TED Radio Hour
7:55 am
Fri May 18, 2012

How Do You Make A Virtual Choir?

Originally published on Fri May 25, 2012 8:18 am

Part 6 of the TED Radio Hour episode The Power Of Crowds.

About Eric Whitacre's TEDTalk

Composed and conducted by Eric Whitacre, "Lux Aurumque" merges hundreds of tracks individually recorded and posted to YouTube. The final product incorporates 185 voices from 12 countries to form a "virtual choir" that spanned the globe. The video received over a million views on YouTube in just 2 months. The final result is an illustration of how technology can connect us.

About Eric Whitacre

Eric Whitacre began his career singing in his college choir with no previous musical experience. By 21, he had completed his first concert work, Go, Lovely Rose, and soon advanced to Julliard where he studied under Oscar-winning composer John Corigliano. Today, his 44 published concert pieces have sold over a million copies, making him one of the most performed composers of his generation. His album Cloudburst and Other Choral Works earned him a Grammy nomination in 2007.

Most recently, Whitacre has been noticed for his cutting-edge work, Paradise Lost: Shadows and Wings. The musical, which combined electronica with choral and operatic traditions, earned him the prestigious Richard Rodgers Award. It received 10 nominations at the 2007 Los Angeles Stage Alliance Ovation Awards and performed to a sold-out crowd at Carnegie Hall in 2010. His first album as both composer and conductor, Light & Gold, won a Grammy in 2012, and became the No. 1 classical album in the US and UK charts within a week of release.

Watch a video of Eric Whitacre's "virtual choir" project below.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

ALISON STEWART, HOST:

Our last TED Talk tells the story of one man who has helped unite thousands of people around the world in perfect harmony. Literally.

ERIC WHITACRE: My name is Eric Whitacre. I'm a composer and a conductor and my TED Talk was about the Virtual Choir.

STEWART: Eric, can you explain the concept of the Virtual Choir?

WHITACRE: I make a conductor's video. I'm conducting a piece of music that I've written, but no one is following me. I'm alone in a room. I upload that video to YouTube and then singers from around the world individually upload their parts, singing along to my conductor track, all alone - they've never met.

We get all of these parts together. They're all singing at the same tempo. We cut them together so that they all start at the same time and it forms a choir, a virtual choir.

STEWART: We'll talk more with Eric Whitacre in a few moments. But first, let's listen to his 2011 TED Talk, where he explains how he got the idea for the Virtual Choir.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVE RECORDING "TED TALK, A VIRTUAL CHOIR, 2,000 VOICES STRONG")

WHITACRE: Well, a couple of years ago, a friend of mine emailed me a link, a YouTube link, and said you have got to see this. And it was this young woman who had posted a fan video to me, singing the soprano line to a piece of mine called Sleep.

(SOUNDBITE OF YOUTUBE VIDEO "SLEEP - ERIC WHITACRE - MESSAGE AND SINGING FROM BRITLIN")

BRITLIN LUCY: Hi, Mr Eric Whitacre. My name is Britlin Lucy and this is a video that I'd like to make for you. Here's me singing Sleep. In a moment. (Unintelligible).

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVE RECORDING "TED TALK, A VIRTUAL CHOIR, 2,000 VOICES STRONG")

WHITACRE: And Britlin was so innocent and so sweet and her voice was so pure. And I even loved seeing, you know, behind her I could see a little teddy bear sitting on the piano behind her in her room. Such an intimate video. And I had this idea. If I could get 50 people to all do this same thing: sing their part - soprano, alto, tenor and bass - wherever they were in the world, post their videos to YouTube, we could cut it all together and create a virtual choir.

So I wrote on my blog, O-M-G, O-M-G. I actually wrote O-M-G, hopefully for the last time in public ever.

And I sent out this call to singers and I made free the download of the music to a piece that I'd written in the year 2000, called Lux Aurumque, which means light and gold. And then, as the videos started to come in...

(SOUNDBITE OF CHERYL ANG SINGING "LUX AURUMQUE")

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVE RECORDING "TED TALK, A VIRTUAL CHOIR, 2,000 VOICES STRONG")

WHITACRE: This is Cheryl Ang from Singapore. This is Evangelina Etienne.

(SOUNDBITE OF EVANGELINA ETIENNE SINGING "LUX AURUMQUE")

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVE RECORDING "TED TALK, A VIRTUAL CHOIR, 2,000 VOICES STRONG")

WHITACRE: From Massachusetts.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC "STEVEN HANSEN SINGING")

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVE RECORDING "TED TALK, A VIRTUAL CHOIR, 2,000 VOICES STRONG")

WHITACRE: Steven Hansen from Sweden.

This is Jamal Walker from Dallas, Texas.

(SOUNDBITE OF JAMAL WALKER SINGING "LUX AURUMQUE")

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVE RECORDING "TED TALK, A VIRTUAL CHOIR, 2,000 VOICES STRONG")

WHITACRE: And, from the crowd, emerged this young man, Scott Haines (ph) and he said, listen, this is the project I've been looking for for my whole life. I'd like to be the person to edit this all together. I said, thank you Scott, I'm so glad that you found me. And Scott aggregated all of the videos. He scrubbed the audio. He made sure that everything lined up. And then we posted this video to YouTube. This is Lux Aurumque, sung by the Virtual Choir.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHOIR SINGING "LUX AURUMQUE")

STEWART: We're speaking with composer Eric Whitacre about the creation of a virtual choir. For the radio audience, for the listening audience, can you please describe what that video looks like for people?

WHITACRE: It's very cool and it's very disorienting at the same time, because you see my little conductor video that I first made, and it's floating in space in front of these 185 other singers. And it looks like a choir might look if we were all Skyping together at the same time, which we're not, but that's basically how it looks, that we're floating there somewhere in this galactic church.

STEWART: It was interesting to observe the audience at the TED Talk after the video played, because they were with you and trying to understand what was going on. And the minute they saw the video and heard it, it was like there was just a different energy in the room. And they - people - you got a standing ovation and people suddenly had that a-ha moment. Oh, this is what it is?

I wonder your thoughts on why you think it affects people so much when they see the video and they hear it, especially together.

WHITACRE: I think people respond to it for a number of reasons. One, I think it's just beautiful to hear choral music. You know, it's the oldest instrument we have, the human voice. Then there's the poetry of all of these individuals across the world, alone. You can see them alone in their room and in their little videos, but they've somehow been brought together by the power of the Internet, this new technology, so that we can be alone together.

And it's such a striking, poetic moment when you see that and then when you hear it. And finally, I think that it speaks well to a benevolent future for the Internet. Technology, especially these days, it feels every day like it could go one way or the other, doesn't it? It feels like...

STEWART: Mm-hmm.

WHITACRE: ...it could be bad, it could be good. And that this seems to be an example of just simply something pure and beautiful and human. And I think it makes people feel a sense of wonderment about the technology, which maybe doesn't happen every day.

STEWART: Eric, you decided to use your song Sleep for the next project, Virtual Choir 2.0. Let's go back to your TED Talk to hear about that.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVE RECORDING "TED TALK, A VIRTUAL CHOIR, 2,000 VOICES STRONG")

WHITACRE: And again, I posted a conductor video, and we started accepting submissions and we - our final tally was 2,051 videos from 58 different countries.

UNIDENTIFIED AUDIENCE MEMBER: Whoa!

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

WHITACRE: Thank you. This is Sleep. The Virtual Choir.

(SOUNDBITE OF VIRTUAL CHOIR SINGING "SLEEP")

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVE RECORDING "TED TALK, A VIRTUAL CHOIR, 2,000 VOICES STRONG")

WHITACRE: We also put a page on Facebook, for the singers to upload their testimonials - what it was like for them, their experience, singing it. And I've just chosen a few of them here. My sister and I used to sing in choirs together constantly. Now she's an airman in the Air Force, constantly traveling. It's so wonderful to sing together again. I love the idea that she's singing with her sister.

Aside from the beautiful music, it's great just to know I'm part of a worldwide community of people I never met before but who are connected anyway.

And my personal favorite: When I told my husband that I was going to be a part of this, he told me that I did not have the voice for it. Yeah. I'm sure a lot of you have heard that too. Me too. It hurt so much and I shed some tears, but something inside of me wanted to do this, despite his words. It's a dream come true to be part of this choir, as I have never been part of one.

When I placed a marker on the Google Earth map, I had to go with the nearest city, which is about 400 miles away from where I live. As I am in the great Alaskan bush, satellite is my connection to the world.

So two things struck me deeply about this. The first is that human beings will go to any lengths necessary to find and connect with each other. And the second is that people seem to be experiencing an actual connection. It wasn't a virtual choir that - there are people now online, they're friends, they've never met. But I know myself, too, I feel this virtual esprit de corps, if you will, with all of them. I feel a closeness to this choir, almost like a family.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHOIR SINGING "SLEEP")

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVE RECORDING "TED TALK, A VIRTUAL CHOIR, 2,000 VOICES STRONG")

WHITACRE: Thank you very, very much. Thank you.

STEWART: Composer and conductor Eric Whitacre. He just completed Virtual Choir 3, with more than 3,700 videos from 73 countries. You can see and hear it on our website. Go to ted.npr.org.

I'm Alison Stewart. You've been listening to Ideas Worth Spreading on the TED RADIO HOUR from NPR. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.