Valerie Nicolosi Niemerg
Lecture 4 - The Big Disclaimer
Updated: Jan 10, 2022
“You talk too much.”
My beloved mentor and friend, Priscilla, told me this once after she happened to be outside the door of my studio, listening to my lessons. “You need to get to the singing or you’ll lose their attention. Less talk and more sing.”
I feel her watching me now from Heaven. She’s probably muttering, “Get on with it!” about the state of this silly blog. And she’s right, we need to get on with it and start talking technique.
But, I also feel I owe the last six hundred years of vocal pedagogy a mild nod, a tip of my hat and a hard disclaimer before we take the first actual step in this business.
I need to be honest.
The truth is. . . you really can’t learn to sing from reading a blog.
I know. . . I know. . . Here’s a tissue. . .
One of the most fascinating characteristics of this art is that you really can’t do it by yourself. You need a guide, a mentor, a coach, or as Maloy used to put it, a set of ears. Even Pavaroti, when making forty grand a night, had to visit his coach in the morning.
Singing is not something you can really do alone, and that is saying a lot. God wants us to work together, to need one another and to grow from one another. Not alone. He wants it passed down, right? From Abraham to Isaac and Jacob and so forth? Pass it down, pass it down. Each generation adding a new level of depth, a new perspective.
So, it is with singing. Note how often I refer back to my own teachers. In my studio, I keep a framed collage of them all on the wall, and whenever I quote someone, I point to it and say, “Bitzas, lower left.” Sometimes I feel like I need to run credits as each student leaves: “This voice lesson was brought to you today by. . .”
And yet, my teachers just passed down what they understood of this glorious art from their teachers. Pass it down, pass it down. All of us getting what we know from the last generation of singers all the way back to the Ancient Greeks. (Does everything go back to the Greeks??)
Also, no two students get the exact same treatment. One may be a visual learner and need to “keep the train on the tracks,” while another may need to fling body parts around to arrest tension. Consequently, terminology varies widely. I may say frontal buzz, but another teacher may call it the ring, the spin, the bloom, the mask, the resonance, the cherry, the orange peel, the cut, the sheer, the life, the chocolate, the taffy, the connection, the sparkle. . . on and on.
And sometimes it’s the way we say it. I hire a man to work with my male students once a year. Despite the fact that I always hire a different coach, he consistently makes the same comments I do. Nevertheless, after the class each student will express some special epiphany. “I’ve never thought of that before!” they say, until my glower inspires a sheepish, “You’ve been telling me that for the last three years, haven’t you?”
Sigh. . . yeah. But sometimes it takes a different voice.
Finally, every teacher has their own way they experience singing, and their technique will certainly sound different from mine. Some teachers just work on breath. Some only talk about the buzz, while others spend your whole lesson changing the shape of your throat. For four years, I had a teacher who only taught diction and phrasing. I never heard a word about breath or buzz. But I did go from an amateur, off-pitch, squeaky, dipthong-violater to a professional singer with a pretty decent voice. . . So, there’s merit to all of these techniques. But I will argue that, though the verbiage may be different, we are all after the same thing, the TRINITY of singing: low breath, frontal resonance and open throat.
So, I guess I started writing this blog, not to teach everyone who reads it to sing, but to change the average Catholic’s philosophy towards singing. These posts are the intellectual side of singing. If I can show you how the voice works and how it reflects your Maker, perhaps you will have the courage to pursue the intimate side of singing. That is, you will sing more often, with fearless intent, and best of all, with your heart.
But just so you know, this blog was bought to you today by. . . . (roll credits please)