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TED2013

Eric Whitacre: Virtual Choir Live

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Composer and conductor Eric Whitacre has inspired millions by bringing together "virtual choirs," singers from many countries spliced together on video. Now, for the first time ever, he creates the experience in real time, as 32 singers from around the world Skype in to join an onstage choir (assembled from three local colleges) for an epic performance of Whitacre's "Cloudburst," based on a poem by Octavio Paz.

- Composer, conductor
After creating and conducting a worldwide virtual choir on YouTube, Eric Whitacre is now touring with an astonishing live choir. Full bio

In 1991 I had
00:12
maybe the most profound and transformative
00:14
experience of my life.
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I was in the third year of my seven-year undergraduate degree.
00:18
I took a couple victory laps in there.
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And I was on a college choir tour up in Northern California,
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and we had stopped for the day after all day on the bus,
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and we were relaxing next to this beautiful
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idyllic lake in the mountains.
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And there were crickets and birds and frogs making noise,
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and as we sat there, over the mountains coming in
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from the north were these Steven Spielbergian clouds
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rolling toward us,
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and as the clouds got about halfway over the valley,
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so help me God, every single animal in that place
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stopped making noise at the same time.
00:55
(Whoosh) This electric hush, as if they could sense what was about to happen.
00:57
And then the clouds came over us, and then,
01:02
boom! This massive thunderclap, and sheets of rain.
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It was just extraordinary, and when I came back home
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I found a poem by the Mexican poet Octavio Paz,
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and decided to set it to music,
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a piece for choir called "Cloudburst,"
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which is the piece that we'll perform for you in just a moment.
01:20
Now fast forward to just three years ago.
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(Music) And we released to YouTube this,
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the Virtual Choir Project,
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185 singers from 12 different countries.
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You can see my little video there conducting these people,
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alone in their dorm rooms
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or in their living rooms at home.
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Two years ago, on this very stage, we premiered
01:44
Virtual Choir 2,
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2,052 singers from 58 different countries,
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this time performing a piece that I had written called "Sleep."
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And then just last spring we released Virtual Choir 3,
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"Water Night," another piece that I had written,
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this time nearly 4,000 singers from 73 different countries.
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(Music)
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And when I was speaking to Chris about the future
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of Virtual Choir and where we might be able to take this,
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he challenged me to push the technology as far as we possibly could.
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Could we do this all in real time?
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Could we have people singing together in real time?
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And with the help of Skype,
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that is what we are going to attempt today.
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Now, we'll perform "Cloudburst" for you.
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The first half will be performed by the live singers here on stage.
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I'm joined by singers from Cal State Long Beach,
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Cal State Fullerton and Riverside Community College,
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some of the best amateur choirs in the country, and —
02:49
(Applause) --
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and in the second half of the piece,
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the virtual choir will join us, 30 different singers
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from 30 different countries.
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Now, we've pushed the technology as far as it can go,
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but there's still less than a second of latency,
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but in musical terms, that's a lifetime.
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We deal in milliseconds.
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So what I've done is, I've adapted "Cloudburst"
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so that it embraces the latency
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and the performers sing into the latency
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instead of trying to be exactly together.
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So with deep humility, and for your approval,
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we present "Cloudburst."
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(Applause)
03:31
(Piano)
03:36
[The rain ...]
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[Eyes of shadow-water]
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[eyes of well-water]
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[eyes of dream-water.]
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[Blue suns, green whirlwinds,]
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[birdbeaks of light pecking open]
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[pomegranate stars.]
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[But tell me, burnt earth, is there no water?]
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[Only blood, only dust,]
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[only naked footsteps on the thorns?]
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[The rain awakens...]
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[We must sleep with open eyes,]
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[we must dream with our hands,]
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[we must dream the dreams of a river seeking its course,]
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[of the sun dreaming its worlds.]
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[We must dream aloud,]
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[we must sing till the song puts forth roots,]
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[trunk, branches, birds, stars.]
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[We must find the lost word,]
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[and remember what the blood,]
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[the tides, the earth, and the body say,]
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[and return to the point of departure...]
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(Music)
09:04
(Applause)
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["Cloudburst" Octavio Paz][translation by Lysander Kemp, adapted by Eric Whitacre]
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Eric Whitacre: Beth. Annabelle, where are you? Jacob.
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(Applause)
11:58
Thank you.
12:20
Translated by Joseph Geni
Reviewed by Morton Bast

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About the speaker:

Eric Whitacre - Composer, conductor
After creating and conducting a worldwide virtual choir on YouTube, Eric Whitacre is now touring with an astonishing live choir.

Why you should listen

Eric Whitacre began his music career singing in his college choir; by 21, he had written his first concert work, Go, Lovely Rose, and advanced to Juilliard, where he studied under John Corigliano. Today, he has published more than four dozen choral works, conducted in some of the most esteemed halls in the world, and featured on dozens of recordings. His album Cloudburst and Other Choral Works earned him a Grammy nomination in 2007, as did his Decca debut Light & Gold, while his new album, Water Night, debuted at #1 in US iTunes classical charts.

You may know him, too, as the creator and conductor of the virtual choir, a network of YouTube-connected singers whose voices blend together online to become true magic. And he's now touring with the Eric Whitacre Signers, a 28-voice choir (yes, they're all in the same room).

More profile about the speaker
Eric Whitacre | Speaker | TED.com