Tonight 2052 global voices sing as one in Eric Whitacre's Virtual Choir
Global excitement is building today during the countdown to the premiere of contemporary composer/conductor Eric Whitacre's, Virtual Choir v2, "Sleep." The premiere will be held at the Paley Center for Media in New York at 6 PM and after remarks by Whitacre, the choir's video will be revealed and posted on YouTube for the world to see and hear. You can watch it all on a live stream at this link and there also is a webcast by WQXR in New York.
The choir, made up of 2052 voices singing Whitacre's composition "Sleep" from his "Light and Gold" album, has not sung together before. In fact, most have not been in the same room. That's because this choir is made up from YouTube videos submitted by more than 1700 people from 58 countries around the world. Some countries are represented by just one voice (Jordan, Kazakhhstan, Madagascar and Slovakia, to name a few) with technology and gadgets making it possible for their voices to be heard.
Last month, Whitacre was a featured speaker at a TED conference and that site recently posted the video of his talk, revealing the first two minutes of the Virtual Choir "Sleep" performance. Since then there has been a lot of media coverage, including a piece Wednesday on NPR's "All Things Considered" by Jeff Lunden, who sang in the choir. I'm a Virtual Choir member too and have documented my journey (look here and here) over the past several months. I resisted the temptation to watch the preview last week, deciding instead to wait for the finished piece. So if you watch the TED preview today, Shhhh!. I don't want to know until tonight!
As a contemporary composer and conductor, Whitacre has become what Danica Patrick is to auto racing. He's attractive (he recently signed a modeling contract), charismatic, open and approachable, using social media to the fullest to stay in touch with the audience. On his own Facebook page and a separate Virtual Choir page, he regularly interacts with fans, choir members and other musicians. Recently while working on a cello part for a composition, he posted a screen grab of a musical phrase asking cellists to comment. Within moments dozens of musicians had offered their opinions. In the opening remarks of his TED talk, he plainly states "I wanted to be a rock star." Although his path has taken him to venues with orchestra pits instead of mosh pits, in many ways he has achieved his original goal.
The Virtual Choir site has a stats page with lots of information about choir members, breaking things down by vocal part and country and also showing some choir members who sang more than one part. The Earth View page shows a globe with a tree placed at the spot from where each choir video was submitted. Clicking on a tree brings up the individual video. There are a dozen or so submissions from the Tampa Bay area and quite a few in Florida.
Singing in the choir was a strange experience unlike any other I've had in my choral career. Normally you are shoulder to shoulder with other singers, blending your voice with theirs and breathing when they aren't, to achieve a collective sound. I struggled with this, trying to make my individual video as perfect as possible, almost as if I were singing a solo. I think I recorded it about 30 times before I was happy. In hindsight I should have accepted some of the flaws, realizing my choir-mates would cover for me. On the TED site there is a conversation thread where Virtual Choir members are sharing similar experiences.
So tonight at 6 PM I will be watching the Virtual Choir Sleep premiere on the same MacBook Pro I used to record my Virtual Choir video. It seems fitting that we all used Internet gadgets to deliver our parts to this project and now most will watch the performance using the same or similar gadgets. I've been told by friends who watched the preview I will be able to find myself in the video. If I can't, no matter. I'm happy to blend in on this virtual stage. If you want to look for me, though, I'm the short guy in the tenor section wearing a black shirt.
(If you want to follow Virtual Choir updates on Twitter today, use hashtag #virtualchoir)