Archive for April, 2011

World Sings in Perfect Harmony

Monday, April 18th, 2011

Eric Whitacre

Photo by Suzie Katz — Creative Commons License Some Rights Reserved

Thanks to simple online tools, one person’s vision, and the global participation of amateurs, an amazingly beautiful work of art has been created.

Eric Whitacre always wanted to be a rock star. Now, through choral music — yes, choral music — he has millions of fans and band mates.

Whitacre’s choral piece, Sleep, is a major phenomenon. Whitacre and his technical colleagues synced up 2,051 amateur singers from 58 countries to create our own time’s ode to joy.

Whitacre got the idea from a young woman, Britlin Losee, who posted a video of herself singing his music. In the intro to her self-directed performance, she said, “Ever since I heard your song Sleep, I have been addicted to your music. Music is my life, it is my heart, it is everything. And, um, you’ve touched me.”

As Whitacre told NPR, “I was just so moved by the way she was singing and the look on her face — she looked directly into the camera. And she had such a pure and sweet tone. It struck me: I thought, God, if I can get 50 people to do this all at the same time, from around the world, post their videos, and then we could cut them together, we could make a virtual choir.” His first attempt, Lux Arumque, had 185 singers from 12 different countries.

He not only found a voice for his art, he found an outlet for singers. Here was something that a few years ago would have been out of reach.

For Virtual Choir 2.0, Whitacre provided music to download for soprano, alto, tenor and bass, and instructions via YouTube. Everyone rehearsed on their own by watching Whitacre’s conducting and listening to the piano track. When ready, singers needed to make sure their faces were well lit. To create a uniform chorus, everyone wore black.

In addition, via Facebook, participants could post their video, tips for each other and provide critiques of each other’s approach. As is true so often when it comes to opening the artistic process to an online community, the comments were universally encouraging and affirming. Audiences and artists, whether professional or amateur, know that it’s so hard to create art, if you don’t have something nice or helpful to say, you don’t say it.

As Whitacre told the Los Angeles Times, “The choir is a beautiful, poetic expression of a seemingly fundamental human need to connect with each other and to commune…When I first saw it, the first thought that popped into my head was message in a bottle. It was almost like these marooned souls on islands all over the world sending out messages in a bottle hoping to connect with someone that understood them. Everything we do is trying to overcome this abyss of loneliness.”

Isn’t that incredible?!?

The NPR reporter was one of the singers. Whitacre told him, “There’s this incredible leap of faith on the part of the singer, where you’re just hoping, sort of, beyond hope, that somehow this works, right? That you’ll do your little bit for this and then months later find out, ‘Oh, OK, I helped make this happen.’ ”

This is the reality and potential of our world today: online tools + one person’s vision + a community’s participation = world singing in perfect harmony.

- Bill Reichblum

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Honoring Juliano Mer-Khamis

Monday, April 11th, 2011

Juliano Mer-Khamis

Photo by francis mckee — Creative Commons License Some Rights Reserved

This past week, Juliano Mer-Khamis, the internationally renowned actor, director and producer, was killed outside of his theatre, the Freedom Theatre in the Jenin refugee camp.

Juliano was a forceful leader for a simple idea: art can transform lives, politics, and make the world a better place.

The Freedom Theatre was founded in 2006. Juliano described its mission as “using the creative process as a model for social change, provide opportunities for the children and youth of Jenin Refugee Camp to develop the skills, self-knowledge and confidence which would empower them to challenge present realities and to take control of their future.”

The son of a Palestinian father and a Jewish mother, Juliano lived, worked and created in both cultures. He considered himself “100% Palestinian and 100% Jewish.”

He was killed in his car with his one year old son on his lap. Palestinian police have arrested a member of Hamas.

Juliano’s partner, Jenny Nyman, noted that “he always said that he would rather die on his feet than live on his knees.” There’s no doubt that his life on his feet — his work, his example, and his actions — have inspired so many in the region and around the world.

He was once asked, what is the key to a happy life? Juliano responded, “To have somebody love you without conditions, despite who you are.”

Juliano, his accomplishments and his dreams, will always be loved.

- Bill Reichblum

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The Sound of Art & Empathy: Ching Chong

Monday, April 4th, 2011

No To Racism

Photo by Ammon Beckstrom — Creative Commons License Some Rights Reserved

Racism and idiocy usually go hand-in-hand. Have you ever wondered what would be the best response?

The answer lies in art.

Recently, a student at the University of California, Los Angeles posted a racist rant on YouTube. The target of her rant? She was angry at Asian students trying to call home after the tsunami from inside the university library. The student’s original posted rant received more than 1,000,000 YouTube views. After receiving threats, the student issued an apology through the student newspaper, the Daily Bruin.

Of course, it’s bad enough that a student at an internationally recognized university of high achievement such as UCLA would hold such views. It’s even worse when the student feels compelled to share her stupidity with the world.

The UCLA rant was a perfect storm of our online world today: anger + ignorance + stupidity + solipsism + online access.

However, before one starts to miss those innocent days of cat videos, there’s another side to this story and that’s the power of art.

One young composer, Jimmy Wong, took the racist student’s rant to inspire a perfect piece of music. His song, Ching Chong (It Means I Love You) transforms her anger and idiocy into something funny and inspiring.

Listening to Wong, one can’t help but feel better about our world where an artist’s creativity and culture will always trump someone’s xenophobia and racism. Maybe even the ranting student will learn that the world works better when we turn away from anger, embrace empathy and celebrate art.

The perfect response. Ching Chong, indeed! We love it.

- Bill Reichblum

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