Valerie Nicolosi Niemerg
Lecture 19 - Apparently you CAN take it with you.
Updated: Feb 18
What exactly is mix?
Mix, is a technical skill of singing whereby the singer remains “muscularly” in either the chest or head voice at will, based on where their break is, but at the same time, reshapes the embouchure (the mouth and throat) to incorporate resonance from the other voice.
Ugg. That’s a toughie. Maybe read that last sentence a couple times before moving on.
At first, a student can be so frustrated by the concept of “mix.” It seems impossible, the same way sainthood seems impossible. It’s a daunting task to learn to sing in “both head and chest” at the same time, and it takes patience and practice to master. Are some born with the innate ability to do it? Yes. Darn them.
I was not one of them.
I have known several who just glide on through the middle without any coaching. But they are not the norm. And often, when physical trauma comes along, it is harder for such singers to rebound than for those of us who had to fight for every stinking note. But these prodigies are like meeting a child saint. They are not the norm.
Learning to use the middle voice, or the “mix” of head and chest is a real challenge, but it must be learned if any singer is going to find ease of vocal production and the maximum beauty potential of their God-given voice.
Likewise, every soul must learn here on earth to find the mix, right?
My daughter is eleven years old and in the beginning stages of complex concepts in theology. Whenever the subject of Hell comes up, she suffers a moment of great sadness – often tears. That natural instinct to shudder at the thought of another human being spending eternity in torment. But when we study that Hell is not so much a burning pit of fire, but rather a separation from God, eternal damnation takes on a different slant, doesn’t it?
Hell, is a place outside of God. No God in Hell. It is a place where those who do not want to live with God get what they want. Separation from God. To help her understand this concept, I told her to imagine the golden gates of Heaven and everyone who dies can stand on the outside and take a good long look at what’s inside before signing up. In Heaven there is only God. So, the expression “You can’t take it with you,” becomes a very serious matter. To pass through the gate, souls must “let go” of any remaining attachment to sin, no matter how trivial. Of course, CS Lewis did this much better in “The Great Divorce,” but you get the idea. Those who don’t go to Heaven, go because they can’t “take it with them.”**
Nonetheless, in your singing, you also can’t take it with you. You have to let go of chest's control when you pass above the break and start singing in your head voice. Taking it with you, that is, pulling your chest up above the break will require considerable strain, discomfort and long-term deterioration of the voice. In fact, it's almost like chest stops singing at a certain point and just throat tension takes over.
Ah, throat tension. The sin that never solves anything. . .
Please note that I'm talking about control. You can't use the same muscles to control head that you use to control chest. YOU MUST SWITCH.
However, the resonance, the important, truly beautiful part of chest voice, the colors, the vibrations of chest voice. Well, if you can stay open to that as you go higher, you've got MIX baby.
Stay open. We'll talk more about that later.
Mix in the voice can take years to master. Especially for the amateur singer who doesn’t spend hours each week practicing. And the really bad news? Most of what we might call “liturgical repertoire” or roughly translated: the stuff we sing in Mass? Well most of that music falls, coincidentally, right on, around, near, above or betwixt the stinking break. It’s not like we can escape this break problem. Funny that while we're in Mass, we're singing with a voice that's focusing on the break. . .huh . . . My mother used to say there is no such thing as coincidence.
Congregational music is set and selected based on the apparent range of the common participant. That range has been descending regularly for the last fifty or so years, since the explosion of pop-style singing and the belted voice (which can only sing so high). The solutions, which I have noticed over decades of teaching Catholics to sing, are simple (and horrible).
How The Average Catholic Solves the Problem of the Break
Women: pull the head voice way-too-far down below the break so that you are barely audible and constantly running out of air.
Men: pull the chest voice way too far above the break, so that you are straining for notes and often flat in pitch.
You must switch.
God created us with human bodies AND souls. We are beings of BOTH.
Ladies, you must not ignore your chest voice as though it wasn’t there.
Men, you must stop pressuring your top and learn to open your head voice above the break.
Both of you. . . AT WILL. Not by accident, you understand?
I’ve long thought a funny tee shirt for my female singers would read:
on the front, and
“It’s a singer thing!”
on the back.
Before I finish this obscenely long post, I want to take a moment to look back on my blog. The post called "The Great Divide" or Lesson 12 is perhaps the most important concept for a singer to understand. It focuses on the break in the singer's range and the break from God through sin.
That post has fewer reads than any other on my blog.
But the post that riles up the sensitivities of Music Directors across the globe - how dare she say anything negative about the Renaissance? Lesson 17?
By far, the most popular thing I have written.
Apparently people don't want to read about their break from God through sin. They just want to wallow in it. . . like pride and controversy.
We cannot master the "mix" in our spiritual lives until we admit we have a break with God and stop ignoring it.
You cannot master your singing voice, until you admit you have a break in your range and stop ignoring it.
My daughter, when she was four and five, was actually afraid of Heaven. That’s right. Because we honestly have no concept of what it will be like, and this earth place we live in, well it can be pretty awesome (especially if you’re healthy and live in Colorado). My daughter was afraid that “Heaven” is some amorphous place where we are all spiritual blobs floating around in a generally painless existential blur.
Nope. When Our Lord rose from the dead he rose in his earthly body. And so will we. A truly perfect, well-developed head voice rises to the higher pitches with a MIX of the chest voice going up with it. It’s in head, but chest is not gone. With MIX, chest is still present in resonance, felt very deeply in the body. It’s not a “suggestion” or a “memory.” Chest is there vibrating in head voice. It’s just not in control anymore. Nor will our earthly experience be gone in Heaven. We, our bodies, our souls and our hearts are going to Heaven.
Just the sin,
just the tension
has to stay behind.
And to get there?
We must shape ourselves
to His Will,
as we shape the embouchure
to the magnificent
** I created this post-death sneak peek for an eleven-year-old child to understand the concept. The truth is, our whole of earthly life is the sneak peek, and we’re making the decision every day of our lives.