Oh those Musikahan nights! (Or what it was like working with Ryan Cayabyab) 2
The maestro and the diva. Photograph from Leo Katigbak
Culture

Oh those Musikahan nights! (Or what it was like working with Ryan Cayabyab)

On the occasion of Mr. C's National Artist recogntion, Leo Katigbak, Head of ABS-CBN Film Restoration, and former episode writer for Ryan, Ryan Musikahan pays tribute to the inimitable maestro behind the piano, and that unforgettable musical that was a bastion of local TV's golden age
Leo Katigbak | Oct 27 2018

Mr. C as National Artist is long overdue. I had always thought that even before and just hoped it would happen in his lifetime, preferably the younger part of it. I had the distinct pleasure of working with Ryan Cayabyab initially as researcher/editor, then episode writer/editor, for the show Ryan Ryan Musikahan, a show that was never wanting for guests. After all, who wouldn't want to perform with Mr. C on the piano, or sing a duet with him?

We typically taped two episodes an evening and while it was often a quick shoot, it can still turn out to be a long night between rehearsals and the actual performance. But Ryan was forever the trooper so the show was never work. I was watching a Mr. C performance up close and personal, with the best singers in the country, and I was getting paid for it.

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Mr C could get cranky especially late into the second episode but his cranky was never really bad cranky. He always had good vibes and a sense of humor about him. Plus you could never be too serious with his and director Leo Rialp’s mad scientist slash Albert Einstein look—which becomes more pronounced as the night progressed.

Mr. C was game for anything and I was always reminding him to keep playing the piano while talking to artists, which can be quite difficult and distracting but he pulled it off with aplomb, and often resulted in impromptu, unrehearsed riffs that just made your jaw drop—which is what happened that time Kuh Ledesma started singing "Ang Himig Natin" in one show, and Ai-ai de las Alas singing for the first time, with Mr. C and The Tux as her backups.

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Staff photo with the bodabil legend, Katy dela Cruz: with Stephanie Quirino Reinoso, Johnny Manahan, Mariole Alberto, Mitch Valdes, Celeste Legaspi, Raymond Reinoso and Myran Etorsa.

Forever the teacher, Ryan took care of the music lessons segment in Musikahan so audiences could be more knowledgeable about music appreciation. Think music for dummies—minus the making you feel like a dummy part. We had lessons on opera, on orchestras, on wind and string instruments over the course of many episodes. He brought opera, classical music and musical theater to the mainstream when talents like Andion Fernandez, the Bolipata brothers, and the first batch of Filipinos in Miss Saigon came to the studio, exposing the broader television audience to musical fare otherwise only available in the theater.

Despite his stature, Mr. C took criticism well—and he himself served it generously albeit in an encouraging manner to many of the young talents who appeared on the show. He was never beholden to what we planned if something better came up. And the mere mention of his name was enough for us to land the likes of Cecile Licad who delivered a riveting performance one evening. It helped too that many of the guests had worked with, or knew, Ryan, as the show relied heavily on the existing camaraderie between host and guests to bring out performances that could not be seen elsewhere. And we were often just chilling with music gods: Basil, Celeste, Lea, Sharon, Martin, Gary, Hajji, the Apo, Zsa Zsa. 

In our earliest years, and before the group Smokey Mountain was formed, the show had guested a young Tony Lambino who sounded like an angel. Ryan insisted that we have him over a few more times to ensure we kept a record of that voice before it broke and lost its cherubic timber.

The show concerns behind the scenes included lactating moms, singers losing their voices, forgetting lines, and rushing to the airport. There were eyes that turned puffy from crying, and there were other dramatic situations, but Mr. C took it all in stride. We went on with the taping of an episode even after the earthquakes that devastated Baguio and Central Luzon. It was Zsa Zsa, I think, who was our guest, and Mr. C nonchalantly welcomed her to rehearsals as if nothing literally earth-shaking happened in the world outside.

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No need to convince Mr C to pose with Katy dela Cruz.

The Musikahan days created a friendship that has lasted for years. Those evenings that started with rehearsals and ended with regular winding-down sessions in Aristocrat for kare-kare and crispy pata, hanging out and laughing with this giant and legend over food and anecdotes.

Mr C brought beautiful music to television and inspired singers to give their best to a late-night audience. It was a great show that contributed to the golden era of television—and only Ryan could have pulled it off.

The show also helped showcase the evolution and diversity of his music, becoming a venue for the songs he created for the likes of Basil and Hajji in the 70s to the ones made popular by Smokey Mountain. Ryan was not a musical snob and seized the opportunity to connect with new generations of singers and audiences, making them love the songs of old while letting the oldies appreciate the new. He experimented and took musical risks that a weekly show afforded him. And whatever he did, he elevated the music to a higher level each and every time.

Click on the image below for slideshow

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During the Katy! episode, with Johnny Manahan and Mitch Valdes, Katy de La Cruz and Celeste Legaspi.

Mitch and Mr C watching the previous take of their number off the monitor. 

With Hajji, Rachel, Willy Cruz, Stephanie Quirino Reinoso, Myran Etsora and Leo Rialp. 

Kuh Ledesma in her first Musikahan guesting in 1988, with host Mr C and director Leo Rialp. 

The Christmas episode of 1988, with guests Martin Nievera and Pops Fernandez. 

Pops with Mr. C on the set of the same episode.

A photo op with the stars of the Christmas '88 episode.

Mr C with Hajji Alejandro and daughter Rachel. 

Mitch and Celeste, stars of the musical Katy! rehearse with Mr C. 

 

Photographs courtesy of the author