Singapore

Confessions of a singer

Jazz singer Claressa Monteiro says the singing must continue even if she forgets lyrics or trips on stage

Do singers forget lyrics while performing?

"Absolutely," says local jazz singer Claressa Monteiro, breaking out into a peal of musical laughter.

"You just make it up, go with the flow and keep singing."

The guys in her band just roll their eyes, then get on with the job anyway, she reveals with a chuckle.

The 46-year-old is more petite than she appears to be on her glamorous album covers. But at just 1.58m, she packs quite a punch in a tiny frame.

She has quick answers to the questions thrown at her: Do people try to pick her up when she performs at bars? "Too many times."

Without missing a beat, she adds: "I just tell them I don't speak English."

Has she had to run away from fans because it got too overwhelming?

Yes, once. She ducked into a hotel.

Then she casually lets on that she had a stalker when she first burst on the scene as a fresh-faced 17-year-old on Talentime, Singapore's talent search TV programme in the 80s.

A fan became enamoured by the eventual finalist and would leave flowers and chocolates at the doorstep of her family home.

When she did not reciprocate, he started leaving bottles of dead cockroaches.

Monteiro did not win that Talentime competition in 1986 but it opened doors for her.

"Things started rolling," she says.

"I was invited to join another contest, which I won, and that led to singing gigs in various places.

"Eventually it led to invitations to tour Europe in a performance showcasing Singapore organised by the Singapore Tourism Board."

She performed at various venues in Asia and Australia, too.

"But singing is not just picking up the microphone and belting out a song, it takes hard work," she says.

"Music is a language. Like writing, you can shock and awe using big words but you can also use small ones that have a big impact.

"It's about building your technique and 'vocabulary' to best communicate an emotion."

And like a language, it's a case of use it or lose it.

Even as she keeps busy as deejay on Kiss92 on weekdays and has singing or hosting duties, she makes it a point to practise singing and go through vocal scales.

As a singer, otherwise innocuous events can take on terrible implications, like the time she swallowed a fish bone. The inflammation meant an injury to her voice, which took months of practice to rehabilitate.

A big part of being a performer is keeping calm and going on with the show even when you fall flat.

She recalls opening a show to count down to the New Year and there was a lot of dry ice used. The smoke was so thick, she tripped and fell over some steps on stage.

"The producers told me they heard a screech, followed by a loud thud. But the singing continued."

How does one deal with public embarrassment?

"Oh you develop super thick skin," she says, laughing and noting that she has had banter with her audience fall completely flat as well.

Looking back at the 30 years in showbiz, the singer says she's grateful for the experiences. She met her American husband through music.

He was performing at the Somerset Bar, well known for jazz back in the day, and had attended a party thrown by her elder brother, Jeremy Monteiro, the jazz pianist and singer.

The rest, as they say is history. The couple have been together ever since and have raised two sons.

But strangely, for someone who loves music and whose life has been so influenced by it, she can't listen to tunes to unwind.

It's a bit of a job hazard, she admits. "I analyse it too much and it becomes work."

SECRETS OF THE TRADE

1 Take a really hot shower just before a performance. It opens up the nasal and throat passages and voice chords

2 Eat a lot of spicy food. She met an Indian singer who had the voice of an angel, she says, and got the secret. The spices help open up the throat and nasal passages.

3 You know your own face the best. So when you like someone's work doing your make up, always ask them for tips and tricks of the trade.

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