VC

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.

The Big Reveal of Virtual Choir 3.0's Water Night

Yesterday was truly a magical day. After going through a rough morning (Murphy's Law prevailed), I was looking forward to seeing the cheerful faces of my students and the "premiere" of Virtual Choir 3.0. Both were the balm that I needed.

 

My students had heard about me struggling with my submission for Virtual Choir 3.0 (those pesky trouble spots). How apropos that I watched the premiere with two of my music students via Lincoln Center's live stream.

 

From the moment that lone water drop touched down and we sang our opening chord, the hairs on my arms stood up and my arms tingled. My students and I were just speechless for several minutes:

Our "performance" of "Water Night" by Grammy-winning composer Eric Whitacre, is a feast for the eyes as well as the ears. Spiritually, it's a balm and a booster. Truly magical. 

It's a powerful reminder of the power of music, of how art builds community and breaks barriers. A total of 3,746 videos from 2,945 people (singing one or more parts) in 73 countries were submitted.Now pundits can complain about how the cut-offs aren't exact and those "esses" drag on forever, or that we were blended together artificially. To them, I say that the virtual environment is never meant to replace the live environment. Just augment it.

I already sing in my church choir (and play piano AND cajón). I do a bit of collaborating with other musicians. Virtual Choir gives me a new world to explore. Technology to master. "Rehearsals" and "performances" that don't require me to give up teaching time. New repertoire to challenge myself with. New friends.

The singing part of Virtual Choir is only a fraction of the entire experience. I blogged about my Virtual Choir preparation and recording experience here. The real magic of Virtual Choir is "virtual choir makes real connections".

Some Virtual Choir members have been inspired by their experience to join a choir in their neighbourhood. I know of a couple who have signed up for singing lessons as a result of their Virtual Choir experience.

People from my generation may remember having international pen-pals as a child. Now, I have a whole army of pen-pals. With a VC member in numerous timezones, there is always someone available when I am.

We're exchanging gifts, planning visits and so on. I know of one couple who have come together through Virtual Choir.

We celebrate the joys, such as a job interview, a new composition or relationship. We support each other through the rough patches, such as surgery, relationship break-ups and cancer.

I was chatting with some of my choir buddies from the Virtual Choir Army last night and after celebrating the culmination of our hard work with "Water Night", we looked towards the future. Immediately on the horizon is our next multi-track project (singing Morten Lauridsen's "O Magnum Mysterium"). We dreamed about future real-life reunions and Virtual Choir 4.0. We are riding the wave of community and artistry created by Virtual Choir and seeing where it (and technology) will take us next.

So when we see that video, we see the breakdown of barriers. People in isolation coming together. People from countries who aren't on amicable terms singing "beside" each other. We see the we see the growth of those connections. We hear the magic created by people who may never meet, in communion with one another, drawn together to bring the haunting strains of "Water Night" to life.

Bravo Eric! Bravo VC Team! Bravo to all of you, my fellow choristers in Virtual Choir. We've made something truly special here.

Click on image below to check out Eric Whitacre's newest CD, Water Night:

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.