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University Choir Goes Virtual

Posted on 01 June 2012 by Jasmyne Brennecke

When you hear the word ‘choir’, you may think of several different ideas: images of a large group of people singing in unison, long robes, or maybe even a church or balcony. But did the idea of computers and web videos ever come to mind? Probably not, but it has become quite common since 2010 thanks to the classical composer and conductor Eric Whitacre.
Whitacre begins by choosing a piece of his music and records himself conducting the piece. He then uploads his video onto YouTube where singers can watch sing along with their part: soprano, alto, tenor or bass.
The singers submit their own recordings of themselves to Whitacre who works with Scott Haines to compile the hundreds of accepted videos to put together Eric Whit acre’s Virtual Choir.
This year Eric Whitacre’s Virtual Choir 3 will be performing his own piece “Water Night.” Eric Whitacre will be compiling his third virtual choir, titled Virtual Choir 3 Water Night, and it will be posted on YouTube in the spring. Marquette University Chorus is partaking in this unique opportunity.
The University Chorus director, Mark Konewko, has chosen this activity as an assignment for all his singers this spring semester. Mark Konewko first heard about Eric Whitacre five years ago when one of his students did a presentation about him in his music appreciation class. His choir has sung many of Whitacre’s pieces
This year marks the first time Mr. Konewko has included Whitacre’s third virtual choir on his syllabus. “This is the first year I’ve had actual homework for my choir. At first I think they were more like, ‘Ugh, homework.’”
The people editing this virtual choir have agreed to send Mr. Konewko the names of his students who have submitted their videos so they can get the credit. “Getting to work with
Eric Whitacre, I’ve seen that he’s very sincere, genuine and a gentleman overall,” Konewko stated.
For some of Konewko’s singers, this was the very first time they had ever recorded themselves like this.
Jake Daggett, a freshman, said of the experience: “We were able to view [the conducting video] during rehearsals and practice. It was easy enough to do. When you did your recording later, it was hard to control your breathing. You sounded weird. You could hear the obvious spots where you took a breath. But when your video gets put with all the others, the other videos help mask over the spot people took for breaths and pauses.”
The only requirement was that the participating singers must wear a black shirt and be the only person in the room. The singers could record themselves as many takes as they needed before submission.
“We are so connected with the composer of the piece and to be part of something greater is my favorite part of this experience,” Daggett explained. “Who knows? My name might be recognized or maybe some of my friends’. I would definitely do it again.”
As for Mr. Konewko, the possibility of doing something like this with Eric Whitacre’s virtual choir again is still up for debate. “I don’t know that yet. I’d like to get more feedback from the students about their experience first to see if I will keep it on the syllabus for
next year.”
Whitacre’s Virtual Choir has grown significantly since 2010. His first virtual choir had numerous singers from twelve different countries while his second virtual choir was made up of over two thousand singers from fifty-eight different countries.
This year’s virtual choir will not only be uploaded onto YouTube like the previous ones, but Virtual Choir 3.0 is being developed to become an audio-video art installation in many cities across the world.
Eric Whitacre’s Virtual Choir 3.0 is expected to be posted sometime in the spring. The deadline for submissions has been extended due to website and internet complications, but the normal time for release is around April or May. The announcement of its release will be posted on Eric Whitacre’s blog at

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