By Arlene Kiyomi Dennistoun
Northwest Asian Weekly
Hang on, Filharmaniacs! The Filharmonic are returning to Western Washington on May 12 to perform at the University of Washington’s Tacoma campus, and on May 13, at South Puget Sound College. The all-male, Filipino American a cappella group is currently wrapping up their “Get Up and Go” tour, and if plans don’t change, their last show will be held here in Washington on May 13.
It’s easy to understand the group’s rising popularity after a recent talk with VJ (Virgil Joven) Rosales and Trace Gaynor, two of the six members of The Filharmonic. Rosales and Gaynor’s energetic charisma and charm shot through the phone lines, despite the fact that they were driving to California. The rest of the group, including Joe Caigoy, Barry Fortgang, Jules Cruz, and Niko Del Rey, were unavailable for interviews, as they are constantly on the road doing what they love — performing.
The Filharmonic formed in December 2013 to audition for NBC’s “Sing-Off,” a popular a cappella competition. They made it to the semi-finals, despite forming a mere 30 days before their audition, and competing against groups that had been around for up to 10 years.
They’ve since completed a nationwide “Sing-Off tour, and performed in the movie “Pitch Perfect 2.”
“Filipino culture revolves around constant singing,” said Gaynor, explaining the group’s influence. “There’s a lot of encouragement for talent. Everybody whips out the karaoke machine! I’m surprised there hasn’t been a Filipino a cappella group before.” Rosales agrees, “A cappella is such a cool way to promote our culture, and is important because it’s so stripped down.”
“We do a lot of top 40 pop radio stuff, but what’s cool about our sound is we take what you hear on the radio, and spin it into a 90s, R&B harmony style. It’s cool to flip what you hear on the radio into our own sound,” said Rosales.
Rosales and Gaynor understands and appreciates their fan base. “Our fan base is pretty cemented in a cappella,” says Gaynor, so he doesn’t see the group moving away from that. Rosales adds, “It makes sense that we’d be labeled a ‘boy band,’ after being on the ‘Sing-Off,’ arranging 90’s inspired music, and being a bunch of guys, but I wouldn’t label us that,” said Rosales. But being a “boy band” definitely has its positives and negatives, he adds. “We like to look at the advantages, which is getting lots of love from our fans, and it’s really fun to dance and sing, which are the boy band qualities we like,” says Rosales. The disadvantages? Rosales doesn’t want the group to be boxed into only one type of fan group, like younger girls. “We want to break out of that and do different kinds of music as well,” said Rosales.
“Over the summer, we do plan to eventually get more into original music — that seems to be where the group is headed,” agreed Gaynor. “‘Get Up and Go’ is the name of the first original song as a group and we sing it at the end of our shows,” says Gaynor. “The newest thing for us is original music, especially since so much of a cappella is covers. Going into original music would be a drastic change for us.”
Gaynor calls himself an accidental singer. “I didn’t start as a singer. I grew up playing violin and piano, and kind of watched singers from afar.” He joined an a cappella group in college and since then, “It became everything I did, and now I’m a full-time singer.”
Rosales explains how the group came up with their name. “We were brainstorming and came up with The Filharmonic, Manilla Ice, Fresh off the Boat, some really funny names, but decided on The Filharmonic. It was classy and we loved it.” The Filharmonic members range in ages between 24 and 29, and are first generation Filipino American, except for Gaynor, who is third generation. They are headed back for another visit to the Philippines to perform at Fanfest in Manila. The group doesn’t speak Tagalog fluently … yet. “We can understand it, and we’re working on it,” says Rosales.
“We’re very thankful for the support they (the Asian Pacific Islander community) have given us. The whole reason for forming The Filharmonic was to support and put Asian Americans in the spotlight. We’re very grateful the community’s had our backs,” says Gaynor.
Luckily for the group’s fans, or “Filharmaniacs,” the group isn’t going back to school anytime in the foreseeable future, although Rosales says he’d “love to go back to school and get my masters in music. But I think The Filharmonic is here to stay, so we might just do this forever,” he laughs.
Arlene can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.