Saturday, October 20, 2018
One hallmark of a beautiful, expressive singing voice is vibrato, or the regular, pulsating change of pitch that gives the voice a slightly tremulous, vibrant sound. The amount of pitch variation is known as the extent of vibrato, and the speed of pitch variation as the rate of vibrato. Most instruments, particularly stringed instruments, were designed to mimic the vibrato of the human voice.
With no vibrato, the voice is perceived as a pure tone, which may be musically clean if sung at the correct pitch, yet which lacks expression, as in a computer-synthesized tone. Conversely, with too much extent and too little speed of vibrato, it degenerates into a “wobble,” sounding more like the voice tremor that becomes more apparent with aging, or like the effect of playing a warped record on an old turntable.
Some singers try to produce vibrato artificially by moving their vocal apparatus or diaphragm, but in good singers, vibrato is the natural byproduct of the breath and vibration of the vocal cords. Too little breath pressure, and the voice lacks volume as well as vibrato, and pitch often suffers. Too much breath pressure, or attempting to force the voice, results in too much volume, loss of vibrato, and a harsh or strident quality.
But when the right amount of breath passes through the vibrating vocal cords in perfect contact with one another, without the singer pushing, straining, or manipulating the mouth and neck, our natural voice resonates with the unique timbre created by God Himself, as part of His specific design for each of us since before the beginning of time (Ephesians 2:10; Romans 8:29-30).
When we breathe, we inspire, or take in air by allowing our lungs to inflate. It is no accident that the word “inspire,” according to Merriam-Webster, also means “to influence, move, or guide by divine or supernatural inspiration; to exert an animating, enlivening, or exalting influence on;” and to spur on, impel, or motivate.
As born-again Christians (John 3:3-8) saved by our faith (Ephesians 2:8-9) in the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 15:1-4) as the only Way to Heaven (John 14:6), we are indwelled by the Holy Spirit at the moment of salvation (Ephesians 1:13; 4:30; 2 Corinthians 1:22; Luke 11:13).
The noun “Spirit” is related to the verb “inspire,” and it is His role to lead (Luke 4:1), guide, quicken (Ephesians 2:1-5), educate (John 14:26), empower (Acts 2:4) and motivate us to greater love for and knowledge of our Savior (1 Corinthians 2:13; 12:3), as well as to better obedience and service in accordance with His perfect plan for our lives (Jeremiah 29:11).
The Holy Spirit is intimately connected with breath, or moving air, for it was He Who moved across the waters in creation (Genesis 1:2), and Who came to the waiting apostles at Pentecost as a mighty rushing wind (Acts 2:2). With the other two Persons of the Trinity, the Spirit “formed man of the dust of the ground, and,breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living soul” (Genesis 2:7). Jesus compared the work of the Spirit in salvation to that of the wind – we can see His effect on the believer, even though we can’t see Him directly or see where He came from (John 3:8).
Singing is one of the most difficult arts to master, because we can’t see our voice or how our vocal cords and apparatus work together to produce sound, and we therefore can’t learn much from visual feedback, at least not to the extent we can in dance, painting or sculpting.
Whether in singing or in life, we can glorify God only by yielding to His Spirit (1 Thessalonians 5:19; Ephesians 4:30). We must allow our being to be filled with His presence as naturally as we allow our lungs to fill with air. If we push or strain, we are exerting our own will against His natural flow, just as oversinging leads to harshness rather than beauty.
The singer must open the throat by elevating the soft palate, allowing the sound to fill the larger space thus created and to resonate in spaces of the head most suited to the pitch of the note, with higher pitches placed higher in the head. To allow fulfillment of the Spirit’s plan for our life, we must also allow Him space, not cluttering our being with distractions (Hebrews 12:1), and we must allow Him to take our thoughts to a higher plane (Ephesians 1:3,20; 2:6; Philippians 4:8).
For optimal vibrato and sound quality, singers are taught to breathe deeply yet naturally; to avoid distorting the column of vibrating air by adding muscular tension from the torso, neck or head; and to allow the breath to grow through the musical phrase, creating a smooth line rather than a disjointed group of notes.
Similarly, yielding to the Holy Spirit, staying out of His way by not imposing on Him the desires of our will or flesh (Romans 7:14-25), and following His lead through each song of our life will enhance not only our own peace (Philippians 4:7) and joy (Isaiah 61:10), but that of all who hear us.
May we always make melody in our heart to the Lord, uplifting one another with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs (Ephesians 5:19). May we sing a new song of praise to Him (Psalm 149:1; Isaiah 42:10), filled with breath and inspiration, allowing His glory to ring forth!
© 2018 Laurie Collett