Valerie Nicolosi Niemerg
Lesson 12 The Great Divide
Updated: Oct 2, 2022
I have introduced your singing voice as a reflection of the Holy Trinity. God the Father, the source, the beginning, low breath. God the Son, through Whom all tones must go, frontal resonance. And The Holy Spirit, the constant flow, the constant unhindered movement of the air between the Father and the Son, the motion, the life, the wind.
I wish I could tell you that low breath, frontal resonance and air flow would be the end of your vocal training forever and ever Amen. . . Go in peace, Alleluia, and never sing in your tiny Catholic voice again.
But there’s this little thing I’ve not mentioned yet, called “the break.” Actually, it’s not a little thing. Actually, it’s more like a Grand Canyon sitting in the middle of your range.
Have you ever been singing in your “higher” voice, when the melody dove lower and your throat dropped off a cliff while some pre-pubescent boy momentarily took possession of your larynx?
Likewise, you might be singing along happily in your lower range, thinking you’re a reincarnated Ethel Merman, when the melody suddenly jumps higher and your voice loses all strength, morphing into wispy disembodied sprite. Sound familiar?
That’s your break.
Let’s get a few things straight to balm the ego:
1 - It’s not your fault.
2 - It’s just basic anatomy.
3 - God made the break in your voice.
4 - Everyone has one.
Here’s the anatomy in a nutshell. When you sing low notes, your vocal folds need to get short and fat. In a complex and dazzlingly ingenious design involving an intricate set of subconscious muscles, cartilages and ligaments, your larynx is able to employ a very specific set of muscles to shorten and thicken the vocal folds for singing low notes. When these muscles do this correctly, we feel resonance in our chest cavity. That’s why when these “low note” muscles are activated, we call it “chest voice.”
Likewise, when you sing in your “head voice” a different set of muscles engages to stretch the vocal folds long and thin.
That means you literally have TWO sets of muscles in your larynx. One to line the cartilages up for low notes and a completely different set of muscles to line them up to sing the high notes. Two sets of muscles. The break is literally you switching muscles. Good news! You’re not the singing equivalent of a dual personality disorder. You’re just. . . human.
So, that’s the anatomy. Hopefully that will help you understand what’s going on when you move from low notes to high and back again. But it’s little consolation, I know. Wouldn’t it be great if we didn’t have a break? Wouldn’t singing be so much easier if God made our voices one seamless stream of sound? Then we could just go up and down, up and down between high and low and never feel like our voice steps out of the room and someone else’s voice steps in. . .
Wouldn’t it be nice if Adam and Eve had never eaten that stinking apple?
Let’s look at this break thing spiritually.
Hymmmmm . . . what could we compare the break to in our Catholic faith? The break, the break, the break. . . no, I’m not getting anything, are you?
“Moreover, between us and you a great chasm is established to prevent anyone from crossing who might wish to go from our side to yours or from your side to ours.” Luke 16
The great divide. Sin. Sin separates us from God, like the head is separated from the chest. The high notes feel so far and different from the low notes. They feel like a whole different voice. A whole different world. The chest and the head voice are like that great chasm that Father Abraham spoke of in the parable quoted above. The great canyon that stands between Heaven and Earth: sin.
But, now that you know all voices have a break, how come you don’t have one Valerie? Why don’t professional singers have breaks? Is that why they are professionals? They were born without a break?
No. That’s just nuts. But there is a mystery here. How do the professional singers do it? There must be a trained way of singing, an awareness and a mastery that can build a bridge over this vocal chasm in our ranges. There must be something, or someone, Who can guide the voice through the chasm, connect the Earth to Heaven, the chest to the head, and bring the singing voice easily back and forth. Some presence, some resonance Who has been to both and back, (No it’s not a typo) Who can build a third land, a sort of middle land in the voice, a bridge to journey on, a safe haven between the two voices, combining in fact, a little of each. Heaven on Earth and Earth in Heaven . . . a Church, maybe? Hymmmm. . . but Who could build such a middle voice? (Again, not a typo).
In our Catholic faith, we are called to this mysterious state called Sainthood. We are called to be like God, but flawed and human. The best we can hope to achieve is the MIX. The way of living as human children of God in full Grace and Communion with His Holy Church, the third land, the middle land, living fully in our earthly created bodies, in the world, not of the world. That state of Grace, provided for us by Our Lord in His Holy Church. That third land which the Saints achieve, a perfect mix of our will and God’s Grace. After all, we are the Church. The middle. The mix.
Everything I’ve taught you about singing so far is Kindergarten compared to mastering the MIX. Most lesson time is spent on the mastery of this illusive mix. I will not lie. It is not easy. But it is truly possible. I know. I have done it. I have helped others find it, and I promise you, the mixed voice is so pure, so beautiful, so powerful, that once you’ve found it, you can never go back. Find the mix between head and chest voice and come high or low note, you’ll find the break easily manageable, even pleasurable. In fact, you may find that you don’t just walk over that bridge every time you cross the Great Divide. You might just fly.