The birit is here to stay, for better or worse

By Lea Salonga
Philippine Daily Inquirer

MANILA, Philippines—There have been enough columns and write-ups lamenting the seeming preeminence of the singing style commonly known as “birit.”

For those who don’t know exactly what the word means, it’s the style that requires far more physical strength than a lot of others due to the stratospheric heights that a singer’s voice must reach.

Local singers known for performing in this style are Regine Velasquez (although I have to give her props for exploring the quieter, more soothing aspects of her range), Sarah Geronimo, and Rachelle Ann Go.

I don’t really see the “birit” going anywhere to the point that it’ll no longer exist. Really, there is room for any style, for as long as there is an audience that demands it.

Maybe that’s where the problem lies… the demand for this type of vocal calisthenics is such that it drowns out those for other styles of singing. Back in the 1970s and ’80s, the top-tier talents included the likes of Celeste Legaspi, Kuh Ledesma, Leah Navarro, Sharon Cuneta, Joey Albert, and others whose brand of singing was very straightforward and serviced the lyrics as much as the melody. I distinctly remember listening to their songs on my way to school, and feeling soothed.

However, things seem to have changed… and they’ve changed enough for people to cry out, “Enough!”

Truth be told, I sometimes envy the (for lack of more appropriate nomenclature) “biriters’” pipes of steel, the heights that their voices can reach, and the physical stamina that their efforts require. In the shower I have made attempts (all futile, allow me to say) to reach those heights but, at the end of the day, I tell myself that I should stick to what my vocal chords can do.

That’s not a bad thing to remember for all singers: Each instrument has been created uniquely, and to force oneself into what may be an ill-fitting mold cannot possibly benefit the vocalist. A burgeoning Astrud Gilberto should not try to be a Celine Dion, unless she has a death wish (for her vocal chords, that is).

One can’t vocally muscle one’s way to success. Singing as an art form isn’t just about the high notes; it is also about intonation, emotional commitment, and informed and appropriate interpretation. It’s about respecting the melody and lyrics as they were written, and servicing them in performance. It’s about telling a story and connecting with the audience, moving them with what you’re trying to say, not just with how it’s being said.

So yes, there is a place for high notes, and for those who are experts at delivering the goods. That said, there is also plenty of room for the rest, whose own unique styles, voices and messages will hopefully be appreciated and cheered on as well.

At least, I’d like to think so, maybe for my own selfish sake.

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That's what Lea Salonga been commenting about the birit singers na nagsulpotan nalang bigla, kahit na di kaya pilit pa rin sa pagbibirit... Taray ni Lola Lea diba?

So, because singing reality TV shows are in today, I think that is one lesson Lea can give to the Pinoy Idol and PDA contestants...

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