Tori Cook is most deeply in her element when she is helping choruses shine – whether as a singer, section leader, music director, board member, or sharing resources with choruses across the world.
Tori started her musical career managing 500 volunteers for the Lionel Hampton Jazz Festival. Now, she’s a singer with the Tanglewood Festival Chorus and creates helpful resources for choral organizations as Director of Sales & Marketing at Chorus Connection.
We asked Tori to share insights from her unique musical life – especially how ensemble singing strengthens musicality in general – regardless of one’s ultimate singing aims.
What are some reasons you’d give for solo singers to consider a choir or ensemble?
You’ll learn how to be a better or different musician by surrounding yourself with wonderful musicians. I’ve learned so much from my fellow choristers. You’ll also learn how to properly stretch, warm-up, take care of your voice, and good vocal technique, all in a group setting.
I have a feeling that you have more to say!
Yes – being in a chorus is often more affordable than individual voice lessons and you still have the opportunity to work with a professional choral director. Plus, you’ll learn new and exciting repertoire —you might discover a new genre, composer, or musical piece.
What non-musical reasons might benefit singers as a part of a chorus or ensemble?
As singers, we can sometimes have large egos — we love to hear ourselves sing! A choral setting, however, has a different focus. You have to put the choral sound above your own desire to hear your voice. This teaches two very important life values: humility and teamwork. In a nutshell, choirs help you learn to put others above yourself.
What was your first experience of singing?
When my sister caught me singing “Can You Feel the Love Tonight” from the Lion King. She thought I sounded so good that she forced me to sing in front of my parents. I was shy so I hid behind a curtain and sang it for them. Today, after years of vocal training, that performance anxiety and stage fright has never gone away. I still wish I was singing behind a curtain!
What was most valuable for you from this experience?
It’s okay to love singing and not want to be a solo performer. I have much less anxiety (or none) when it comes to choral experiences. I love making music, I just don’t want the spotlight! That is one of the huge benefits of a choir – you can sing and love making music without the pressure of being the center of attention.
An outstanding moment as a solo singer & why
Because I have a music performance degree, I have been able to overcome the anxiety enough to perform on stage as a solo performer. Not a great one, I might add. But one of my highlights was being given the opportunity for a paid gig to perform an aria from Handel’s Esther with the Harvard Summer Chorus. The director, Andrew Clark, saw me perform a solo with Chorus pro Musica earlier that year in a commissioned work by James Kallembach, The Tryal and Examination of Old Father Christmas. And after hearing me, he offered me the gig.
How did it go?
I walked on stage a little too early! I’ll never live that down. But I did it, I made it through the piece… it was… fine. To be honest, I couldn’t think about anything else other than how embarrassed I was. I sang the aria on autopilot and I just made it happen. I still have the check saved from my first paid gig and ready to be framed as proof that I actually did it, at least once!
An outstanding moment as a chorister & why
I’ve always loved the opportunity to perform in different venues, with different conductors, and be on stage with some of the musical greats. Last year, I got to be on stage with film composers John Williams and David Newman as part of the Tanglewood Music Festival. A few years back, I had the opportunity to perform with Andrea Bocelli to tens of thousands of people at TD Garden in Boston — that was an incredibly surreal experience. As a chorister, those are the moments that you’ll remember for the rest of your life!
An object you own that inspires your work.
I’ve chosen some apps because they really inspire me! iReal Pro is this online “fake book” of jazz standards. The app can manage transposition, act as your rhythm section with a real-sounding band, and makes it easy to play and sing my favorite tunes. The Tabs app is really great for learning chords for popular songs. Moving away from apps, my favorite vocal sores are those by Joni Mitchell, Eva Cassidy and Carole King. And, of course, I’m always inspired to make music every time I spot my digital piano just sitting there waiting to be played!
A vocal health lesson you learned (perhaps the hard way!)
There was a time in college where I became really sick for several weeks, but I kept singing and I pushed myself a bit too hard. I ended up blowing my range and couldn’t sing above the staff for months after that. I remember I was so stressed during that time; I had an audition for a show and just completely blew it. I forgot my lyrics in the audition and I was just a mess. One of my teachers just said something like “Your body is telling you a break and you need to take that break. We’re giving you that break.” And I was really grateful for that message. So, vocal rest is important when you’re sick. Taking a break is okay and even better for your long-term health.
A vocal technique lesson you learned along the way…
Vowels don’t get “modified.” That’s a myth. I used to think that when you sing higher you had to modify and sing the vowel differently than you do in your lower range. Now, I’ve learned how to keep my vowels the same throughout my range and simply add space as I go higher. Turns out, it’s actually easier than modifying them — go figure.
Repertoire that is especially soulful or “transcendent” for you?
Joni Mitchell’s Case of You is potentially my all-time favorite song – I could sing that for eternity. For choral repertoire, I’m obsessed with Jake Runestad right now. Let My Love Be Heard is absolutely heartbreaking. Also, anything by Stephen Paulus but The Road Home brings back a lot of good memories. I really enjoy any large choral work that mixes up my passion for jazz, folk, and classical music. Carol Barnett’s The World Beloved: A Bluegrass Mass was so fun to do and right up my alley!
Check out Tori Cook’s blogs at Chorus Connection
Tori Cook is the Director of Sales & Marketing at Chorus Connection. She is the former Music Director of the Harborlight Show Chorus, past President of Chorus pro Musica, and sings with Tanglewood Festival Chorus in Boston. When not making music, she daydreams about adopting a golden retriever puppy and scuba diving to exotic locations around the world.