“Ten years ago we created the Virtual Choir with a simple question: is it possible to make beautiful music together, no matter how far apart we are?” -Eric Whitacre
This spring, the Colburn School is teaming up with Eric Whitacre and the NAMM Foundation to bring to life his Virtual Choir 6: Sing Gently. Over the next three weeks, thousands of singers across the world will submit videos which will be combined into a single, remarkable performance.
A Grammy®-winning composer and conductor, Eric Whitacre created his first Virtual Choir as a simple experiment in social media after a young woman recorded a video of herself singing one of his compositions and shared it on YouTube. Moved by her performance, Whitacre sent out a call asking singers to record their voice parts, and in 2010 the first Virtual Choir was created. The initiative gained attention after Whitacre was invited by the curator of TED, Chris Anderson, to speak at the annual TED Conference. To date, over 20,000 singers from 124 different countries have participated in five Virtual Choirs.
Recent worldwide events related to COVID-19 inspired Whitacre to write Virtual Choir 6: Sing Gently. “With everyone unexpectedly far apart from each one another, I found myself thinking about the virtues of empathy, community, and service,” he said. “A new Virtual Choir felt like a deeply human way to address all of those virtues. I tried as best I could to keep the lyrics of ‘Sing Gently’ straightforward and unadorned, to simply say what I felt needed to be said.”
Over 30,000 people from around the world have signed up to be a part of the Virtual Choir 6 community in the last week, and virtualchoir6.com is now live. There will be a three-week period during which singers have their chance to learn the music, rehearse, record, and upload their videos for inclusion in Virtual Choir 6: Sing Gently. Learning tools are provided for singers of all ages and experience levels including those who do not read music, have sight or hearing impairments, or lung conditions. Everyone is welcome, there is no cost to join, and every person’s recording will be included if it meets the technical criteria.
Alongside the Virtual Choir submission tools on the website, a ThinkTank of pre-recorded and live video will be available to the community. Interviews with Colburn faculty and students will be included alongside vocal warm-ups; singing and composition workshops; and the creative and stimulating discussions with educators and performers that will take place each week.
“Sing Gently” was written in April 2020 for choir (soprano, alto, tenor, and bass) and piano. The piano track has been recorded by Samuel Glicklich, a student in the Colburn Conservatory.
To make Virtual Choir 6, Whitacre and producers, Music Productions, have teamed-up with two organizations that share their commitment to expanding access to the performing arts—the Colburn School and the NAMM Foundation.
“At Colburn, we believe that the arts are essential to the life of a community and that all should have access to an outstanding performing arts education,” said Colburn President Sel Kardan. “We share Eric’s commitment to breaking down barriers and making music available to as many people as possible. Now more than ever, we see the unique power of the arts to bring us together.”
The NAMM Foundation is devoted to promoting and supporting music education and music-making for people of all ages and abilities. The NAMM Foundation is the presenting sponsor of Make Music Day in the US—a festival that is celebrated in more than 1,000 cities across 120 countries on June 21—a day where everyone is invited to make music and share free, live music virtually or in-person, from balconies to rooftops.
Research into virtual cultural experiences, undertaken in 2018 as part of a collaborative study with Whitacre and University College (London), showed that singing in a Virtual Choir boosts participants’ self-esteem, reduces feelings of social isolation, creates a strong sense of personal agency, and promotes better mental health.
Submissions for Virtual Choir 6 will close on May 22, 2020 at 12 pm Pacific Time. The audio for the final film will be edited and mastered by Floating Earth, and the film will be made by the award-winning creative team at 59 Productions with whom Whitacre, Music Productions, NASA, and the Space Telescope Science Institute collaborated to make Deep Field: The Impossible Magnitude of Our Universe.
Virtual Choir 6: Sing Gently will premiere on YouTube early in the summer. For more information, FAQs or to sign up, visit virtualchoir6.com.