were a few Barry Manilow songs that stuck with me: Cloudburst, Bandstand Boogie and Avenue C. I loved the sound of the big swing drums, the rhythm and feel, the bright tones of the instruments.
Two years ago, I got to listen to AMP Big Band for the first time. AMP is the Asosasyon ng Musikong Pilipino (Association of Filipino Musicians) and one of its members, renowned musical director Mel Villena is now the band's leader and main arranger. The venue, then called Ten-02 and now known as Skarlet's (located along Scout Ybardolaza near the corner of Timog), was packed with people - a quarter of which was the band itself, since there were about 18 musicians. When they started to play, it was all goosebumps for me. Glorious, rich, soul-penetrating, amazing. How could it not be? You had an 18-piece band made up of the best musicians in the country, all of whom were there to play not for the money but to feed their souls and the audience's too. And that they certainly did.
I was an instant fan. Upon finding out they didn't have a website or Facebook Fan Page, I opened one for them (visit it by clicking HERE) and brought Mel in to be administrator as well. I feel proud to be part of this group's history somehow, if only in this tiny way.
And so when PhilPop came along and I was trying to think out of the box for a song to submit, AMP Big Band came to mind. And I was so restless with excitement I kept pacing my little condo hallway and came up with the chorus right there and then.
The overall groove was the first thing to come to mind. That intro of Avenue C and Sing Sing Sing, and what Mel later on explained to me was like a "call to the dance floor", that was my main inspiration of my song "Bigtime," a song I now describe as a cross between "Candyman" and "Beh Buti Nga." I wrote the song in Tagalog, which was more difficult for me, but I felt it would work better as a PhilPop entry this way.
I went all out on this song. I asked Mel how much it would cost to record the song with the least number of musicians that would create that big band sound. It would require 10 musicians, a big studio, plus Mel's arrangement. Pricey, as anyone would guess, but a price I was willing to pay and a risk I was willing to take. I wanted an entry that would blow away the screening committee, and a song which, in case it never made it to PhilPop, would be something I would still cherish and be proud of. I told Mel I had a good feeling about the song, so I just went for it. And part of my excitement was seeing that Mel was excited about the project, too!
Taking the risk paid off - bigtime! The day of the recording alone, I was giddy with excitement. I even brought my parents along, since they had become friends with Mel and wife Nori, too, plus my dad loved the big band sound even more than I did. This was something they just had to be part of.
I couldn't get over it! I had the best musicians in the country playing on MY song! Click on the video below (or click HERE to watch on youtube) for a short behind-the-scenes video and to hear part of the song.
I must say Mel did an excellent job of arranging the song. I purposely gave him a rough demo that was very "loose" and "open" that would allow him to work his magic. I knew he would do a great job, and yet he exceeded my expectations.
I would hear much later on various accounts of how "Bigtime" made a mark on the judges because it was so different from all the other entries (not to mention those with trained ears were wondering who in the world would be crazy enough to spend on live musicians for their demo without any assurance of making it to the finals!) and how they were so surprised when the composers of the Top14 songs were finally revealed that the song was written by me. Exactly the way I had wanted things to go.
I do hope this isn't the last time I get to work with Mel and his fabulous group. Maybe I'll have the privilege of writing more songs for them in the future.
Only a contest like PhilPop could push me beyond my comfort zone and come up with this piece of work I so love. Thanks for this, PhilPop, and for all the other blessings that have come with my participating. What a ride! I do hope this contest becomes a yearly thing so that more and more songwriters get the chance to be showered with blessings as well.
Another thing I am thankful to PhilPop for is the experience of working with this awesome female trio. It's hard not to become an admirer once you've seen and heard them sing live.
You'll get an idea of just how good they are by just watching their numerous videos on youtube. No fancy microphones or effects, just an ordinary video camera and awesome live performances. You can tell these girls really have a passion for what they do by the number of videos they've uploaded showcasing their growing repertoire. Here's one of my favorites. You'll be impressed at how tight the vocals are, and it also shows their fun and "kuwela" side.
Krina Cayabyab (center) is the group's musical director, vocal arranger and sings Soprano 1. I can't imagine the kind of pressure that may come with being maestro Ryan Cayabyab's daughter, but Krina has definitely showed us that not only has she inherited her father's musical genes, but she's made a name for herself and can definitely hold her own.
Artista-pretty Anna Achacoso-Graham (right) sings Soprano 2, and the group's soulful and sexy Alto is Mel Torre (left). The group recently won Best Jazz Band in the Boy Katindig Jazz Competition held last month. Krina also won Best Instrumentalist in the competition.
Months before this all happened, I was thinking of what kind of entry to submit to PhilPop. I wanted to come up with something very different, and when the idea of writing a song for a big band, Baihana immediately came to mind. Since Krina was disqualified from joining the contest, I didn't have to worry about her submitting her own entry performed by Baihana and having to compete against that, so it was perfect. I was so excited about the idea of an Andrews Sisters-kind of vocals to go with a big band arrangement. I sent Krina a message, telling her what kind of song I wanted to do and to ask if Baihana would record the song for me, and I was thrilled to see they were just as excited, without even having heard the song!
When my composition "Bigtime" was done, I sent both Mel Villena and Krina a copy of my rough demo, in which I decided to sing all 3 parts so that the instrumental arrangement could be built around it. As the recording date was approaching, I told Krina I'd write the notes down so they could already start rehearsing the vocals. Before I could finish the piece, Krina sent me an email with an attached Sibelius file, asking me to check if she had correctly written down the notes. My jaw dropped. I was so amazed not only by her skill but also with her enthusiasm and hard work. She could have just sat back and waited for me to provide them with the piece, as I said I would. Instead, she listened to my pathetic rough demo and wrote down every note she heard. I was slightly embarrassed that she actually went through all the trouble, but at the same time I found it so endearing that she and her group mates were just as excited as I was for the project.
Recording day came and I wasn't sure how to record them, since it was my frist time to work with them. Would they record their individual tracks separately or together? After some deliberation, I told them we'd first do a guide track using just one mic where all three of them would sing so that the feel of the vocals would be there, and then each of them would sing along to this guide track one at a time. That way I could adjust the levels of each voice as needed.
Well, the recording process turned out to be much simpler. They sounded SO good using just one mic that there was no need to record them individually. Their vocals were so tight, it was actually like recording one person who had 3 separate voices. Amazing! They saved me time and money. Yahoo!! I couldn't be happier! The vocals went perfectly with the big band arrangement. I was so happy!
And then I got to see them perform live for the first time at 70s Bistro in Anonas one evening. After having worked with them and seen them perform live in front of an audience, I can't help but be a fan. I watched their concert at the Music Museum last Friday and had a blast.
More power to you, ladies! I do hope I get to work with you again in the future.
TO BE CONTINUED...
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.