Choral Music

Excited About My New Accompaniment Gig

Playing ensemble music reminds me of the Tamil Indians. You create something different each time you play with a different group or a different song. I'm looking forward to my newest accompanying project. Four really fun tunes.

Virtual Choir 4.0 Announced

Last week, Grammy-winning composer/conductor Eric Whitacre announced the next Virtual Choir Project: "Bliss". This piece is from his 2010 West End musical entitled Paradise Lost. It is quite the departure from previous virtual choir projects. An exciting one. Some choristers may grumble, but I personally think that this will introduce a new group of singers to the beauty of choral music. "Bliss" is a fusion of classical, techno and something else that I'm still trying to put my finger one. Another difference between VC4 and previous projects is the need for a Kickstarter campaign. As Eric Whitacre's Virtual Choir continues to grow, so do the expenses. VC3: Water Night cost over $100,000 to create. Hence, the Kickstarter campaign. Since it's launch last weekend, the VC4 kickstarter project has raised over $18,000. Not too shabby. Without further ado, here's Eric Whitacre on the VC4 project: In light of the tragedies from last week, any opportunity to come together as a global community in the name of peace, is a welcome one.

My Virtual Choir 3.0 Experience

Last year, a friend introduced me to the music of Grammy winning composer Eric Whitacre. Within hearing the first two notes of "Sleep", the hair on my arms stood up, as if to say, "This is really something!"
When the announcement was made about Virtual Choir 3.0, I eagerly signed up. Little did I know how eye-opening and how dramatic, the experience would be.
"Water Night" is a haunting piece. Sometimes, I get poetry, but just sometimes. With "Water Night", certain phrases called out to me: "The secret kingdom of the water opens, flowing from the centre of the night," was by far my favourite line, followed by "And if you close your eyes, a river, a silent and beautiful current fills you from within."
I'll say this straight up, "Water Night" is by far the most technically challenging choral piece I've sung. Strong breath support is required to make it through those long phrases. I didn't have it when I began but I have it now.
However, "Silence and solitude, two little animals moon-led, drink in your eyes, drink in those waters," proved to be my nemesis. Bars 27- 28 soon became highlighted, circled and covered up in rainbow colours:

My Water Night Score. How did you guess that I'm a visual learner? Photo by R-M Arca.

It was a hard fight, but my ear training improved to the point that I nailed that interval on the final take.

One month of drilling came down to four days/nights of recording. Four frustrating days and nights of tweaking and re-recording (usually done in the wee hours of the night, after teaching):

Night 1 (January 27 and 28): recorded in piano studio. Discovery: it was too wide of an area. Eight-plus takes coughed up one mediocre track. After experiencing uploading issues to the site, I gave up just before sunrise and sent a call for help to Tony Piper at Virtual Choir HQ.

 Day #2 (January 28): I put a box around the mic to limit what it picked up. All was good until someone walked on the area above my studio within the mic's recording range (at least I knew the mic was good).

Then, there the countless lagging video issues with the conductor track and dropped frames in my recording. Discovery: Someone from Virtual Choir was online, ready to lend a helping hand (usually Jack Rowland in Florida, Kevin Callahan in Maine and Holly Christine Brown in Illinois). I wound up with three mediocre tracks (Bar 27 - 28 was still wobbly at this point). I did another 10 tracks that day, more if you include what I deleted right away.

Day #3 (January 29): While visiting relatives, I tried recording in a spare room. The sound quality sky rocketed. I came up with a work-around to the lagging video issue with some help. Three takes resulted in two good takes. I started ending each take with, "If this is the winning take, thank you to everyone involved with Virtual Choir...."

Water Night Recording

Night #4 (January 30 and 31): Entering the day of the final submission day. I decided to try "one more time" but in my studio bathroom. Takes had to take place whenever the furnace shut off for a spell (it was a cold week). Three takes garnered one that stood head an shoulders above the rest.

But that's just the music side of things. Virtual Choir 3.0 has introduced me to a multitude of choir geeks from around the world. When Eric spoke about the community that has built up, he wasn't exaggerating:


After posting the final take, I joined the throngs who kept checking the submission numbers and encouraged other members who were still working on their recordings. I also couldn't help checking (and re-checking) to make sure my submission was showing up in my VC profile.

Maestro and I celebrated the record number of submissions (3,746 from 73 countries) with people (and pets) from the UK, Australia, Puerto Rico, Canada and the US via Google Hangouts. As a group, we've helped each other with Virtual Choir submissions. We've supported each other through bad days, sad news, health and work problems. We've also celebrated each other's victories - great or small - a good performance, a great shopping spree and most recently, Maestro's birthday. And sometimes, we just hang out e.g. one person knitting, two working, one cooking. There is even talk of having Virtual Choir reunions around the world.

Some of us in Virtual Choir 3.0 are working on more projects together.

This was and continues to be an exciting experience. And speaking of projects, I should start practicing on our next one:

(c) 2012 by Musespeak(TM). All rights reserved.

Great Performances - Eric Whitacre and his Virtual Choir

I found out about this recording on Facebook. Eric Whitacre is a composer, lecturer and conductor. The virtual choir concept came to be when  fan of his uploaded and shared a Youtube video of her singing one of his compositions. That snowballed into a worldwide virtual choir. People from around the world auditioned by submitting their Youtube performance of their part, recorded while following the audio track and video of Whitacre conducting. One person came forward to clean up the audio and put the 2000+ videos together. The result is astounding. Magical. This one is called "Sleep": Check out Whitacre's Youtube Channel. Also, here is his introduction of the process:

Now, what I want to know is when Virtual Choir 3.0 is being put together.  (c) 2011 by Musespeak(TM), Calgary, AB, Canada. All rights reserved.

World Music Exploration - Handel's Messiah

This week, we are exploring the Messiah oratorio composed by George Fredrick Handel.


Handel was an interesting character. Born in Germany, immigrated to England. His opera seria were popular back in the day. Then, when the middle class began their ascent into power, opera seria wasn't so popular. Handel turned to oratorios as one way to win back audiences.


He wrote this oratorio about Jesus Christ in under 24 days. Some sources say he didn't leave his home until it was finished.


I enjoyed singing this part back in my university days. Here's "For Unto Us a Child is Born":



(c) 2011 by Musespeak(TM), Calgary, AB, Canada. All rights reserved.

Eastertide Music

Easter is my favourite time of year. The church music is especially wonderful. Our church choir did a splendid job at the Good Friday Mass. Two songs brought tears to my eyes (and I’m sure that I wasn’t the only one tearing up). I can’t remember much of the details (composer and title) but I remember the lyrics were about the sacrifice of Jesus dying on the cross. I’ll find out the info and post it at a later date. The soloists captured the intense emotions so effectively – their timbre reached deep into my soul and pulled. Hard. The harmonies were highly chromatic, which leads to the emotional angst. One song was sung by an alto. Her performance was especially moving. [04/26/06 note: Songs title are "The Seven Last Words from the Cross" and "The Pieta"."]


Easter Vigil presents a different tone. When the lights are turned on and the candles blown out, the choir broke into a jubilant Gloria, while some of the children rang bells.

Easter Sunday. The joyous tone carried through. The choir at the church I attended last Sunday sang a capella. It made me realize how much I rely on the piano or guitar for my chords. I know that I should be able to hear where the chord progressions are going with four-part harmony, but alas, I haven’t mastered that yet.

Easter Break has been creatively productive and relaxing on all other fronts. I finally managed to arrange Above All for piano duet in a form that I am happy with. How apropos as it also has to deal with Easter. Now all I have to do is transcribe my scribbles into fancy looking sheet music, using Finale Notepad. But first, I need to do an arrangement of A Whole New World for another student. I’m simplifying it a bit, so that hasn’t been too hard.


Now if only I could solve my site feed issue (see the link on the right), I’d be laughing. It just stopped working one day and my research and Blogger support have come up with zilch. But that’s a challenge for another day.


© 2006, Musespeak™, Calgary, AB, Canada. All rights reserved.