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Some songs tap into things just below the surface and help them come out, or just get us on our feet to dance and make us feel good.


Lea Salonga’s is a voice we listen to, not only when we want to be entertained, but also when we want some inspiration or insights. On social media, hers is among the more influential voices on a gamut of topics, including the occasional political buzz.

Still high from having seen the 25th anniversary production of The Phantom of the Opera, which streamed for free for 48 hours on YouTube over the weekend, I was in a chat with the Filipino Broadway and West End sensation, one of the first ever Asians to have been given the opportunity to play non-Asian roles on the global stage, about music and its role in our current situation, in which an insidious virus has sent us all retreating to our homes and away from each other. It’s a different battle we are fighting, where our victory lies in our ability to stay put as more and more of the world is put on lockdown, to stand together while far apart, and the arts, like music, theater, film, and literature, are without a doubt giving us the ammunition we need to win, if only by stemming the spread of Covid-19.

From the very beginning of the Enhanced Community Quarantine, before the full extent of the danger of the pandemic dawned on us, Lea has been among the first Filipino artists, along with National Artist for Music Ryan Cayabyab, to have stepped up to the plate to share with us the power of music as a tool to help ease our fears, bring us to a place where we can be stronger, and, well, keep us home.

Here’s a snippet of our conversation over Messenger. 

Of all the songs you love, which one reflects the condition we are now in? 

I haven’t been listening to songs all that intently, but I did create a Spotify playlist with titles that are tongue-in-cheek, such as The Police’s “Don’t Stand So Close to Me,” Eric Carmen’s “All By Myself,” The Temptations’ “I Can’t Get Next to You,” and Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive.” It’s a public playlist, so anyone can check it out. It helps to have humor to deal with what’s going on. If I’m unable to laugh, I’m in trouble. 

Of all the songs you love, what brings you the most comfort in these trying times? 

Hearing any and all versions of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” is helpful. One version I just happened upon is by the a cappella group Pentatonix. It’s absolutely breathtaking. Also, Carrie Underwood’s “Jesus Take the Wheel,” which might as well be a plea from everyone.

Which song speaks most eloquently of the things we might have lost as a result of this pandemic? Does any song bring to mind the things we might not be able to do in a long time or things that make you ache for things of which we have been deprived by this virus?

“Empty Chairs and Empty Tables” from Les Miserables. It’s a song I’ve sung in concert a lot, but now that this is happening, I plan to add it back into my concert repertoire, if only to try and articulate what we all want to say as a collective. I know doctor friends who have lost friends and colleagues to this virus, folks who served as frontliners. Might be tough getting through this one without crying.

Which song, if any, captures the way humanity is dealing with this challenge or provides the inspiration for us to confront this challenge?

One of my doctor-friends asked me to sing “Bring Him Home” from Les Miz, and I ended up adding it to my Bayanihan Musikahan repertoire. It’s a prayer from all doctors to God to keep their younger colleagues safe. 

How is music helpful under circumstances like this?

Music can be a distraction, or a conduit to our emotions. Some songs tap into things just below the surface and help them come out, or just get us on our feet to dance and make us feel good. It’s become a wonderful way to help people deal with this tragic turn of events in the world. For the listener, it’s great to listen to someone sing however they might be feeling and, for the artist, it’s a great way to release so much pent up anxiety and uncertainty.

Do you have any message for the Filipinos?

We all need to be patient and realize that this virus has officially changed our lives. Normal isn’t normal anymore, and it’ll be a long while before we’re able to return to how things used to be. It might take a year or maybe more before we can be physically close to people again. But I’m hoping and praying that a vaccine will be found soon to protect us all. I’d just like to return to a world where I can perform for audiences again. That might mean something different in a year, and it’ll be interesting to find out what that will involve.

Source: Manila Bulletin (

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