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The Virtual Choir

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Music is an inherently social vehicle. Whether sharing a song behind closed doors with the other members of an ensemble or presenting it onstage to an audience, those who make music are communicating with everyone within earshot, transmitting emotions and ideas, both verbal and non-verbal, concrete and abstract. Interestingly, many of the methods by which we communicate have changed dramatically over the past decade. Letters have been supplanted by e-mails, and many of those in turn have been replaced by text messages or tweets. The place for “social” gathering is now often the Internet, where people can seek out others with common interests and create vibrant communities with people they might never meet face-to-face.

It is already well established that the digital age has been a boon for music enthusiasts, students, and educators, with countless great performances now available with only a few taps of the keyboard on Youtube, MySpace, Pandora, or any other site du jour. Both individual musicians and music groups have also benefited greatly from new technology, as it is now possible and easy! to share music as never before by posting songs to Web sites, selling them online through iTunes or other virtual marketplaces, or even posting music files that can be downloadable for free.

But we already know all of this. The purpose of this preamble is to present one area whose surface is just beginning to be scratched: the virtual ensemble, a musical group comprised of people who may never actually set foot in the same room or on the same stage, as it were. Eric Whitacre, the blindingly popular educator, director and composer essentially a real-world music superhero is hoping to take this concept to new heights. In 2009, he debuted a virtual choir comprised of singers from around the world. The resulting virtual concert, “Lux Aurumque,” featured 243 voices from 12 different countries and has been seen just under 1.5 million times on YouTube, as of the time of this printing.

Now, Whitacre is opening this concept up to the general public in a new virtual choir project called “Sleep.” He is soliciting submissions from individuals, groups, school ensembles, community choirs, and professional and amateur singers alike. The submissions, which must follow detailed instructions that Whitacre has set forth, will then be stitched together to form a choral group intended to shatter the virtual choir world record of 900 participating singers. (The deadline for submissions is December 31, 2010.)

“Lux Aurumque” is undoubtedly a brilliant piece of performance art, and “Sleep” promises to be a similarly fascinating production. But what is the future of such endeavors? Aside from the novelty of this project, what lessons can be learned, and what applications of this technology can be gleaned for the purposes of choral and vocal music educators? Have you had experiences with a virtual clinician or performance? Where do you see this technology taking musical performance and instruction in the near future? Considering the relative newness of this virtual concept, one can only conclude that this is but the beginning for technologically assisted musical ensembles.

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