Interview with Julie Souin of Virtual Choir 3.0

When I wrote for Suite101, I had the opportunity to interview Julie Souin from Eric Whitacre's Virtual Choir 3.0 to discuss Eric Whitacre, DCINY's Sing with Eric and Virtual Choir.

Virtual Choir member Julie Souin poses with composer and conductor Eric Whitacre after performing at Carnegie Hall. Photo credit: Julie Souin's camera.

Julie Souin of Rhode Island, USA, recorded four voice parts to Eric Whitacre's Virtual Choir 3 project: “Water Night”. A total of 3,746 videos were submitted by singers from around the world. Souin sat down with Suite101 on April 25, 2012 via Skype to talk about Eric Whitacre's music, Virtual Choir and Sing With Eric.

Julie Souin on Recording Virtual Choir 2 and 3

“I obsessed over my recording with Sleep,” she recalled. “It wasn't good enough. No, I could do better.” She recorded 50 times before submitting her final video for VC2.

“I knew that it wasn't great and I could probably do even better; but it was the best I could do at the time, with the equipment that I had.” With a triumphant voice, followed by a hearty chuckle, she added, “I just felt like I conquered the world when I pressed 'Submit.' ”

Julie felt more relaxed while preparing for VC3, but had other challenges to contend with. “I had all the external issues, like my dogs making noises.” In another take, it was someone else. “My kids came home right as we're holding that last note. I'm holding one hand up to the door as they got the key in the door making a chick-chick-chick...I still submitted it!

“I think with Sleep, I would have never done that. I would have said, 'I wrecked it at the end.' With this, it was 'No, it's an OK recording'. I think I was much more forgiving with those kinds of things the second time around, knowing that a lot the little tiny things don't matter.” Turning reflective, she said, “But you do want to bring honour to the whole project and you want to bring honour to yourself in submitting the best possible production.”

Julie Souin on DCINY's Sing with Eric

In 2011, Julie's daughter auditioned and was selected to sing at Sing with Eric. This annual workshop is presented by Distinguished Concerts International – New York. “At the parent meeting,” she recalled, “I kind of jokingly said, 'Do you take parent singers?' The guy said, 'See me afterwards. I actually have a spot for you.' ” With a laugh, she added, “I was freaking out. Not only do I get to go hear this music live but now, my daughter's participating; and now I'm participating. It was a dream come true.”

Julie enjoyed herself so much that she participated again in Sing with Eric 2012, which was held March 30 – April 1, 2012 in New York, NY. Three days of intensive rehearsals with Eric Whitacre culminated with a performance at the prestigious Carnegie Hall. “To sing with the composer and to sing the music as closely as it's intended to be sung – to the best of your ability – is really a dream come true.”

Julie Souin on The Virtual Choir's Online Community

“So much of this is hard to put into words,” Julie said. After some thought, she elaborated, “The relationships that have blossomed out of this are, I feel, as real as the people I have met in real life. The people that I haven't – that I only know virtually, whether it's Google Hangouts or Skype or typing – they're like, real friendships and I would have never expected that. It was a very unexpected perk.”

Julie is full of admiration for her Virtual Choir friends. “These friends are artistic, very open people. Open to share of themselves. To give of themselves...They're very loving people.”

In addition to singing in Virtual Choir, Julie is a member of the Virtual Choir Army, a small group of singers who helped fellow VC members as they prepared their submissions. “My son is on his first deployment in Afghanistan,” she shared. “Helping people gather the courage to learn “Water Night” for VC 3.0, record and upload videos was extra rewarding. I really needed a healthy distraction from thinking about my son and his safety. Reaching out to others as well as learning and memorizing the music for our Carnegie Hall concert was just the thing. I am so grateful.”

The Water Night Premiere and Meeting Virtual Choir Members in New York

The world premiere of Virtual Choir 3.0: “Water Night” took place on Monday, April 2, 2012. It was fast on the heels behind Sing with Eric as well as the release of Eric Whitacre's latest CD, also entitled Water Night. Julie Souin attended both events.

“I'm sitting with all these people who have this vested interest,” she recalled. “A lot of them sang in the Virtual Choir. Everybody is heavily anticipating this moment and to watch it in the same room with all of them was really special.”

Another highlight for Julie was the opportunity to meet fellow Virtual Choir members in person. “Oh my gosh!” she gushed. “That was a cool thing itself. I spent a lot of time with Jack [Rowland] because we're really good friends. I picked him up at the airport. It was like we have known each other our whole lives from the get-go. From the second I saw him, there was this comfort level like a brother and sister.

“It wasn't until after the concert at Carnegie Hall and there was the rest of the gang all waiting. I met up with them and that moment was completely unreal. I saw Jack, Lynna [Schaefer] and Kevin [Callahan] and Jen [Christensen]. Then Dennis [Scannell] and Maria [Petrova].

“There were other people that joined us that I didn't know as well or I haven't known as long. The entire gang, no matter who showed up, whenever we went out or we were together, everybody was like one big happy family. It was almost like we had known each other since high school and we were having a high school reunion.”

Julie Souin on Meeting and Working with Grammy Winning Composer Eric Whitacre

When Suite101 asked “What is Eric like in person?” Julie quickly replied, “Special. Really, he's special. Not just the music he creates, but as a person. He really is super-grounded, down-to-earth, very genuine. Everything that you see in interviews? It's real.

“He's very respectful to each person he meets. He gives each person as much time as he can possibly give, in whatever situation they are approaching him.”

Julie firmly believes that Eric Whitacre's personal qualities come through in his music. “You feel that sincerity when you hear his music.”

Julie Souin on Eric Whitacre's CD Water Night

One of Julie's favourite tracks is “When David Heard”. “I can't imagine that you can make a piece that long out of so few words and it remains interesting; and you feel what the parent would feel if you were in that situation. It makes you feel something deep down. It really reaches the soul.”

When asked about the CD, Julie answered in revered tones. “I love it. It's everything I hoped it would be and thought it would be. Probably more.”

Originally published on on May 26, 2012. All rights reserved by Rhona-Mae Arca.