If you haven’t figured it out yet, I’m a classical music fiend. You could imagine my excitement when I found out I would get to interview world renowned composer, Eric Whitacre! I was extremely fortunate to get the chance to interview this musical genius. If you haven’t checked out his latest work, The Chelsea Carol, I suggest you go do that as soon as you finish reading his interview!
Wyndi May: Hello, Eric, thank you so much for taking time out of your crazy schedule to chat with me! I really enjoy The Chelsea Carol. It really is quite beautiful.
Tell us a bit about yourself for our readers that aren’t familiar with your work. Where did you go to school? How did you decide on grad school (I’m currently looking into grad school, I could use some pointers!)? What made you decide that composing was what you wanted to do?
Eric Whitacre: I always loved making music, playing the drums and synthesizer (I wanted to be a rock star), but I started my classical music career quite late. I was at University of Las Vegas when I first experienced choral music and I can honestly say it changed my life. The first piece I sang was Mozart’s Requiem and after this I soon began composing. I wrote my first concert work, Go, Lovely, Rose for my choirmaster at college, then I went on to study at Juilliard with John Corigliano (American composer and professor of composition) and from then, just kept writing music.
WM: That is quite the ambitious first piece to sing! We are incredibly lucky you discovered vocal music and composition. Mr. Corigliano taught you well. You helped score “The Mermaid Theme” and other choral parts for Disney’s Pirates of the Carribbean: On Stranger Tides, right? Do you have any additional plans for movie scoring?
EW: I was so thrilled to be working with Hans (Zimmer) for Pirates of the Caribbean. I would love to write more music for movies, and I was signed up to write with Hans on Batman but in the end it didn’t happen. That was brutal.
WM: Aw, that’s a bummer! I can only imagine what you could have come up with for Batman. I noticed you’re currently involved in a Kickstarter campaign for the next Virtual Choir project, can you tell us a bit more about that? What inspired you to start the Virtual Choir?
EW: Virtual Choir has grown beyond our wildest dreams and the only way we can make Virtual Choir 4 (VC4) happen is with your help, by supporting the Kickstarter campaign. This time we will be singing Bliss from my musical, Paradise Lost. I am going to write a bespoke arrangement for the Virtual Choir which will start with a fluid, ethereal a cappella sequence, which will move into the more club/EDM track that is Bliss. We are incredibly honored that VC 4 will be part of the Coronation Concerts in Buckingham Palace in July 2013. As well as posting the finished film online, we will be making it available to the crowd for a re-mix project over the summer.
WM: That sounds amazing! Congratulations on being a part of the Coronation Concerts! That is an incredible honor! Can you explain what the Virtual Choir is, for our readers who may not be familiar with it?
EW: The concept is pretty simple: singers from around the world upload their videos. They’re singing alone in their living rooms, their dorm rooms, their garages; we cut all the videos together and start them at the same time to create a Virtual Choir. Somehow it all comes together and we’re making music as one choir.
WM: What inspired the idea of the Viritual Choir?
EW: The idea all began with a single video from Britlin Losee. She uploaded a beautiful video of herself singing the soprano part to my piece, Sleep, and it sparked this idea in me: ‘what if we could get 50 people from around the world to do the same thing’. So I uploaded a video of me conducting and people started sending in their submissions. It worked. The original Virtual Choir had 185 singers from 12 different countries and it went viral. Since then the phenomenon has continued and exploded. We’ve been featured on news items all over the world, we premiered VC2 at TED and the most recent VC3 had 3746 videos from 73 different countries.
WM: That is quite the accomplishment, congratulations again on the incredible success of the Virtual Choir. I can’t wait to hear what comes of this new project.
You aren’t just a vocal composer, you write instrumental pieces as well. However, correct me if I’m wrong, October was your last wind symphony piece and that was 13 years ago! I’m a flute player, so I have to ask, do you have any plans for additional wind symphony or orchestral pieces?
EW: You’re right. I realized the other day that while I have made some transcriptions from choral works, the last original piece I wrote for concert band was October, thirteen years ago. I think it might be time to write another one! A band transcription of my piece Sleep, My Child from Paradise Lost has just been made available through Hal Leonard, beautifully arranged by Jeff Gershman.
WM: I agree! Here’s to hoping that an instrumental piece comes soon! Maybe a flute concerto? *laughs* Finally, what advice do you have for an aspiring musician in the classical world, or otherwise?
EW: The most important thing is to gain experience. Play, conduct, write or sing as much as possible with as many different people as possible. Experience as much music as you can get involved in everything that interests you and stretches your mind.
WM: That is great advice. Thanks again, so much, Eric, for taking the time to chat with me. Best of wishes on VC4! I can’t wait to hear even more of your beautiful music!
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