American Songbook comes alive on May 12

From their photos alone, it’s obvious that the classically trained singers set to perform in the concert “The American Songbook” are all driven millennials. Yet they are also able to sing and play the songs of Gershwin, Porter, Bernstein, Rodgers and Hammerstein and Sondheim, all from another era. That is what they have set to do on May 12 at 6 p.m. at the Insular Life Theater, Insular Life Bldg., Filinvest, Alabang, Muntinlupa City.

Tenor Jan Brianne Astom, the only male performer in the group that includes sopranos Mheco Manlangit and Jasmin Salvo and assisting artist Michelle Nicolasora, was exposed to the songbook when he worked as content assistant of the record company Naxos’ sister firm. He was particularly drawn to the songs of Ella Fitzgerald.

Tenor Jan Brianne Astom

He said, “My main takeaway from Fitzgerald’s singing was that these songs should be sung with a certain degree of yearning, or even pathos, depending on what the song calls for. Pure vocal technique just doesn’t cut it. The American songbook encapsulates the American experience during a colorful time in their history so taking to heart the meaning of the text is paramount to interpretation.”

Originally trained as a pianist, Astom lost his playing ability due to carpal tunnel syndrome three years ago, the time he turned to singing. He was taken in by Prof. Ma. Cecilia Valeña of the University of the Philippines College of Music who literally helped him find his voice. He also thanked international tenor Arthur Espiritu whom he described as “my idol and mentor, who spared time for me whenever he’s not touring the world. Both my teachers have helped me grow vocally and musically at a rapid pace in a short span of time.” He has also been coached by Nelly Miricioiu, Susan Waters, Ronan Ferrer and Nomher Nival.

Just because the American songbook has a degree of popularity doesn’t mean it’s easy to sing. “You’d think these songs are not operatic, but they’re as difficult to sing and interpret as any other song. Some of my songs require me to go as high as B-flat! Interpretative challenges included research on the context of the text and internalizing it. Some of these songs were lifted from musicals so I have to know what particular scene this song was in and what the character was doing and feeling at the time. It’s a lot to process. I can’t just sing,” the tenor said.

Soprano Mheco Manlangit

Manlangit first heard the songbook songs in her college subject, Theater Literature 1. She said, “American standards are basically the most well-loved jazz, popular and Broadway songs during the 20th century.”

Like Astom, she has run the gamut of vocal teachers and coaches to include: Espiritu, Miricioiu, Eugene delos Santos, Rachelle Gerodias, Najib Ismail, Eva Mei, Massimilliano Silvestri, Kotoko Saito, Abdul Candao and more. Like Salvo, she is one of the Jovita Fuentes Vocal Competition winners this year.

To her the challenge of the program is “the range of the music.” She said, “Most of the songs are in the middle to low registers so I have to adjust my placement. For this, I am trying different vocal exercises.”

She’ll be singing “Someone to Watch Over Me,” “All the Things You Are,” “So In Love,” “If I Loved You,” “Tonight,” “Losing My Mind” and “Defying Gravity.”

Soprano Jasmin Salvo

Astom’s list includes: “Embraceable You,” “Just the Way You Look Tonight,” “Everytime We Say Goodbye,” “Some Enchanted Evening,” “Not While I’m Around” and “Maria” from Westside Story.

He said of Gershwin’s compositions: “‘Someone to Watch Over Me’ and ‘Embraceable You’ never fail to melt my heart, regardless of the incarnation they appear in.”

Salvo, a voice student from the University of Santo Tomas Conservatory of Music who took masterclasses under Susan Waters and conductor Alexander Vikulov, will sing “I Got Rhythm,”“In the Still of the Night,” “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes,” “Something Wonderful,” “Tonight,” “What I Did for Love,” “Send in the Clowns,” “Defying Gravity” and “Season of Love.”

She said, “What I Did for Love’ from A Chorus Line by Marvin Hamlisch is one of the most challenging songs because of its high range and dynamics, but I really love to sing it because it’s about the love of performing.”

She agreed with her fellow singers that the American songbook requires a wide range from their voices, adding that “we have to keep on rehearsing the songs until we become comfortable with it. I take care of my voice properly.”

Pianist Michelle Nicolasora

Pianist Nicolasora said she is familiar with all the songs in our repertoire. “I grew up listening to standards at home, so except for the more recent music from Wicked, I've been hearing these songs for a long time now. The American songbook for me means American music written from the early 20th century which remains popular. It could be jazz, musical theater, film music—as diverse as the American culture it represents, “she enthused.

Of the composers represented, she loves the music of Gershwin, saying “he writes interesting melodies and rhythm, blends different styles and influences. He is successful in both popular and classical genres.”

Having studied classical piano at the UP College of Music and collaborative piano at the University of Memphis, the challenge for her is to play in the songbook’s style. Hopefully, I’ll be able to cross from one style to another,” she said.

For tickets, call Ticketworld at 891-9999, Filfest at 0917-817-7261 or the Cultural Arts Event Organizer at 0918-347-3027 or 782-7164.


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