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Eric Whitacre conferences and Virtual Choirs

I am interested in hearing your feelings about the idea of Virtual Choirs and whether you believe they lead to increased choral participation by high school and college students.
Also, what is your opinion of the value of Eric Whitacre's one-day workshops, which I understand cost $250 per participant?
How would you respond if your administration, which had been supremely unsupportive in the past, held up virtual choirs as a model of the future of choral music?
Please feel free to email me a private response if you wish.
Dawn Sonntag
Replies (42): Threaded | Chronological
on February 19, 2013 3:31pm
Dawn:  Would you mind posting a working definition of a "virtual choir," for those of us who don't understand the details or who may not even have a clue?!!!  Everything I Googled turns out to be associated with Eric Whitaker's name.
I ask because you ask about administrators who consider "it" to be "a model of thr future of choral music, because a lot depends on what the definition of "it" is.  (Hmmm, didn't some president say something kind of similar?)  But of course even more on what one's actual GOAL might be, which isn't at all clear.  Like the Suzuki concerts of massed young violinists that captured a lot of attention after WW 2, the events can capture attention and publicity, but to what end?
All the best,
on February 20, 2013 11:15am
There are very few examples other than Eric Whitaker's, but the others - I have only found one other online, done by a composer at a community college -  seem to be modelled on Whitaker's example. In a "virtual choir," individual singers sing their parts into a microphone hooked up to their computer. All the voices are mixed and mastered by a sound engineer. Visual effects  - photos, etc. - make the final  "product" much more interesting. The result, to my ears, sounds artificial,  and lack refinement, although refined singing does not seem to the point. 
I am not even sure myself what the intended goal is - it was first suggested to me as a recruiting technique, but I think the idea was also that a virtual choir could serve as the ensemble requirement of an online degree. 
I am all for helping non-traditional students who study music. But instead of a "virtual choir", I would suggest that they join a good community choir in their area, that they provide documentation that they have attended rehearsals, get a letter  attesting to their participation by the conductor, and submit a recording of  the performance, along with an essay or short research paper on the pieces they performed.   
on February 20, 2013 6:30am
Hi Dawn. Your message is on a subject really interesting. But I do not face directly your questions, since I need to do some steps back, since the relation between "choir" and "virtual choir" is not at all clear to me. I do not have firm convictions, only doubts. First of all I wonder why a so called "virtual choir" deserves to be named "choir", since the definition of "choir" requires "singing together", where "together" means (traditionally? universally?) "in the same time, in the same place". Another important issue: the main role in a "virtual choir" is played not by the singers nor by  the conductor, but by the sound engineer that edits the tracks: this fact seems to be totally underestimated: why? If you cut off the sound editing process, a "virtual choir" does not exist. And moreover the final result is much more determined by the skill of the sound engineer than by the skill of the singers (by the way: how many singers? 16 singers may produce the same result as 1600 singers). Consider also this possible outcome: as soon as technology would allow to synthesize perfectly human speech and singing, we will have "virtual choir" whose unique actors will be the composer/conductor and the soud engineer, without any choir, virtual or real it may be. After these observation, the initial question: are we sure that the correspondance between "virtual choir" and "choir" is so strict? [...Dawn, pardon me: I shifted the topic...]
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on February 20, 2013 11:01am
Thanks for your response - my thoughts exactly!!    
The "virtual choir" idea that was suggested to me  came from someone who I believe saw Eric Whitacre's video productions and his motivational speech. The suggestion was that I should use this technology to recruit high school students. I think the idea was also brewing was that a "choral" course could be offered online, for credit. The person who suggested this believed it was a way to "engage"  thousands upon thousands of high school students in choral singing. This person mentioned the sense of "connection" that this would give the students. 
My reply to this suggestion was that the experience of singing into a microphone hooked to a computer cannot be compared to the art of choral singing. And as far as "personal connection" goes, sure, you can meet people "virtually," but "virtual" connection is nothing like the connection you have when you sing together with others in the same room and go through the long process of developing a performance.  This reminds somewhat of what I call "Karaoke Cantatas" sometimes used in churches. (I was forced to do this once.) The accompaniment is "canned" and sounds perfect. It gives the choir the impression that they are singing much better than they are. They can't listen to each other or react to one another, musically or emotionally - the accompaniment controls them (and the conductor). 

One young colleague suggested that virtual choirs might be an option for individuals in "Nowheresville." My reply to that is that no one lives on an island; that where two or three are gathered, choral singing can take place;  and that some of the best choral music in the world comes from places considered "Nowheresville" by slick city dwellers, e.g.,  those who imagine that anywhere west of eastern Pennsylvania and east of Seattle/LA is a vast and empty wheatfield sparsely populated by ignorant bumkins. (I dare say this because I am a city native who lived in Europe for nearly ten years. But I have witnessed the choral singing  that happens in this country's heartland.) Even if I were interested in taking part in a virtual choir project, it would not replace or replicate live choral singing for me. Is there really anywhere in our country where there is NO choir to sing in? No church choir, no community choir? I don't think so.
There could be a time and place for a virtual choir project. I actually am quite drawn to learning about technology. But getting people together, live, and teaching them to read music and helping them sing together is much more important than spending precious and limited resources on technology just because that technology exists.  
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on February 20, 2013 10:05am
One thing to bring up to proponents of "Virtual Choir" is the budget and time involved. For the first virtual choir, individuals donated hundreds of hours to make it happen. Eric Whitacre endeavored on a KickStarter campaign to fund the next VC. The first one was fairly moderate. The last one was pretty elaborate, and, I will admit, sounded a lot better. But, it's a bit of "The Wizard of Oz" operation. There are hundreds (I would dare say over a thousand) of hours of enginerring that go into it. Each track is scrubbed to make it "blend." Digital effects are added so that it doesn't sound like the "choir" is in a small den but a large cathedral. This not only gives better aural ambiance, but also allows for more forgiveness for the wandering "s" or "t" that is inevitable even with the best singer and the best conductor.
If your principal thinks that this is the way to go, bring up the $20K budget, the equipment, and the personell that it would take it to happen.
To be clear, I think this is a fascinating trend, and I commend Eric for taking it on. It could potentially offer a lot to education, even if it doesn't offer a lot artistically (referring to the choral art, not the media art). If you've gone through the process or submitting a video, you'll notice that it has a video broadcast and simultaneous capture mode. There are many applications for a process like that in our field, if only the platform were available to all of us. It is also an interesting discussion point for students. My singers were not hugely impressed by VCs. They thought it was novel, but wouldn't replace choirs any time soon. Some of them even submitted videos. 
Technology is not a goal in itself, it only augments, improves, or sometimes gets in the way of education. Hopefully we can navigate the "wild west" period that we're in concerning how we deliver education. "Keep what is worth keeping, and with the breath of kindness blow the rest away."
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on February 20, 2013 11:30am
As an innovative idea and use of technology, Whitacre's virtual choir did get attention from many high school and college students, and may have led to some increased participation.  I agree with John and Fabio, however, that there really isn't a general concept out there of virtual choirs.  Whitacre's experiment worked because his music was already popular and many students who had already sung his music in real choirs were motivated to participate on their own.
In discussing things with your administrator I would bring up the fact that Whitacre's vitrual choir was made up of singers who have already been trained by years of experience in grounded choirs.  I would also point out that these singers were self-motivated to put in the effort to practice and record themselves, i.e. it was not for a grade or a class and would not likely get the same motivated response with a well-rounded, educationaly sound repertoire.  There are also all the technological issues brought up in fabio's post.
If the administrator really wants to do it, let him or her know it will require dozens of voice teachers on staff to train the singers in lou of a grounded choir, a repertoire based on popularity rather than pedogogy, and state of the art sound engineering equipment.
I haven't participated in any of Whitacre's workshops, so I can't really evlauate their value.  I imagine it would depend on what you and your students want to get out of it.
Best of luck,
Ken Owen
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on February 21, 2013 4:15am
I am a member of VC 2.0 and VC 3.0 with Eric Whitacre and I found it fascinating, to put a new viewpoint on the Virtual Choir thread.  Was it like singing in a live 800 voice select All Eastern Choir like I was able to do in high school?  No, of course not.  But was it an adventure for a mother of a six year old and rural English teacher turned choral teacher who has no local venue for music of Whitacre's caliber?  Absolutely.  I think it was meant to be a technological and global venture, which it certainly accomplishes.  Yes I have figured that many of the singers weren't the best and a lot of editing took place, but it definitely brought folks together around the world visually and aurally in a different way.  Nothing will compare to an accomplished live choir, but this VC certainly has its place and would be of interest to students.  I don't think we should teach that way all the time, but using it to show how varied music can be is of use.  I don't think it should be touted as the future of choirs, but it, like junk drums, homemade instruments, and the like, is a creative use of music and should be experienced.  I'm currently battling the middle school:  "Let's sing pop and country all the time.  Let's do karaoke.  Let's watch American Idol,"  so Eric Whitacre's VC is a wonderful alternative to share.
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on February 21, 2013 9:37am
Thanks for your perspective, Laura.  You make an important point: perhaps students who only know pop and rock will see other young singers participating in Eric Whitacre's project and say, "Hey - I want to learn to read music and join a choir so I can do what they do."  I especially respect middle and high school teachers, who are in the front lines of the effort to bring art music and singing to a culture that is increasingly musically illiterate.
My rather negative reaction to the idea is largely because of the way it was presented to me.  The vast majority of our administrators and trustees have never attended our choral concerts and have allowed our performance hall to fall into such disrepair that it is no longer usable. I have no funding for touring, recruiting, or special events - I don't even have an accompanist until the week of concerts  - and then they  hire a consultant who proposes that I start a virtual choir (and some are pushing for a "music industry" major - which I doubt will provide any more employment for students than a degree in music performance or education.) To add insult to injury,  it seems that they are interested in funding that kind of project, but are not interested in supporting our other very real needs. To be fair, our current dean, who is quite new, truly wants to help build the music program, but I am frustrated with what is going on above him.  I am very much pushing the envelope by discussing this in public, but if I don't gather responses from outside,  my observations and objections are not taken seriously.  I have actually accomplished several things by sharing the comments I have received on Choralnet. So the support is very valuable.   My faculty colleagues, in and out of the music department, are very supportive, and I enjoy seeing my students grow and develop. They are also very appreciative and insightful. This makes my work rewarding despite the obstacles. 
on February 22, 2013 7:20am
Dawn - You have merely confirmed what I was saying below (I love how the timeline gets thrown around by the way these threads get organized!) - which is that administrators/bureaucrats (aren't they the same, in most instances?) won't support the REAL stuff, but only the COOL stuff that'll bring more students in, at least in their opinion - i.e., the bottom line of increased enrollment adding to $$$$$.  They won't commit to maintaining a facility, they will not provide adequate support for recruiting, touring, special events - in other words, the onus is on you to operate more spectacularly with fewer and fewer resources.  You're just the tip of the iceberg, though; all the academic departments are doubtless feeling the pressure to "perform" in this regard - "get cooler, guys, or get out!"  Charge the administrator with such an attitude, and of course they'll deny it furiously; but then the results of what they HAVEN'T been doing puts all that as a lie.  There's money enough to hire a "consultant" (and what are his credentials, exactly?  and how much did he cost the school, that could have been put to better use to support the program already in place, rather than looking for the next "neat" thing?) but not to do the right thing.  So, indeed, your administrators are telling you, in essence, "Do the 'neat' thing or you'll be gone."
Your challenge, as I see it, is to challenge the administrators and bureaucrats involved to become actively and physically involved in your program.  Challenge them to come to the next rehearsal without an accompanist - and see what it is you do in spite of that; challenge them to come to dress rehearsal - and see what it is that you do with someone who only came in at the last minute; challenge them to come to the concert in some venue other than the already-existing but decrepit facility which they should have been maintaining (I guess there ought to be a law against letting a facility go to rot, but I guess there isn't) - and then challenge them to consider the costs in terms of money, manpower, and time that a "virtual" choir would cost vs. the already-existing (and doubtless excellent in spite of it all) program they have in hand and which would require only their support to maintain, not build from scratch.  Part of our problem as artists, is that we want to focus only on the art, and that's as expected - because that is why we do what we do.  Nonetheless, we too often go "gently into that dark night" (apologies to Dylan Thomas) because we don't want to expend the administrative and emotional energy to fight stupidity at the higher levels - but we must.  We must make a stand that there is a right way to make Beauty and Truth and Art - and that every gimmick that comes down the road isn't the trick, in most instances.  But this is America, after all; we even have a President whose only words in this regard seem to be "STEM - STEM - STEM" and an academic environment running around complaining that we're falling behind (yet another "missile gap" as in the Kennedy era, which wasn't so?) in "metal-bending," as I put it.  The arts?   Hah; that's fluff, in their view.  It's not "practical."  Once again, we must all be devotees of the God of Utility.  Really, folks?  Do you believe that?  Do you kick against that trace?  If you don't, you will see the consequences of not doing so - and it's already all around you.
Sorry if I'm ranting, but I get increasingly exercised about all these "attitudes" from people that haven't a clue about the value of the Arts.
Chantez bien!
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on February 21, 2013 5:21am
Aha!  Ken, you put your finger on something essential to the experience, I'll warrant:  the fact that these high school students (and others) HAD ALREADY SUNG WHITACRE'S MUSIC LIVE IN ANOTHER CONTEXT.  I'm emphasizing that, because John and Alessio and Dawn and Garrett are all saying that is in the end what makes any "virtual" choir work, if it works at all.  We're all so caught up (well, most of us) in the technology, that we don't think to ask the really hard question that is at the root of it:  is the purpose served best by the technological approach that this requires?  Garrett points out that for the principal/administrator who thinks this is such a "cool" idea, is he willing to spend the money AND the time it'll take to do this well?  I doubt it.  Since this is America, if it isn't practical (moral used to be the other criterion, but that has gone the way of the dinosaur, it seems!), it's not supported.  This isn't practical - oh, an administrator might tell you he's interested in it as a way to increase the choral program.  But what's the implication if you don't choose to do it?  That he's thinking of killing the choral program.  Sorry; we've already got enough problems convincing bureaucrats that the arts are worthwhile for themselves in this country, we don't need to give them leverage to say "either-or" - that's already happening in too many places anyway.  Please remember that the President of the University of Virginia got sacked (she did get reinstated) because the Board was led to think that she wasn't moving fast enough to turn the University into a "virtual" campus.  She was being cautious, not recalcitrant; she was arguing that there are instances where that MAY serve the student better, but not in ALL instances.  I would suspect most of us are not fans of "auto-tuning" - because of the decidedly technological and artificial "sound" that emanates from a supposed musician's mouth - and I'm not being charitable here, I know, but it's true:  "supposed musician" is the best description I can think of for people whose musicianship is so suspect that they need automatic correction.  Technology is a tool; not the master.  "Virtual" choirs become the victims of their tools:  nice, technological clean - and soulless.  Give me human error!
Chantez bien!
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on February 21, 2013 2:20pm
Perhaps your administrators are thinking that a "virtual choir" is equivalent to an online choir, and it seems like every college in the country is looking for ways to sign up students online these days. 
Eric Whitacre's virtual choirs seem to be more of a marketing venture, for both his compositions and the promotion of the joy of singing in ensembles. It's a cool idea, but I have a hard time imagining how you would sell the idea of recording one or two songs, submitting them to YouTube and blending it together into a video as a college course for credit.
I suspect your administrators are thinking more along the lines of the online choirs that some community colleges are trying...or at least one community college that I know of, out here in "Nowheresville" as one other commenter described it. Here's an article detailing the online choir project written by one of the participating directors:
A virtual choir may not be practical, but perhaps this kind of online choir might be an idea that could work for you, or that you could adapt to your own situation.
on February 21, 2013 2:37pm
Thanks for your perspective and insight, everyone. I appreciate your taking time to reply.
on February 22, 2013 7:12am
A "virtual" choir is self-explanatory.
Its a choir that is nearly a group of warm, breathing individuals exhaling and inhaling in the same space. Its nearly a profound physical experience. It is a celebration of the emptiness between us. The only relationship it has to choral singing is that the notes on the page are sung. Without the physical experience it isn't choral music.
Its a very clever idea - and lucrative based on what Dawn writes. I think it has a value in that it shows us how special and beautiful the experience of real choral singing is. People breathing and responding as one. When I watch Eric Whitacre's beautiful virtual creations it makes me very, very sad. People isolated and singular, unified but separate.
Beautiful it is, but it is not choral music as has been defined over millenia.
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on February 22, 2013 7:37am
I have loved the way ChoralNet has functioned as a public forum for this question, and I'm cheered by the contents of the discussion as well as their power to support Dawn as she educates her administration about the essence and value of what we do.
I simply want to add one more voice for the Real over the Virtual -- not because any of us needs convincing, but because a variety of language available to defend our position can be useful.
It was almost 30 years ago, as an undergraduate in a Music Education Seminar, that I first felt technology was being pushed on me *for its own sake* as a business venture by the purveyors, who appealed to nothing that related to my love for music or for teaching.  I developed an immediate allergy that has only inensified over the decades.  (Just TRY finding me on Facebook!)  Now, as a professor at a small university, I am constantly receiving messages that unless I am finding ways to put each year's new machines and software to use in my classroom, my teaching is inadequate.
But I have been cheered to hear reports of studies showing that the more virtually "connected" our society is, the more loneliness and depression we are reporting.
I regularly defend our art form as one that requires living, breathing bodies to gather together in real space and time to pay exquisite, minute attention to -- and respond to -- one another's living bodies -- the breathing, the nanosecond in which the teeth meet the lips to articulate a phoneme, etc.  And my students are the proof of how profoundly they and their sense of well-being are affected by this daily practice.  Further, I find that the more our human interactions are mediated by machines, the more eager I am to place my students in the most direct contact with one another possible, and the more I select music that they can eventually realize together without my physical intervention; I like to reach the point where I can sit down and simply hear and watch and feel the communication that they create together via all this wonderful music we've been given.  All we need is a resonant room and the singers' healthy bodies.  The carbon footprint is delicate, the impact profound.
Until I feel that this kind of experience is no longer endangered, I'll be loath to support a virtual choir, even as I recgonize its particular worth and interest.  People other than me will always be there to create, purvey, and support technology.  I'm happy to be the oddball who is heard to remind us of all the ways that we can still experience our humanity without it.
Kristina Boerger
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on March 2, 2013 8:11am
You are a gifted, articulate and inspired writer. May I use your 5th paragraph in a retreat I am having for the first time in my 6 year choir history. I am experiencing some challenges in the future of my small ensemble; sometimes I get discouraged with the overwhelming amount of non musical work that is required to keep a non proft afloat in this economy.
But when I read your defense of the REAL THING vs. virtual choir, it reinforced WHY I STAY IN THIS ART FORM! I so value the "community" sensitivity, collaboration and communication which choral music provides to EACH of us. I love to sit in the middle of the 24 singers and listen and observe their mutual talents and contribution to the whole.
Thank you for allowing me to use your beautifully written support of why we continue in this art.
Carolyn Eynon
Scottsdale Az
on May 13, 2013 6:07am
Dear Carolyn,
Of *course* you may quote my opinions!  'Tis the dream of an opinionated person to have her arguments used!  
You were kind to ask.
Good luck,
on February 22, 2013 2:25pm
Thank you Kristina for your beautifully written comments.
on February 23, 2013 9:24am
I think it is pertinent to ask what is the historical definition and purpose of a choir and choral singing.
Whatever the beauty of the musical thought, a virtual "choir" is nothing more than technology tweaking the voices of individuals who have never sung together, and likely never will.  The only element of "together" is that which happens on the sound recordist's desk.  I would hold that a virtual "choir" is an anti-choir.  In a real choir the musical sound is founded on so many subtle elements that cannot exist in someone's computer room.  I would venture to say that there is more creativity on the sound engineers desk than in the singing of individuals separated by time and space.  To call such a choir is, in my not so humble view, a travesty.  Seeking the choral experience in this way is missing the whole point of what a choir is about.
Actually, Michael McGlynn's posting is far more eloquent than anything I could say.  And anyone who takes the trouble to learn about his phenomenal choral success, will know that his opinion is most certainly worthy of attention.
David Monks
Alzonne Choir
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on February 23, 2013 2:43pm
Let me add something more.  All of us knows how much it's difficult for a choir/a cappella group to sing at a satisfactory level. And on the other hand we recognize a cappella music as the most natural and "most human" of all musical genres (no instruments, just the human voice). But now technology offers a very short way to achieve "good" results: "virtual choirs" are an example. No more years of study for refining our voices and musical skill; no rehearsal; no need for blending the voices; just pay a great sound engineer with a great software that allows to syncronize the tracks, adjust intonation, put the right effects, do all the necessary jobs and you will produce (apparently) awsome music. There is another aspect that have not been mentioned yet in this thread. For many modern a cappella groups technology has become essential also for live performances, and messes things up: you don't understand what has to be credited to singers, what to technology. I mention just an example (but there are plenty of interesting facts to mention): the role of bass in a modern a cappella groups. If you think of a bass as a guy with a deep voice, forget about it. Basses are not anymore named after their timbre, but by the fact that they sing the lowest line. They could be baritone or tenors, never mind. If the group use microphones, then with the right compressors/equalization/subharmonica a counter-tenor can sing the lowest line and the audience say: "oooohhh, what a deep voice!". So something really strange is happening: the "most natural and human" of all musical genres has generated an artificial son, which depends totally on technology, and is again named "a cappella music". I do not judge this genre, some results are really interesting. But I blame the sort of proud with which modern a cappella groups speak of themselves: "we do everything JUST with our voices". No, dear friends. You do nothing with your voices. Be honest: everything you do comes from technology. I think that it is important to discern things and put different names: "traditional a cappella music" is really different and far away from "technological a cappella music". And the way to separate things is simple and obvious: if you don't use microphones and sound reinforcement system, you are on one side. But as soon as you use microphones, you are on the other side. 
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on February 24, 2013 7:29pm
A book that addresses the "disconnected" nature of our culture that came out a number of years ago is Bowling Alone by Robert D. Putnam.  It presents a carefully researched and quite elegant argument regarding our culture's shift away from doing things "in community", which relates well to some of the excellent responses I've read in this thread.  I actually included, in a semester final at my high school, a question asking students to reflect on whether or not virtual choirs are, in fact, "real".  The responses were interesting.  Most high school students in my select choir found the idea intriguing (I had shown the first Whitacre Virtual Choir piece to my students that semester) but also pointed out that the community/collaboration piece (a 21st century learning construct, mind you) was lacking in this model and, therefore, made it... well...  virtual and NOT real.
on February 24, 2013 9:38pm
Hi, Dawn,
I'll put my 2¢ in here, I guess.
There are actually quite a few virtual choirs. Go to YouTube and enter "virtual choir" as the search keyphrase, weed through all the Whitacre hits, and you'll find them. There's even a barbershop VC.
Here's my take on them: It's just fun. That's all. Wave of the future for the choral art. Nope. Is it typical for this day and age of smart phones, Facebook, texting, Band-In-the-Box, Skype? Yep.
Here's a thought: What's the difference between a VC and a studio recording of, say, the Singer's Unlimited? I'm sure we could list many differences, but when you stop to think about it, there are many similarities. Same for say, a rock band. These days with ProTools and whatnot, to me, there is not much of a difference in the process.
Now let's get to the personel. I do not think VCs will increase interest in live choral art that much. Why? Because all of these singers doing VCs are already or have already been in a live choir. No new people here. VCs ARE preaching to the choir!
I also do not agree 100% with those who said that the recording engineer is really the key person in all this. Well, maybe for Whitacre's VCs. But I have a former student who is now a working wife (and going to school, I think) who has no time to be in a choir. She misses it. A lot. So two or three years ago, she formed a VC of her own on YouTube. She takes applications, i.e. recorded auditions. She sends them music of her choice. They practice on their own. They then send her the recordings. She puts it together. I know that's how many VCs work. Again, just look on YouTube and ask them how they do it. Some do not have an application process. Many do. So, in sum, this is an outlet for her.
As for your administrator, ask him if he would love to see all curriculum done virtually online. He wouldn't have much of a job left. Does he think that chemistry could be done virtually? I would think that "lab partners" to do experiments together means something. Let alone have teacher supervision of the experiments. Many classes could and do do it. Math, English, foreign languages, computer programming. How about PE? Ask your administrator, does he really think that a virtual experience is the best route for any human learning? If he says "yes," then ask him why is he an administrator! What does he want to be an administrator of? Bits and bytes?
But no, no way. VCs are definitely not the future of choral art. We all know the great fun it is to get together with fellow singers in a room and create art. And let's not forget that Whitacre is not teaching them anything. They are all learning (or already know the music from their high school or college choir) his music and they are just singing to a video of him conducting. We all know that is NOT the real process, right?
They--and Whitacre--are just having some fun. That's all. I support their fun. I support the eating of chips or Doritos, too. But by golly, we know that steak is where it's at!
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on February 25, 2013 9:42am
Brad:  I agree with almost everything you say.  Just a couple of points.  You wrote, "What's the difference between a VC and a studio recording of, say, the Singer's Unlimited? I'm sure we could list many differences, but when you stop to think about it, there are many similarities. Same for say, a rock band. These days with ProTools and whatnot, to me, there is not much of a difference in the process."
I respond as someone who has spent a rather long lifetime in live performances, but also a great many hours in recording studios at both the professional and educational levels.  And there is a HUGE difference between the ultimate goals of live performance and recorded performance. 
The goal of live performance, whether it is music, theater, or dance, is to be able to give repeated performances of the same works that are all at the highest level of professional and artistic standards, but which are always new and fresh as if there had never been and would never again be any other performance of that work.  The goal is consistency, and since every audience is different and every venue is different and everyone's feelings are different in every performance those factors have to be taken into account.
Thus live theater is different from film, just as live music is different from making recordings.  Not just somewhat different, but fundamentally different.  And here's why:
The goal of recorded or filmed performance, on the other hand, again whether it is music, theater, or dance, is to achieve ONE performance that is as close to perfect as is humanly possible.  And of course since 1967 and the "Sergeant Pepper" album that perfect performance has no longer been limited technically to what can be achieved in live performances, and the technological advances have helped morph the goals into achieving the ONE performance that is as close to perfect as is SUPER-humanly possible!!!!
For someone working in a genre in which improvisation is an accepted part of the art, this can be a real problem, because the "take" that is finally accepted is only ONE of many possible interpretations, but once that recording becomes popular the artist is expected to sound "just like the recording" every time, which goes against one of the basic premises of his or her art.
To someone whose outlook is purely shaped by live performance, that's cheating.  To someone whose outlook is shaped by the goal of creating one perfect work of art it's simply the state of the art.
You also wrote:  "I also do not agree 100% with those who said that the recording engineer is really the key person in all this."  And that is quite true, but sort of misses the point.  It is the PRODUCER of the recording who becomes the key person.  In some cases that may be the engineer, but in other cases it is not, and the engineer is simply one of the specialists whithout whom the project can't be achieved.  But it is the producer who takes on the guise of the conductor in a live performance and who shapes the final product and decides when "good enough is good enough."
The other fundamental difference between the virtual choir model and BOTH live performance and recorded performance is, of course, the simple fact that The Singers Unlimited (or any other large or small ensemble) are not layering one part at a time on tape, but are singing TOGETHER with all the synergy that involves.  And yes, that even applies when they use overtracking to produce 8 or 12 or 16 "voices" with only 4 singers, since every overtrack is ALSO done together.  And I feel sorry for anyone who has never experienced the kind of synergy possible singing in a small ensemble with partners who have sung together for literally years and have learned to think together, breath together, and phrase together as a simple matter of course, not overseen by a conductor OR a record producer.  A large choral ensemble can't dupicate that experience, but neither can singing layered parts as soloists.
All the best,
on February 25, 2013 8:31am
Hello all,
I am a choral director and have been a member of the last two VCs, and am looking forward to being a part of VC4.  Here are my thoughts:
It is NOT the same as singing in a real, live choir.  But that is not the purpose of the Virtual Choir.  The purpose is to bring together a community of singers, from throughout the world, in persuit of a common goal.  To sing together.  Where else could I sing with people from all over the world?  Am I really "singing with them?"  No, I'm not.  But I have shared an experience with over 3000 other singers.  I feel as though I am part of something special.  It's still a choir, in my opinion.  It's a new type of choir.  I'm sure as technology catches up, there can be a LIVE virtual choir, where singers from all over the world CAN sing together.  This is EXCITING!!  I've had my students (I had 5 participate as well) asking questions to professional choral singers from London over Google Hangouts.  Some of my kids have interacted with Eric through Twitter, Facebook, and Google Hangouts (face to face) with questions about Virtual Choir.  I have joined a community of singers (many, many of them who are amateur and are NOT part of choirs in their hometowns) on Facebook.  We have become a family.  We support one another, we celebrate with each other.  One of the singer's mothers was in the hospital recently.  In the Facebook group, there were over 100 comments of support for her and her mom.  I've never met most of these people in real life.  But we share a love of choral singing and of music.  It's a way for us to connect with each other.  I've had the opportunity to meet a few fellow VCers in real life.  We have an instant connection, and instant conversation point, a kinship.  To me, aside from the music, this is what being a part of a choir is all about.  Connecting with people.  Sharing music.  To that end, Eric has been incredibly successful.  It will never replace the experience of singing live with others surrounding you.  It's not ment to replace it.  It's something completely new.  And I think anything that gets people (young and old) singing HAS to be a good thing!
I encourage all of you, if you haven't, to watch Eric's TED Talk video from a few years ago.  He addresses many of these same topics.
PS  As a matter of fact, Eric will have a LIVE Virtual Choir singing at TED this year (very soon, actually).  32 singers from all over the world, Skyping in and singing together.
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on February 26, 2013 5:20am
Yes, Jason, I'm sure that in some ways, what you describe is the case.  But the likelihood is that, with a very few exceptions for members of that choir that happen to live near each other, your connection is also "virtual" - and while there are wonderful aspects to that - for example, what we do here, connecting "virtually" - it begs the point.  Having only seen snippets of Whitacre's VCs, I recall that there are visuals of all the individuals who participated.  Why bother?  Since their sound is "virtually" blended together, who cares (other than the individual in question) whether or not you see Tom or Sally or Pete?  In the end, the only thing that matters in this experience is the blended sound.  But when there is a live performance, there is also a connection by the human beings in the audience to the human beings on stage and vice-versa - and that connection informs and is an added aspect to performance.  All of us, I'm sure, have had the experience of the dryness of a rehearsal, and found when we stepped "on stage" (whether that's in a concert hall or a church or some other venue) to perform or present, that we experience that rush of adrenalin and expansion of self that needs appreciative humans on the other side of the altar rail or the footlights?  I recall a Met Opera broadcast years ago, and one of the guests, a retired operatic soprano (can't remember who) was asked about why it was that audiences seemed to go nuts after one of the big arias is concluded.  She allowed as she hadn't thought about it much, but that perhaps it was the combination of the aria being well known, the realization on the part of the audience members that anytime you open your mouth you are taking "a leap across the abyss" (her words), and that an audience doesn't come to see you fail!  The idea that we are being supported by others in a very real and present way is what takes a technically perfect presentation (and here I'll distort somewhat my usual distinction between "performance" and "presentation"), such as a "virtual choir" and makes a performance.  Yes, you can listen over and over to the VC's presentation, and it'll always be lovely - but who gives a damn, after the first time?  This is a gimmick, the "Oooo, what can we do, now that we have the technology?"  The whole point of this discussion is to give some thoughts to Dawn that'll support a live program vs. the administration's pursuit of reducing costs and increasing income at the expense of Art.  This person will not support such an administrative approach in the instance that Dawn is talking about, and for those of us who would, we might as well write our own execution order.
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on February 26, 2013 2:25pm
The subject of VCs has been popping in and out of my mind since this thread began.
For those who favourVCs, fine.  Enjoy them.
But it seems to me that pleasure that is got out of singing alone and consigning one's effort to the hands of another to be electronically processed is a very solitary matter.  And for the life of me, I cannot see where or how it can compete with the sense of fulfilment one has from singing with a group of people who are constantly listening to each other, adjusting to each other, and jointly producing a work of art.  Not to get too metaphysical about it, there is a subtle interplay at the level of mind (in my experience) that goes way beyond ordinary communicatioin between those sharing this creative act.  This is something that simply cannot be replicated when one is singing alone to a microphone.  I cannot speak for others, but I would find such a solitary exercise soulless and lacking in the excitement and satisfaction.
And to address more directly Dawn's situation, I do not find there is any academic virtue in placing responsibility for the ultimate result in the hands of a technician/engineeer, however skilled he/she may be.   I would think it sterile.  It represents an abrogation of skill, capacity, ability, and the opportunity to show how well one, as an individual, can interact with others to produce something of beauty; something that can thrill with living sound or bring tears with the emotion it generates.  The VC may be a technological paradise, but it is not a musician's.  The talent required to blend, match timbre keep ensemble, link to a living conductor and audience and interpret the text have no meaning in Virtuality.  And yet these are the very elements that make choral music what it is.  I suppose these were at the back of my mind when I earlier made the rather harsh comment the the VC is an anti-choir.   The essential humanity of choral singing gets lost in virtuality.  Virtuality has no human soul.  To suggest, then, in an academic milieu, that virtuality should in any sense displace the living reality that is choral music, is a betrayal of the art of music.
Eric Whitacre's fee is difficult for me to asses as I do not live in America.  As a daily rate it seems very high.  I am using a choral event here in France as a yardstick.  Roughly the same amount was being asked for a four day event.
As to how I'd respond if my administration held up virtual choirs as a model of the future of choral music, I would ask if I were really in a music department or in a computer science department.
David Monks
Le Choeur d'Alzonne
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on February 27, 2013 3:23am
 Please pardon me if you feel I'm posting too many times, possibly repeating old arguments. Last message of David in my opinion points to some main differences, and points to a huge problem with the words we use. We are speaking of traditional choir and virtual choir. What does it mean "choir"? I add some symbols for distinguishing words. In the present context, to me "vocal" =  "*vocal" (with the asterisk) with this meaning: "produced by human voice, without any further technological process". Then, to me "choir" = "*choir" = "group of people that produce *vocal music singing in the same place, in the same time". I do not impose these definitions, that holds  just for me and for who accepts it. Some people could adopt extended definitions. For instance "vocal" = "^vocal" = "what is initially produced by the human voice, and then possibly treated with technological tools". "choir" = "^choir" = "group of people that produces a piece of music built on ^vocal sounds". Further extreme possible extension "%vocal" = "anything that, when heard, resembles human voice". And so on. Now: "Virtual choir" is an instance of "^choir", not of "*choir". Therefore: if A and B speak about choirs, but A means *choirs, and B means ^choirs, they will not understand each other. I write what holds for me: *choirs and ^choirs are not at all relatives nor close. A string quartet is much closer to a *barbershop quartet than to a ^barbershop quartet (with the meaning of the initial "*" and "^" explained above). Similarly: Eric Whitacre's ^choir is far more distant from any college *choir, than a college orchestra is. Sorry again for my bad English, just hope that you can reconstruct the correct meaning of this post.
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on February 28, 2013 6:21am
I have no problem at all, Fabio with your definition of choir as a  "group of people that produce *vocal music singing in the same place, in the same time".   To go beyond this is problematic.  I fear, for present times at least, you may over-define, and I am not at all sure that this clarifies the issue.  My understanding, I frankly state, is founded on what held good when I was a student, a very long time ago.  I am therefore uncomfortable with the old sureties being rocked on their pedestals in the absence of a generally accepted alternative terminology.  So, I am most comfortable with your definition which I have quoted above.  I do not go beyond that - for the present.
Nevertheless, I am not so entirely fossilied as to have an firmly closed mind to modern developments.  Clearly technology has brought us to the point where old definitions may no longer hold good, or be sufficient.  But I am reluctant to get entangled in a semantic jungle. The concept of a Virtual choir, after all, may be a nine day wonder.  Even so, the necessity you feel to indicate with asterisks etc various significances and subtleties of meaning is indicative of a need for an accepted teminology to take account of what is happening in modern times.  But as yet there is no generally accepted vocabulary, so far as I know, that adequately covers these developments.
Accordingly, for the present I will stick with what have been the accepted terms and meanings for so long.  Well and good, if some new, generally accepted vocabulary develops, I suppose I shall go with it.  And pace those who will insist that there can be a brass or string choir: we are in a choral context here.
As I don't propose to enter into any semantic discussion, I will simply reiterate what I have said previously: a virtual choir is not a real choir - simpliciter, res ipsa loquitur, itane vero?
We are moving away from Dawn's original posting.
on March 1, 2013 6:10am
Hi David! My previous message was not at all clear. Trash it. We are not so distant from Dawn's posting. Let me try again....The point is the following: "choirs" and "virtual choirs" are not relatives. The word "choir" associated with "virtual" produces this result: the main meaning comes from "virtual"; what remains of the original meaning of "choir" is probably a pale shadow ("the same time, the same place" requirement is destroyed). Now let's face Dawn's question. Dawn's administrator looks at the names: "choirs", "virtual choirs". He see these names and put them together in the same competition for having funds. This is insane! A "Virtual choir" should be in competition with, say, a "virtual football team", not with a choir. But as far as we use the same word "choir", we are entangled in this confusion. Better, people from the choral world are not entangled in this confusion, since they know well what they are speaking of. But an administrator, or the audience, or someone else that listens occasionally to choral music, relies on words for understanding the matters, and if we let the word "choir" used ubiquitously, then the administrator is authorized to make a mess, taking the funds away from a college choir and redirecting them to a "virtual choir". And maybe he thinks: "I'm doing a great move: I transfer funds from an old-fashioned choir to a new and cool kind of choir". For this reason I am in favor of a process that separates "choirs" from "virtual choirs" at the very level of the name we use. 
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on May 11, 2013 10:58pm
Hello everyone,

My name is Jayson and I am a first year college student in Massachussetts working on a project concerning Eric Whitacre's Virtual Choir. I've been very interested and impressed by the quality of discussion I found on this site from the brief discussion in Ferbruary and wanted to know if anyone would be open to re-starting it. Perhaps you could view it as a a pre-cursor to Virtual Choir 4 which will begin accepting submissions within the next few days, or else perhaps as an expansion on the discussion where I will advocate more strongly from a logical stand-point (versus an experienctial stand-point as everyone else here has) as to the value of Virtual Choir and its challenges.

I would begin with a simple question: what does Virtual Choir lack, in your opinion, that a choir must have in order to be a choir?

In the previous blogging I don't think anyone formally stated what it is exactly. It was stated that 'choir" requires "singing together", where "together""in the same time, in the same place', and that '"virtual" connection is nothing like the connection you have when you sing together' and 'Without the physical experience it isn't choral music.' Most recently it was stated that: '...the main meaning comes from "virtual"; what remains of the original meaning of "choir" is probably a pale shadow,' but none of these actually states unequivocally what's wrong.

I've come across many different ideas, from this blog, from my class this past semester and from my own musings, but I've yet to find any argument that invalidates Virtual Choir's (or perhaps more accurately, the Virtual Choirs') 'choir-ship'! Can anyone say simply why it shouldn't be considered a choir?


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on May 12, 2013 4:19pm
Dear Jayson,
Perhaps it would help to think of it this way:
"virtual (adjective)
1. being such in power, force, or effect, though not actually or expressly such: a virtual dependence on charity.
2. Optics.
a. noting an image formed by the apparent convergence of rays geometrically, but not actually, prolonged, as the image formed by a mirror (opposed to real).
b. noting a focus of a system forming virtual images.
3. temporarily simulated or extended by computer software: a virtual disk in RAM; virtual memory on a hard disk."
adj. [via the technical term 'virtual memory', prob. from the term 'virtual image' in optics]
1. Common alternative to logical; often used to refer to the artificial objects (like adressable virtual memory larger than physical memory) simulated by a computer system as a convenient way to manage access to shared resources.
2. Simulated; performing the functions of something that isn't really there. An imaginative child's doll may be a virtual playmate. Oppose real."
Note the terms "not actually", "apparent", "opposed to real", "simulated", "alternative to", "artificial", "something that isn't really there".
Substitute those terms for "virtual" as a modifier for "choir": "not actually [a] choir", "apparent choir", "opposed to real choir", "simulated choir", "alternative to choir", "artificial choir", "[choir] that isn't really there".
"Virtual", by definition, is something that is not real.  A virtual experience by definition is not an experience; virtual sex by definition is not sex.  A virtual choir is, by definition, something that is not a choir.  The more one indulges in a simulated activity, the less one may be able to experience a real one.
"Virtual choir" is an oxymoron.
Best regards,
Jerome Hoberman
Music Director/Conductor, The Hong Kong Bach Choir & Orchestra
Applauded by an audience of 5
on May 12, 2013 7:07pm
Dear Jerome,

I see your point, and I appreciate the attempt to clarify, but I don't think it answers my question in a practical sense. Virtual, I imagine in the sense it is used here, does not refer to the standard definition of the term, rather, I imagine, it refers to the medium through which the choir is presented (more in tandem with the defination you gave:
'temporarily simulated or extended by computer software: a virtual disk in RAM; virtual memory on a hard disk.'

An argument based on the semantics of it, while perhaps logical, doesn't answer the question though. I mean, why CAN'T we just call VC a choir? What does a choir inherently posess that Virtual Choir can't or doesn't?

Perhaps to illustrate the point I'll give an example.

Imagine a group of professional singers, all very versed in choral singing (although this is not necessary, a group of mediocre or amateur singers would work just as well) who've never sung together in their entire lives. Now imagine you brought all these people together, gave them scores for a choral piece and told them to sing together for a single performance. Is this a choir? Some may say yes, others no, but why?
Is the argument one of transience? Does a choir have to exist for a set number of years before it can actually be considered a choir? Is it one of harmony and sound? Do the singers have to know each other or have practiced together to have the group considered a choir?

These are all relavant questions, because for all intents and purposes the VC is an exppansion of this concept; the participants do not rehearse as a group, don't persist after a single performance, don't have rapport with each other really, but are any of these characteristics NECESSARY for a choir?

on May 13, 2013 8:55am
Dear Jayson, your question is: "What does a choir inherently posess that Virtual Choir can't or doesn't?" Let me reverse your question: "What does a VC inherenlty possesses that a choir can't or doesn't?" There is a simple answer. A VC is impossible without a sound engineer. As the single tracks of Whitacre Lux Aurumque prove (many of them are really ugly, but the final result is awsome), sound engineer is clearly the most important person who determines the final result for a VC: editing, correcting, smoothing, filtering, mastering each track. This extra presence marks the difference. And this difference is huge, since the roles are completely reversed. In the case of a choir, each singer plays their voice, each singer is responsible of the final result, they cannot make mistakes without compromising the performance. In the case of a VC, it's the sound engineer that plays each singer's voice, he is responsible of the final result, he cannot make mistakes, whilst the singers can do without any consequence. (Also) for this reason I strongly believe that the name "choir" is inappropriate for a virtual choir. Thank you for keeping this very interesting topic alive!
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on May 13, 2013 9:33am
Hello, Jason:
I don't think it makes a difference whether a "real" (i.e. non-virtual) choir is together only for one performance, as are many honor choirs and festival choirs who rehearse together a couple of times and may produce a single exhilarating and beautiful concert together. 
But so much of what we consider virtues in choral singing are, to be blunt, completely faked in a virtual choir: the tone quality of each singer is artificially homogenized, the individual voices and sections are "fixed" and "corrected," and the blend -- such a crucial aspect of a real chorus -- is a product of the recording studio and not of any reality.
More importantly, the whole idea of a first-rate choral performance is that the performers (conductor and singers) have developed an interpretation together of a choral work, and further, that the conductor has put an artistic stamp on that music by getting the singers to sing in certain ways that they might not have achieved on their own. If music is merely notes, or if the interpretation is produced by recording engineers, then the results really are virtual: faked, not authentic.
I have no problem with people enjoying the virtual choir process and having fun with it. I do have a problem with an assumption that the virtual choir is the wave of the future, that student singers really get anything musically valuable out of this, and most of all, that it can replace real, genuine choral instruction and choral singing.
Best wishes,
Melinda Bargreen
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on May 13, 2013 1:34pm
Hello Jayson,
I think that Melinda, Fabio and Jerome have very succinctly put their fingers on the significant factors that differenciate a real choir from a virtual manipulation of sound.  (Thank you Melinda for explaining the process.)
There is a point that occurs to me - a question, really.  Do you believe that composers, in general, would want to compose for a virtual choir?  I pose it as a question because, frankly, I do not know that answer.  This, however, I can say, that I would not be interested  in composition if there were not at least the chance that a living, real choir might be engaged sufficiently by my work to sing it in reality.  And here I speak as a chef de choeur and composer: I have the possibility of having my own choir sing (some) of what I produce, although I do not take advantage of the situation, and only rarely present one of my pieces or arrangements to the choir  Perhaps other composers in on this thread might have a view on the effect of Virtual Choirs would have on their compositional capacity.  Melinda?
Let me leave you with a thought: as a player-piano produces music, do you think that it would be right or appropriate to call the person who pumps the pedals a pianist?  The analogy is slightly stretched, I would agree.  But not so much that it is entirelyl off the mark.  There is still an agency that comes between the sound of the piano and the person who is pedalling - the piano roll and those who produce it, so the result is essentially mechanical.  In like fashion, with a Virtual Choir, there is the agency that comes between the individual singers and the finished electronic presentation.  (BTW, I say 'presentation' because I do not believe it is truly a performance any more than that of the player-piano.)  In my view if the Administration that Dawn has referred to is an educational institution, their view that the future is Virtual, then they are not the kind of place I would like to attend were I a student of music, or to work for.  Their view is limiting and possibly destructive of real music-making.
Le Choeur d'Alzonne
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on May 13, 2013 10:25pm
Dear Fabio, Melinda and David,
Thank you for your responses! They are quite insightful and pointed and have given me a lot to add to my discussion and a to elaborate upon. I do still have some questions though that I'd love to get your feed-back on.

Fabio you said (paraphrasing) that the video and audio editor's functioning make Virtual choir invalid as a choir, and I take your point. Below is an extract of the paper I'm constructing elaborating a bit on that concern:

"...Pavel Chesnokov conceptualizes a choir in which the choristers, and ultimately the conductor are responsible for the regulation of these elements. Ensemble is borne out of an ability to ‘hear across the room’, to keep in tune with one’s own section while simultaneously matching the tempo and tune of the others. Intonation is the skill of keeping in pitch all the way through the piece which requires, among other things, the ability to hear what the other parts are doing. Nuances are based on one’s interaction with the conductor as well as with the group. While it is no doubt true that the choristers in Eric Whitacre’s Virtual Choirs do experience Eric’s purposeful conducting and thus can be said to experience the element of ‘Nuance’
It cannot be said that they have any notion of either Ensemble or Intonation; these tasks are taken out of the hands of the choristers and given to the video and audio technicians, who select and process the video submissions.
But does this make Virtual Choir any less a choir? Certainly Ensemble is still present; the technicians who sift through the submissions must either reject or edit the submissions which are irreparably out of tune or off-tempo. They ensure that there is an element of unity and uniformity in the sound, that there is Ensemble. The same goes for Intonation, the sound engineers must select and edit to ensure that the chords produced are recognizable and precise. This is not a perfect process, and it is possible to tell with even an untrained ear that the results produced do not match the standard of the professional performances (such as those of the Eric Whitacre Singers for example). While I imagine that Eric Whitacre is very particular about performance quality (, I think that its safe to say that, at least for him, Virtual Choir represents something more important than an impeccable rendition of his music."

Forgive me if I sound a bit naiive, but I still don't see a real problem with the idea of a choir being regulated by the work of audio engineers. I agree that this is not the typical manner in which choirs function, but I can't help but wonder if this isn't just an expansion of the conception of what we think of as a choir, rather than something else entirely.

Over this particular music course we've explored many fascets of sound and music making, among them the use of microphones as a musical instrument. Yes, not as a tool simply to ampliphy sound, but as an integral part of a performance without which the performance would not be possible. (Our Professor gave the example of Nat King Cole's incredible voice, but not a voice to fill a stadium or hall; one wonders if without microphones we would have ever really experienced his remarkable sound).

The question then arises of how we can decide that Virtual Choir isn't a choir solely based on the fact that they use somewhat different means to regualte their sound. I don't know, honestly and I suppose its for people to decide for themselves whether this is enough to exclude Virtual Choir from our conception of a choir.

If I may switch tracks for a while though and ask a somewhat different question. What might be people's takes on Eric Whitacre's claim that Virtual Choir is truly a 'global choir'? Is such a notion even possible? And if it were, what would a 'global choir' mean or sound like?

Thank you very much. This is quite a fascinating conversation for me and very informative!


on May 14, 2013 8:57am
Hi Jayson. As far as I understand, you let "the unit and uniformity" be created by the sound engineer, right? But again we are at the starting point, in my opinion this is not a "choral" perspective, it is a soliloquy perspective: the sound engineer that does and undoes. Next step is to substitute human singers with humanoids that can imitate perfectly human singing. 20 years and we will reach that point. And then, yes, we can call choirs also this Hypervirtual Choirs. since again we have a notion of "unity" and "uniformity" and "ensemble". But I do not understand which is the final purpose. In a choir what is great is the ongoing work, for instance to rehearse and step by step producing harmony, and at a certain moment looking into each others eyes: "WE GOT IT: the harmonics fly in the air!!". Of course this is just my limited perspective, but this is for me the "choir" experience, that almost by definition cannot accept sound engineer (which is contradiction with the "construction process" above mentiond, which involve singers as a primary component). If one agrees with this perspective, then it is impossible to call "choir" a virtual choir. If one does not agree, then one can identify virtual choirs with choirs, everyone can classify things as they prefer. Anyway I wait for confirmation, since I am not sure, Jayson, that I understood in the correct way your last message.
on May 14, 2013 6:50am
Might I suggest a radical difference between a VC and a live choir?  The possibility of failure.  That truly human element that reminds us, in our pride and workmanship and effort, of our truly awesome ability to not make it perfect every time.  Of the possibility that we have that "cracked note" or sudden rush of adrenalin that makes things too loud.  I recall a performance I had recorded some years ago of a festival band, and a dad called me up to complain that the trumpets in one piece were "too loud" (his opinion, please note).  I told him "Q.E.D." to which he replied, "whaddaya mean?"  I said, "It's not MY job as a recording engineer to decide that the director or the group goofed. For all you and I know, he WANTED the trumpets to 'shout out' at that point.  Who am I to question his decision, if that were so?  And if it wasn't, it was HIS job to have 'fixed' it in rehearsal - and if the kids didn't, oh, well."  A VC CANNOT have and MUST NOT have the possibility of failure, and if the technician/sound engineer doesn't do his job right, he either "fixes" it or they find a new engineer.  The responsibility for attempting "perfection" is not in the hands (or voices) of the singers, but the engineer.  And the last time I checked, I don't have one around when I'm leading my choirs - and in doing so, I accept that there will be times when imperfection is the end result - and that's the beauty of live vs. virtual.
Chantez bien!
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on May 14, 2013 8:31am
Dear All:
OK... Maybe I'm just an old (*add your favorite adjective*), but this Internet/Virtual Choir, and the attempts at Internet Orchestras before them, just don't seem to work in my mind. As has been said by others, there are real-time abilities to adjust intonation and dynamics, etc., that dding your voice to an Internet site just does not allow for. It would be (literally and figuratively...) like 'phoning it in!'
So yesterday, I posed this sort of open-ended question to my 6th Grade Arts Rotation class (a few musicians, most not...): Is an Internet/Virtual Choir possible, with singers located in separate places but capable of electronically hearing each other? We discussed how to do it and they thought it was impossible. I then asked them if a school could do this with a sports team, like a football team. One child (umprompted...) immediately piped up, "Oh, fantasy football!!"
So, to my estimation, IMHO, it might work in theory, but not in practice...
One last thought: I wonder what John Howell would say?
Applauded by an audience of 2
on May 14, 2013 4:53pm
Hello again, Jayson,
let me quote you:
"Forgive me if I sound a bit naiive, but I still don't see a real problem with the idea of a choir being regulated by the work of audio engineers."
The problem lies here, specifically with the words " ...the idea of a choir being regulated".
This is just not so.  There is no choir.  Not even when the sound engineer pulls together all the disparate voices and matches and blends things like timbre, ensemble and all the other factors that are, to use your term, regulated by the choir director and the singers themselves.  The essential elements of choral singing are put together by the interaction, often on the most subtle of levels, by those who direct and those who sing.  This is something that can never be achieved in a so-called Virtual Choir, so it is a gross misnomer.  There is no choir.  What there is exists only by virtue (that word again) of the skill of the sound engineer and the elecronic capacity of his sound desk.
If I may extend a point that Ronald has made: no choir sings the same piece in exactly the same way in any performance.  There are always differences.  and the element of uncertainty that this implies is, in my view, iimportant, as it creates the possibilty of fresh creativity.  Indeed, without it there would be nothing but blandness and monotony for choir and listener alike.  It also put a choir on its mettle to give a good performance.
Technology is reaching out to capture the choral sound electronically/in virtuality.  From what I have heard of it, the EWQL Symphonic Choirs programme makes a good impression.  But regardless of its capacity to imitate human voices and the words they sing, it can never replace the essence of what a choir is and does.  It may be of help to a composer, but I cannot conceive that I would want to listen to its fine results for an evening rather than go to a concert with a real choir.  The same applies to the Whiteacre idea.  What is lacking the element of humanity.  And regardless of how clever the idea is, or how wonderful the technology works, as a choirmaster I deal with people, not machines.
Do not misunderstand me.  I am not anti-Whitacre or EWQL.  I am pointing out that with them, in my opinion, there is a shortfall that no no computer, no engineer or electronics machine can ever compensate for.
I have a question for you: do you sing in, or direct a choir?  If not, I think you would have a lot to gain from the experience.  I cannot believe but that it would open you a much greater understanding of the arguments that have been made in this thread.  The subtle sensing and unspoken communication within a choir are things that really cannot be put in words.  They are there to be a shared experience and a shared joy.  But they can never be experienced in the Whitacre method.  Acxtually, in their absence I still wonder what is the whole point of a virtual 'choir'.
Applauded by an audience of 1
on May 14, 2013 9:19pm
Are there really "virtual choirs" (in any significant numbers) or only "Eric Whitacre virtual choirs"?  That is, is what we're talking about a genuine phenomenon to which attention must be paid, or is it merely a self-promotional vehicle for one easy-listening, intellectually undemanding, middlebrow composer of limited scope, the classical equivalent of Perry Como or Donny Osmond?  And if it's the latter, is this discussion, as well as any virtual footstep-following, merely additional free advertising for that single (not to say singular) composer?
But if there really is a genuine reason for attention to be paid, may I suggest -- as a thought experiment -- a possible analogy?
Glenn Gould stopped perfoming in public in order to focus entirely on recording.  He preferred the absolute control of a studio to the live (read, "uncertain") experience of a concert hall.  The question is, can what he produced thereby be considered "music" or is it only a simulation of music?  Is it "music" any more than a printed score -- or even a manuscript -- is "music," as opposed to a set of instructions through which music might be caused to come into existence in the confluence of performers and listeners?
Certainly John Cage might answer that it is in fact music, since any sound, produced by any means or producer and with or without any particular intent, can according to his thinking be considered music.  His tree in the forest always falls.
On the other hand, Sergiu Celibidache compared recording to "going to bed with a photograph of Marilyn Monroe."  (He also compared recording to canned asparagus, as opposed to fresh.)  His thinking was based on the presence of all the complex values within a sonority that is produced and heard in a particular space at a particular moment -- what he called the "epiphenomena" -- which make possible the fully transcendent experience of music, and which are not all present in superficially similar sounds played and heard through electronic reproducing equipment.  (Even were  the recording and reproducing equipment capable of producing the full original frequency and timbral spectrum, the acoustic within which the sounds are heard is different from that within which they were created.  His tree falls only if there is someone present to experience it.
If you accept a Cageian point of view, there would seem to be validity to the idea of virtual music-making, since anything goes and anything sounded is music -- perhaps even if unheard.
If you lean toward a Celibidachean point of view, you would conclude that a virtual choir is incapable of producing music.
While it's perhaps normal for adolescents to go to bed with photographs, they outgrow that (at least I hope so), and tend to discover that the real thing is better, even if it's not Marilyn Monroe.
So why encourage it?
Here's my stop -- I'm getting off this bus.
Best regards,
Jerome Hoberman
Music Director/Conductor, The Hong Kong Bach Choir & Orchestra
Applauded by an audience of 4
on May 15, 2013 6:20am
Point, set, and match---to Mr. Hoberman. Dude got skills.
To me the Milli Vanilli Virtual Choir looks cool, but sounds really processed and bland (because it is). Btw, here in Chicago we process yummy hot dogs, but you prolly don't want to know what's in them-haha. You might further enjoy that Chicago dog by adding some melted Kraft "processed cheese food" on top, but I don't think you want to eat that too often.
Paul Carey
choral music blog at:
Applauded by an audience of 2
on May 15, 2013 8:09am
Paul - Agree with your assessment of point, set, and match to Jerome.  And I would suggest, perhaps we need to bring a curtain of kindness down on this discussion.  I think we may have flogged this poor horse well past its grave!
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