Thursday, December 16, 2010

He Sang. She Sang. A Study in Contrast, I think

Mr. Arnel Pineda and Ms.Lea Salonga. Mr. Rock Star meets Ms. Broadway. I had goosebumps all throughout while watching this video of their performance during the 75th anniversary of Procter & Gamble in the Philippines.

I don't know how many times I've watched this. When I converted it to mp3 and listened with my headphones, I  shed tears midway.  Firstly, the arrangement was likewise excellent as well as the choice of songs, songs that were used as movie or tv soap soundtracks.  One can not but feel the pain of an ill-fated love affair as Lea's or Arnel's voice quiver on "Gulong ng Palad" or how Arnel segues to the next song with that subtle crack in his voice on "Habang May Buhay" to emphasize a man's promise of eternal love to his sweetheart.  (On a lighter note, the fact that this  moved me so much is but proof of how powerful their performance was. I am not even a romantic. :) )

These two amazing talents were products of two vastly different worlds. Lea Salonga was raised in a middle class family, of which an aunt was also another famous theatre artist, and attended an exclusive school. She started locally onstage as a child playing in famous musicals like King and I, Fiddler on the Roof and The Sound of Music. But it was her role as Annie that first catapulted her to theatre stardom. So popular was she after this hit show that she had become a household word.  Every mother at that time wanted her daughter to be like her.

The theatre has become her world for most of her life since childhood and it was in the stage that her talent was honed.  By the time she was eighteen, West End and Broadway were celebrating her talent as Kim in that multi-awarded Schonberg- Boublil musicale Miss Saigon. Soon after Disney tapped her to join its illustrous lineup of  talents.  Hollywood came a-calling.

At about the time Leah was earning awards both here and abroad, rubbing elbows with theatre  and Hollywood royalty, Arnel on the other hand was playing at  bars in Hong Kong, sometimes six nights a week, five hours each day. Singing classic rock or whatever was requested  by customers writing them on table napkins, be it Air Supply or Led Zep or The Doors, entertaining people from different parts of the world for God knows how much or how little , he later succumbed to drug abuse and thus lost his voice and returned home sick and penniless.

His talent for music was first discovered by his parents who were regular tailors for which he was given a peso (his first 'professional fee')  for every song he sang at his parents' cutting table.  In some occasions, reluctant and shy that he was then. he would be tricked  by them into joining singing contests resulting literally into a tear-jerking moment.   Tragedy struck at puberty when his mother's illness and subsequent demise drained all the family's savings forcing him to live a life of his own on the streets, exposed to all sorts of elements no parent would want for his child.

Come to think of it, while Lea played roles of the miserable in that famous Victor Hugo's classic novel,  Arnel was likewise playing a similar role but  however in the bigger stage called life. It was not until another friend  in the streets who gave him that light bulb moment to make money out of his talent that he realized this was his only way out. And thus started his roller coaster ride in the music industry until his discovery on you tube by Neal Schon from the legendary band Journey. And as a matter of coincidence, both Arnel and Lea were discovered by people searching for talents for specific roles they needed to play.  He for a lead singer for a band and she for a lead performer for a musicale. In both instances, the search was worldwide.  

These images were playing in my head as I watched these two artists extraordinaire sing together.  What could be more interesting than seeing them together sing songs about love, hope and pain. I wonder how they visualize these aspects of life in their heads while singing. What was Lea thinking when she was singing about falling in love for the first time in Pangako Sa Yo.  What was Arnel thinking as he sang "May Bukas Pa" which could well be the our answer to Journey's hit song Don't Stop Believing (no kidding!).  
For a while I felt like I was watching Tup Tim and LunTha, the ill-fated lovers in the musicale King and I. Coming from different training grounds, they brought to the stage all those experience  they had from working early on in their childhood: she from air conditioned theaters with mentors that speak impeccable English , and he from the school of hard knocks, sleeping in parks, checking garbage cans at times surviving on a packet of cheap biscuits and drinking from water drums in gasoline stations. But music is a universal language that knows no barriers and that brought them together on stage.

"Two hearts beating as one."   Musically this is what it is.  Watch how they mouth the words in unison, not one note sang ahead nor behind of the other. Watch how at 8:01 their voices crescendoed at the same exact word at the same time.  From beginning to end, they sang right on pitch and in perfect cadence.  I may be wrong but I think this was the first time for them to sing together in a duet and it is all of 8 minutes, so unlike the thirty second performances in smorgasbord Sunday variety shows we see on tv. And it turned out to be magical.  Their professionalism stood out in that there was no 'sapawan', nor 'over-singing'. There was no ego but instead  two artists getting lost in their music. Together they delivered a performance so beautiful and powerful my heart was pounding towards the end.

Bravo Leah! Bravo Arnel!  That night you proved why you two are a cut above the rest. And thank you for turning me into a romantic for a good eight minutes.