COLUMBIA — It's 6:30 on a Thursday night, and the fun is about to start.
“All right! Roller coaster!” Hands fly up into the air and a group of women wail ecstatically, as if they had just gone over the first big drop.
“Good. Now pickle!” The women scrunch their faces together, mouths pursed in a hard “O” shape. They look like they've just taken a bite out of something sour.
This is not Simon Says. It's typical practice session at the Lenoir Community Center for the Heart of Missouri Chorus, a group of women a capella singers associated with Sweet Adelines International.
The exercises are part of a physical warm-up, meant to prepare the body as well as the vocal chords for singing.
The Hearts have sung on a variety of stages in a variety of seasons. They've broken records internationally, ranked regionally, and performed locally. Right now, they're in the midst of the annual Holiday Singing Invitational.
A non-profit organization, the Heart of Missouri Chorus is made up of volunteer singers, and it hires out to various events and organizations, ranging from company sponsored events, church socials, festivals, and public or private parties according to its Web site.
“We base a lot on visual stuff,” director Marj Friedmeyer said. “Faces, posture, physical warm-ups, vocal warm-ups.”
Friedmeyer’s warm-ups and teachings don’t make up the only advice prospective or current members of the chorus ever receive— 14 Hearts even took place in the world’s largest lesson.
They joined 6,637 other women at the Sweet Adelines International Convention and Competition in Nashville on Oct. 24, where they set the Guinness World Record for “Largest Singing Lesson.”
A little over half of the group went on the trip to Nashville.
The size of the group fluctuates somewhat from year to year. About 25 women are full members of the group this year.
The Hearts slipped from first to third on the regional stage in competitions last year, and they have never competed internationally. They were first place regional winners the two previous years.
If a Sweet Adelines chorus ranks first in its region, it is not automatically qualified to make it to international competitions. First place winners in each region have their scores compared to the winners in other regions of similar sizes. Only five move on.
The Holiday Singing Invitational is in part meant to find new members, as well as its main objective of practicing Christmas songs for various events.
It runs until early December and serves as a chance to practice Christmas songs, as well as to train and recruit new members to sing with the chorus.
A potential new member is Deborah Ashcraft. She came to a practice meeting at the invitation of a friend, who often told her she had a beautiful singing voice at church.
Ashcraft was skeptical at first but changed her mind after checking it out.
“I’ve never been so impressed in my life,” Ashcraft said. “I didn’t think I’d like music without actual musical accompaniment.”
Member Meg Poche said the invitational is open to all, though not everyone joins immediately.
“We insist that people visit several times before they make a decision to join us or not, so they can figure out if it’s right for them and right for us,” Poche said.
Right now, the Hearts have been practicing Christmas songs in preparation for this year’s Living Windows Festival. While they usually perform at Columbia’s festival, they will be singing at the Jefferson City event this year.
Poche said that while they are based in Columbia, membership is open to anyone who is willing to travel. Members come from as far as Sedalia and Moberly to sing.
Friedmeyer is already leading rehearsals for competitions in May, along with sessions on Christmas carols.
“It’s not how loud you sing,” she said as she directed the group through "Carol of the Bells." “It’s how you sing loudly.”