The idea started when a young woman, Britlin Losee, recorded a video of herself singing Eric Whiteacre’s Sleep, and posted it on YouTube. Watching the video, Whitacre had a thought: why not invite others to do the same thing? He did, and the videos he received encouraged him to take the concept to the next level. He recorded himself conducting another one of his compositions, Lux Aurumque, and asked his virtual choir to send in their recordings. They did—181 performances from 12 countries. After some editing, the final product was uploaded. Virtual Choir 1.0 received more than one million hits during its first two months of release. Whiteacre knew he was onto something. There were hundreds, maybe thousands of singers all over the world who wanted to—loved to—sing. And he would provide them a venue, albeit a virtual one.
On April 7, Whiteacre’s Virtual Choir 2.0 was previewed at the Paley Center for Media hours before it went live online. “Virtual Choir 1.0 took us by surprise,” said Whitacre. “There are lots more singers than any of us singers thought there were. And we weren’t prepared for the viral aspect.”
Virtual Choir 2.0 surpassed Virtual Choir 1.0 with 2,052 performances from 58 countries, including, besides the U.S., the U.K., Canada, Germany, Italy, Australia, Spain, Chile, India, New Zealand, Israel, Costa Rica, and many others. The innovative graphic includes videos of all the singers, grouped by country on large rotating spheres, with Whitacre in the center conducting. Sleep’s lyrics drift in and out, underlining the music’s dreamlike quality. The total effect is mesmerizing and magical.
Several of those appearing in the choir were at the Paley Center and spoke about their involvement in the project. One young woman, now living in New York, made her recording while living in her native Bulgaria. Another woman, from New Zealand, said she recorded Sleep 30 different times before settling on a single recording to send to Whitacre.
Virtual Choir 1.0 and 2.0, represent, in many ways, societal changes with the advent of the Internet. Choral singing by its nature means bringing people together with a common goal—-to sing and possibly record. With the Internet, it’s possible for choir members to be in far flung places, yet still produce a stunning piece of music.
“Here were people actually isolated and yet somehow in this gentle way, the Virtual Choir shows poetic release, the search for community and the community itself,” said Whitacre. “Within choirs, the sense of self disappears and there’s a shared vision.”