Elizabeth Latham ‘23
“Alright everybody. Put your hands on your waist and pant like a dog.”
Not the typical first phrase you hear in a 3000-level ivy league class. I was used to warm-ups, of course, but nothing so creative and strange as this. As a long-time chorister myself I have had my fair share of warm-up experience. From early childhood to high school and onward, it was a steady stream of exhausted but enthusiastic choir instructors lift their arms to get us to a loosened “OOOOoooohhhh” sound like a bunch of kids on a rollercoaster. Sometimes they got more physical, stretching up as high or as low as we could. Sometimes they even got personal—I had one instructor that had everyone sing to the top and bottom of their range on their own name or the name of one of their peers.
The Cornell Chorus is different for warm-ups, though. Each has a story to follow along with. They are engaging and kinesthetic; sometimes we are passing a ball around behind our backs to mimic the path of the sound ringing around in our open vocal chambers. Sometimes we are mmmm-ing, “as if someone has just said something very intriguing”… “OK now as if someone has said something that you disagree with quite strongly”. Hands around our diaphragms, we feel the muscles meant to push the sound up and out of us fully at work. Hands at our throats or our nose or the backs of our necks, we feel the notes spinning out of us like drill bits.
Everything is “feel for this” or “observe that” and we have different imaginary motivations for doing so every day. I have never been in a singing group whose warmups engage my imagination as much as my technique and my technique as much as the simple mechanics. Every rehearsal feels like a voice lesson and the extended time dedicated to individual technical elements to performance allows each musician to advance not only their performance in each specific song, but their actual singing to be applied to every piece they would ever encounter.