Why I’m Not a Singer


My dad had a record or two or a collection of Marian Anderson’s songs and I loved listening to her alto/contralto voice. It was so rich and textured I wanted to be an alto and practiced my speaking so my voice would be lower and well-modulated. Singing in choirs and with my voice teachers, I was always put in Soprano I or II; once in a while, though, I would be put in alto when a strong lead was needed. No matter what my voice coach or choir directors said, I never thought myself a singer and I never thought I had the voice to sing, mainly because of a tape reel of us singing nursery rhymes–I was only 6 then–that my mother would play for visitors; I hated it because I thought my voice sounded awful and childish and weak. I envied and idolized singers in school with naturally powerful and musical voices but was always too shy to sing solo. I tried to audition once for the glee club but was refused; I did get to perform in a handful of musicals, mainly because they were school productions, but listening to others, I have admitted to myself, time and again, that there are many amateur singers far better than me.

When I was turned down by the glee club, my brother (with a powerful singing voice and, of course, my mother’s darling) was rehearsing for a musical. I met their voice coach, who somehow convinced me to sing a few bars, which led to chords and, before I knew it, she had convinced my mother to allow me to take vocal coaching from her and to join a choir she was putting together. In her words, I had a “lovely voice”. I could not believe it because I never really heard myself sing except on that awful tape with our nursery rhymes, but it opened up a small dream I had tucked away as a little girl. I soon found myself rehearsing after school and on weekends and, before I knew it, the choir was booked for a gala performance at the Cultural Center of the Philippines. (I shall post photographs when I find them.) We were all fitted for gowns (my first gown ever!) and I was excited, singing in Soprano I or II for most of the concert.

After our gala, we started rehearsing Christmas carols because we would be caroling for our sponsors and donors, who would host us (and boy, did they feed us!) as we sang for them and their guests. We went to around 4 or 5 different homes, each grander than the last, but that kept us on the road past midnight. Somewhere past 1 a.m., I was finally dropped off at home where I faced my mother’s extreme ire. She ranted about what kind of people stayed out so late at night, got angry at our directress, and forbade me from ever going to another voice class or rehearsal. I was devastated and disappointed and embarrassed all at once, because my fellow choir members would occasionally call and ask why I wasn’t attending anymore. I told them the truth, that my mother would not let me.

A couple of years after, when I was in university, I joined a youth ministry group which worked with communities and did a lot of singing, and I could stay out as late as I wanted because I no longer lived at home–at least most of the time. I joined several extra-curricular activities, including a dance company, the school paper, the math society, the forensics society, and a reading club that I formed, so I spent a lot of time doing all sorts of activities after school and late into the nights. I also sang, danced, choreographed, and co-directed a couple of original musicals staged by the scholars in the program I was enrolled in.

I occasionally picked up a tiny solo part in choirs but I always felt my voice disappearing when I was asked to sing. The one time I braved it was when my close group of friends and co-teachers in the high school where I taught decided to perform in a benefit concert before the whole high school audience. That brought the house down–the whole concert, that is, but not so much, I think, because we were accomplished singers (we had a couple of really good singers) but because the students had never seen us perform that way before! Besides that, I did sing a lot for my kids when they were little. I haven’t really sung in a long time and am often tempted to join a choir but for the time. I have far too many other things to do, as it is, so I am saying good-bye to my singing aspirations. I was more of a natural at writing anyway, so that’s what I’m sticking with.

And that, my friends, is my singing career in a nutshell.

Sea Song (poem)


i sit listening to the sea as it sighs

echoing and moaning with mournful cries

i sit watching the sea as it washes the shore

in the same endless rhythm as ever before

i sit watching the sea as it comes rolling in

with white-crested surges that dance and sing

i sit watching a saga of slow song and dance

an unfolding tale of ageless romance

i sit listening to the sea and its song

and i find without knowing, i am singing along.


© Cindy Lapeña, 2012


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365 Things to Look Forward to: Number 6 – Performing!


6. Performing.

Okay. Let’s face it. Not everybody might look forward to performing. But really, everyone does some kind of performance at one time or another, some more often than others.

Most people think performing is just getting up on stage and acting or singing or dancing. Already, that’s 3 kinds of performances! When you’re really into it, there’s nothing like the thrill of getting ready for a performance…sure, the rehearsals might be difficult and you might be getting it perfect during rehearsals…but actually performing to an audience, live or otherwise, is a special kind of thrill. If you’re new to it, you’ll probably rehearse over and over again in front of a mirror, psych yourself into facing the audience, then experiencing that fluttery feeling in your belly, and sometimes that empty, sinking feeling when your belly feels like it’ll sink right through you to the floor. Then your hands get clammy and your throat tightens up. Sometimes you get all sweaty and it just won’t stop pouring down your face and back. That can be a very uncomfortable feeling. It’s usually called stage fright. And some people never get over stage fright.

Some people, on the other hand, take to stages like fish to water. No matter what they’re doing on stage, whether they’re performing, making an announcement, delivering a speech, they look like the perfect picture of a suave seasoned stage artist. They move into their act smoothly, maintain contact with their audience, and just get carried into it.

I know that I always wait for the response of the audience when I perform…when I hear any response, especially some kind of emotional response, I know my performance is working. And when I finally hear applause at the end, that is the sweetest most triumphant sound I glory in, because I know my performance is a success! It can get addictive, but it doesn’t mean you don’t go through that little bit of pre-performance nervousness. I know that, after all these years of acting, dancing, and speaking on a stage, I can go right up there without feeling nervous at all. Public speaking? Pooh. Folk dance? Just give me the right music. Acting? Anytime. As a student, I had joined so many spelling bees and speech contests that it has practically become second nature to me. As a teacher, on any given day, I can go up to the front, or side, or back of any classroom and get speaking on almost any topic you might give me…or at least begin a dialogue on anything, if I don’t know what I’m talking about.

I don’t know if it’s a good or bad thing that I haven’t made performing my life’s calling. I’m still too self-conscious and introverted to flaunt my performance skills or offer them unless I’m asked. But those who know me and have seen me perform know what I do and can do when I am given the platform.

I think the greatest performances of my life have been in the classroom. If I could reproduce those days when I’d have a class completely attentive or rolling in laughter at what I do, I’d have had it made as a stand-up comedian. Step aside Patrick Ledwell, Cindy Lapeña is on a roll! But no, it’ll never happen because, unless I have to do it, I won’t, again I repeat, won’t volunteer. Someone will have to volunteer me. I hardly ever say no.