It started with a joke.
One day, while hanging out at Peta (Philippines Educational Theater Association), just before the Tom Cruise film came out and the Atlantis staging of the jukebox musical started, actor-musician Myke Salomon told director Maribel Legarda and Peta president CB Garrucho, “O, gagawin yung ‘Rock of Ages,’ gumawa tayo ng ‘Rak of Aegis.’”
He had no idea that they took his quip seriously.
“Pinag-meetingan pala nila. After a few months, they told me, ‘Let’s go, let’s do it.’”
They asked him to be the show’s musical director and arranger. “The first time I worked with Direk Maribel was on ‘Care Divas’ (where he played Faraj) but, after that, I did a lot of side shows at Peta, producing music for them. I also scored Maribel’s first feature film sa Cinema One Originals, yung ‘Melodrama Negra.’”
Although he had experience as a music producer, scoring films, working on albums including some for his own a cappella group Akafellas and arranging songs for other artists, creating music for a full-length musical was something Salomon had never done before.
“I was excited, I was pressured,” he recalls.
No formal training
Salomon, who first discovered his passion for music in third grade, never had any formal music training.
“Siguro I had bionic ears since birth. When my brother wasn’t at home, pinapakialaman ko yung bass guitar niya, electric guitar niya or yung keyboards na hiniram niya sa kuya namin. Kumbaga yung ibang bata naiwan sa kusina, ako naiwan sa piano.”
He remembers that old Yamaha PSR well. “May function dun na puwede ka mag-record ng five tracks. Dun ako na-fascinate mag-arrange ng iba’t ibang instrumento. Ang mga una kong tinutugtog nun, mga Spice Girls.”
For the incredibly successful “Rak of Aegis” which has had four runs and which will have another rerun in June, he had to reimagine the songs of the Pinoy rock band Aegis to help tell the story of the flood-submerged Barangay Venezia, a tale written by Liza Magtoto.
“Nauuna yung script. Maraming reading and drafts na dinadaanan yan. Tapos tingnan natin anong bagay na song dito sa scene na ‘to. Pag napasok na namin, okay game, edit tayo ng lyrics.”
The process was very collaborative, he says.
“For me, the formula is working with people you know how to work with, people you can discuss anything with. You need to be able to prove and disprove each other. Para sa akin yun ang tunay na collaboration.”
He creates the music in his own home, letting the work take over his world.
“It consumes my life, actually. It consumes my brain, my heart. Lahat. I just don’t tell people but it consumes me a lot. I don’t have fundamentals, influences or rules. I arrange through feeling it. Mabigat siya. Hindi siya mahirap, masaya siya gawin, pero mabigat.”
Sometimes, while on a night out with friends, an idea hits and he has to abandon them.
“Sh*t, kailangan ko umuwi, may naramdaman ko. Ganun. Iiwan ko sila in the middle of something. Or magre-record ako at magsusulat ako.”
He always makes sure he has a recorder and notebook with him, sometimes working even as he sleeps.
“Pag may naisip ako habang tulog ako, sinusulat ko yun. Pag nagawa ko na yung act one or ilang songs, naka-loop lang yan, white noise ko siya sa pagtulog ko. I can actively hear the songs while I’m sleeping, I can even perform it while sleeping, naiimagine ko siya. Tapos pag gising ko, ah, ito yung kulang, ito yung kulang. Nagpe-preprod ako habang tulog, tapos may naririnig akong ibang instrumento habang tulog. Hindi siya trick of the trade, curse siya. Na kahit tulog nagtatrabaho pa rin.”
Salomon, who first started acting in high school in La Salle’s Cue Drama Club and then Repertory Philippines, left theater behind for a number of years to pursue his music career.
In 2008, on his way to a gig in Nueva Ecija with the Akafellas, Myke got into a major accident that shattered his knee.
“Head-on collision sa highway. Kung wala yung seatbelt ko, lumipad ako palabas ng van. It was a second life. So I decided to do more things. Para siyang batok eh. When I was younger, I was afraid of doing things on my own but I decided to venture out. Second chance na yun eh.”
He got his second shot at theater in 2010 through Spotlight Productions’ Robert Seña who approached him in the gym one day and handed him a CD.
“I was feeling down then. I lost a lot. He said, ‘Pakiaral mo nga ’to, brother. May ginagawa kaming musical, subukan mo, baka makanta mo.’ Pinuntahan nila ako. Dun ko lang nakilala si Isay (Alvarez), sa bahay ko na nakapambahay ako. Nag-audition ako para sa ‘Magsimula Ka’ sa bedroom ko. Home service audition,” he says, laughing.
“Sumugal sila sa akin. I owe it to them,” he adds. Since then, he has never stopped acting for different theater companies.
Salomon believes that being an actor and singer helps him as a musical director.
“Pag may ginagawa akong areglo, I do the demo, too. Pag kinanta ko na siya, pag may naramdaman na ako, yun na yun. Yun din ang advantage ng isang actor na musical director, meron akong musical director’s hat, meron din akong actor’s hat, meron din akong audience hat. So if the music pushes me to sing with emotions, yun na yun. Kumbaga, there’s something there. Lalo na yung ‘Basang-Basa Sa Ulan’ ni Aileen, na pag sumisikip yung ilong ko na hindi na ako makakanta dahil emotional na yung kanta—okay.”
For “Rak of Aegis,” where he also played Kenny, he had to juggle being a musical director and actor. But, “Ang maganda dito eh buong cast ay kilala ko na. It was like working with my family, ang dali nang kausapin. May mga invisible line for friendship and professionalism. We can comment on each other.”
For Francis M
Salomon is also the musical director and arranger of “3 Stars and a Sun,” which runs at Peta until tomorrow, March 6, Francis Magalona’s death anniversary.
“Noel Ferrer wanted to do a tribute for Francis M na musical. He wanted me to do the music. He asked me, find a director and writer so you can do the music. Sabi ko, ‘Why don’t you ask theater companies to pitch an idea or a storyline?’ So nilapitan nila yung Peta.”
Salomon had known Magalona and even created a cover of “Kaleidoscope World” the day the master rapper passed away. But the work required for “3 Stars and a Sun” proved to be more complicated.
Again, he began with the script, this time a dystopian tale written by Rody Vera and Mix Villalon.
“Sa ‘Rak,’ ang simple lang ng tugtugan dun eh. Ito mahirap gawin dahil konti lang yung melody. So I have to make judgments, ano kakantahin ba natin dito… Maghaharmony ba tayo dito? Hindi pwede siyang gayahin lang and, at the same time, I have to slow down everything para maintindihan at bumagay sa musical.”
Two other shows
Aside from the “Rak” rerun, he is working on two other shows, both set for September this year—the Liza Magtoto-penned Peta musical to celebrate Yeng Constantino’s tenth anniversary (“Generation music din yan,” says Salomon) and Spotlight Productions’ “Dirty Old Musical (DOM).”
“Yan yung pinitch ko kay Robert sa Spotlight. DOM. Kasi di ba may ‘Vagina Monologues.’ Di naman masyadong madaldal ang lalaki. Pag-usapan natin issues ng mga lalaki, lalo na pag nagmimidlife na.”
The musical, which will be staged at the Music Museum and which Salomon says will star Robert Seña, Ricky Davao, Michael Williams, John Arcilla and Nonie Buencamino, will feature original songs and jukebox hits.
“May Imelda Papin dyan,” he says. Vera also wrote the script.
Asked which other artists’ work he dreams of turning into a musical, he says, “Itchyworms! Ang ganda ng album nila eh. Noontime Show, it’s calling for a musical. Tsaka Rico Blanco. I want him to make it a musical. Naiimagine ko yung mga kanta niya in a musical.”
His love for theater sometimes means having to turn down more lucrative projects, but he doesn’t mind.
“Wala eh, ito na yun eh. Kahit anong itapon sa akin dito sa Peta gagawin ko; as long as Peta trusts me, I will sustain that dream. This small box makes my imagination come alive.”
Follow the author on Twitter @turbochicken and Instagram @pajammy.