Valerie Nicolosi Niemerg
Lecture 14 - You've got to smell the ...
Updated: Oct 2, 2022
Only a few short hours into our honeymoon, my husband and I discovered that, despite our hopes and prayers, our marriage was cursed. It was a bizarre malady that had infected our union early on. Rare, but serious.
You see, our honeymoon tour brought us to three different accommodations. All three included a tiny private bathroom, but not one of them had the most important item for a newly wed. This was our fate. This was our destiny.
Imagine if you will, two just-married virgins in their late 30s, doing the dance of the early marriage bathroom routine. Carefully clipping every out of place hair, shaving parts that God intended furry, obsessing over each fall of lingerie that was selected with mathematical precision, and meticulously eyeing one's reflection in a detailed step-by-step inspection. Then, after a final stop on the porcelain throne, you reach for the only light switch in the tiny, pungent bathroom to let the fan run for a bit of carefully calculated fumigation, only to find yourself standing alone in the aromatic dark.
That’s right. We had BBCFK.
Bad Bathroom Ceiling Fan Karma.
Frantically, you feel around for the "other switch." Well, there's got to be another switch, you think. What kind of sick demented idiot would build a honeymoon suite without a ceiling fan?
The horror of your situation slowly descends upon you. The only way to get out of this tiny, cramped room (in which the oxygen is getting thinner) is to open the door. But when you do, a virtual tsunami of excrement stench will flow into every crevice of the cozy little bedroom and your poor innocent beloved, who still thinks God made you to smell like jasmine and lilacs.
There is no where you can run, there is no chemical substance on earth that can cover the stink of the long-forgotten bacon wrapped scallops you managed to scarf down at the reception. In his chivalrous efforts, he allowed you to use the bathroom first. You've already been in this cramped hell-hole a half an hour preparing yourself to inhuman perfection, and now, mere hours after saying "love honor and cherish," you will be forced to expose him (and vice versa) to the less sweet-smelling side of things in your marriage. Poo.
I bet you're wondering how this relates to singing. . .
A small black bucket sits atop on my piano. Metaphorically, it’s for the poop. A student made it for me years ago and I use it as the “payment” method. Put your money here. It has a picture of some warbling cats laminated on it and the letters B.L.U.N.
Big loud ugly noise.
In order to make a beautiful sound, you have to be willing to expose the world to some of your ugly ones. You can't hide in the bathroom and turn on the ceiling fan to vent out all your excrement. You have to open the door and let us hear you squeak, squawk and bleat like a goat. (No offense to the goats). It's an absolute necessity in learning to sing, that you allow yourself to be vulnerable to humiliation and be able to make an ugly noise.
That means in front of other people.
We’re talking about changing the way you sing. The way you’ve always sung. You don’t realize it, but that “way” gives you a subconscious sense of control. Control that you are actually “making” your sound. That you have some responsibility for it. Instead of the reality, that you just blow.
That “control” is an illusion and it’s actually holding you back. If you want to find your most beautiful sound, you first have to let go of your "controlling grip" and allow yourself the permission to sound like a DCOABF. . . A Dying Cat On a Broken Fence. Sorry. . . apparently, it's Acronym Day. . .
If I wanted to have my marriage, I had to open that bathroom door. I had to let my husband smell my yuck, and I had to smell his yuck. When you teach yourself to sing, you have to feel like you’re opening the door on your wedding night without a ceiling fan. You have to be willing to make some ugliness to make some beauty. Most of the time you won’t make a BLUN. In fact, most of the time, that feeling of “control” you’ve got on your voice is what’s holding you away from your real sound. The one God made and not you.
If you keep trying to sing better, but nothing feels different, you're not improving at all. IT SHOULD FEEL DIFFERENT. When a student makes progress in the studio, I generally jump up from the piano and (unintentionally) scare them half to death.
"Yes!" I shout. And then immediately "How did that feel?"
Naturally, the singer will say, "It felt good."
Well duh. God made the voice to sing. If it hurts, either there is something anatomically wrong, or you are doing something wrong.
"No," I say. "What did it feel like?"
Then passes that awkward thirty second pause in which I wait for the adjectives that never come. And I don't blame them. I hated it when teachers did this to me.
"Describe it," they said.
Oh no. Not this again.
How do you describe a feeling? Suddenly you’re in the doctor's office, "well it was kind of a tingly, sort of tickle back here somewhere." Or at the mechanic, "it came from behind the driver's seat and it sounded like, bumpety-bump-boom-boom."
In truth, I’m really not looking for adjectives. The word I'm looking for is DIFFERENT. If it felt easy, painless and DIFFERENT, you are changing how you are singing for the better.
One day at Eastman, John Maloy said to me "Do you know what I do all day long? I sit here at this piano and I say yes-no-yes-no until you figure out the yes's and get it right." Maloy was right. My job as the teacher is to guide you to your right, natural singing sound. But you can only find different once you let go of control.
I have been blessed with a great marriage. It's not perfect. There is only one perfect relationship. But we enjoy one another and manage to ride the ebbs and flows of life together with love and laughter. I can honestly say marrying my husband was the best decision I ever made, and my love for him is about two hundred times stronger than when I was locked in that bathroom obsessively plucking my eyebrows.
Almost fourteen years into the marriage, I can see that it was God's hand in those absent ceiling fans. My husband and I were in our late thirties when we got married. Most people have more time to evolve past the need for ceiling fans, but we got started late. We would be quickly thrust into parenting, cancer, foster care and all the day-to-day stresses that pile up in the real world. We needed to be ready to face the #$%&, I mean, poop, together. And fast.
Don't waste another minute trying to make your voice beautiful. Allow your voice to be what it is. In short, relax. You get one muscle you may contract. ONE. And it's in your gut. All the others need to hang loose baby and let the poopy stench hit the non-existent fan.
Trust in the Trinity of Singing that I have taught you: inhale low, support the exhale with low abdominal muscles, centralize the resonance in the front of the face and let the air flow freely through the throat.
Have faith, have joy, have humility.