Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Finding real grace in a virtual choir

A few nights ago, I was in the kitchen with my laptop open on the counter, blasting the new Virtual Choir video on youtube.

While I was kind of dancing, kind of cleaning as the video played a housemate walked in to dump dishes in the sink. They stopped at my laptop and tried to make sense of what they were seeing and hearing....an anime angel.....a classical choir......in colorful buildings....and an electro backing track. I tried to explain what it was they were seeing and I think they eventually kind of understood the idea of how a virtual choir works- that singers from all around the world submit the videos of themselves singing and the videos get joined together into a choir.

But what I now wish I’d explained was that to me, what they were watching was grace wrapped up in sound and video.

I love composer Eric Whitacre’s music and thought his concept of the virtual choir was brilliant. I had watched previous versions online in awe. And so when a new choir project opened up I downloaded the sheet music, loaded the demo tracks onto my iPod and started getting my head around the beautiful harmonies. But as the submission deadline drew closer, I despaired about my chances of joining the choir. I was already musically out of shape from too long away from singing. I was exhausted from working multiple jobs to make ends meet and the illness I had hoped would get better in time to record a video had not gotten better, both of which were messing with my voice. I sang the best I could but every recording was disappointing. But strangers from around the world on the choir forum spurred me on to join in and in a moment of crazy, I pushed upload.

I would not have faulted the Virtual Choir team for throwing my video out. The performance wasn’t very good and neither was the technical quality of the video. Anyone would have been justified to reject the video but they would all the more given how talented and respected some of the people involved in creating the choir are. Artists who win Grammy awards normally work with people who have a level of talent I could never attain. There was also more than enough great singers among the choir to create an impressive video.

Eventually release day rolled around. After much battling a bad internet connection I got the video playing and got lost in the video and the music. Several minutes in, I noticed a familiar face among all the singers I did not really expect to see. There I was, part of the choir. I had not been rejected but graciously made part of the choir. That was a feeling of belonging that I could not fully describe. We sounded beautiful. The flaws that were in my performance (and no doubt in other people’s) blended into an extraordinary sound.

I was originally going to make this post about what happens when people from different backgrounds are willing to cooperate or the possibilities of using technology for good or the power of collaborative creativity. All these things were inspiring about the Virtual Choir. But I realised that it is the grace I was shown that I want to dwell on and remember the most. Too often life is survival (or at least advancement) of the fittest, of the most talented, of the best. Never quite measuring up in all sorts of ways feels like the story of my life over the past few years. It’s something you experience hundreds of times over when job hunting! People’s flaws too often get mocked, whether that be on the playground or on the internet. People feeling like they don’t belong anywhere they try fit to fit in is endemic. Grace is rare.

It is worth celebrating and remembering when people who could justifiably do otherwise show grace and extend belonging to those who don’t deserve it and in doing so create something wonderful. It is worth watching for, because sometimes it is to be found in unexpected places, even in anime animated, elecro-classical youtube choirs.