The most memorable night at Musikahan! with Maestro Ryan


Behind the scenes, it was as amazing as it was onstage

by Annie Nepomuceno

As I looked on during rehearsals, I kept thinking “what have I done?” But in a GOOD way.

There in front of me stood a children’s choir and its able conductor, a dance troupe and its vivacious choreographer, a TV host, a singing group that flew in from Manila, and the most celebrated living composer of the Philippines, who was also my mentor. I kept asking myself “why are we all here?”

As I looked on these groups rehearsing, I could see each the dedication to their craft, whether fledgling or seasoned. I could see how they knew that they were one piece in a humungous jigsaw puzzle, that when complete, delivers a stunning image.

The music of Ryan Cayabyab is what brought us together, but it was the desire to represent Filipino culture in the best light that motivated us. When asked how I thought about putting this together, my answer was simple: if the Maestro comes to town, everyone should not miss this opportunity to work with an artist of his caliber.

I looked on these singers and dancers and felt immense pride on how everyone knew their part, moved quickly and delivered. The Maestro was calm and collected, for when his fingers touch the piano, one just knew that they were in the presence of genius. That, my friends, is what we need, and sometimes all we need—a good example.

Some artists rehearsed once, and bigger numbers were rehearsed a couple of times. The pros like Becca Godinez and Miguel Vera needed less than a half hour with the Maestro to go over what needed to be done. The always game and enthusiastic G Tongi brought her equally game daughter Sake to join her, followed by a bevy of kids from Kayamanan Ng Lahi (KNL) who streamed behind her like the cutest little ducklings in “Da Coconut Nut” which shaped up really quickly by the deft instructions of choreographer Barbs Ele.

It is a sheer feat of determination to provide all the demo recordings, rehearsal tracks, music scores and the like, to all these individual artists to make a homogenous whole. The Los Angeles Young Ambassadors and the Harana Men’s Chorus rehearsed the new vocal arrangements, led by their respective conductors in separate rehearsals. The kulintang ensemble for “Street People” also rehearsed separately, meeting the Maestro and the Smokey Mountain tribute singers on the day of the show.

It may sound crazy, but we do this all the time. Rehearsing a big number on the day of the show, mere hours before showtime. This is not for the faint of heart, and thoroughly nerve-wracking for the uninitiated.

But how else will you learn? The Smokey Mountain tribute singers Josie Gonzalez, Michael Keith, Louisa Tampi and Edsel Sotiangco hardly knew each other a week before the show. By showtime, acclimatized to their surrounding artists like the phenomenal Ryan Cayabyab Singers, they basically whipped themselves into shape and delivered stellar performances, motivated to be at par with the other artists.

It is all worthwhile when you hear the audience ask for “more!” in the middle of a segment. “Sa May Bintana,” a new vocal arrangement of mine of the Maestro’s song was premiered by the Harana in “Musikahan!” It simply was the perfect song for the group and arranged with the specific singers in mind. The Maestro surprised me by teaching  Harana soloist Erwin Andaya a super high note, delivered flawlessly, which Maestro said was the originally intended melody.

But there was a bigger surprise! Pulled off stealthily by the awesome team of Music Arts Events and Arnel Dulay, the original singer of the Maestro’s megahit “Kailan” glides onstage during the Smokey Mountain tribute. The Maestro grinned ear to ear as Geneva Cruz performed a second song, “Paraiso” with LAYA, RCS and the tribute singers in glorious harmony.

Stage Manager Padsy Padre ran the sound check on the dot, and associate Ditas Labado, assistant Maan Co, and Jane Mutiangpili along many volunteers keep all areas of the venue in order: backstage, front-of-house, the box office. Onstage the crew feverishly gets numerous microphones set up, assigned and numbered, and sponsor videos, artwork projections by Eliseo Silva and Lyn Pacificar, and other pre-recorded announcements are lined up in a playlist by technical staff.

I got the most interesting question from a young chorister who asked: “why are we here?” Apparently, she just felt it was so awesome to be part of this show with this megacast, learning new songs, sharing the stage with seasoned performers, that she could not help but wonder how she got to be a part of it. I felt the biggest vindication for pulling favors, from this child’s inquiry. She knew she was a part of something that had an impact on her community. It was enriching for her to do something important, with talented and dedicated people.

Amidst all this flurry and summer heat, the Maestro runs through the RCS repertoire: the rap songs, the tap songs, the Spoliarium opera excerpt. His script, a mere few key words inserted between the song titles. After years with his own TV show, Maestro Ryan not only improvises with music. He is just as skilled in repartee.

As for me, I held back the tears, rather unsuccessfully, when the whole cast rehearsed the encore “Sabihin Mo (Ikaw ay Pilipino)” as thoughts of “what have I done?” and “why are we here” raced through my mind. I simply could not believe the amount of contributing talent present that night.  What I have done was to ask them if they wanted to join, and we were there because we needed to be.

So how do you come up with a wonderful show? Everyone in it must be exactly that—wonderful. Work with greatness, you get greatness. Maraming salamat po sa inyong lahat!

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