Singers who just can’t singBy Lea Salonga
Philippine Daily Inquirer
A friend recently lamented that watching TV had turned an otherwise perfect day into a nightmare. He had spent an afternoon enduring poor renditions of pop songs. I didn’t see the show—my afternoons are usually spent watching cartoons with my daughter—so I can’t say how it went.
But I trust my friend, and I commiserate with him. No one should have to hear bad singing. And here’s my question du jour: What makes someone a bad singer?
I can almost hear the “duhs.” But yes, there is an obvious answer—when someone’s off-key, of course. It seems to be the most glaring sign that the person singing should be put away. Now, if the person asked is a professional singer, the answer may not be all that simple. There is more to singing than staying in tune.
I’ve had my share of cringing as I watch a song being massacred on TV. My neck starts to twist and every muscle from my shoulders up stiffens. I can’t help it. My friends have seen this, so they know if someone is, to my ears, veering from the intended path.
Another thing that triggers it is lack of emotion. I’ve heard singers who hit every note as the composer intended, who can do all the licks and turns, and ad lib until the cows come home—and yet leave the listener unmoved.
But I’ve heard less-than-perfect intonation that nonetheless made me feel my heartstrings had been expertly plucked.
To give an example: Weeks ago, I sat in for a while during a recording session for “The Kitchen Musical.” As musical director, my brother Gerard supervises every session in Manila (the show is taped in Singapore). I had a rehearsal scheduled with him, so I decided to wait.
I said hello to Karylle, who was finishing up, and commented on how nice her recorded tone was. Next to come into the studio was Art Acuña. Now, Art isn’t a singer, but he’s a damn good actor.
Gerard had earlier spoken about Art, thus: “He’s intense, you can really feel what he’s doing, because he’s such a great actor.”
The song to be recorded was Four Non Blondes’ “What’s Going On.” From the moment Art opened his mouth, you could hear what was happening in his head and heart. He has the skill to infuse his performance with such subtext and emotion, you forget that he’s not, in the strictest sense, a singer. I was moved just sitting in that darkened room, listening. That was one great performance. (His intonation was spot-on, too.)
So, I won’t discourage would-be singers from lending their voices to a song. Just have enough control over it, cultivate a good tone and have a heart bigger than the Virgin Mary’s. You might have something special that will make people listen. I use the word “might” because, to be honest, no one really knows what’s going to make an audience feel something and sit up.
That said, I know a massacre when I hear one. And when I know that I’m about to see it happen on a TV show, I turn the darned set off. Or switch to a video game.
James Ingram is coming for two shows and I will be his special guest! The singer of the classic pop hits “Just Once,” “One Hundred Ways” and “Whatever We Imagine” will be at Smart Araneta Coliseum on
February 17, and at the Waterfront Cebu City Hotel on February 18. This is sure to be something very special, and I am very excited!
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