Monday, April 30, 2018

A Bit of Music Dorkery

It's been a while since I dorked out on musicy things.  I'm probably going to do that today.  But first...

...technology is awesome.  It allows us to do amazing things (for example, with a single click I could have used virtual thesaurus to choose better words instead of "awesome" and "amazing").  In the fourteen or so years I've been serving in full-time music ministry, technological improvement has completely changed what I am able to do in ministry.  That may seem odd for a director of music in a traditional church where we still use a pipe organ, piano, and choir.  But those aren't what has changed.

Fourteen years ago, desktop publishing was just coming into its own.  Software was clumsy except at the very high end, and most of us didn't have computers capable of running that software (or the know-how, for that matter).  And even if we came up with a really stunning piece of publicity, it took a congressional act to get it printed in color.  A veto-proof majority if it was full color!

Communication has seen a similar revolution.  Actually it's seen a number of them.  There were phone and print media.  There was email.  Then there was Facebook.  Then there was texting.  Another post for another time, perhaps, is that through all that transition, a simple, hand-written note has not lost its power.  I have a whole theory about that I'll lay on you later.

And the internet.  Mostly a novelty at first, it's now a full-blown tool.  I don't have to burn CD's for rehearsal purposes anymore (though sometimes I still do).  Now I can just send out youtube links.  There are all kinds of handy tools available to help teach parts (like cyberbass) so the choir can spend quality time learning their music without having to have someone banging the notes on a piano.  It's not just about communication (though it's helpful for that too).  I have a postively insane amount of knowledge and power underneath my fingertips at any given moment.  Need to research texts?  Tunes?  Put together a program?  Help is a click away.  When did Mozart die?  How old was he?  Wasn't his father a pretty good musician too?  Google knows.

Eric Whitacre has done this amazing thing (even more amazing than his hair, which is...spectacular).  It's called a virtual choir, and he's done it something like five times now.  Here's one of them: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D7o7BrlbaDs.  The way this works is that people submit videos of themselves singing a single part, and the audio and video from each part is joined together.  I thought this was the coolest thing I'd ever seen the first time I saw it.  They've gotten more sophisticated every time.  He's done something like five of them now.  Here's the fifth: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V3rRaL-Czxw.  This technique allows for massive choirs that would otherwise be logistically impossible.  Thousands of singers from all over the world massed in a single effort.  Remarkable.  And not all that long ago, impossible.

And then there are the one-person choirs.  These are folks who record themselves singing all the parts and then layer those recordings on top of each other.  Here's one that's fairly rudimentary: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q5hG3Xovjiw.  These get a bit more fancy too.  I really like this one, for example: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p0KQLJwMDzc.  To be fair, that guy also has amazing hair, and I do love Loch Lomond.  This is kindof the opposite of the Whitacre.  Instead of bringing thousands of people from all over the world together, it allows a single person to become a thousand.  Remarkable.  And again, not all that long ago, impossible.  That they both have nice hair can't be coincidence.

That's not all the amazing things technology is allowing in music, of course.  Not even a scratch on the surface.  But these two are particularly interesting to me as a choral musician because they are, at heart, choral ventures.

The way I go about ministry on a day-to-day basis is so vastly different than it was.  And yet, on Wednesday night at 7:30, I stand in front of the choir, and we do something that people have been doing for centuries...or more.  We raise our voices together.  We find something that is all too often lost in the virtual noise.  We find something that technology, try as it might, cannot replicate--or even imitate very well.  There's something magical about standing together, breathing the same air in the same moment, and losing ourselves in each other's voices.  For a moment we truly become a whole--a whole that is made up of us and some other something I have yet to put a finger on.

It's like the difference between watching a something on TV or experiencing it live.  No--I guess it's exactly that difference.  I've listened to so many recordings of the Brahms Requiem, but there is nothing on earth like standing in the middle of the collective wash of a hundred singers proclaiming with one voice that all flesh is like the grass.  WE'RE ALL GONNA DIE!!!!!!!!!!!

And so, as cool as they are, I find the virtual choir and the one-person choir fundamentally lacking.  Don't get me wrong.  I sometimes like to listen to them, and I marvel at what all these electrons have enabled.  They just don't hit me in the same way that my choirs do every time I stand in front of them.

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