Tuesday, November 3, 2020

Immerse yourself in music and art today and explore our bonds with earth and sky.


Spiral galaxy NGC 2525
(NASA and the Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI))

“And choirs were branded as super-spreaders. This art form is so delicate and gentle, and suddenly we’re a threat.” Eric Whitacre.

And the simple art of singing became high-tech. Composer and conductor Eric Whitacre has been bringing choir singers around the world together in virtual performances since 2010, ten years before the pandemic. Virtual Choir 5, “Deep Field: The Impossible Magnitude of Our Universe,” unites galaxies viewed by the Hubble Space Telescope’s Deep Field with the voices of 3,939 singers from 126 countries. (See https://ericwhitacre.com/the-virtual-choir/history/vc5-deepfield).

Then came the pandemic and Virtual Choir 6, the largest ever assembled, in “Sing Gently,” with 17,572 singers from 126 countries. (https://ericwhitacre.com/the-virtual-choir/history/vc6-singgently). Beautiful for a time and space where beauty is so needed. Only now can I begin to appreciate this art form, because I’ve had a chance to try it on a smaller scale.

Even five people singing “Happy Birthday” on Zoom sounds terrible. But record each voice and instrument separately and blend them into one recording and you have art. Simple concept; sophisticated technology. The choral group I sing with, Festival Singers, is making a virtual performance of “We Need a Little Christmas,” from the Broadway musical “Mame.” (Music and lyrics by Jerry Herman). Instead of a galaxy of singers, we have a much smaller group and the new experience presents new challenges. Such as . . .

Yes, we need a little tissue box . . .

In addition to learning the alto part, I worked on the logistics of lighting, background, clothes, hair, makeup, positioning a device to record me and a different device to play the music into my ear buds. Then there’s the singing: Pitch, timing, volume, words, all without a director to keep time and cue you when to come in or stop or sing louder, softer, slower, faster.

After watching the CBS recording of how the Virtual Choir 6 did it, I felt better. Like me, each singer was in their own home using their own equipment. One said she did 40 takes before submitting her recording. Another said he hated hearing himself on a recording singing alone. It helps to know we can be more than our limitations by joining a much bigger universe.

And yet sometimes the earth seems just big enough.


Environmental artist Ann Savageau uses natural materials and found objects to explore our relationship with the earth, the only planet we know of that offers the temperature range, the atmosphere, and the natural resources essential to our survival. Some works are almost completely fashioned from natural found materials, such as the natural paper from hornets nests. Others are a fusion of natural and man-made materials, which can be startling, humorous, and thought-provoking in turn. Many reflect her years in Iran where we attended school together, or her experiences in Turkey, Australia, and the American Southwest.

From Wasp Trilogy, exhibited at U. C. Davis, April 2018

We got together in Davis in April, 2018 where I enjoyed seeing her work on exhibit at U. C. Davis in a collection called “It’s Bugged: Insects’ Role in Design.”

But it’s 2020, the Year of the Great Pandemic, and real-life exhibits are not available today. So I urge you to take some time out today to go to her website https://annsavageau.com/ and browse through the individual galleries, such as “Books & Texts” which shows the role of written knowledge in our lives, “Architecture” displaying the influence of Iranian, Turkish, and Native American designs, and “The Tool Series” with its droll and unexpected humor.

Ann has just completed a new exhibit of life-sized figures called Guardians. Each figure opens up aspects of spiritual protectiveness from a blend of cultures and spiritual traditions.

“I find the concept of spiritual guardians inspiring and hopeful. People of all persuasions, whether or not they believe in guardian spirits, can find comfort and hope in these figures. They are offered to viewers in a spirit of loving kindness, and in the hope that they will be comforted, inspired and reassured that there is cause for optimism even in the face of so many serious challenges.” Ann Savageau, Environmental Artist.

Visit the Guardians one by one. Visit the universe with Virtual Choir 5. And know that one way or another, we are not alone.

Related Headlines

“The Miraculous Virtual Choir of the Pandemic,” AARP, Oct. 28, 2020. https://www.aarp.org/entertainment/music/info-2020/eric-whitacre-virtual-choir.html?cmp=SNO-ICM-FB-COVID-ENT&socialid=4033205569

“Retired UC Davis professor creates art from hornet nests,” Daily Republic, Jan. 26, 2018. https://www.dailyrepublic.com/all-dr-news/solano-news/solano-county-entertainment/retired-uc-davis-professor-creates-art-from-hornet-nests/

“Hubble Space Telescope Spies Spiral Galaxy Edge-On,” Science News, Nov. 2, 2020. http://www.sci-news.com/astronomy/hubble-spiral-galaxy-edge-on-ugca-193-09007.html

Additional Resources:

Eric Whitacre, https://ericwhitacre.com/

Ann Savageau, https://annsavageau.com/

Presented on CBS “Sunday Morning.” July 19, 2020: The largest virtual choir ever assembled https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uS0ioMnVdHw

Eric Whitacre’s Virtual Choir 6. Sing Gently. 17,572 singers from 129 countries.  https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCrjq25xbdEiL8jH28FR38Ow

Virtual Choir 5. Deep Field: The Impossible Magnitude of Our Universe. https://ericwhitacre.com/the-virtual-choir/history/vc5-deepfield

Hubble Space Telescope. Thirty Years of Discovery. https://hubblesite.org/

Why am I doing this?

The coronavirus pandemic will be indelibly written on our memories just as the Great Depression or the Battle of Britain left their mark on past generations. It is my intention to journal the pandemic experience from three perspectives: as a retired medical technologist, a historian (Ph.D., 2014), and an ordinary person living through an extraordinary crisis.

You are on History’s Edge.

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