MANILA -- Filipinos love "birit" songs. The louder, the better.
Most people believe that when someone hits the high notes, that person is automatically a great singer. This may be true for people like Ariana Grande or Katy Perry and even our very own Regine Velasquez. But what about Lea Salonga?
She's not a belter and she knows it. But she went on to receive international acclaim, plus the Tony and Laurence Olivier awards that cemented her stature as having one of the most beautiful voices the world has ever known.
Despite doing "Annie" and recording her first album at the age of 10 (everyone in a certain age group has a copy of "Small Voice"), she struggled to find her place in the local entertainment industry.
"I was in this environment where, you know, a lot of singers were belting and who are celebrated and deservedly so. That made me ask myself, where do I fit in? Because I don't really do this, my voice quality is different. Does that mean I have a place or does that mean there is no place for me? Then 'Miss Saigon' happened," Salonga shared during a recent press conference to promote her upcoming concert, "Songs from the Stage."
When asked for her advise to parents with kids who love to sing, she defends the small voices who don't typically sing and shout.
"Parents, please don't be misled by the notion na kapag bumibirit ang anak mo, magaling siya. Birit is not the be all and end all of singing. There is so much more to singing than belting," said Salonga, who was one of the mentors in the first three seasons of "The Voice Kids."
"Listen to jazz singers where it's so much more about lyric and delivery... humor and bite, expression. It's not just about calisthenics and high ease because there are notes that I cannot reach. I know what my limitations are as a singer also."
"It's nice knowing that even though my voice is different, may lugar pa rin ako sa industriya, and what I do can also be seen as correct, and something that a parent can say, yes this is something you can follow, hindi sya bumibirit pero ganun siya," she said.
Salonga also described the other Filipino singers.
"Sharon Cuneta, for example, is an alto, she's an alto with a deep, low voice, and she's not any less celebrated as a vocalist. Regine Velasquez, of course, she has these stratospheric high notes. So each singer has to be given their due for what they uniquely are able to deliver," she pointed out.
Even songs written for other people do not necessarily mean one has to copy exactly how the original singer sounds like. The musical theater songs Salonga is preparing for "Songs from the Stage" will be arranged according to her singing voice and her so-called "sweet spots."
"You kinda wander into different territory when you stick to the original, which is created for another human being with a whole different instrument, as if forcing a cello to play a violinist part. The arrangements are being recreated for my voice and all of these arrangers know my sweet spots," she said.
"If I'm gonna sing like 'Defying Gravity,' I'm not gonna sing it in Idina Menzel's key because that's ridiculous. I'm gonna sing it in my key and all of those sustain notes, everything that I'm singing is right for my instrument."
Salonga said not all singers are created for belting.
"Magaling ka 'pag bumibirit which is unfair, because we're not all created to be trumpets, we're not all created for this homogenous belting sound. If you're created to belt, by all means do it! Because that's how you were created and that's how your body was put together but not everybody's like that. You'll have people who sing classical and it doesn't mean their talent is less than those who belt. It's just... they're different. We should celebrate how singers are different."
Salonga is performing at the Sydney Opera House with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra on February 3 and 4, and at the Arts Centre in Melbourne with Orchestra Victoria on February 7 and 8.
After her Australian tour, she will return to Manila for "Songs from the Stage" at the PICC Plenary Hall on February 17 and 18.