Eric Whitacre’s virtual choir is an impressive project linking more than 2000 singers from all over the world. But their actual recording of the song “sleep” also shows the limitations of a choir that is only connected by virtual means and though the conductor.
If you ever sang in a decent choir, you know that the conductor has an important role guiding the singers. But the self-organization of the choir is equally important, especially for subtle changes in timing, timbre and colour of sound.
Comparing the recording of sleep by the virtual choir on youtube to recordings by professional choirs on either Eric Whitacre’s new CD “light and gold” or the recording by Noel Edison and the Elora Festival Singers one can immediately notice the difference in choral technique: Especially in the last verse, the internet choir has the consonants spread all over the place with a lot of hissing sounds around each “s” and a small battery of plops at each “t”. In contrast, the Eric Whitacre Singers almost perfectly synchronize their pronunciation (a pedantic brainfisch could still find some minor problems), while the Elora Festival Singers sometimes are perfectly on time, and sometimes use extremely good cheating techniques – with only some singer actually pronouncing the consonants sharply and some pronouncing them very softly.
I do not want to be derogative to the internet singers, the project is really beautiful and sent shivers down my spine when I first heard it. But there are simply limitations to the amount of harmony you can achieve over a virtual communication, compared to standing next to each other for hours and hours during endless rehearsals. This is also the reason, why a lot of modern conductors mix the different voices in the choir, instead of having sopranos, altos, tenors and basses standing each in one block: you simply improve the coordination in the choir, when everybody is listening to each other, at least in a choir where each singer does not depend on his neighbours to find the right note and keep the pitch.
So in conclusion, until we have major improvements in communication technology (I want my Holodeck NOW) the internet can only partially replace personal contact. But we are working on it.