Life begins at 50: How music keeps the dream alive

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From left: Joey Ayala, Moy Ortiz, and Audie Gemora tell us how their music changed their lives, and how they’re giving back to the dream that made them. Photos by JL JAVIER

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Presented with Nestlé Health Science Boost, the line of nutritional supplemental drinks formulated for the specific needs of active ageing adults, these inspiring individuals are only but a few Filipinos who show that life only begins at 50, that ageing healthily and gracefully can mean a host of possibilities: staying fit, picking up a new sport, helping those in need, and changing the world. Nestlé Boost — which has key nutrients and proteins, as well as vitamins and minerals — celebrates the lifestyles of dynamic individuals who, with their wisdom, experience, and accomplishments, show no signs of slowing down.

Manila (CNN Philippines Life) — “I realized actually quite late that I didn’t want to hold a regular job,” says Joey Ayala. The singer-songwriter, who is a living legend of Filipino music, recalls having watched other musicians play and observing, “This guy is having fun and he doesn't have a day job.” Maybe, he concluded, he didn’t need a day job to be happy.

Moy Ortiz, best known for his work with the vocal group The Company, had similar realizations. “I've never been part of a corporate setting,” he shares of his beginnings. “I started working as a junior in college at the Ateneo. I was a backup singer and one thing led to another.”

“I do remember a very specific moment in my life in my early 30s when I was standing at the CCP Main Theater backstage about to go on,” shares singer, dancer, and actor Audie Gemora. “I looked onstage and I said, ‘This was what I was born to do.’” From that point on, he says, there was no more confusion about who he was.

Ayala, Ortiz, and Gemora may have all risen to prominence, one way or another, in the 1980s, but they’ve made it very clear that their heydays are far from over — and if it appears to be that way, it may be by design. “I had this thing in my mind na, ‘I'm going to retire when I'm 30,’ and I kind of did,” Ayala says. Surrounded by his “precious junk,” referring to the indigenous instruments he has become known for, he realized that he was already living a dream he had in high school: to live in a recording studio. “When I realized that I was living a dream, I had to wake up and have another one.”

Gemora likens the later years of his career to the ripples of a pebble being thrown across a pond. “The impact may not be as strong as when you burst into the scene, but it's farther reaching,” he says. He illustrates the changes: from performing, to producing and teaching, to heading organizations dedicated to his craft, becoming entertainment director at Solaire Resort & Casino, and opening the Talent School of Academics and Arts. “Sometimes I’ll come back and do a little performance to feed my soul, and that still gives me the ultimate happiness, to be able to perform. But I'd like to think that I'm at the point in my life where it's about legacy already.”

Ortiz shares Gemora’s feelings about performing live as a matter of “instant gratification.” On the other hand, having taught pop vocal performance workshops at Trumpets Playshop for ten years, and solo and choral singing courses at MINT College for four, he calls being able to pass on his knowledge and helping students hone their talents “rewarding and fulfilling.”

"Age doesn't matter, but matter ages. My knees hurt, and I get joint pains, but the learning [doesn’t stop]. That's why I have to keep doing what I do.” — Joey Ayala

“You get to use [your talents] on loan [from God], for a finite number of decades if you're lucky, and you share it with the world,” Ortiz says, reflecting on the life and opportunities he’s had. “And if the world responds to what you give it, it's really a spiritual experience. It's deep joy.”

Of course, their paths didn’t quite diverge naturally, and some adjustments had to be made. “I used to play all the romantic leads,” Gemora recalls. “I can’t do that anymore.” He is quick to note, however, that he was able to play Sweeney Todd and the Phantom of the Opera later in his career, and that his experience and age has only made him a better performer. “As an actor, [when you get older], you get deeper, you know more about life. So you have more experience to pull from.”

“There was a time I felt like I needed to keep up for professional reasons,” says Ayala. He has taken an interest in using electronics and technology, which he calls the “indigenous instrument of today,” to make music. “But my natural curiosity about things has always been greater than my survival.”

According to Gemora, being an artist is the closest thing to immortality; one that has the power to change minds, move hearts, and influence people. “We get to live as many lives as there are roles, and [other] people don't get that opportunity.” Even now, Ortiz continues to dream and see himself as a work in progress. “There are endless things to create,” he says. “Decay, decline — fuck that! It's the fire within.”

“I’m a musician and a composer precisely because I feel that there's something I can contribute that isn't there,” Ayala says. When asked what it is, exactly, that isn’t there, he laughs and answers, “Me.”

“Age doesn't matter, but matter ages,” he adds. “My knees hurt, and I get joint pains, but the learning [doesn’t stop]. That's why I have to keep doing what I do.”

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