In the comfortable Homerock Studios, he sits quietly behind an imposing Yamaha Montage synthesiser, a Macbook to his right, a Zendrum EXP MIDI controller on his lap, stern-faced with shades on. For the man referred to as Mr. Pure Energy, Gary V‘s reserved stance seems contradictory. He presses a key on the Macbook and nods along to the consequent stream of music that emanates complemented by the band. Musical director Mon Faustino divides his comments and attention between Gary, the band, and the guest performers, sometimes with a tongue-in-cheek wince.

Gary motions to the sound tech to liberate the Zendrum. Apparently, Valenciano has re-mapped a few commands on the hi-tech/exotic instrument, and at the moment, will be of no use. Later, he says that’s just how he is: endlessly experimenting and switching things around.

Faustino plays a few quiet notes on his keyboard. Valenciano says, “This is where I talk, right?” He faux-spiels, his serious demeanour replaced with levity and his familiar Cheshire Cat grin.

“So…! Mitoy! How are you?”

No response. The subject, The Voice Philippines Season 1 winner Mitoy Yonting, has fallen asleep. Exhausted from other engagements or having ingested food during the rehearsal breaks (perhaps a combination of both), the powerhouse vocalist is oblivious and is gently snoring. The entire room quietly snickers.

Valenciano repeats calmly with added impish glee, “So…! Mitoy! Are you awake?” Yonting wakes up, and the room giggles.

The song they are about to rehearse is, well, “Natutulog Ba Ang Diyos?

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According to Bullet Dumas (l), Gary Valenciano taught him “hindi pwedeng petiks”

What follows is an emotional reading of the song with Valenciano and Yonting exchanging melodies and harmonising in high registers. Even in the low-key environment of a rehearsal studio–or perhaps because of it– the song is delivered with both subtlety and power, and everyone in attendance, production people and musicians one would assume should be used to it by now, bursts into applause at the conclusion.

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Gary V and Mitoy Yonting, both awake

Valenciano glides down from the song’s inherent pathos, grins again, and can’t resist ribbing Yonting one more time. “So! Mitoy! Gising ka na ba?”

Angeli Valenciano, Gary’s manager and wife, offers about the song’s ongoing resonance, “In 1987, I convinced him to do it. He was exhausted at the time, having just finished a movie, and he didn’t want to do another one right away. ‘It’s a Lino Brocka film (Natutulog Pa Ang Diyos or God Is Still Asleep), you have to do it. And I think the song itself can outlive the film.’ Being a lyricist, and being Christians, I did change one word: from ‘Pa’ to ‘Ba.’ It changed everything (with the previous line “wag mo sanang akalain,” it became “Please do not assume “Is God Asleep?”).”

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Good vibes and a bag of cornick: (l-r) Janice Javier, Allan Silonga, RJ De La Fuente, Katrina Velarde, Carla Guevara-Laforteza, and Tim Pavino

With his son Paolo directing, daughter Kiana guesting (plus her paramour Sam Concepcion), and Angeli presiding, Gary V Presents is a family affair but by no means blood-exclusive. The relaxed atmosphere is familial overall and extends to the relaxed behaviour of the guest performers: for one, ex-Miss Saigon lead Carla Guevara-Laforteza is clutching a pack of cornick that she happily shares with her fellow guests whilst navigating the harmonies for a medley.

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Lara Maigue brought her soaring pipes and her younger sister to her right. Off-frame: bottles of honey she sells on the side.

The pixie-esque soprano Lara Maigue has her younger sister by her side because “my folks are away, so I’m also baby-sitting. And by the way, I’m selling bottles of honey, if anyone’s interested.” Allan Silonga meanwhile has a lollipop between takes; an exhausted Bullet Dumas who biked to the rehearsals looks to a furry pillow for a quick nap.

The mellow atmosphere is by no means an indication of anybody slackening off. Dumas says he learned the value of practicing hard from Gary. “Hindi pwedeng petiks-petiks; it has to be precise.” It is the fifth and final season–for now–of Gary V Presents however, and the Man himself will say that there are a few things that don’t have to be run to the ground.

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Paolo Valenciano discusses a production detail with musical director Mon Faustino
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Guitar virtuoso Noel Mendez adds a few missing notes
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Tim Pavino and Mitoy Yonting receiving a few instructions from Faustino

Soul singer Silonga, who leads his own band Daddy’s Home, was initially called as a stand-in for Tim Pavino who was not able to play a few dates in a previous season of Gary V Presents. He says, with more than a hint of gratitude in his voice, “Replacement lang naman dapat ako. Pero maski available na si Tim, isinama pa rin nila ako sa show; may short acoustic set ako as opening act and then I will join everyone on the last number.” Silonga’s son Blaster is a member of IV Of Spades and Guitar Hero in Eat Bulaga‘s recently concluded MusicHero segment.

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Allan Silonga and ‘Suklay Diva’ Katrina Velarde

Angeli speaks glowingly of viral sensation “Suklay Diva” Katrina Velarde‘s vocal firepower. “You have to hear her version of this jazz standard during the show.” (Angeli requested for no footage of the rehearsal be put online so as not to have spoilers as per Gary’s instructions; said song was composed by Chick Corea, with a vocal version made popular by the late Al Jarreau, one of Valenciano’s influences.) The talented wunderkind can handle the tune’s syncopations.

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Silonga, De La Fuente, Velarde, Guevara-Laforteza, Flaviano, and Yonting harmonize. Note the precise grip on the cornick.

Before Gary V’s arrival, the guests and the band ran through a pair of medleys with Faustino fine-tuning details with the band. When Paolo arrived, he went through tweaks that will differentiate the last season from the previous ones.

Host and guests invested equally in the numbers, neither side upstaging the other.

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Paolo Valenciano pointing out a few tweaks in the production

As much as all the guests are powerful performers in their own right, the Valencianos agree: Bullet Dumas is different. While most of the guests come from a more mainstream approach musically and tonsorially, Angeli expounds that Dumas “shows up in a shirt and a guitar. The crowd wonders ‘Who is this guy?’ But the response he elicits afterwards…!”

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Bullet Dumas: the “wild card” in the series

Paolo adds, “Bro, you haven’t seen the show, right? You know what he did for ‘Babalik Ka Rin?’ He made an arrangement and ‘by the way, I added a new verse.’ He sent a rough demo to us, and dad and I were like, ‘Wow!'”

Angeli recalls, “During the first Elements Songwriting Camp, [the mentors] were having a good time, just chattering away. When Bullet performed, everybody turned around and fell quiet and were all watching like this (makes wide-eyed face, mouth open). I said from that time on, ‘We have to work with this guy, somehow.'”

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Gary V’s grin says it all

It is during the slot with Bullet that Gary V is supposed to play along with the Zendrum. Unfortunately, during the rehearsals, it was not possible. The missing element however did not detract from the intensity of the rehearsal and again, the room erupted in cheers. Valenciano turned around away from his keyboard to shake Dumas’s hand. They have done the tune together during the series but the smile on Valenciano’s face–which by now is ever-present– looks a touch even wider. They may seem musically different, but both have a naturally rhythmically propulsive approach, a common energy if you will.

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Valenciano playing with Sam Concepcion (in denim jacket)

Kiana and her dad worked on their number and–despite her being under the weather– their voices dovetailed beautifully. For the show itself, both will also deliver those classic Valenciano dance moves.

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Gary clearly was itching to do his moves. Unfortunately, there wasn’t enough real estate

As Gary V himself went through the rehearsal, it is clear that he doesn’t sing with just his voice: his whole body is involved. While he couldn’t actually do the Full Gary due to the limited physical space and emphasis on the musical aspects of the show, there it was in quick bursts: from a jerk in his shoulders or neck (or both) while seated to micro-dancesteps while standing. Even his little moves are simply bursting with power.

Towards the end of the rehearsal, he talks to Janice Javier who expressed that she seriously gets nervous before performances. Valenciano reassures her that it is actually a good thing to keep one alert.

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Paolo Valenciano and Bullet Dumas goofing off between rehearsal takes

Rehearsals over, he addresses a wardrobe-related detail as his tank-sized synthesiser is packed away.

In his hand, this tech-savvy musician is holding a small powerbank-like device but it is not a musical instrument and he says, “Hold on ha? I’ll check lang my blood sugar levels.”

It is a slightly unnerving little moment as one is reminded that the youthful keg of energy that is Gary V has to deal with diabetes for the rest of his life.

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Father and son

Gary says that there are people who have commented that there should be more Gary Valenciano in the show. He reminds them that the title and concept is Gary V PRESENTS; it is his musical guests’ show as well. It will be the last season before he embarks on a world tour of sorts that will begin in the US. Are there at least plans for an album? Even before the question is finished, he nods slowly with a concurring smile and, while nothing is yet concrete, he does look forward to the series’ potential studio counterpart and excited at the collaborative aspect.

As an artist who has always been vocal about his spiritual beliefs, does Valenciano then see the series as his own interpretation and gesture of grace?

He pauses briefly, considering the true meaning of the word perhaps. He smiles, and answers, “No. Grace… is given to those who don’t deserve it. These artists… every one of them deserves it.”

Let’s call it good ol’ fashioned generosity, then.

Gary V Presents is on its fifth and final season on May 12, 13, 19, and 20, 8pm at The Theatre, Solaire. See the details below: