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Imagine Mr. C playing piano in your living room

Ryan Cayabyab, also known as “Mr. C,” is one of the artists who have recorded music for Steinway & Sons astoundingly accurate player piano called the Spirio, along with stellar names such as Lang Lang and Yuja Wang. “The first time I heard the playback in Steinway New York, I told my wife, ‘Wow! Is that me?’” Photo by GEREMY PINTOLO

Steinway Spirio owners can just open a bottle of wine, dim the lights, and virtually invite world-class pianists or composers to perform choice pieces in their living rooms. Including our very own maestro, Ryan Cayabyab.

In an almost window-less apartment, many years ago, composer Ryan Cayabyab imagined the rain, two lovers, and a garden of wetness around them. He promptly conjured a song about it.

“In my pad before, we only had a few windows (which were kept shut) because that was where we did rehearsals before,” says Cayabyab. He loved listening to the sound of rainwater falling on the roof. So he wrote a ballad about someone looking out a huge window and watching the rain. “Tapos, pagtigil ng ulan sasabihin ng kasama mo, ‘Aalis na ako.’”

The song became Tuwing Umuulan at Kapiling Ka, an OPM hit for Basil Valdez in the tail end of the Seventies and, decades later, for The Eraserheads.  

Spend an afternoon with Ryan Cayabyab, affectionately called “Mr. C” by people in the music industry, and you would be awed by stories about those classic OPM tunes Cayabyab has written and singers he has mentored, as well as be floored by the man’s self-deprecating humor, humility and charm.  

He is the son of opera singer Celerina Pujante who died when Ryan was just six years old. Cayabyab remembers growing up in a house inside UP Campus and 10 of their lady borders were music students. “I was surrounded by music.”

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He recorded an album at Greenhills Sound Production in 1981 called “One” all by his lonesome, layering 16 harmonized voices. A choir of Ryans if you will. This a cappella LP is a rare piece of vinyl. There is one on Discogs that goes for 89 euros (around P5,000) from a Swiss seller. 





Here is the backstory: After finishing his music course in UP, Ryan was invited to teach at the university, so he decided to withdraw his life savings to produce an album. Cayabyab explains, “I did it because I wanted to do something that I liked doing — singing all the parts, recording all the parts. Dati ginagawa ko na ‘yan eh. (This album) was supposed to be a gift to myself.” Since he would be less visible in the music industry owing to his duties in the academe. He spent P43,000 — a princely sum in 1981, mind you. Believe it or not, Cayabyab finished the album in five days, arranging and producing the tracks himself.

The “One” record was a slow-burner. “Probably too experimental,” points out Ryan. But years later, choral groups around the country would gravitate toward a particular number: Limang-Dipang Tao. And then Barbie Almalbis would popularize it even more when her band Barbie’s Cradle did a cover in 2003 off the album “Playing in the Fields.”

Ngayon ko din na-realize, that earlier in my career, some songs of mine would become popular with choirs first, before they were embraced by the mainstream. Kumukutikutitap is one of them.” Joey Albert’s version of the song has become a Christmas staple.

Mr. C has written a lot of great records for great OPM artists: Kay Ganda Ng Ating Musika (Hajji Alejandro), Paraisong Parisukat (Basil Valdez), and Kailan (Smokey Mountain), among others. It starts with the piano and ends up staying in the ears and hearts of Filipinos everywhere. On the strength of how immortal Cayabyab’s compositions are, Steinway & Sons invited Mr. C to New York to record nine of his songs to be part of the Steinway Spirio library. The first Filipino to be given such a recognition.

The Steinway Spirio — made with the level of craftsmanship as any Steinway & Sons piano — is a new high-resolution player piano that provides recorded music (everyone from Yuja Wang to Lang Lang, David Benoit to Billy Joel) that is indistinguishable from a live performance. It can astoundingly replicate a perfect concerto by itself with such accuracy. The Spirio comes with an iPad installed with a Spotify-like app. Imagine: Spirio owners can just open a bottle of wine (or a six-pack of Suntory Premium beer), dim the lights, and virtually invite world-class pianists or composers to perform choice pieces in their very own living rooms. It makes a great learning tool as well: Cue some pieces by, say, Chopin or Rachmaninoff and watch those keys cascade.  

During the Spirio launch at the newly opened Steinway & Sons boutique at Shangri-La Plaza Mall East Wing, host Cris Villonco would call it “summoning the artist.” And the library is constantly expanding. Grammy award winning artist Bill Charlap recorded a new album that is only available on Spirio. (Time will come, a brand representative says, when piano concertos can be streamed directly to the homes of Spirio owners. In real time. Amazing.)

“When Steinway asked me to be part of this, my initial reaction was ‘Why?’” recalls Mr. C with a laugh.

“I cannot play like a Lang Lang or a Yuja Wang,” Ryan Cayabyab concludes. “But, well, they cannot write a song like Da Coconut Nut (laughs).”

A composer recording an entire album by his lonesome. A men’s choir from Texas, USA singing (in the middle of an Emirates flight, take note) a ’90s Filipino novelty song written by that same person, with the YouTube video going viral. A player piano playing everything from classical to jazz to pop to timeless OPM songs written in the key of Mr. C.

Including that one, yes, where two lovers watch the world turn into water.

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Steinway & Sons — exclusively distributed in the Philippines by Lucerne — presents a wide selection of Steinway & Sons pianos including the Spirio as well as the Steinway-designed Boston and Essex. The showroom is at Level 1, Shangri-La Plaza East Wing, Mandaluyong City. For information, visit or call 637-7600.

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