What? A Virtual Choir?

There is strength in number, especially in a choir.

Choral singing, for me, is one of life’s vitamins. When people come together and sing, they are:

  1. making music through the medium that is most innate to them,
  2. expressing emotions, nuances and phrases perhaps we cannot possibly express even with the most descriptive words,
  3. choosing to be with others to enjoy working on making something beautiful.

When I learned about Eric Whitacre’s Lux Aurumque project, I was very happy. As a composer and conductor, Whitacre brought 185 people together.

So what’s the big deal?

The 185 people auditioned through YoutTube videos (much like last year’s YouTube Orchestra).  185 singers and 235 tracks after, the Virtual Choir was born. It’s a compliation of 185 individuals’ videos.  These singers have never sung in a rehearsal together or worked with Whitacre in person for this project.

Have a listen:

I think it’s remarkable the way Whitacre planned for this project (you can read about it here) so that the end result would be more or less realistic. As I was watching one of the videos Whitacre made for the singers, I was struck by a couple of things that really attributed to why I think this virtual choir worked:

  • First ~ Whitacre prepared the choir well. As a choral conductor, score reading or giving directions, is something that we all have to communicate to our singers. I noticed that Whitacre was very clear with his directions with score reading AND recording directions. This reminded me that short and clear directions make everyone’s life a bit more simple 🙂
  • Second ~ Everyone who were chosen to participate, prepared their best. Although the audition medium was a video and through a non-traditional method, all the singers clearly learned the music very well. I enjoyed watching small YouTube screens of people’s expressions. There’s so much we can express through singing! Beautiful!
  • Third ~ What a creative concept! Compiling real people’s sounds (in essence, sampling their singing) into parts are what sound engineers do best. Who would have thought it to put together a choir together?

Here are some of my students who shared their thoughts in their blogs after hearing this virtual choir:

I thought that it was very cool that Eric Whitacre had the idea to bring all those singers together in a unique way.  It amazes me that they were able to perform that song without even coming together to rehearse.  I would think that everyone would have to come together at one point to practice.  I also think that the way all the videos were put together made a good visual. Overall unique video….

I thought that it was a very interesting thing to listen to. I think it is sad that the people never got to meet each other and compare how they thought the virtual choir went. It was something new, and i thought that was interesting. it might be fun to be involved in something like that. I think it would be a great experience.

I thought the virtual choir was a big advancement in bringing people who are alike together through the internet. I felt like the music really sounded good and i can see why Eric Whitacre is a very renowned composer even in modern times. I can say that the music really moved me because so many people singing in this kind of way is very profound in that it can bring everyone together through music.

Aren’t they interesting thoughts from 8th graders? Although there are people like Chloe Veltman of the Arts Journal who wrote a review titled, “Lies Like Truth” (you can guess what her review is about by the title edit: I really enjoyed reading Ms. Veltman’s post; we just disagree on the possibility of real musicality that can be produced this way), but I think I took away more things I learned from Eric Whitacre and the choir. I loved the creative ways to bring people together to make beautiful music.

I hope I can participate in his next project.

So what did you think? I would love to hear from you!


12 thoughts on “What? A Virtual Choir?

  1. I love it! I spend many of my days trying to help people see that tools like YouTube are as much about creativity as they are stupid human tricks. This is a fabulous example of someone using this medium in a completely new and non-traditional way.

    My favorite term from Whitacre in his response to the final product is about the “shared humanity.” THAT is what this is all about… not about what kind of cool techno-trickery can we invent, but more about how we can connect people around the world to share something that is innately human.

    Thanks for sharing!!

    1. Thanks for visiting, Michelle! I am so glad that you enjoyed listening to the choir and learned a bit about Whitacre’s creative choral method. This 4-minute project really fascinated me and it was my pleasure sharing it with you.

  2. I think Veltman’s assessment is right on. Though critical of the product, she is commending of Whitacre’s innovation. Her most poignant thought is that the result “lacked the warmth and communication of a live performance.” Why is it lacking? The communication is one sided conductor to singer). The true essence of good ensemble performance is the web of interpersonal communication; not only conductor to singer/player, but singer to conductor, singer to singer, singer to section, etc. These virtual ensembles are cool, but miss the mark on why and how we share music.

    Though taken out of context, your student said it best: “I think it is sad that the people never got to meet each other.”

    Thanks for sharing this.

    See also:
    Veltman, C. Virtual Choir. Retrieved March 29, 2010, from http://www.chloeveltman.com/blog/2010/03/virtual-choir.html

    1. Thanks for your thoughts, Chris, and also for the link.
      I guess my fascination with this project is that it was a project that was inspired by a small idea that started with a (from Whitacre’s point of view)”What if..?” and ended with something that sounded like if all 185 hand-picked singers were there, at the same time.
      For sure, nothing will replace humans being together making excellent music. Having said that, I have also sat through concerts given by professional groups performing with little expression or connection to the audience. I actually thought Whitacre picked singers who expressed best and that the overall sound and dynamic was good.
      I was also thinking that this video method (for score prep) might serve well for conductors who will conduct at festivals or conferences. I think there’s a definite connection when one sees someone’s face and voice together.

      Thanks for commenting!

  3. Beautiful and touching and fascinating. What a beautiful, creative way to bring people together to create such a peaceful sound. Thanks so much for sharing!

  4. The whole project is an amazing joining together of talented people with skills and a focus. The logistics and the efforts, I’m sure, cannot be fully appreciated without being there. I’m totally amazed at people that exhibit these musical abilities. A tradition grouping of this size would be amazing but the distance and the logistics boggle the mind. Thanks for sharing this with us.

    1. Doug, you’re absolutely right! A choir this size and caliber would be awesome to hear live. But it was amazing to me as well that it was done by laying down 235 tracks – classical music sung that beautifully not live is simply amazing! Thanks for your thoughts, Doug!

  5. As a layperson, I’m simply astounded at the complexity of Whitacre’s project and the ability to hear such gorgeous music developed for and available on YouTube. I also loved reading your students’ responses to the video. It’s not often, in my experience, that you hear a student describe something as profound!

    As an aside, while apartment hunting last year, I ran into Chloe Veltman. She was/is a lovely person.

    1. Paul,
      I’ve been amazed at discovering my students’ abilities to think deeply. This discovery, interestingly happened while using web 2.0 or social media tools like VoiceThread or blogs. When in face-to-face conversations, they are fun and crazy 7th/8th graders, but when they are responding to a question in other formats I listed, their comments were honestly insightful and delightfully deep. It’s the same kind of exhilaration I feel when I get out to watch students playing sports and seeing them in action, discovering their strengths outside of my classroom or my infrequent face-to-face time with them 🙂
      They are still crazy fun 7th/8th graders, but they sure are people who can think (and I have proof, ha!).
      As for Whitacre’s music – I can’t even imagine the work to put that many people’s voice together and use technology to visually place people. Simply wow.
      From what I read of her blog, Chloe Veltman seems like a lovely person! We seem to disagree only on the musical aspect of Whitacre’s end result with virtual choir.
      Thanks for your comments & for your visit, Paul!

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