Valerie Nicolosi Niemerg
Lecture 20 - The Battlefield, The Excuses and The Resonance
Updated: Mar 9
When I bring The Divine Reed workshops to choirs and congregations, I generally start with a talk about what singing is supposed to be and the incredibly fierce battle the devil seems to launch into every time we try to sing out in Church.
It’s remarkable really. Sometimes I can almost see them, the little devils standing like cartoons on people’s shoulders whispering frantic discouragements in their ears, saying anything at all - to keep their charges from picking up that hymnal.
“You can’t sing!”
“No one wants to hear your terrible singing voice!”
“You don’t know this one! You’ll sing it wrong and throw others off!”
“I can’t stand this style of music. I’m not singing it.”
“The organ is too loud!”
“The cantor is too soft.”
“This wasn’t written before 1965!”
“There’s one word in this song that I don’t agree with theologically!”
“I’m too tired.”
“I’m too old.”
“I’m angry at my wife.”
“My children are driving me crazy.”
“My life is miserable.”
“I’m tone deaf.”
“No one wants to hear me sing. . . “
Sound familiar? That last one is probably the most popular. They love that one in hell. “Gets ‘em every time,” they cheer to each other whenever another Catholic listens to this garble. It’s brilliant really because it’s false advertising. Just like “pro-choice,” it sounds like you’re being good. . . but really it’s diabolical. Your own personal demon jumps for. . . hatred(?). In hell, that’s a victory.
You see, there’s a battle here.
Would someone please explain to me why? Why has crazylegs assigned so many minions to keeping Catholics from singing? What’s the deal here? I mean, shouldn’t they be out inspiring abortions and breaking up marriages?
Does the devil know something about singing that we don’t? And it’s a lie you know. Just like everything else he sells. It’s a lie.
“Nobody wants to hear me sing.”
Um. . . Aren’t you forgetting Someone here? God? Your creator? Your Savior?
He wants to hear you sing. After all, it says to “sing” almost two hundred times in Sacred Scripture. And never once - not once in all those times, does it say:
Sing to the Lord! … unless you have an ugly voice.
Sing to the Lord! … unless you’re tone deaf
Sing to the Lord! …unless the organ is too loud
Sing to the Lord! …unless you really don’t like this song
Sing to the Lord! …unless you know better than the Bishops who approved of these lyrics.
Unless, unless, unless. . . .
“Sing to the Lord!” Almost two hundred times. It’s not subtle. It’s not hidden under deep theological study. It’s not intended solely for the sacred few.
“Sing! Sing! Sing!”
Apparently, God does want you to sing. And isn’t He the only one that matters?
Somehow the evolution of recorded music, televised singing competitions and the easy access to excellence in singing all around us through electronics has tricked our minds into thinking that the church is Carnegie Hall. So, I’m about to say something that is going to rock your world. Are you ready?
IT’S NOT ABOUT HOW IT SOUNDS.
I know. Crazy. Then what is singing in Church about?
It’s about surrendering your will and trusting in Him. It’s about resonance.
If you’ve been reading this blog all along, you know about my personal quest to forever dispel what I refer to as the “little Catholic voice.” This is the “polite” voice that most Catholics sing with in the pews (if they sing at all). Sing loud enough so that you’re participating, but not so loud that anyone sitting around you is bothered by it.
Would you please do us all a favor?
And you can start with that little minion on your shoulder who has got you convinced that singing as quietly as you can is actually holy while singing out like you mean it is actually rude. . .doesn’t anyone else see how twisted this is??
It’s twisted in the same way that loved ones look at us like we’re insane when we tell them that artificial contraception is a mortal sin. The world says that AC is sacred, and having babies is a sin. The world has it so backwards. And I can’t help but think that this seemingly insignificant, Valerie-who-really-cares-about-singing-in-church, it’s not murdering Catholics in Africa or persecuting Christians in the Holy Land- it’s not starving people in Haiti or the war in Ukraine – this stupid, meaningless, pointless, useless thing, singing in church…
It's somehow connected.
“Sing!” “Sing!” “Sing!” God says.
And we don’t.
Maybe, just maybe if we did. . . we would find the other stuff came easier. Maybe if we did, we would find we understood Him, and His great love for us better. Maybe the important stuff like ‘love your neighbor’ and ‘admit your sinfulness’ wouldn’t be so hard.
It’s very important to understand that I’m not asking for louder. Healthy singing by using your voice the way it was designed to work will naturally produce volume. Think about it.
When the vocal folds come together, they create vibrations in the air particles and the body parts around them. Those vibrations are a natural effect of the very basic act of bringing the “adduction” of the chords. Vibration is supposed to happen. The chest, the head, the neck, the frontal palate, the soft palate, the laryngeal cavity, heck sometimes I’ve even felt my teeth vibrating (it was not pleasant). Vibrations are supposed to happen. Unless we try (even subconsciously) to hold them back.
It's not about louder. It’s about allowing the resonance to spread through your body. If I held up two hands, one tightly fisted into a ball and one hanging loosely at the wrist, which one would make the bigger vibration when I shook them both around? Obviously, the relaxed hand would vibrate more. So, tension inhibits resonance.
Tension inhibits resonance.
So, when we are singing “politely” in church, not trying to “bother anyone” what we are really doing is tightening up our body in a variety of ways. Squeezing, constraining and holding back the natural resonance that the human voice was designed to make. This is the muffler we put on our sound in order to not “stick out.”
Stick out. Bother someone.
Let the voice inside you sing.
What are you afraid of?
Whatever it is. . . it’s the wrong thing. . .