Why This Filipino Doesn’t Sing (until recently)

There is a special place in hell reserved for the inventor of karaoke machines which, after each song, grades your singing ability based on your performance.

Let me start off with a stereotype: Filipinos are known for being great singers. My mother, bless her heart, spends her nights and weekends reminiscing about her home country by clicking through YouTube video after YouTube video of of entertainment news reports, audition videos, T.V. Shows, and the occasional collage of a Philippine Celebrity such as the Current Miss Universe Pia Alonzo Wurtzbach. Usually, I am guilty of delving into a few guilty pleasures of my own such as reading the blog posts of Australian fashion mogul Margaret Zhang (even though I have no interest in fashion) and the past articles of the late wordsmith/polemicist Christopher Hitchens (despite having opposing viewpoints towards religion).

A few months ago, Fourth Power, the vocal quartet that had made grounds on The X-Factor (U.K. edition), was on her radar. With each video showing their rise to the top on the program that helped create One Direction, it seemed like a good time to be a Filipino. Like many Filipinos, the allure of these four born and bred in the outskirts of Manila hitting it big in the world would make one proud of their country. Pride is a sin, but for the sake of a country that is not known for producing superstars, it’s nice to delve inside the feeling for some time.

I tend to see myself as a complicated individual who resorts to listening to the moody sounds of Sufjan Stevens and The Camerawalls as they tend to emphasize emotion through musicality instead of how high a vocalist can hit the high note. In terms of my musical tastes, I am a hipster. The only thing that is missing from my bag is plaid shirts, baggy shoes, a kale diet, and embracing chaos. But hipsterdom shouldn’t be the main motivator on I tend to stray away on a creative pastime.

It all started when I was the sixth grade. To bring spice to our sporadically vibrant household, with the occasional sound of Sharon Cuneta or Eraserheads blaring from the stereo, a karaoke machine was purchased. Normally such a purchase was meant to entertain the middle aged, hyper-conservative parents of the English-speaking Filipinos by singing pop songs both new and old, in English or in Tagalog, as the main event for a house party. But for my family, singing is not just a passion, it’s a way of life and given the opportunity to exercise their vocal chords, they sing their heart out. My brother was involved with the school choir throughout his school years and my parents were the lead performers for their prayer group. However, of course, I had to be the different one. The outlier, the Black Sheep. I wasn’t keen towards singing or any type of music that tends to glorify the singer.

I pressed 216 on the microphone’s keypad and the song “ABC” from the Jackson 5 was selected. Blaring out the cheap MIDI files commonly associated with karaoke hits, I began singing along with the words. Gracing the lyrics, I channeled my inner Michael Jackson on the microphone. I felt powerful and music was at the helm of my shoulders as I hit the high notes and the low notes. Even the break where Jackson scats out was performed I was lost and unsure on how to blurt out random phrases to an imaginary audience. An audience who, real or not, would present me an after show present of a bouquet of roses, a straight jacket and a limo to the nearest psychiatric ward.

The song ends and the verdict comes up:

Without an applause or an upbeat melody. I sat in silence as the bold numbers flashed on the screen for five seconds. Five long seconds as I sat on the couch, coming to terms with the harsh truth that I was not good at singing.

I was bad.

Needless to say, I typed in 216 again and replayed the song. This time, I would try ten times as hard than the last one. The first attempt was simply a warm up and on this second try I was going to do far better.

This time, I transferred my whole heart onto the microphone, straining my vocal chords to hit the high notes. Feeling the rhythm pounding on my heart, once again I channeled my inner Michael Jackson on the MIDI background. My mother, listening in the sidelines, remained silent throughout. I was determined to get a better score so I could finally be placed alongside the legion of the amateur vocalists. One step closer to my family accepting me as one of them.

The songs ends and the score finally pops up. No applause was heard and no music played in the background. My efforts were left in vain.

A 68 graced its message all over my eyes, killing my self confidence towards singing and a growing disdain for the art or any song or musical that emphasized the use of vocals instead of using actual instruments. It was the first step onto becoming a vastly different family member. One that would spend a Filipino house party wandering around the house instead of conversing with like minded individuals, causing concern towards my parents.

Soon my insecurities arose whenever my family recited their lyrical poems. I became the bad son and my family grew to despise my very existence due to my antagonizing responses whenever the urge to break into song and dance came into their mind. When their part for “Real Life: The Musical” was performed, I usually covered my ears or ran out of the room to prevent my mind from going dark. There was a time when the muffled echo of my brother’s soprano voice, practicing his part for the choir, was met with my body flailing around my room, pounding the carpet in hopes that the singing would stop. When my brother finally came into my room to see what the banging was about, he was met with his sibling on the floor, huddled in the fetal position. It was the only moment when such an exchange was met with no friction between us brothers. The same couldn’t be said for the other times.

My relationship towards my older brother gradually diminished into a flattened pancake, produced by the steel toed boot of a brother’s hellish fiery fury unleashing upon me whenever I covered my ears for safety. My father had a similar reaction. Seething with anger, instead my father gave me advice on how to calm down whenever any of my family members started expressing their feelings through music. I wasn’t getting better, and such heated exchanges ultimately led me towards a year long slump towards our relationship. For one full year, after a fateful sixteenth birthday which was ruined from his anger and my reluctance to accept my faulty singing, I had an intense disliking towards my older sibling.

God couldn’t save me either. The act of singing is encouraged in church where a simple song rendition can lift up a prayer into a grandeur spectacle of praise. Oftentimes, I was pressured by my own family to start singing in order to please El Papa but I tended to stick with my values once they’ve been established. So I remained quiet, absorbing the positive energy exemplified by the faithful. I hope that I don’t go to hell because of my reluctance to perform in public.

As the years progressed, I started to grow up by reconciling with my family towards my disdain for their passion. Heck, I started singing along to my favorite songs (in private of course). In 2012 I discovered The Smiths and Morrissey’s yodel like vocals, where I would spend time in my room placing my hands upon my temples and gliding around the room. Occasionally, my parents would overhear my singing and would compliment my skills. I gradually regained my self confidence towards my works. Ultimately, inflating my massive ego towards an poppable bubble.

It was enough to consider joining my high school choir a mere four months before graduating. I remember the faces of both the mega star choir teacher and my guidance counselor when I expressed my interest in singing halfway through the year when people were preparing to go into the real world. Everyone that I’ve talked to concerning my decision, including the choir teacher who was dumbfounded to even hear such a question, encouraged me to follow through. However, my guidance counselor stopped me on my tracks with a simple word: no. To this day, I still cringe whenever the memory flashes in my brain.

It wasn’t until the term “The haters only hate because they’re insecure of their own lives” became relevant. Normally, I would agree with such prose due to the confidence needed to continue under the face of ridicule, but then I remembered thinking about singing and receiving those two low scores. Once I put the pieces together, the puzzle solved itself.

I began to start the processes of forgiveness towards myself and to everyone around who has been hurt by my disrespectful nature. I’m gradually coming to terms with the fact that my family loves to sing and the majority of songs and artists that I love exemplify their self confidence by writing out lyrics and singing into a musical backdrop to express their feelings to an unseen force of listeners. I’m even starting to sing a bit, with the occasional sing along in my car to Shark?’s “California Grrls” or MUTEMATH’s “Chaos”. But despite forgiving my tresspasses against my family, karaoke bars are still out.


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