The Technium

Virtual Choir


This video is one of the loveliest things I’ve seen in the while. Many critics of web technology complain that there is nothing special enabled by social media which you could not do with traditional media. Yes, you could make a choir of 200, but it would probably not sing like this. Take a look at this virtual choir. It brings 185 voices, all recorded independently at home, and then combined into a virtual choir. Each voice (available on the side of the video) is expert, each face unique; combined they are heavenly. Could you do a choir of 1,000? Yes!

The choir was organized by composer and conductor Eric Whitacre who well known for his choral compositions.

Here were his instructions:

First, I’ll record a conductor track this week, with me conducting and a friend playing the reduction on the piano. I’ll also record a separate video where I’ll discuss the piece, and try to illustrate a few musical concepts that everyone should try to achieve while performing their individual parts.

Charles Anthony Silvestri will post a video talking about his translation of the text. He’ll also speak each of the words with pure, perfect Latin vowels.

Then, Scottie will make individual part videos, one side of the screen showing the sheet music for the part you’ve selected to sing (soprano, alto, tenor, or bass) and one half of the screen with my conductor track.

If you’re interested in auditioning for the soprano solo, you’ll just post a video of the first eight measures of the piece, singing the solo in measures 5-8. We’ll choose our favorite and it will appear in the final video.

The first attempt at a virtual choir singing a piece called Sleep with fewer members is shown here.

  • Jesse

    Eric Whitacre’s composition is delightful as an achievement of something lovely together that would not be possible for this particular collection of individuals through any other means. It’s not just 200 people. It’s the combination of these 200 people that would not have come together otherwise. One way to look at it, might simply be to say that more choirs are now possible.

  • Philip Jones

    More choirs are now possible, and perhaps a wider audience. But are more people going to be willing to pay to see and hear virtual choirs? Or are virtual choirs going to put flesh-and-blood choirs — already on the ropes for funding — out of business? As a chorister in a large community chorus, I hope the latter is not true. It might be fun to participate in a project like this, but a large part of my enjoyment comes from working with others in a rehearsal hall to learn and then perform a piece. (We sang Mr. Whitacre’s Lux Aurumque in our Christmas concerts; it’s lovely in person too.)

  • Steve

    I’d like to make a comment as one of the performers in both Lux and Sleep. First of all, I think in no way is this contrived to, nor will it, put traditional choirs out of business. I am also a choir director (high school). I show these to my students to get them excited about singing…not just Eric Whitacre pieces, but music in general. It just happens that Eric is the one that came up with idea (though Scottie Haines is the editor) so it’s his music that we use.

    Secondly, this IS doing something that couldn’t be done before. Because lots of the singers are singing multiple parts simultaneously in this choir. Some of the ladies are doing all 3 soprano parts AND the alto parts – just one person. Try doing that live.

    It’s fun just to be a part of the whole experience.

  • Gerene

    It’s just thrilling to know there are creative people in the world like Eric Whitacre. The concept is amazing and the voice ethereal (on both pieces).

    Thanks to Mr. Whitacre for sharing your creativity with the world.

  • Steve

    Has anybody tried this live with the appropriate software/hardware to remove the time delays and other glitches? As an internet engineer (both hardware & software), I know this would be possible with some corporate backing.

  • MikeOMaine

    I have to tell you, that getting all these people from around the planet, to sing in perfect harmony is a pretty impressive feat.
    If only we could do this in our every day interactions, wouldn’t this be a better world?
    Bravo on what you have accomplished, it brings faith that we are all in this together.
    I try to keep it simple, and if what you do brings awe and happiness… job well done :)
    I hope to see more of your efforts,

    Thank you!

  • Sandi Blake

    I sang in Rusian womens choir for several years and now it no longer exists due to our chorale conducter passing away with cancer. We have some footage and archival material. Seeing and hearing this virtual expression is a beautiful way of creating a dimension of a spiritual and immortal quality. I love the idea! and it can be developed into all kinds of images and sounds with the creative options of digitisations of sound and image. Great and Masterful work. looking forward to more creations .

  • SLFiore

    A lot of electronic alteration has gone into this. It has been musically ‘air-brushed.’ It would take a trained choir (people who can hear one another and blend) and much rehearsal to do this without a lot of electronic tinkering. A conductor has to be able to give singers feedback. Entries and cut-offs, consonants coming together, etc. doesn’t happen unless people are working together, not individually.

    Don’t worry live choirs, you aren’t in any danger. I like the idea of getting more people interested in choral singing, but this is no substitute for a choir of people who can hear one another working with a conductor who can do more than keep the beat, indicate dynamics, phrasing, etc.

  • Steve

    @SLFiore = actually, Eric DID give us some direction as regards to cut offs, phrasing, etc. If you noticed, he did the conducting track that we all sang with. In addition, he made a seperate video where he talked about phrasing and other interpretaion he envisioned for the piece.

  • Peter Benjamin


    I am a video producer in Boston. We make professional videotapes of live music events. We just videotaped Yo Yo Ma at NEC in a very moving memorial service. We specialize in videotaping live opera. Our work helps major companies get bigger financial grants.

    Portions of your video were on Channel 7 News in Boston at 5:00 PM tonight. The concept was overwhelming. I loved it. Congrats for doing something wonderful that brings people together. Let me know if there is ever anything I can do to be helpful to you. My work is broadcast quality and my audio is terrific. too. Camera work is sensitive and on purpose.

    Best, peter cell 617 834-7827

  • Anne B Roberts

    Thanks to MPBN this morning!!!!! Wow! Lovely and moving.
    Thank you

  • John L

    As an audio engineer who specializes in live acoustic music, I’m hearing a far higher recording quality here than can be achieved with the average PC-centric microphone + preamp. I’m with skeptic and SLFiore on this one. I’m not hearing 185 voices. I’m hearing perhaps 30-40 cherry-picked and well-recorded voices, perhaps doubled, thickened, widened, placed-in-space, with gobs of electronic reverb added.

    That said, it remains a very cool and innovative project. I made the first recording of Eric’s piece “A Boy and a Girl” with the St. Olaf Choir, and later worked with him a bit on his opera. He’s a fine composer with a bright future. This piece is absolutely gorgeous, and shows a compositional maturity well beyond his years.

  • Gabriel Shalom

    I’m glad people are trying experiments like this but as long as the concept is overshadowing the audiovisual aesthetics this type of work won’t have the reach it should. I have been working with videomusical techniques for six years now and bigger is not necessarily better. It’s a far more exhilarating experience to be able to perceive the synchronization of sound and sound source. Pieces for soloists, duets, trios and quartets have an amazing immediacy and vitality. For some great videomusical compositions, you and your readers may enjoy the channel I’ve created on Vimeo which includes many interesting specimens of this type of audiovisual composition, including several of my own works…

    Greetings from Berlin,

  • Roxanne Barksdale

    The tonal quality and blend of the chorus is beautiful and the technology enlightening.

    Thank you to Eric Whitacre for assembling such a lovely chorus and musical experience via the web.

  • Deonne

    I’m impresses. I sing with the Littleton (CO) Chorale, and loved the sound of this. Thank you for a new innovation.

  • skeptic

    why wouldn’t a choir of 200 sing like this? Let’s not get carried away in our excitement over new technology. It only recreates what has been done live for a few centuries now. And I can’t imagine the work that went into editing it so that the noise of 185 web cam microphones didn’t build up into a total mess. It is interesting as a gimmick to get people to listen to (his) choir music. Not much more.

  • Charles Wingate

    Well, you can actually hear what such huge choirs do sound like. Dorati’s Messiah recording had several hundred singers, not to mention the National Cathedral to provide its awesome audio processing. And in a few weeks the Maryland State Boychoir will host its annual boychoir festival which features mass choirs of around 200 boys and young men.

    OTOH I think it would be very difficult to do something like Spem in Alium this way.

  • Harry Jones

    Check out the remix project – awesome!!