HONG KONG – There are a lot to like about going on board a cruise ship like Superstar Virgo, but one of the more compelling ones should be the chance to see Filipino-American violin artist Bryson Andres perform.
The 23-year-old Alaska resident is currently the star attraction on board the Virgo, which takes travelers from Hong Kong to various destinations in Taiwan, China and Vietnam.
Before coming on board, Andres shared center stage in Resorts World Manila with Mitoy Yonting, who became a national sensation by becoming the first champion of The Voice, a TV singing competition.
How Andres got there in the first place is a story worthy of any tele-novela that most Filipinos are crazy about these days.
His road to fame mirrors that of top Filipino singer Charice. While both musically gifted, they struggled to make a name for themselves until YouTube lifted them from obscurity. (READ: Fil-Am musician Jeremy Passion: ‘It’s not about the views’)
However, there was also a difference. While Charice had a determined mother guiding her in the early stages of her career, Andres was virtually on his own.
Two years after he was born in Hawaii to an unwed teenage mother, Andres was brought to Alaska by his grandparents who raised him, and where his best childhood memories are of the fun time he had with his cousins.
“Cousins and grandparents are very important,” he says, underscoring the important role they played in his life.
Six years later, his mother who had by then married a black American from Alabama took him back to live with her and her husband, and their little girl. That was where he lost his ability to speak Tagalog, Andres recalls.
But this did not arrangement did not last long, as his grandparents thought he was better off being back with them in Alaska.
At age 12 1/2, he was smitten by a girl who played the violin, and he decided that he had to be good at it, too, if he were to get close to her.
He lost the girl shortly afterward because of a silly prank, but found an even greater love in the violin.
But money, or his grandparents’ lack of it, proved to be a problem. To be able to play better, Andres knew he had to have tutors, but the hourly fee of US$50 to $60 was beyond their reach.
This proved providential in a way, because he was not compelled to play the instrument in the traditional way. He learned by reading books and watching videos, but chose to develop his own style.
But because he became really good at playing the violin, someone was bound to notice. A musical director took him to Nina Bingham, the well-known violinist of the Anchorage Symphony Orchestra, and she gladly took him under her wings.
For two years he played classical music under her tutelage, but never felt comfortable doing this. What he wanted was to play contemporary music, though not in the way Vanessa Mae, the Grammy-winning violinist, does it.
“She plays with an orchestra, but I do it on my own,” he said.
What he does is to use “looping”, a method which allows solo musicians to sound like they are playing several musical instruments all at once.
This is done with the use of a loop pedal (or looper) which records what he plays, then allows him to accompany himself with recorded segments that repeat indefinitely.
To catch attention, he includes in the loops strains from popular songs.
“The theory here is that if you play something new, people don’t stay. But if you play something that is familiar, everybody will stop.”
Having found his groove, the next step was to find his niche in the overly crowded world of entertainment.
At the age of 20, he felt he had to get out of Alaska to get his career going.
”I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my career. I was still motivated but I was lost. I was playing everywhere in Alaska – at weddings, funerals, and I was exhausted”.
So, after saving up about US$4,000, he bought a car and headed to Canada. Along the way he met a musical promoter who promised to take him to Los Angeles, and then New York where he was supposed to work on a demo album.
But, “I was scammed”, he says of that episode. “It turned out he was crazy”.
With hardly any money left, he drove towards LA, but his car broke down. Undeterred, he tried to audition for the popular TV show, “America’s Got Talent” but was reportedly told that Americans would never understand his kind of music.
Then the miracle on the internet happened. He was playing on a street in Spokane, Washington when someone he didn’t know recorded his performance on youtube.
“On the first day, there were 30,000 views”, Andres recalls. That prompted someone from NBC in Spokane to offer him a guesting stint on TV.
“Four hours later, there were already 50,000 views” he says.
By the time he got back to Alaska, the hits more than doubled, and he was getting emails everywhere. “I thought I was being scammed again”, he says, recalling the time with glee.
One email he did take seriously was for him to fly to New York on an all-expenses paid trip for 3 days, to play at an event for 30 minutes for $100, a sum which was beyond what he was used to getting at the time. But more than the token fee, it was the chance to visit the city of his dreams that got him to say yes immediately.
Not long after, Resorts World Manila contacted him, and once again he seized the chance to travel and do what he enjoys doing most, which is to play his violin endlessly.
He received another break when Star Cruises, a sister company of Resorts World, offered to make him the star attraction on Superstar Virgo, which had been moved to Hong Kong from its home port of Singapore.
Since then, Andres has been performing every other night in a musical show on board the cruise ship until July, which he relishes.
“When I am in Manila I am always working. Here it’s very relaxed. The food is good and the amenities are awesome. And I also get to work.”
When not performing, Andres works on his second album which he expects to be released before the end of the year. – Rappler.com
Another version of this article was first published in The Sun Hong Kong. Rappler is republishing this with permission. The author is a veteran journalist, having worked for various newspapers and TV stations in the Philippines and in Hong Kong. She is also a lawyer and migrants rights activist.
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