Ryan Cayabyab’s Celebration of Life

Raymundo Cayabyab, a Ramon Magsaysay Awardee for 2019 (Photo courtesy of the Ramon Magsaysay Award Foundation)

Raymundo Cayabyab, a Ramon Magsaysay Awardee for 2019 (Photo courtesy of the Ramon Magsaysay Award Foundation)

Upbeat. Joyful. Boundlessly positive.

You will be hard pressed to meet anyone as buoyant as Raymundo Cipriano Cayabyab, Mr. C, Maestro to colleagues, and Ryan to everyone else. Small wonder he has compiled an improbably remarkable resume in the musical world.

“In a country known for its rich musical culture and blessed with a surfeit of musical talent, to stand out as singular and indispensable is truly outstanding.” This, from the citation that went with Ryan’s recognition as a Ramon Magsaysay Awardee for 2019.   

Composer, arranger, music director, conductor, performer, and educator, “at home in diverse genres and media — choral and orchestral works, musical theater, opera and ballet, television programs, film scores, commercial recordings of popular music — Ryan has influenced the shaping of Philippine music culture,” the citation adds.

Hugely generous words. And then you meet the man in the flesh and you discover that there is even more to him than that.

Such was Ryan’s genius that the route to his exceptional accomplishments seemed effortless. And fired up by abundant creative energy, he has pursued his next big passion, teaching young musicians. “I like to share whatever because you know, when you discover everything about how it works, how music works… you could do a lot. You could do almost anything,” he enthused.

In 1985, he and his wife Emy put up a small music school, which eventually led to a workshop camp in Dumaguete. Trust Ryan to go beyond the usual music school. The way he describes it, “It’s about writing melodies, writing lyrics, working with bands. Merong lecturers (We have lecturers)… meron kaming (we have) a business module, meaning, how do you market your songs. Merong module about your rights as a songwriter – so we invite an IPO lawyer to talk about the rights of a composer.” 

Raymundo Cayabyab receives the Ramon Magsaysay Award from Vice President Leonor Robredo and RMAF Chairman Jose Cuisia during the 2019 Presentation Ceremonies at the Cultural Center of the Philippines on September 9, 2019. (Photo courtesy of the Ramon Magsaysay Award Foundation)

Raymundo Cayabyab receives the Ramon Magsaysay Award from Vice President Leonor Robredo and RMAF Chairman Jose Cuisia during the 2019 Presentation Ceremonies at the Cultural Center of the Philippines on September 9, 2019. (Photo courtesy of the Ramon Magsaysay Award Foundation)

He goes on to say, “Yung bagong crop ng (the new crop)…they think they would go indie. Nakapasok rin sa (were able to make it to) mainstream! Yung number one group ngayon (The No.1 group now), four members galing sa (from) Elements Music Camp. ‘There and Then,’ their music is wonderful. It doesn’t sound local, yet you know the sentiment is very, very Filipino.”

Ryan’s dream is to elevate original music and crash the international market. He is confident that properly guided, Pinoy songwriters and musicians can make it happen. And listening to him, you know that it will happen!

But how did it all start? Ryan grew up in a household filled with classical music. His mother was an opera singer, and their boarders were music conservatory students. Studying in the UP College of Music opened his mind to other types of music and the possibilities of combining them. “My music is a series of combinations of influences and styles that I always employ because that is me, that is my usual character.”

Why does his music resonate so naturally with Filipinos? “I grew up riding the jeep, the tricycle, the bus… and you see them. Sometimes I even like standing in the waiting shed…just looking at the people, what they are talking about, and seeing where they are going. That’s where I get all that energy, and possible story. Nagnanakaw ng kwento ng ibang tao (Stealing the stories of other people)!”

Cayabyab at the tree-lighting ceremony of Megaworld Lifestyle Malls (Source: facebook)

Cayabyab at the tree-lighting ceremony of Megaworld Lifestyle Malls (Source: facebook)

From arranger to prolific composer, Ryan is a master of just about all musical genres, most notably classical, pop, jazz, ethnic and sacred music. His trailblazing foray into Original Filipino Music gave birth to “Kay Ganda ng Ating Musika,” one of the best-loved songs of the ages.

In a 2016 article, Prosy Abarquez Dela Cruz counted Ryan’s musical output: 23 movie scores;

15 outstanding OPM songs; several CDs, among them Great OPMs, Pasko I, Pasko II , Spolarium: the Opera, The Sacred Works of Ryan Cayabyab, Beauty and the Beast, Great OPM in the Movies, Dancing in the Rain, One, One X’mas, One More, Roots to Routes (Pinoy Jazz II), and The Silver Album.

Ryan’s unique artistry and virtuosity are most evident in the album “One.” At the age of 27, he told himself that “Before I leave the industry I am going to give myself a gift and I’m going to leave something for the industry.” That was the album “One,” which he produced, arranged and sang by himself – all of 13 to 14 voices in each song, in full harmony! He did not have to pay for musicians because it was all a cappella – a vocal jazz ensemble rendition of traditional Filipino pop. “One” is now a collector’s item, fetching from P7,000 to P14,000 for one album, if you can find it.

Ryan Cayabyab has carried Filipino pride all over the globe, doing shows and concerts in Australia, Germany, France, United Kingdom, Netherlands, Japan, the Middle East and throughout Southeast Asia. He has performed at Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center in New York; Kennedy Center and Washington DC Convention Center in Washington, DC; the Shrine and Plaza del Sol-CSUN Northridge in Los Angeles; The Orpheum in Vancouver; and in Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas.

But his heart really lies in education. He spearheads the Philpop Music Camp, a competition that includes a five-day workshop in four cities, one each in Mindanao, Visayas, Luzon and National Capital Region.  In 2013 he started the A Cappella Open, a contemporary a cappella competition whose winners have triumphed in Russia, Austria, China, Japan, and Singapore where, as Ryan describes it, “they wiped out the competition.”

Asked whether he is afraid someone will come out better than him because he shares all his secrets, Ryan quickly answers, “There are no secrets! That’s one. Number two, that’s my point.  This generation should be better than us. For us to propel the community and the country later on… the next generation should be better than us.”

Cayabyab and Ryan Cayabyab Singers (Source: facebook)

Cayabyab and Ryan Cayabyab Singers (Source: facebook)

How will getting the Ramon Magsaysay Award affect your work? “It basically enhances and helps me create a better clout in terms of people understanding that my work is serious. Kasi pinaparangalan ako ng (I’m being honored by) Ramon Magsaysay because of my advocacy work. Parang importante yung ginagawa ko (what I’m doing seems important)…because really my vision, which I was able to rub into my younger colleagues, is to share everything we know.”

So what is next for the Maestro? He still has to do some Opus, maybe a musical again (he has done 12). He has done an opera and wants to do another one. He is also thinking of a symphony or a concerto; he hasn’t done anything like that in a long time. “I will do something not substantial but a bigger piece of work that would take more time to write, more time to think about. Mas (more) complex.” 

Ever the optimist, Ryan has a cheery message for everyone:

“Very early in life I started looking for work to augment the income of my family. And even if I did that I was not desperate. I was always hopeful that something good will happen. My message is always to think positive and always to hope because good things happen if you are happy. I mean really happy with your life…very accepting of what you have. Why waste your time thinking of what bad thing is going to happen? Everything will turn out okay. Even if it does not turn out the way you want it, eventually it will. [LAUGHS] Eventually it will even up. Everything will straighten up… even in this toxic times we live in.” 

Ryan Cayabyab has spent all his life spreading joy to everyone he has touched. Truly, everything he does is a celebration of life.

[Ed Note: In addition to being a Ramon Magsaysay Awardee, Ryan Cayabyab was also named National Artist for Music in 2019.]


Manuel “EG” Hizon is a development specialist who is currently engaged as communications director for the Manila-based Ramon Magsaysay Award Foundation.


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