American composer Eric Whitacre is a star in choral circles. His music is performed by amateur and professional choirs. Now he's unveiled his Virtual Choir 2.0 on YouTube. It features over 2,000 singers from around the world.
"It all started with this video. A young girl named Britlin Losee, who was 17 at the time, posted to YouTube a video of herself singing the soprano part to a piece of mine called "Sleep," says Whitacre, explaining how he came up with the concept of a virtual choir. "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. And 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.'"
So Whitacre experimented. He rounded up singers, had them sing individually into webcams while listening to a piece of his on headphones, and had a technician cut the videos together. The experiment was so successful, Virtual Choir 1.0 was born.
For that, 185 singers from 12 countries sang Whitacre’s "Lux Aurumque."
"My biggest hope was that we’d get people to sing very soft and more full in different places. And it really worked," he says.
Virtual Choir 1.0 got almost two million hits on YouTube. So Whitacre conceived a followup - Virtual Choir 2.0 - an even larger global project. When it was announced, singers were directed to download the music for 'Sleep' and follow instructions via a YouTube video.
Whitacre knows it’s a strange process. "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, O.K., that I helped make this happen.'"
The final video featured more than 2,000 singers from 58 countries.
Britlin Losee, the young woman whose video triggered the whole project, was shocked to see it.
"Amazing," she says. "I still can’t even explain it. What I just learned from the entire experience is that when you do something really pure out of your heart, you know, not wanting anything in return, you know, miraculous things can happen."
Whitacre’s Virtual Choir 2.0, featuring his piece "Sleep," is now on YouTube.