Tuesday, January 19, 2010

I Cried On Stage

Nothing beats a good melody interspersed with meaningful lyrics. Songs that can stand the test of time that even young and old alike enjoy listening to repeatedly. Songs that is universal in its appeal yet crossover different genres and still touch the hearts and minds of its listeners. Very few of these songs exist.

My father had a good singing voice like some of my uncles, his brothers. Papa’s singing was not that spectacular but he had a way of enunciating the words and letting the melody roll almost effortlessly that can make you stay and listen. From that moment, I began training myself how to sing properly. I listened to the greats and tried to imitate their style down to a T. It was an unsuccessful attempt at first with my own mother as my greatest critic. I endeavored to improve but was never even chosen for glee in elementary and high school. This challenged me to improve myself further until friends and relatives began taking notice. But I never let it go to my head. My belief has always been that there is always room for improvement. I am happy, for I’ve learned and found my own voice. I may not be that great a singer, but I am confident that I can carry a tune.

My very first public performance was during a company family outing. My father was the one who encouraged me to sing in front of the entire company of his peers. I was only twelve or thirteen years old that time. As a tribute, I chose to sing his favorite song, Steve Lawrence’s version of “The Best Thing That Ever Happened To Me,” which I know by heart. As the melody began to play and the initial applause of the crowd rang, the unthinkable happened. I froze, and forgot the lyrics. Panic struck me as about four hundred pairs of eyes of my father’s officemates, officers, executives, and their families were all on me.

The band looped the intro as I blankly turned to my back to look at the bandleader as he signaled with a nod for the proper time for me to begin singing. I know when and where to come in, but the words were jumbled in my head that I could not even let out one note. They looped the intro a third time and this time, my father sensing something wrong, stood up, grabbed the microphone from my hand and began singing “his” song. I was so embarrassed by that episode that I wanted to flee the stage right there and then but my father held on to my shoulder as he continued singing. I eventually made up for that embarrassing faux pas years later, when I already had enough confidence and experience, and learned how to control my stage fright. I sang for that same crowd each time there was an official company function. Every time I go up on stage, I blank the crowd out except for my father, wherever he was seated, and sang my songs as if I was singing only to him.

“Feel when you sing.” My father always said to me each time I practiced at home. “It doesn’t matter what type of songs you sing, but feel what the song is trying to convey and make your audience feel that.” I took that to heart and felt sad when I sing a sad ballad, angry when I belt out an angry pop or rock song, jolly and playful when I sing happy tunes.

Years later, my father was diagnosed by his doctors and found he had a tumor on his brain. His surgeon gave a very high survival rate if he undergoes surgery the soonest time possible. The tumor was situated on top of the brain, not inside it. He survived the procedure but he had to undergo a series of twelve cobalt treatments, one to be administered every month to ensure that the tumor will not return and kill off any of its remnants. But unknown to us, he underwent only three treatments and stopped. In three years time, his tumor returned and was more virulent. He underwent a second craniotomy but he never got out of his coma after a week in the Intensive Care Unit. His doctors told me that normally, only two to three days was needed to return and wake up after such a major operation. I should know because during his first operation, it took him only a few hours to wake up and I immediately tested him if he had any memory loss, which I find were all-intact. When the doctors told me that if he does not come out of his coma soon, his chances of surviving would be grim as he was becoming more dependent on the machines that was keeping him alive. The fateful moment came when the doctors announced that he was already brain dead. I was with him in the ICU all that time, not even going home for a proper rest after more than a week in the hospital. I demanded that they leave the machines on in case a miracle will be given us at that point. It never came. It was painful but I had to accept it was God’s will, and it was truly his time to go.

I requested a few moments alone with my father before the doctors finally turned off the machines. I whispered my goodbyes to him as I held his hand. Then I softly sang his favorite song to his ear. Brain dead or not, a tear fell from my papa’s eye as I was about to come to the song’s end. I knew right then and there that he heard me. I was still hoping at that point that he would show me a sign that he was going to survive. But no, he was already gone. My mother and a cousin came a few minutes late upon his official time of passing.

Over a year after, I was asked to perform two songs at our annual office Christmas party. Once more, I stood in front of the same people as I did when I was a kid. I decided to sing two Gary Valenciano songs that night but after the first song, I noticed it failed to connect with the audience based on their polite applause. So I decided to drop the other prepared song, and decided instead to risk it by singing Boy Katindig’s “I Will Always Stay In Love This Way” in the original style of Baron Barbers. Good thing the band knows the song and is part of their repertoire. This song has since been covered by artists such as Side A, Luke Mejares, Nina, Lea Salonga and as of late, Jed Madela.

“Feel when you sing.” My father’s voice echoed in my head as the piano intro began and as I sat on a high stool. That time I was in pain for losing yet another battle to unrequited love. I was in the proper frame of mind to sing that song. When suddenly, that familiar sense of panic from my initial outing surged through my body. No! I will not allow this to ruin the moment. I took a deep breath as my cue was about to start. Instinct automatically took over and I blocked out the audience except for two whom I imagined was in the crowd. My father and that person whom I was yearning for.

By the third phrase and a key change near the end of the song, I felt tears welling from my eyes. I sensed my voice was about to crack because of the surge of mixed emotions flowing through me. The pain knowing my father was not truly there and the anguish of losing yet another special someone to somebody else. My breathing was off from the effort of not letting my tears fall in front of the audience. I stood up as I went to the fourth “I will always stay this way in love with you” and pointed the mic to the audience as a cue for them to sing with me. They did. As the audience sang, I turned my back, let my tears fall, did a quick wipe, signaled the pianist to do four more bars and a cut. In the few seconds of silence, I crooned the last line. I confess that was not one my best performance, but it was well received nonetheless. Later that evening I was asked to sing two more songs.

Thank you Papa for the inspiration and I miss you. And thank you, you the cause of my hurt back then. So sorry that you got dumped after barely three months with that somebody you chose over me. Because of you, I now have a deeper well to draw from when I sing a sad love song.

Click on title links below to hear the songs:

Steve Lawrence The Best Thing That Ever Happened To Me

Boy Katindig I Will Always Stay In Love This Way with Baron Barbers on vocals