“I didn’t formally study music,” admits musical artist Rony Fortich. “I remember just wanting to play the piano cause I would see my middle school music teacher, Mrs. Da Silva, playing it. Something clicked, and I knew I wanted to play.
That teacher taught him how to read music, so the young Fortich would go home and just spend hours on the piano. “That’s kind of how I learned, jamming with friends. Then one day, someone started paying me for it,” he shares. “So I’d spend more hours on the piano just getting better. It all worked out. Practice, practice, practice.”
More on Filipino music:
- From Jingle to Flying Lugaw: A brief history of music criticism in the PH, from critics then and now
- Review: The new Up Dharma Down album dismantles the heart and puts it back together
- This Pinoy couple had a most meaningful Camino pilgrimage, thanks to their guitars
- After a long hiatus, pianist Rowena Arrieta is ready to hit the keys again
- Mr. C on writing his hits, Doy Laurel’s life-changing advice, and the wisdom of George Canseco
Despite fostering that love of music early on, Fortich decided to major in (of all things) accountancy in De La Salle in 1995. “I didn’t think that I was anywhere good enough to make a living as a musician,” says the now acclaimed musical director. After graduating and passing the board, he took a year off, and found himself serendipitously back on the road to a career in music. “I was asked to play the piano at a dinner party with theatre people. From there, I got asked to play at the audition for the Trumpets musical The Little Mermaid,” he shares. That was the first “defining moment.”
“So I did gigs as a pianist, but kept accountancy as a Plan B,” he says. He was then asked to be the Manila rehearsal pianist for Atlantis Productions’ month-long staging of Rent in Singapore. He was only supposed to rehearse with the cast in Manila—“that was already cool”—and not join them in SG. Then one week before the cast left, he was asked to join the band for the show. “That changed everything. I remember getting on the plane and thinking, no more Plan B, I’m going to make this work.”
One of his longest stints as musical director was his time at Hongkong Disneyland, a position he didn’t even think he would get.
“I applied for the job, however unqualified I thought I was at the time with an accountancy degree and only five years of experience in the entertainment scene of Manila,” he says. “To a certain degree, they took a chance on me, and luckily it worked out wonderfully.
There, he got to work with singers from all around the world as well as fantastic musicians, many of which were fellow Pinoys. “I got to collaborate with directors from different Disney theme parks. I learned a lot about multitasking, producing music for a wide audience, and aiming for quality,” he says. “It was a pretty magical experience.”
One favorite memory he has of his time at HK Disney was in Halloween 2006. He remembers it so well because that was when the first song he wrote for the park was played, used to score the Glow-in-the-Park parade. “It was pretty surreal listening to it being played on Main Street when we’re doing a live mix at 2 A.M. Then watching guests enjoy the parade once it had opened had me smiling non-stop,” he says. “I wrote several songs in my 12 years there, but that first time was the most memorable.”
Fortich says that working with kids has always appealed to him. Besides his work with Disney, he’s written a couple musicals geared toward kids: Mr. Noah’s Big Boat, Bluebird of Happiness, and Repertory Philippines’ Quest for the Adarna, which is currently running in Greenbelt. “I’m a generally happy person, so making happy music has always appealed to me. Luckily kids have enjoyed it as well.”
Carols and creatures
Since chucking his “plan B” and going back and forth HK and Manila, Fortich has held several concerts, mostly with those same encouraging theatre friends.
He counts his 2014 concert “Best Seat in the House” as one of his most memorable. “I had hosted birthday jams with theatre friends for several years. Audie Gemora said, ‘why don’t you do an actual concert?’ So Stages produced it, and I gathered my theatre friends to join me,” he recalls. “Much like Ryan Ryan Musikahan, it was me on the piano talking and my friends coming up to sing. We held it at Teatrino which was perfectly intimate enough. The generosity of my theatre buddies and the love I felt from that sold out audience really overwhelmed me.” He has done two more “Best Seats” and “Company Calls” since then.
This Sunday, Fortich and his friends will again headline another concert at the BGC Arts Center. Called “A Stage Door Christmas,” the event is for the benefit of the LaMaVe Research Institute. The organization’s efforts is centered on conserving the big animals of the sea, from whale sharks, tiger sharks, and manta rays to dolphins and turtles.
“It’s my partner Jon-Jon, who scuba dives and has done work with them, and who actually suggested they be the beneficiary for this show,” Fortich says. “So after doing more research about them and what they do, it was the perfect idea. I’ve been able to meet more members since rehearsals have started and getting to know their work has been quite inspiring. As I understand, money raised will be used for several of their projects. I’m hoping we raise a good amount.”
What were some of your earliest memories as would-be musical artist?
My parents played a lot of music at home when we were kids. We had LPs, they took us to watch concerts and show bands. We loved singing along. In grade 7, I auditioned for the talent show at my school, but faked being sick on the day of the show cause of stage fright. In grade 8, I tried again but by then I had learned how to play the piano. So I joined singing and playing “Groovy Kind of Love.” I didn’t chicken out, but I remember my leg shaking in nervousness. But I made it through. In high school, I joined the show choir and in college, while studying accounting, I joined the DLSU Chorale.
Who was your biggest musical influence growing up?
As a pianist, Ryan Cayabyab. I loved watching Ryan Ryan Musikahan growing up. I’m an accompanist more than anything else, and watching him on the piano with singers made me want to do just that. As a composer, Alan Menken. His songs in musicals like The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, tell such wonderful stories with such beautiful melodies.
What’s one piece you will never forget?
“On My Own.” It was the first song I ever learned to play completely, note for note, from reading music. It’s also used at almost every audition I’ve played for.
When you think of the holidays, what are the first thing that comes to your mind?
Family. Even when I lived abroad, I always managed to fly home and spend it with family.
What’s the greatest carol ever written?
“Twelve days of Christmas!” Epic piece!
What’s one song you wish you could’ve written?
“Better Days,” by Dianne Reeves. Love the storytelling. Love those lyrics. Love that melody.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received as a musician?
Mrs. Da Silva told me that when something looks tough to play, to try it slowly first. This made perfect sense, with anything in music or in life. Take a step back, slow it down, and try again. It has stuck in my head whenever I find myself stuck.
What advice would you give to a young musical artist?
Make sure you love what you do, invest in your craft, and be nice to people. You’ll find the universe reflects all of that right back.
What’s one thing about the music industry you wish you could change?
Funding. I wish there was more money in the industry for artists to spend on creating art and developing their skills and not worrying so much about turning a profit. It’s already amazing what people can do on a tight budget, how much more if money were no issue.
Please share some of your favorites. What’s your favorite city in the world?
Manila. After 12 years of living abroad, definitely Manila.
Favorite clothing brand?
How do you destress?
I look for relatable quotes on Instagram.
How do you relax?
I love going to the beach and zoning out, getting a massage, or listening to music.
Who’s on your spotify playlist?
Ben Platt, 80s music, and Broadway musicals galore.
Last book that you’ve read and loved?
Geography of the Heart, by Fenton Johnson.
Dream dinner guests?
Right now, it would be Billy Porter or Stephen Sondheim. In Manila, it would be Louie Ocampo or Regine Velasquez.
Person you most admire apart from family?
What’s on your bucket list?
My bucket list is actually a list of singers I want to jam with someday. Lani Misalucha, Sharon Cuneta, Bette Midler, Bernadette Peters… the list goes on.
For more information on A Stage Door Christmas, visit its Facebook event page.