The power of music to connect human beings and elevate their spirits is as old as mankind itself.
Music is essential to our nature as social animals, our need to bond with others. It can take many forms–a mother cooing to her baby, work songs on chain gangs, protest marches, marching bands, people singing in a chorus…we’re sure you can think of many more examples. Take a look at our posts on the relationship between music and memory here.
We now know from leading neuroscientists who write about music that “happiness” hormones like oxytocin can be released as a result of musical bonding. Daniel Levitin explains how this probably occurs, in his book The World in Six Songs (2008).
Nowadays, in the age of the Internet, the ability to create bonding through music has reached world-wide proportions. This was brought home to us recently when we learned about Eric Whitacre’s remarkable 2000+ member Virtual Choir, made up of singers from 58 countries.
As a teenager who played the synthesizer and the drum machine even though he did not read music, Whitacre had dreams of becoming a pop star. But his life goal changed radically at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, after he grudgingly attended a choir rehearsal of Mozart’s Requiem. In his own words his world, which had been black and white, suddenly it burst into color as he heard the Kyrie.
In gratitude for this transformational experience, he ultimately wrote a choral piece in honor of the choir director who had so changed his life and who set him on the career path to becoming a choral conductor and composer.
In the TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) talk below, Whitacre movingly describes the evolution of the virtual choir, which had its beginnings in a simple YouTube fan video made by a girl singing the soprano line from his choral composition called “Sleep.” He was deeply moved by her performance and suddenly had a vision. Why not post all the vocal parts of this piece on the web and make a video of himself conducting the music for people to sing along? Let him tell the rest of the story…
Here are some lines from the poem “Sleep,” on which Whitacre based his piece. You may hear echoes of Robert Frost’s “Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening.” We do.
The evening hangs beneath the moon
A silver thread on darkened dune
With closing eyes and resting head
I know that sleep is coming soon
. . . .
As I surrender unto sleep
As I surrender unto sleep.
And finally, if you would like to hear the full April 2011 global virtual performance of “Sleep,” here it is.
If you might like to join a virtual choir, Eric Whitacre has posted videos on YouTube giving more information about the way the process works.
It seems to us that this is an extremely valuable, creative, truly new use of technology that actually increases human well being.
What do you think?