The wow of Eric Whitacre's Virtual Choir is no substitute for the flesh-and-flat-note experience of a real chorus
On the surface, this is a fantastic and complex piece of work, assembling individual vocal tracks into a choir. But this is a very, very different sort of musical beast than the YouTube Orchestra, which was auditioned electronically from individual video submissions, but performed the traditional way, by bringing all the musicians together onto the stage at Carnegie Hall.
This choir never met. It was not the product of my voice and ears tuning themselves to those standing beside, behind and in front of me. This is, ultimately, the product of many hours of work by a team of video and sound animators and editors somewhere in a computer-filled room.
None of the singers had a chance to experience the difference between a solo recording and the many different, intermingling layers of sensory and emotional experience of sharing the making of music with others -- it it that experience which contains the true, magnetic magic of music for the participant, and, ultimately, for the listener.
The YouTube Symphony was, after all was said and played, about bringing real people from around the world together in a real space. The Virtual Choir is about engineering something out of isolation. It is a great technical exercise, though.
Here is the 40-year-old American composer-conductor leading an assembly of webcam submissions in his 10-year-old hit, Lux Aurumque (Light of Gold -- the text is a bit of sleight-of-hand; instead of an old Latin poem, it is a translation into Latin of a poem by Edward Esch).
After the performance, I've added Whitacre's background video, which includes what each singer had to follow while singing their part. Interestingly enough, the opening instructions are identical to what any choral conductor would give to his or her assembled group of choristers.
I've also added a 2008 performance by the choir of Kings College, Cambridge, for a dose of un-technologised blend, balance and pacing.
In English, the lyrics are: Light,/ Warm and heavy as pure gold/ And the angels sing softly/ To the new-born baby.