By: Carissa Palpal-latoc


By: Carissa Palpal-latoc

“I always have a phone recorder on hand. Usually I am just doing something else, walking around the mall, waiting for a ride, or just sitting around – but for us composers, in our subconscious, we are always making music,“ he says as he plays a sample record from his phone.

Inside a tiny room-turned-studio in Metro Manila, multi-award winning composer Diwa de Leon clicks away on his computer, rushing to finish a project that needs to be uploaded in his YouTube channel within the day.

At a glance, the room appears to be an ordinary music studio — in one corner, musical instruments are mounted on their stands, an epiphone acoustic guitar and a two-stringed local instrument called Kudyapi. At the other corner, multiple awards are displayed on a shelf.

Backed against the wall are two computers – the first is occupied by Diwa, while the other is flashing a big “String Player Gamer” icon. A third screen hangs on the wall flashing the same icon.

But the studio is unusually packed with gaming merchandise, filling the remaining spaces in the room. From Super Mario to Final Fantasy, the room is brimming with posters, plush toys, and action figures of animated characters – his studio reflecting a blend of two worlds that make up Diwa de Leon.

The multi-award winning composer is oblivious of the clutter, sitting comfortably on his gaming chair, he puts his finishing touches on his new video.

Coming from a family of musicians—his grandfather is Felipe Padilla de Leon, a National Artist for Music, and his father is the former chairman of the National Commission of Culture and Arts—it can be said that Diwa is destined to be an artist.

Diwa de Leon plays his black electric violin

When he was just five years old, the young Diwa de Leon unsurprisingly showed potential as a composer. “I was playing the piano and I played a random set of notes that I liked and showed it to my father. I told him ‘Tatay, I made a tune’, and my father wrote it in notes, in sheet music, and that short 10-second piano passage became my first composition,” swiveling in his chair, Diwa recalls his childhood memories with a smile.

It was merely child’s play for the young Diwa when he unconsciously made his first composition, but it marked the birth of a multi-award winning musician.

“That was the moment I realized, I can create musical sounds that can resemble music,” he says.

In 2006, Diwa’s journey as a film composer formally began when his band “Makiling”, which performs world music, was hired by friend and Director Ruelo Luzendo to compose a score for Luzendo’s film “Pandanggo”, an entry for the Cinema One festival.

“The band was hired as the scorer but after [that film], there were projects that Makiling had to take on. As a band, it became hard because we were not always together so they gave me projects to work on as a solo composer,” Diwa explains. “So for Ruel’s next film which was Kolorete, another entry for Cinema One in 2009, he hired me as a solo composer. That was my first film scoring project and I was lucky because it was a unique film, so I had to give it my best.”

Diwa’s work for Kolorete was awarded as the Best Musical Score at the Cinema One awards night, and it opened up doors for Diwa’s musical career. He then continued to receive awards for his compositions; His most recent award was for Auraeus Solito’s “Baybayin” in 2013 for Best Music at the Gawad Urian.

Diwa de Leon poses with his equipment. The monitor shows a program he uses to

edit his music and videos and a keyboard sits in front of it.

“Auraeus Solito hired me to compose music for his film called Baybayin and Busong, a Palawan based trilogy. He gave me the chance to freely write the music,” he shares. “Because he knows that ethnic instruments are my specialty, Filipino ethnic instruments like the kudyapi, I was inspired to make it very artistic, very Filipino, very distinct.”

After 20 years of being in the industry, Diwa has done music scores for at least 40 films and some TV shows including all four seasons of Survivor Philippines.

Diwa’s inspiration for his compositions doesn’t always come in conventional places. His eureka moment, he shares, would sometimes come to him when he is doing mundane things in random places.

Taking out his phone, Diwa de Leon plays an audio sample of himself discreetly humming a five–second tune inside a restaurant.

“I always have a phone recorder on hand. Usually I am just doing something else, walking around the mall, waiting for a ride, or just sitting around – but for us composers, in our subconscious, we are always making music,“ he says as he plays a sample record from his phone.

“Sometimes, a melody would come to mind and I would sing and record it on my phone. Because that super quick inspired moment, it will pass. So it’s important that we immediately write it in notes, or record it on our phones to document that micro moment. And then I would expand that short idea and turn it into a full composition,” he explains.

A sample of Diwa de Leon’s process. From humming to the production

Diwa can create masterpieces with his original ideas, but in another part of his life, Diwa finds enjoyment in being a YouTube cover artist.

Nowadays, Diwa de Leon is more popularly known as the String Player Gamer, a musician who re-arranges and covers songs popularly heard in video games, played in full orchestra using string instruments. “Being the string player gamer is another parallel of my life, because when I was a kid, aside from the musicality of our family, my cousins and I, were fond of video games,” he says.

When he first started his YouTube channel, Diwa confessed that it was out of sheer curiosity, more than anything else, that the String Player Gamer was born. “I was curious, who are these youtubers? Why are they popular? Why do they have subscribers? I took it upon myself to look into this YouTuber phenomenon.”

Diwa decided to combine two of his passions: music and gaming, by re-arranging popular game theme songs, and uploading them on his YouTube channel, The String Player Gamer. He scrolls through his channel until he comes upon his first viral video. Donned in a Super Mario costume, the video shows Diwa playing Super Mario’s theme song using his violin.

“My first video which became viral is where I covered the Super Mario theme song using my violin, it now has 500,000 views,” he shares.

Now eight years from his first viral video in 2009, Diwa is now a full-time YouTuber with more than 100,000 subscribers from around the world. But while Diwa, as the String Player Gamer, shows a fun and lively persona, he admits that he is far from being the enthusiastic person that he projects.

“I’m naturally a shy person, I don’t really go out,” he shares. “But whenever I don the costume, there is a sort of empowerment that happens. When I wear the full ensemble of the Super Mario costume, I also become a jolly person. Maybe it’s sort of a mask that I can pretend to be somebody else, but whenever I go into that String Player Gamer persona my personality changes.”

Diwa’s process of writing a composition for films and re-arranging songs for his YouTube channel, may be the same, however, he says that the principles are entirely different.

“The process is the same – it starts from a small micro idea and then it will expand later on,” he explains. “The big difference is, with film composition, I can freely think of my own original ideas. It is very much encouraged to think of your own ideas. But it’s the opposite for the String Player Gamer. I am just re-arranging already popular music that exists in the video game world. You have to stick closely to the material because what’s important in covering songs is the recognizability. It’s the two sides of the same coin.”

Diwa’s family’s encouragement for him to pursue the arts played a big part in molding Diwa as the multi-talented artist that he is today, but Diwa admits that being into music is hard work and should be more than just a hobby.

“Don’t do music unless you cannot live without music,” he advises.

“If music is something you only want to do as a hobby, then just do it as a hobby.  If you cannot contain yourself to do the hard work and practice at least 10,000 hours to master an instrument, if you cannot commit yourself to that, then don’t take music as a career. Just do it as a hobby. But if you find yourself so impulsively wanting to perform, wanting to compose, wanting to write a song, then that’s the calling of becoming a professional musician.”

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