World Sings in Perfect Harmony

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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2 Responses to “World Sings in Perfect Harmony”

  1. KadmusArts Culture News » Blog Archive » On the Record: Eric Whitacre
    June 16th, 2011 00:11

    [...] The Economist KadmusArts: World Sings in Perfect Harmony [...]

  2. KadmusArts Culture News » Blog Archive » New Music, New Audiences
    June 19th, 2011 00:06

    [...] Wales Online G?yl Gregynog Festival KadmusArts on Whitacre: World Sings in Perfect Harmony [...]

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