Virtual Choir

Singing with My Students in Virtual Choir 4.0

When VC4.0 was announced, I like several teachers, grumbled about how this is smack dab in the middle of our craziest period. It's been a blessing in disguise that not one, not two or three, but six of my students told me that they'd like to sing in Eric Whitacre's Virtual Choir this year. While coaching them, I get to practice. It's a win-win situation.

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.

Ensemble Musings

No world exploration clip this week. My students and I have been reviewing video of their performances at last week's recital. There were many strong performances. However, I think the ensemble numbers really got the crowd going.

 

Those ensemble performances were a great prelude to what coming up at the studio. Next week is Group Class Week. The kids have been working hard since September on two or three ensemble pieces. Instead of their regular lesson, they will have a combo class. Next week is the first time they will meet as a group to work on their pieces. It's hard to tell who's more excited: my students, Maestro or myself!

 

I've split my students into eight ensembles. We have a varied line-up:

 

  1. "Mission Impossible" (for sax, clarinet, keyboard and cajon)
  2. "Numb" by Linkin Park (for voice, keyboard, cajon and bass)
  3. "Under the Sea" for 4 hands/1 piano, cajon and hand percussion
  4. "Super Mario Overworld Theme" for piano, cajon and hand percussion
  5. "Lady Bird" for piano and cajon
  6. Pia no Jac's version of "Ode to Joy" for piano and cajon
  7. "Edge of Glory" by Lady Gaga for voice, keyboard, cajon and hand percussion
  8. "The Athletic Rag" from Super Mario for 4 hands/1 piano, cajon and hand percussion
  9. "Bless the Broken Road" for piano, guitar and cajon
  10. "Gerudo Valley Theme" from Zelda for 4 hands/1 piano and cajon
  11. "Floral Heartstring" by Pia no Jac for piano, cajon and hand percussion
  12. "When You Believe" for voice, piano and cajon
  13. "Moves Like Jagger" by Maroon 5 for voice, keyboard and cajon
In addition to the studio combos, I've been preparing for my submission to Eric Whitacre's Virtual Choir 3.0. This is undoubtedly one of the most difficult works for voice I have ever worked on. With it being a "virtual" choir, I do not have the benefit of having a stellar singer beside me to follow. I need to know my pitches! Not only that, but I have to work tremendously hard on breath support.
It's been a wonderful challenge though. I got goosebumps when I first heard Virtual Choir 2.0 and am excited to just be a part of it.

 

Solo music making is fun but I'm finding that there is something magical and energizing about music making in an ensemble.
(c) 2012 by Musespeak(TM), Calgary, AB, Canada. 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.