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Music in his blood

S.Tamarai Chelvi

Mar 14, 2023

Gabriel De Leon aspires to break into the Hollywood music scene

MALAYSIAN-BORN Gabriel De Leon has music in his genes. Coming from a family of musicians in the Philippines, it was hard not to get influenced by music.

His father Ronald, who once played on a cruise ship, moved from the Philippines to Penang in 1994, bringing both his family and love of music with him.

Ronald then spotted Gabriel’s abilities at a young age, and later, both Gabriel and his brother Vincenzo formed a family band, which they called The De Leon Jazz Experience.

The band has been playing at private events in Penang with orchestras such as the Musical Sinfonietta and the Penang Philharmonic Orchestra for years.

The love of music motivated Gabriel to earn a scholarship to study at the Berklee College of Music and pursue jazz composition and music production.

Currently, Gabriel is composing music for several music production libraries, as well as a video game expected to release on Steam.

We recently caught up with the young freelance musician, and he revealed his aspirations to break into Hollywood and make a mark on himself in the music scene, and make Malaysians proud.

Gabriel also spoke about how the recent nomination of Michelle Yeoh in the Best Actress category at the Academy Awards has been inspiring to him.

Her achievement and success motivated the 23-year-old to take a bold step to go beyond the border.

At what age did you begin developing a passion for music?

“Since I was pretty much a toddler. My dad, a musician himself, would teach my older brother the piano at age two, and I was barely even born when he stuck me in the room to observe. It was probably when I was 14 or 15 that I started to realise my interest in composing.

“My dad and music teachers were very supportive of my compositional endeavours and allowed us to showcase some original compositions orarrangements with the school orchestra.”

Tell us about your family’s relationship with music.

“My father is originally from Las Piñas, a small town outside of Manila, the Philippines. He used to tell me that several of his uncles were musicians, and some were even stationed as far away as Hong Kong to pursue their careers as performing musicians.

“He was involved in the Las Piñas Boys’ Choir, a renowned choir that toured the nation and the world, as they competed globally for trophies.

Additionally, he also learned a few wind instruments from one of his uncles. I could either be a third or fourth generation Cristobal musician (the family on my dad’s mother’s side), and I am very proud of this lineage.”

Where did you learn about composing, arranging, and producing music?

“All three aspects were somewhat self-taught, at least from the start. Self research and professional feedback were necessary from my teachers and my parents.

“When I started studying at the world-renowned Berklee College of Music, I had begun my studies in music production out of curiosity. I saw the importance of this knowledge and sought to do the best I could to master it.

“Most of the basic skills I learned were through the syllabus, but in a way, I forced myself to practice music production pretty much every day.

Now that I have both the traditional composition skills and the contemporary music programming skills under my belt, it has become a fun turnaround in my career that I never saw coming, but I am having a good time.”

Tell us about the genres or music styles you have composed before.

“Primarily, I used to compose mostly orchestral or symphonic music. I have also done chamber music.

“Going to Berklee, I also majored in jazz composition, as I had never really done that before.

“For about two years of my time there, I regularly composed jazz tunes and pieces, ranging from fakebook-style tunes to big band arrangements and modern jazz from trio lineups to funk bands. Other styles would include EDM, salsa, house, and samba.”

What is the hardest part when it comes to composing a song?

“Getting the best melodic content Being primarily a drummer (and a non-improvising violinist), it’s definitely one of my weakest aspects.

“I am definitely a harmony nerd, but I am still working really hard to get much better at writing a memorable topline.”

What are your other interests?

“Aside from music, I enjoy football. So much football. It’s been tough getting the time to go out and play, especially with a busy schedule teaching, composing, and performing, but I have met a group of people (also from Berklee) who regularly have a kickabout every weekend, so that is what has been keeping me most active lately.

“I also like cooking, and once I settle down in Los Angeles, I will start trying new recipes.”

What instruments do you play?

“The drum set is my principal, and the violin is my co-principal. I have since picked up the viola, hand percussion, bass guitar, and guitar.”

Who are your musical influences?

“Too many. Tchaikovsky, Ludwig Goransson, my dad, Michael Giacchino. Some amazing drummers like Dave Weckl, Matt Garstka, Dafnis Prieto.”

Who would you like to collaborate with in Hollywood?

“More Malaysian creatives We lack representation, and that has been so important, given Michelle Yeoh’s recent awards for Everything, Everywhere, All At Once. Seeing people who look like you and have had the same struggles as you allows more people to believe that they can make it out here.”

What is your ultimate goal?

“Short-term goals are to score some smaller indie films and series, and write additional music for larger-scale projects.

“In the long term, I hope to start a music production company that allows for future budding composers and producers like myself, provides meaningful opportunities, and teaches and shows them that exploitation of the younger workforce is not necessary for someone to break into the industry.

“I also work in music production libraries, so I hope to get more hits on TV shows. Above all that, I would love to be able to maintain all of this whileliving a healthy lifestyle, physically and, most importantly, mentally.”

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