Singing with Virtual Choir 4

July 22, 2013


A little over a week ago, Eric Whitacre’s Virtual Choir 4: “Fly to Paradise” premiered in London for the Queen’s Coronation Festival. I was especially looking forward to this one, because I got to join in!

The History:

If you’ve never heard of Virtual Choir before, here’s a bit of a rundown. After hearing a young fan sing the soprano part of one of his choral compositions on YouTube, Eric Whitacre uploaded a conducting video and a sound-recording for singers to follow. People from 12 different countries recorded themselves singing their voice parts, sent it back to him, and he put it all together. Virtual Choir 1: “Lux Aurumque” was the result:


This was followed soon after by Virtual Choir 2: “Sleep”, this time with over 2000 voices. This one brought tears to my eyes because of the way it highlighted all the different countries which were involved. It reminded me of Musicians Without Borders: suddenly international conflict seemed totally surmountable, and politics almost faded into irrelevance:


Virtual Choir 3: “Water Night” followed the year after. I was nearly able to participate in that one, but unfortunately work deadlines got in the way and I missed out:


So I was determined that, come hell or high water, I would be in the next one. Well, the time came and this time I was ready…just. If there’s anything I learned from this experience, it is this: do not, whatever you do, leave it to the last minute. I had intended to submit videos for Soprano 1 through to Tenor, but in the end I only had time to do the 2nd Soprano part plus the solo audition. But hey, at least I made it this time!

A month later, the end result finally came online:


When I first saw it, which, since I’m in Australia, wasn’t till the morning of the twelfth, I turned into a just-barely-dignified blubbering mess over my breakfast cereal. It’s a bit mindblowing to see something like this for the first time as a participant. I haven’t managed to spot myself anywhere in the video, but that doesn’t really matter: I know my voice is in there with the rest of them. That’s…well, pretty awesome.

The Community:

There are so many people involved this choir that the credits are nine minutes long – twice as long as the song itself. Probably one of the most moving submissions (I think) was made by RhondaLee, a hearing-impaired woman who performed her solo audition in sign language. You can spot her in the final video at about 3:34. I think the funniest submission would have to be the baritone puppet (…yes, you read that right. I have yet to spot him in the choir, but somehow I’m not optimistic). Then, of course, there’s the blooper reel, for those who were – unlike me – brave enough to submit their outtakes.

There’s a forum where the community all talked to each other and supported each other through the whole process, and continue to converse even now. The forum is another reason why one should get involved early: I wish I’d come across it sooner and realised that vocal coaches could be found there, for example. I haven’t had singing lessons in years and could have used a few reminders about technique.

The nailbiting three-day wait for the soprano solo audition materials to go online, the second-guessing after submission (should I have put that video in? Maybe I should have done another take? Should I have submited the other one?), the mutual calming down and soothing of frazzled nerves, the story-telling and jokes, were all shared in the forum while we waited impatiently for the final release.

Now that the wait is over and it’s been a bit over a week, the video has gone viral and the VC community continues to thrive. Eric Whitacre’s intention was always to make the musical components available for other musicians to play with, and a number of remixes have already popped up. For example:

The Experience (and Tips for Next Time):

VC4 belongs in a special way to everyone who took part. Also, this project exists in the present. It’s not like a conference or a concert where you have a great time and then the memories fade. This performance is. Forever.

I really would have liked to get some of my students involved. However, my experience of preparing and submitting the videos made me very glad that I did it alone first, just so I could see firsthand what “making a submission” actually entails. It is an inspiring and wonderful thing to be a part of, but the process can be gruelling. I did several takes: about twenty for the Soprano II video and fourteen for the solo audition, but apparently some people did up to seventy (!). I was also very tired and cramming everything into the last minute, which takes its toll on the voice even without doing take after take. Then there was the fact that I wasn’t very cluey with the recording software I was using. Tip: get cluey beforehand. A long way beforehand.

People are already asking Eric Whitacre about VC5. In anticipation, I’ve compiled a list of “Notes to Self” for the next time around:

  1. Don’t wait until the last minute.
  2. No, really: don’t wait until the last minute.
  3. Don’t try to learn a new piece of video editing software 29 hours before the deadline.
  4. If you can, set up the microphone so you can stand up.
  5. Do take several takes over several days, instead of trying to cram them all into one day.
  6. Take time before recording to read stuff on the forum regarding things like, “Don’t use vibrato”.
  7. Sleep well, eat well, look after yourself.
  8. Know when enough’s enough.
  9. Did I mention not to leave it to the last minute?

When the next time rolls around, if you have the chance and the resources, go for it. It’s great fun!

Thankyou to Eric and the whole team: it was an honour to be part of this fantastic project.

Can’t wait for VC5! 🙂

About Gabrielle Deschamps

I'm a secondary music teacher, interested in music technology and its integration into classroom pedagogy.

View all posts by Gabrielle Deschamps


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