Gerard Salonga: The accidental musician

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, March 23) - In a parallel universe, he pokes pets with a stethoscope and wraps their legs in bandage. In another world, he reports the news and is dubbed young Max Soliven, the late journalist he idolized in college.

Clearly, Gerard Salonga had diverse dreams. Unlike his sister, award-winning singer Lea who started as a music wunderkind at age 7, he never imagined himself as an orchestra conductor and musical arranger.

"It's just something I always thought of as something I wanted to do," Salonga recalled on CNN Philippines' The Source on Friday.  "(It's) more than a hobby really because music stays in your head all the time. It's something you think of all the time, you sort of live it."

But like the chorus in a song, he would repeatedly find himself back in music. 

At seven years old, Gerard had to play the piano for her sister's performance in Chicago. 

"The machine that was supposed to play her backing tracks busted. Her minus one (tape) wouldn't work," he shared.  It was all going downhill until an idea hit Lea.  " 'Hey, wait a minute, my brother can play this song on the piano!' And that was it. I have been accompanying her ever since," Gerard recalled.

In college at the Ateneo University, a friend passed on to Gerard a gig to be musical director in a play. He had to work with a band,  organize singers, and write music.

"And then a light went on and like 'wow, I wanna do this for the rest of my life. This is it. This is what I wanna do," the musician said.
 

 

 

It was composer Ryan Cayabyab who suggested that Gerard study music at the Berklee College of Music in Boston. While his classmates found the theoretical aspect of music "not fun," the young man actually enjoyed it and eventually graduated Summa Cum Laude.

One thing lead to another. Gerard would soon break free from his sister's shadow, making a name for himself as a musical arranger, conductor and now, music director of the ABS-CBN Philharmonic Orchestra. In 2016, he was appointed assistant conductor of the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra and joined its Asian tour.

But Gerard is grateful for the opportunities his big sister shared with him. 

"There are pluses and minuses to (being Lea's brother). But she has always maintained that 'yeah, I open the door for you.  I'll also close it if you don't prove yourself,' " he said.

Gerard  is currently helping build the repertoire, musical arrangement and logistics for Lea's 40th anniversary concert in October.