A few days ago, I was listening to an old episode of the TED Radio Hour, which is a show on NPR that excerpts TED talks along particular themes and interviews the speaker about the topic. (TED stands for Technology, Entertainment, and Design; it’s a nonprofit group “devoted to Ideas Worth Spreading.”) I recently subscribed to their podcast, and I’ve been catching up on the episodes I missed. The podcast from May 18th, 2012 was about “The Power of Crowds” and introduced me to Eric Whitacre and the Virtual Choir.
Okay, to be fair, I’d heard about the Virtual Choir before, but I’d pretty much forgotten about it until I listened to this podcast. Eric Whitacre, a composer and conductor, came up with the idea (listen to the podcast to hear his quite funny recounting of the “aha!” moment) of creating a choir of ordinary people in the electronic ether of the Internet, all singing one of his compositions. Here’s how it happens: Whitacre makes the music of one of his pieces available for free download on the Internet. Folks who want to join the choir get the music, learn the appropriate vocal part (if I were to take part, for example, I would learn the alto part), and upload a video of themselves singing to the site. Finally, some very nice technical folks edit the videos together–synching the sound and all that stuff–and it gets posted for everyone to enjoy. Last year’s Virtual Choir performance was turned into a short film, a little more than half of which is the credits (each singer is identified by name, which must be unbelievably cool for all of them). The result is singularly stunning.
I recommend watching this one on full screen to get an idea of the scale. There are 3,746 performers in “Water Night.” The lyrics are from a poem by Octavio Paz. It is one of the loveliest musical moments I’ve ever discovered. And it makes it clear just how powerful the Internet really is, how it can be used to create art and beauty and community. How it is helping to make the world just a little bit smaller, one voice at a time.
Want to join the Virtual Choir? You can sign up for Virtual Choir 4 here.