A Conversation with Mr. C, National Artist

| Written by Celeste Ann Castillo Llaneta

Ryan Cayabyab sits for a spell with the UP Forum. (Photo by Celeste Castilio, UP MPRO)
Ryan Cayabyab sits for a spell with the UP Forum. (Photo by Celeste Castilio, UP MPRO)


His music is ubiquitous. From pop hits that serve as the theme songs of many a love story to the soundtracks of commercial and indie films; from massive works of musical theatre, neo-opera, and sacred music to commercial jingles and opening themes to TV specials—there isn’t a Filipino alive who hasn’t heard, thrilled to, or jammed along with his music.

He has helped shape the Philippine music industry today, crossing the line between “serious” and pop music with ease, and mentoring some of the country’s most gifted musicians. He is known as The Maestro, or simply as Mr. C. This October, UP College of Music alumnus and former professor Raymundo Cipriano “Ryan” Pujante Cayabyab received another title, that of National Artist.

One morning before his newest award of recognition, Mr. C sat down for an interview with UP Forum, during which he shared some of his memories of UP; his views on UP’s impact on Philippine music; and a bit of inspiration for anyone seeking their path in life.


What was your childhood in UP like?

When my mother was teaching [at the UP College of Music], we lived inside UP. I grew up inside the UP Campus, in Area 1, went to UP Elementary School and UP High School, graduating in 1970. My first course was Business Administration, then I went to the UP College of Music, and I graduated around 10 years after I got into the UP College of Music.

Noong bata kami, lumalabas kami ng bahay sa December or January, at kapag nagsasalita kami, may usok yung bibig namin. Ganon kaginaw. Nagtatawanan na kami. “Oy, para tayong nagsi-sigarilyo.”

Iba naman yung usok na nalalanghap namin kapag may umiikot na DDT truck. Siguro every week or every two weeks, umiikot ang DDT truck na bumubuga ng DDT. Lahat ng bata sa campus, nandoon, lalabas na, hahabulin yung truck. Sobrang kapal ng smoke na binubuga, para kaming nasa alapaap. Ang feeling namin, kaya kami lahat may topak dahil doon, eh. [laughs]


What do you think makes you unique among the musicians in the country?

Lagi kong sinasabi, maraming mas magaling sa aking gumawa ng kanta sa Philippine music industry. Ang dami diyang mas magaling gumawa ng hit songs. The only reason napapahiwalay ako sa kanila is, ako lang ang merong diploma. Ako lang ang merong degree na binigay ng isang unibersidad. That’s it. Pero for me, it’s a big deal. Not because of the degree, but because of what I learned in the College of Music through the years.



What has been the impact of your UP education on you? How has UP contributed to Philippine
music as a whole?

My first teacher was Eliseo Pajaro, in Composition. My second teacher was Lucio San Pedro, National Artist. My third teacher was Ramon Santos, National Artist. My fourth teacher was Francisco Feliciano, National Artist. I’ve been influenced by all of them. Not that I have discarded their ideas; their ideas remain. I picked up a lot of things from my teachers, but do I sound like any of them? Not really. I sound like me. But that’s also exactly what they taught us.

UP’s contribution is huge. The UP College of Music is known for compositional theory and research. Composition also means the training of new music composers. Ang dami nila; even in the choral world, the names that come out are from UP. So sa larangan ng music composition, malaki ang contribution ng UP. And then research. Wow, ang research ng UPCM, beginning with the huge work of Dr. Jose Maceda, National Artist.

In terms of performance, we have the best choirs. The Philippine Madrigal Singers, they’re basically UP-trained, and UP si [Madz founder] Prof. Andrea Veneracion, National Artist. And we have the UP Singing Ambassadors, the UP Concert Chorus—sterling ang choral tradition na galing sa UP. That’s why maraming UP composers ang nagsusulat ng choral music, because magagaling yung choirs.


How can UP help in promoting greater appreciation of OPMs among our audiences?

It is our responsibility to win them over. I believe in time, makikita nila…that there are other ways to express authentic feelings, which is why the indie movement is alive, even in music. Nagbago na ang business platform [due to technology]. Technology has created an open field. Anyone who has a smartphone can record, can shoot, put it on YouTube for everybody to see. Maganda kasi open, democratic, kaya pagalingan.

Uso na rin ang informal education, pero iba pa rin yung may institutional blessing. May stamp, and hindi sa biased ako, pero ang UP talaga ang most coveted stamp.

So how can that stamp help us? Actually, yung people yan. Yung UP alumni ang nagpapalaganap. Kasi alam mo kung sino ang nagpo-promote ng music? Mga UP alumni. Marami kasi end up as heads of institutions na nagpo-promote ng music. They understand; malawak ang kanilang pananaw. Naintindihan nila ang value ng music.


The reason you first took Business Administration was to be true to your mother’s deathbed wish for none of her children to have a career in music. This changed when then Senator Salvador Laurel noticed your talent when you were playing piano for his son, Cocoy Laurel, and gave you a scholarship to the College of Music. Is there an alternate universe in which you became Mr. Ryan Cayabyab, Accountant, instead?

A friend told me, kahit naman daw hindi nangyari yung nangyari sa akin—for example, hindi ko na-meet sina Senator Laurel—eventually I would find my way into it, because naniniwala ako na yun ang destined place ko. [laughs]

A while back I was saying, kahit ano ang mga balakid yung humarap sa iyo papunta dun sa gusto mo, eventually dun ka rin pupunta kasi that is your destined path. Naniniwala ako don. I really think sinundan ko lang yung nararamdaman ko na kailangan kong sundan. Napunta ako sa music kasi yun ang ikinasasaya ng kaluluwa ko, yung every time na ganon ang ginagawa ko, hanggang ngayon, masaya ako.

Somebody else also told me: Napili na ng Diyos ang landas mo. Pakinggan mo lang.


(Photo from Ryan Cayabyab)
(Photo from Ryan Cayabyab)