Ryan Cayabyab brings 100 years of Filipino music to Los Angeles
NORTHRIDGE, California — The crowd that packed the concert hall of Plaza Del Sol Performing Arts at California State University in Northridge gave popular Filipino musician and composer Ryan Cayabyab and his singers, RC Singers, several rousing standing ovations Sunday, Oct. 23.
With no fanfare “Mr. C,” as he is known in Manila, took to the piano and the microphone to preside over the night’s two-hour repertoire like a master painter lining his canvas.
Part I of his concert included medleys of originals dating back to the ‘70s. Part II were renditions of the best of 100 years of Filipino music starting with the Father of Kundiman Francisco Santiago’s “Madaling Araw” composed in 1917 and tributes to Manila’s own “Tin Pan Alley” (Raon Street) heartthrobs like Eddie Peregrina, Edgar Mortiz, Victor Wood, Florante (“There’ll Be No Sunshine in My Life/Rain”; “Mr. Lonely”; “My Pledge of Love”; “ Anak”) as well as Metro pop medleys highlighted by “Kay Ganda ng Ating Musika” and Original Pilipino Music popularized by Basil Valdez, Regine Velasquez and others.
In response to the numerous calls for encore at the end of the show, Cayabyab presented a major musical scene from Cuyugan-Asencio’s Filipino opera “Spoliarium,” his own composition that he presented last year in Tribeca Performing Arts Center in New York. It was fortuitous that the seven-member RC Singers were part of the original cast of “Spoliarium,” captivating the audience once more during the show.
Juan Luna opera
“Spoliarium,” is an opera about the life and times of the celebrated painter and hero Juan Luna, centering on his turbulent life, love and career while he lived in Paris. The opera takes from the eponymous painting that won the Gold Prize at the 1884 Exposicion National de Bellas Artes in Madrid.
The RC Singers are Celine Fabie,Sheerleen DelaCruz, Kaye Tiuseco, Anthony Castillo, VJ Caber, Poppert Bernadias and Erwin Lacsa, who are graduates of the University of the Philippines or University of Santo Tomas in Metro manila, according to Annie Nepomuceno, the show’s producer and an accomplished singer herself.
Cayabyab said he auditioned some 180 talents before coming to the final seven who continue to interpret and render justice to his compositions and arrangements. The singers are accomplished performers with their own style, but how they come together complementing each voice makes for a rich performance. He introduced his team with pride.
“It’s truly an inspiring show, full of nostalgia, history and entertainment. This balance is achieved by a learned musical director, skilled enough that he is usually the lone musician/accompanist in any of his compositions or production,” said Nepomuceno who was a student of Cayabyab at the University of the Philippines.
Annie and husband, Ed Nepomuceno, for the last four years have been bringing to Los Angeles musicians who have excelled in their field and are recognized internationally in the music industry, including The Filharmonic, the Harana Men’s Chorus, among others. This year’s opener to the concert were the Los Angeles Youth Ambassadors who sang some of Cayabyab’s compositions: “Bata,” Bukas” and “Paraiso.”
The multi-awarded Cayabyab told INQUIRER.net that he wishes to “write more symphonic works or concertos when time permits.”
Of his memorable works, he said, “’Kay Ganda ng Ating Musika’ was a landmark composition since it won for me the 1st Metro pop Song Festival. “Tuwing Umuulan at Kapiling Ka” was noteworthty “because this song that I wrote for Basil Valdez became a hit song, with the Eraser heads and Regine Velasquez’s version also became popular.” “Kailan,” a song he wrote for Smokey Mountain (a popular band that he formed in the ‘80s), was number one on national airwaves for eight straight weeks and it hit gold, platinum and double-platinum status within months of its release.
All musical genres
Cayabyab, 62, has received all kinds of awards, excelling in all musical genres. He graduated from the University of the Philippines College of Music with a bachelor’s degree in composition and went on to teach music theory and composition there for almost two decades.
At 38 he received in 1978 the TOYM Award (Ten Outstanding Young Men) of the Philippines and in 2001 he emerged as the only Asian winner of the Onassis International Cultural Competition in Greece with his MISA 2000.
His works have ranged from commissioned full-length ballets, theater musicals, choral pieces, a Mass set to unaccompanied chorus and orchestral pieces to commercial recordings of popular music, film scores and television specials. His “Gloria,” was a crowd favorite from his first Mass written after his stints for the king of Morocco.
“He is known as the ‘maestro’ here in Bulacan,” commented Aida Tabulog, a business owner from that Tagalog-speaking province. She was following his concerts by reading postings on the social media.
Arnold Cayabyab Dacusan, a medical technologist from Northridge doesn’t know if he’s related, but has been a fan for the last 28 years. He brought with him Ryan’s autographed albums and music sheets from 1987-1990. “His songs are well thought out and now I’m glad he’s branching out to opera – you can’t get any better than that as a composer!”
Families came together to the concert, from the parents, grandparents to great grandchildren all mesmerized by the sentimental lyrics and folksy ditties typical of Cayabyab’s works.
“ Umiikot, sumisirko, Damdami’y di mapalagay, Lumilipad ang puso ko, Sa awit na aking taglay. Siguro nga’s ganitong umibig, Umaawit na parang luku-luko. (“Ako’y Hibang sa Awit”, music by Ryan Cayabyab Words by Jose Javier Reyes).
Gerald Sambulan, 29, came with his relatives because “we enjoyed his songs while in the Philippines and it makes us look back to those good times at home.”
Cayabyab is married to the former Emmy Punsalan and they have two children, Cristina Maria and Antonio Maria. The couple has run the Music School of Ryan Cayabyab, for more than two decades now.
His mother, who passed away when he was just six, reportedly did not approve of a career in the music industry, because being an opera singer she knew musicians didn’t make enough money. But music came to Cayabyab when as a working college student he met former Philippine Vice President Salvador Laurel, who was then an accompanist in a choral ensemble. This opened doors for him to get a scholarship in music.
“My wife Emmy and I did not push our kids to be musicians, but both of them eventually ended up in the music field. I guess they noticed or sensed that we lead happy lives performing, teaching and creating music in our everyday lives, and they eventually pursued training and education in music, and are now professional musicians,” he said.
A sentimental epilogue to his concert was RCS’ rendition of “Bayan Ko” and “The Impossible Dream,” which Cayabyab introduced with an emotional message to the audience to unite behind “our country” in these difficult times.
RCS performed in New York, San Francisco, and Los Angeles and is now in Hawaii for the conclusion of its US tour this year.
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