I’m part of a silent minority of Filipinos who bear a secret shame: I can’t sing to save my life. From the age of six, I’ve envied Lea Salonga. She has two things I desperately want — dimples and a singing voice. Someone once told me I looked like “a Kim”. Too bad my singing voice is worse than grim. By Filipino standards, I believe this makes me a mutant.
I dated a pianist and knew it was true love when he played the entire Miss Saigon repertoire as I belted out the vocals. I married him, of course. Once in a while, I’ll sing along to music in the car. Just to see if he still loves me. Fortunately for him, I’ve learned some techniques that people like me can use to compensate for our vocal disability.
#1 Surviving karaoke
My vision of hell is karaoke for eternity; my husband’s version of damnation would be sitting in the audience. The best way to cope is to be slightly tipsy. I can blame the alcohol for my crappy singing, and my husband can use it to numb his pain. It’s also important to pick the right songs — I like to call them “yelling songs”. Everyone knows them and will sing along with you, thereby drowning out your voice. My personal favourite is Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit”. Trust me. No one under the age of thirty-five can resist screaming out the chorus.
#2 Surviving Filipino choirs
Most Filipinos I know have been asked to join a choir at some point, and the question is usually rhetorical. “What do you mean you can’t sing? I’m sure you’ll be fine!” By the time you can prove to everyone that you really, really can’t sing, there’s a microphone stuck in front of your face, and a look of horror on everyone else’s. When someone asks you to join their choir, volunteer to do the overheads instead. Otherwise, learn the art of lip synching until you’ve had enough singing lessons not to embarrass yourself.
#3 Surviving family
My inability to carry a tune is a running joke in my family. They haven’t asked me to sing since I was about three years old. Fortunately, over a decade’s worth of dancing lessons enabled me to participate in normal Filipino rites of passage — talent quests, fiestas and Christmas parties — without damaging anyone’s sense of hearing. All Filipino kids need to have at least one talent that their parents can show off to other people. If you can’t sing, find an alternative quickly — dancing, acting or the drums. Otherwise … well, we’ve all seen those funny outtakes from Australian Idol, right?
But for all that I’m resigned to being a Filipino anomaly, I’m hoping that my children will be spared this particular indignity and they’ll inherit my husband’s musical ear. In the meantime, my lullabies may not be worthy of a Grammy but they’re performed for a captive audience.
“Sing, please, Mama.” To me, that’s the sound of unconditional love.