Sunday, May 12, 2013

This is Really Interesting and Beautiful - Eric Whitacre's Virtual Choir

I'm a little late on this bandwagon as I just heard his TED talk on the TED radio hour this past week, but I feel this amazing phenomenon started by choral director Eric Whitacre is more than worth featuring here, as (no offense) I think maybe this blog's audience isn't terribly tuned in to the goings on of classical music.  Just a hunch. 
Eric Whitacre has been a star on the classical/choral scene for many years, creating gorgeous choral pieces performed on some of the most prestigious stages in the world with some of the most gifted singers in the world.  I've always been a fan of his pieces because I'm a sucker for any chamber music and latin religious choral arrangements, Whitacre's just happen to be done in the modern era, and they are exceptional.
So what is Virtual Choir?  Whitacre says that the idea started in 2009 with a single fan, Britlin Losee, uploading a Youtube video to his site of herself singing the soprano part to his choral piece, "Sleep".  This made the composer wonder, would it be possible to take hundreds or even thousands of videos of people singing the various parts of a song, and then editing them together to create an "uploaded choral piece."  He put a message out on his fan page about the experiment, asking his fans to send in videos of themselves singing another one of this pieces, "Lux Arumuque", and upload them to his site.  He then asked a team to edit and splice together both the audio and video of all the submissions along with a superimposed image of himself conducting the choir, and he called it the virtual choir (see below for the video)
It's a very simple concept, but the videos really resonated with the public and with the music community.  To date, Whitacre has now made 3 Virtual Choir pieces, including one for "Sleep", the song that Britlin Losee originally sent to him.  The fourth Virtual Choir piece took yet another modern step by funding itself solely through a Kickstarter campaign, and will feature "Bliss," another gorgeous piece by Whitacre. 
The first Virtual Choir premiered at TED in 2011, and since then the ensemble has performed "live" in a number of prestigious venues, and has also been invited to perform the VC4 "Bliss" piece at the Queen's Coronation Ceremony.
Take a look at the videos for all 3 Virtual Choir pieces and judge for yourself.  With the combination of the haunting melodies, beautiful voices, and very personal videos of everyone singing, I defy you not to get goosebumps.  Rather than this just being a wonderful way to connect classical music to a modern audience, I really think that Eric Whitacre has touched a deeper, more personal nerve with this project.  Being able to look at all the singing faces at once, the viewer really does experience what the singers are feeling as they bare their souls in their bedrooms, garages, or even offices.  It's so amazing to watch all of these beautiful singers with absolutely no pretension, not realizing yet the powerful and much bigger whole of which they are about to become part.  The unifying power of music is nowhere more present than in these videos, and it's wonderful to behold.  If we could guarantee that all future technology could bring out such beauty, humanity, and soul in all of us, I would jump on that bandwagon and never look back
I hope to be a part of this going forward, and I encourage those of you who sing to give it a try as well.  You can sign up for the VC Fanzone to get updates on when they will be needing video submissions for VC4, and also watch  for updates on The Virtual Choir Facebook Page.  You can practice by downloading videos and scores of many of Whitacre's pieces in the Resources section of the website, but the first step it just to watch these videos with a box of tissues because you WILL cry.  Enjoy!

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