The Sound of Music

Posted: March 4, 2011 in Life in the Philippines
Tags: , , ,

It’s everywhere. Walk to your local palengke (wet-dry market), and vendors and shoppers alike are singing along to Journey’s “Faithfully” playing overhead. Try to cross the street and the traffic cop dances to his own, impressive groove, stopping traffic. Hop in a cab and the driver and his radio are unabashedly belting out REO Speedwagon. Go to your local department or electronics store, and if there is a karaoke machine for sale, you can bet your life that at one of the employees will be testing it out. Go grocery shopping, and suddenly the employees break out into a choreographed dance routine. In Manila, life is a musical with a cast of 17,000,000.

Musicals were the stuff I was raised on, so I feel right at home. In an attempt to shelter us from objectionable movies, my parents slyly gave us Hitchcock, Grace Kelly, Cary Grant, Katherine Hepburn–and musicals. Lots of musicals. While my friends were having nightmares over Freddy Krueger, I was learning the entire score of West Side Story by heart. My on-screen heroes were Debbie Reynolds, Judy Garland, and Julie Andrews. Since I grew up in a musical household, it seemed natural for Gene Kelly to suddenly break into song as he danced his way through a rain storm, appropriate that Audrey Hepburn’s language lessons with Henry Higgins should take place via song. It was only when I met my husband and his largely musical-free childhood that I realized anyone might find it odd (or cheesy) to sing your way through every fifteen minutes or so of life.

What better way to pass the work day?

The delightful fact of the matter is that Pinoy men and women alike just don’t seem to worry about what others think of them when it comes to song and dance. Put another way, everyone here has stage presence. Finding a Filipino who doesn’t sing is like finding a meal without rice: it’s possible, but rare.

While Pinoys do seem to have more than their fair share of musical talent, lack of talent is not a deterrent. Walk through any busy neighborhood after 10 p.m. and you’re sure to hear at least one off-key karaoke singer doing a unique rendition of a song you thought you knew. It’s one of the more charming characteristics of the Philippines for me, and something I’ll miss when we return to the quiet, self-conscious States. I may take home the habit of singing along in public, because I’ve learned here that whatever your situation, it’s almost always better with a song.

— Laura

  1. jen says:

    That’s hilarious. I cannot believe that song-and-dance routine is a normal, public occurrence. America could use a little of that “I’m not concerned what people think” attitude.

    • freeisaverb says:

      Thanks for the comment, buddy! Maybe we should start singing and dancing in public and see if it catches on. Maybe next time we’re in Denver or you’re in Oakland? I’m game if you are.

  2. Jennifer Rolander says:


    This must be sooooo much fun! I grew up on Musicals in my family too. My cousins and I would do plays from our favorites and perform them for our families at every holiday. This post sure brought me back to those wonderful times as a kid and your right, it is a shame that everyone has to be so self conscious here and that we just can’t stop somewhere and burst into song regardless of our talent. I am looking forward to seeing some tunes with you when you get back…Wouldn’t it be loverly!

    • freeisaverb says:

      Ha! I knew I could count on you for a comment about the musicals. I’m grateful to my parents for raising me on them. It’s been one of the fun things about Filipino culture that I never have to feel bashful about singing along to songs in public, singing in the shower, or getting my groove on whenever I feel like it. Yes, let’s sing it up when we get back. =)

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