Internationally acclaimed singer and theater actress Ms. Lea Salonga headed the master class for students of the University of Santo Tomas (UST) Conservatory of Music specializing in musical theater and voice on April 24, 2021, via Zoom.
The master class was the 13th episode of a series of online discourses between significant people from the music and performing arts industry, both locally and internationally, and students from the Theater and Opera classes of the Conservatory of Music who are taking these subjects as part of their curriculum under the Bachelor’s degree in Music program. This series is coined as “KKK: Kwentuhan, Kantyawan, Kantahan: Isang Serye.”
Initiated and made possible by Nenen Espina, the Theater and Opera classes professor, acclaimed personalities from the industry were invited as resource speakers and students learned first-hand from them. In this way, it became a way to boost each student’s learning through the available technology and network of people willing to share their time despite the limitations brought about by the pandemic.
In the interest of improvement and learning, a total of nine selected students from the Theater class performed their chosen Broadway pieces to showcase their talent and musicality for Salonga to critique. In addition, she provided constructive criticism for each student’s performance.
Music theater majors, Shean Accad sang “Empty Chairs at Empty Tables” from Les Miserables, Vico Bonoan “Pure Imagination” from Charlie and The Chocolate Factory, Roman Bernardino “Land Of Lola” from Kinky Boots, Jan Montenegro “Losing My Mind” from Follies, Jasmine Nepomuceno “Fascinating Rhythm” from Lady, Be Good, Ruth Brillo “Breathe” from In The Heights, Aledrain De Jesus “Somewhere That’s Green” from Suddenly Seymour, Sherwin Anne De Leon “Maybe This Time” from Cabaret, and Alexa Faith Samodio “One Perfect Moment” from Bring It On: The Musical.
Although the masterclass was just a three-hour session, Salonga gave feedback to each student participant. She started building the foundation of the performance by breaking down the emotional backbone of the piece, stressing the importance of identifying with the central message of a song so that it translates to the performance since as she said, an artist’s job was to “take the audience to a roller coaster ride”.
The Tony award-winning perfomer reiterated to the students the importance of clarity in delivering the lyrics of the pieces and how delicate a performer’s role is in the art of storytelling which is the very reason for the enduring existence of musical theater. Salonga also coached the students in the power of acting, movements, and stillness while singing, which also falls under the fragility of the storytelling aspect in a performance.
Covering the technicalities of music, Salonga also reminded the students not to take for granted the theory and sight-reading lessons as these will come in handy when they are already on their respective jobs. With more than 40 years of experience as a performing artist, she advised the students on the importance of singing songs meant for their range and maintaining a healthy voice.
The Zoom video call had 167 participants, that included Lea Salonga, the students, and the audiences consisting of students, teachers, and alumni from the Conservatory who witnessed the master class. Also present in the virtual audience were the Dean of the UST Conservatory of Music Assoc. Prof. Antonio P. Africa, Ph.D., and UST’s Vice-Rector for Finance Rev. Fr. Roberto L. Luanzon Jr., O.P., S.Th.D., D.L.
Uncontrollable variables proved to be a challenge for the master class such as the lag due to the inconsistency of the internet connection of each individual from different locations. Audio clipping, a limitation of the Zoom application where the sound cannot simultaneously come from two sources causing an interruption in the person speaking (or singing) also became an issue, which inhibited the supposedly continuous flow of a student’s performance.
Ideally, in a master class, there would be a live accompaniment. However, given the limitations of the situation of the pandemic, pre-recorded accompaniments were used, which also took a toll on the performer’s musical interpretation, but then again, this is another impossibility due to the restrictions of the quarantine regulations.
Ryan, Ryan, Muchikahan
Distinguished for his extraordinary compositions, contributions to the development of the Philippine music industry, and numerous awards, National Artist for Music, Mr. Ryan Cayabyab graciously shared his time to talk and discuss his works and career to students of Music Theater and Opera classes of the University of Santo Tomas (UST) Conservatory of Music on April 17, 2021, via the online application Zoom. His discussion was also followed by an open forum where students asked him questions about his career and works.
The discussion titled “Ryan, Ryan, Muchikahan” was the 12th episode of a series of online discourses between significant people from the music and performing arts industry, both locally and internationally, and students from the Theater and Opera classes under the Bachelor’s degree in Music. This series is coined as “KKK: Kwentuhan, Kantyawan, Kantahan: Isang Serye.”
The session started with a medley of his works interpreted by various artists from a 1997 performance at the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP). Then, Cayabyab discussed the history and background of his works, such as Rama Hari, Katy: The Musical, Alikabok, Magnificat, Larawan, and his trilogy of musicals for Tanghalang Pilipino, resident drama company of the CCP, El Filibusterismo, Noli Me Tangere, and Ilustrado.
Himself a professor, Cayabyab made sure that the students were educated on the importance of the materials that accompanied the trilogy and the historical context from when it was written, stressing the importance of honoring national heroes and historical events. He explained the differences in style with each of the three musicals and also showed limited clips of the performances from some of the said plays.
The renowned composer, quite generous of his time, also told the students the twists and turns of his humble beginnings before becoming the artist that he is now. There were no dull moments during his talk which lasted for almost four hours, as everybody leaned in closely to listen to the man’s colorful real-life anecdotes, from his childhood where he taught himself to read music through his college days when he strived to help earn money for the family and witnessing the “Palengke ng Musiko” in Raon, Manila, until today, to what he is now — a National Artist.
Cayabyab also told the students that they have to be confident, fierce, and excellent with their craft. He encouraged them to excel at what they do so that the jobs will come for them and they do not need to look for it anymore, as what happened to him.
A major proponent of Original Pilipino Music or OPM, Cayabyab also challenged the new generation in creating music, to do something that has not been done before, to be courageous and tenacious. He encouraged them to write music in their own dialects and not to force writing in English if it restricts them in relaying their message and ends up just being lost in translation, and told them of the intricacies and styles that will transcend in the music when they do so.
The Zoom video conference, exclusive to UST Conservatory students, alumni, and faculty members, consisted of 70 participants. Also present at the conference was UST Conservatory of Music Dean Antonio P. Africa, Ph.D., and artists who were regular performers in Cayabyab’s works, Miguel Vera, Sweet Plantado-Tiongson, and Eladio Pamaran.
The Zoom conference was also live-streamed on the UST Conservatory of Music’s official Facebook page where it was available for public viewing.
Like a bonus feature to the talk, Cayabyab also played some of his songs live on his keyboard before the session ended, with his former colleagues singing the songs as if a reunion wherein good times were recalled.
Other speakers invited to the classes of Espina were the following respected names in theatre and music: Lemuel Cuento, Filipino tenor who is now based in Germany; PJ Rebullida, Choreographer, who did the choreography for Newsies, Awitin Mo at Isasayaw Ko, among others; Floy Quintos, Director of operas and Musical Theatre; Frank Rivera, Playwright, Actor and Director; Gino Gonzales, Award-winning Costume/Production Designer of Operas, Plays and Musical Theater works; Paolo, Heber and Pewee O’Hara, known thespians in the industry; John Arcilla and Miguel Vera, who used to share the same roles in various Filipino Musicals; Ulisses Solano, Costa Rican Tenor based in NY; Stan Tucker, Professor Adjunct, New York University, Musical Director of World Tour of the Phantom of the Opera, who also gave a master class to the students; Thabiso Masemene, Piange of the Phantom of the Opera World Tour, South African; Eugene Titus, Costume Master of various musicals in Broadway; Darren Greeff, Choreographer, Dancer of various musicals in Broadway; Yael Pineda Hall, who played Rafikki in The Lion King’s productions in Australia and The West End.
To close the academic year, the Theatre and Opera class will feature the lecture by Phil Gutierrez, Production Manager of The New York Philharmonic. Espina invited the Symphonic Instrumental Department to partner with her class in this talk geared towards concerts and orchestra setups.