Valerie Nicolosi Niemerg
Lecture 5 - God the Father
Updated: Oct 2, 2022
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Genesis 1:1
Where does the voice come from? To most people, singing is a somewhat mysterious phenomenon that lives within us which we don’t understand. Especially in our current culture, with the dawn of televised singing competitions, popular perception of the art of singing has almost degraded into a cruel lottery of, “you either can or you can’t.” And let’s all agree to applaud those who can, but shame on the rest of us for even trying.
TV competitions aside, in reality, everyone can do it. Everyone can sing if they don’t have some paralytic damage to part of the vocal apparatus. We might not all be the loveliest bird in the tree, but we can do it. And there’s nothing magical about it. Actually, singing is a pretty simple chain of anatomical actions and elementary physics:
Step 1: Air moves up through the trachea.
Step 2: The vocal folds vibrate in the moving air.
Step 3: Air particles are stirred into sound waves.
Pretty simple, right? Now, here’s your first quiz. Musical instruments generally fall into one of three categories: percussion, strings or wind. So, which one are you?
Most beginning singers will inevitably try to produce sound using the muscles in their throat. It’s true that the sound begins in the throat, but that’s not where the singing starts. Starting with the throat is like starting a piece of candy with the mold. What exactly are you making? Where’s the sugar and chocolate? The voice is much deeper within us than just the throat. The vocal folds in your larynx don’t just start vibrating all by themselves. Air moves between them, constantly flowing and setting them vibrating. The sound of the human voice happens when wind moves, MOVES through your larynx.
The answer is wind. You’re a wind instrument. In case anyone ever asks. . .
So, where does that wind come from? Deep. Much deeper than we consider our voice to be, in fact at the very core of the body, muscles, bones, organs, cartilages, sponges at the center of your existence, all its many parts constantly, relentlessly, tirelessly moving and working to…to what? To sing?
The wind that you use to sing is the same wind that you first sucked into your lungs the moment you came from your mother. And that same wind will be the last thing to seep away when you close your eyes on this world. Wind is at the very core of our existence. Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel may imply it was God’s touch that called us to life, but Scripture says differently.
Then the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature.
The Spirit of God has made me, and the breath of the Almighty gives me life.
As long as my breath is in me, and the spirit of God is in my nostrils,
And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”
Breath. Air is what called you into life and what keeps you alive every second. Air. This invisible, all-important, all-encompassing thing. With power like the God that called the Heavens into existence, air controls the flow of the weather, purifies the earth, and replenishes life. When held for more than a moment, we immediately miss it. We can live without food for a week or so, and without water for a couple days, but take away our breath and we die right now. It is our most primal, silent, constant, and necessary bodily function, bringing in the required sustenance for every cell in our created body every second of our entire life.
By the word of the Lord the heavens were made, and by the breath of his mouth all their host.
It’s no coincidence that God calls us to sing with the very thing that keeps us alive. He is, after all, the creator of the universe. He could have designed us to fuel our voices with something extraneous, like ear wax or naval lint. We aren’t dependent on those. There’s something uniquely spiritual about singing because it comes from the very source of our existence, from what is most precious to us in this world, and from the very thing He Himself was so deprived of on His Cross.
And besides, there’s no faith in ear wax and navel lint. Gross though they may be, you can still see them. You can taste them – ew, (I hope you don’t!) but you could. You know concretely they are there. But air, is unseen, tasteless, and unless you had some beans for lunch…hopefully odorless. Yes, yes, we all know and understand scientifically that air is there, goodness, think of the airplanes, right? But if we all know it’s there, why does singer after singer come into my studio sucking desperately with all their being to get more in it? . . . It’s already there, right? Apparently knowing is not believing. Believing is believing. Faith. Your only real awareness of the air is a fullness deep within you, down to the very core of your cells. When it’s there, your body is at peace. When it’s not, chaos. Because it’s air and not ear wax, just trying to sing is an act of faith. You believe the air will be there, so you launch into song.
If he should set his heart to it and gather to himself his spirit and his breath, all flesh would perish together, and man would return to dust.
After you’ve got the air, there’s the release. So often singers will come to me with an immobility and pressure in their throats, as though the voice were something that gets squeezed out. Quite the contrary, singing is simply air blown. To sing with a sensation of “holding back” is as much an oxymoron as a ‘tall shortie,’ or a ‘brief epic,’ or ‘low-calorie banana-split.’ To work at all, singing must always be in motion, each exhalation like a surfer riding a long, graceful California wave. Singers who base their singing technique on an ideal of “holding back” will always find themselves in a somewhat comical routine of two opposing forces, constantly fighting each other. Such a nice experience. . . (that’s sarcasm in case you’re wondering).
Even long notes are not “held.” Singers sustain notes with a moving stream of air. Not held, moving. It must move. No wind, no sound. No life-giving air, no voice.
But it is the spirit in man, the breath of the Almighty, that makes him understand.
This seemingly obvious point about air is, in my opinion, the single greatest stumbling block for amateur singers. Movement. The breath is like the gas pedal in the car. Take your foot off it and the car stops. Teaching in Colorado, I have many students who are pilots. “Throttle! Throttle!” I’m always yelling at them. I even have one student who is an astronomer who launches satellites into space for a living. “Get under it!” I say to her, “Where’s the propulsion? Where’s the thrust?”
Let everything that has breath praise the Lord!
In the beginning of singing, there is the breath. Breath is God the Father in the trinity of singing. In and out, in and out, back and forth, back and forth. He loves us, and we respond to His love with what is most precious to us. To sing, we breathe in, willing ourselves to continue this journey called life, and we breathe out giving ourselves back into the atmosphere in faith and hope.