Interview with Laura Slattery of Virtual Choir 3.0

When I was with Suite101, I interviewed Laura Slattery of Eric Whitacre's Virtual Choir 3.0 to discuss music, the links between music and medicine and Eric Whitacre.

Virtual Choir Member Laural Slattery of Ireland.

Laura Slattery of Limerick, Ireland, recorded the Soprano 4 and 5 parts to Eric Whitacre's Virtual Choir 3 project: “Water Night” from the Grammy-winning album, Light & Gold. This huge multi-track project involved 3,746 videos submitted by amateur and professional singers from 73 countries.

Laura sat down with me on April 27, 2012 via Skype to discuss Eric Whitacre's music, the connections between music and medicine, musical obsessions and Virtual Choir.

Laura Slattery on Choral Singing

Laura has sung in choirs since the age of nine. “Actually, I tried to join my school choir when I was nine and I was told I wasn't good enough,” she recalled. “I said, 'Well I'll show you!' and went in and started getting voice lessons.”

Although Laura plays several instruments, including piano, guitar and tin whistle, choral music holds a special place in her heart. “There's nothing quite like choral singing. You can sing on your own, all you like; but there's just nothing like the experience you get with the people you meet.”

On Singing Eric Whitacre's Music for the First Time

“I think the first that I had heard of Eric Whitacre was actually my current choir,” Laura mused. She sings with the Tullamore Academy Chamber Choir, which recently was named National Choir of the Year.

She went on to recall the first time she sang an Eric Whitacre composition. “I kind of got drafted in at the last minute to sing tenor in “This Marriage” and it was kind of like, 'Wow, this is sick!'” Her conductor advised her to listen to more of Whitacre's music. “He said to go listen to “Cloudburst” . I was absolutely blown away,” she murmured.

Virtual Choir 3.0

“I had only heard “Water Night” once in my life,” she said. “When he announced it in December, I was like, 'Oops.' ” With a chuckle, she added, “I think it's fair to say I procrastinated – a lot. An awful, awful lot.”

She recorded countless times for VC3 and admitted that she was plagued with doubts. “There's just something about listening back to yourself. I hate it at the worst of times,” she admitted.

“We came up to the night before the submissions and I had been talking to my housemate about it. He was like, 'Look, just get and do it. Get up in the morning and get and do it. When are you going to get and do something like this again?' ”

Revitalized, Laura Slattery tried again. “I went into the college at 6:00 in the morning – the day of submissions. Had several failed attempts.” Then there were website and server issues. “I decided to go back home and record the S5 line in the car, just sitting outside of my apartment.”

Once she sent in her submission, Laura made a post to Eric Whitacre's Virtual Choir page on Facebook, saying, “Am I out of my mind? I recorded it in the car!” Responses came within seconds. “There were loads of people, 'You did great! We're delighted to have you.' ”

When Eric Whitacre announced that the Virtual Choir submission deadline would be extended, Laura decided to record the Soprano 4 line as well. “If he had gone for another day, I would have recorded another one. It was a labour of love.”

She fell in love with “Water Night”. “It's just such a fabulous piece. It's just so complicated. It's kind of counter-intuitive. How does he come up with these things? It just sounds so perfect but when you separate them out, you're like, 'These things shouldn't work together.' ”

Musical Obsessions

When asked about her favourite music, Laura quipped, “Does it sound cliché if I say any of Eric Whitacre's music? That's my study music now.”

“I've gone through kind of phases of being Handel-obsessed. I've gone through Evanescence. Take everything. Irish folk. I have great love obviously, for Irish music. I will absolutely listen to anything. There's very little that I don't like in music.”

“There's something intrinsically intense about music,” she mused. “It's people putting themselves out there, putting their heart out there on a plate.”

On Eric Whitacre and His Music

“Eric Whitacre is unique,” said Laura, matter-of-factly. “There's not a lot of people who utilize digital media.” She went on to explain. “I can put something up on Facebook and can hear back what he's thinking. You know, get an insight of his thought process.”

“He just captures words so well,” she said of Whitacre's music. “Every word you can see is thought out: 'Exactly how am I going to put those harmonies there? How am I going to get the message across?' “

“There's such feeling in it and a kind of purity and honesty,” she said. “Going back to the heart on a plate analogy, he's someone who literally, I imagine, gives all of himself. It's certainly how it comes across in his music.”

“He's exploded onto the choral scene,” she reported. “Every competition you go to – Ireland's not a big country – there's five or six choirs doing an Eric Whitacre piece.”

The Connections Between Music and Medicine

Ms. Slattery is a second-year medical student at the University of Limerick. She's in the graduate program, specializing in pediatrics oncology.

“Music is kind of like a vocation,” she said after pondering the question. “Medicine obviously has to be. The art of being a good musician, shall we say, is making it sound simple. It requires massive dedication, from the time you're a young child.

“And the ability to communicate emotions and the ability to understand emotion,” she added. “That is massive as a doctor, that too often is missing. You know, focus on the condition, focus on disease and fail to see the person, the emotion, the experience.”

Another link Laura recognized is the connection between creativity and adaptation. “There's obvious creativity in music. In medicine you have to think on your feet – adapt to situations.”

“Interestingly enough, an awful lot of people in my course are musical,” she admitted. “We've had talent nights.” She mentioned also that some medical students sing in choirs, while others teach music part-time.

“It's great to have something to escape to. Something to balance your life with. If you become too one-dimensional, then you lose the human aspect. If anything, I want to be a human doctor.”