(This is a long post, so feel free to skim and just watch the videos) Several years ago, Eric Whitacre's Virtual Choir was the coolest thing since multi-track videos replaced sliced bread on the list of really cool things. For those that were oblivious to the presence of said choir, let me give my brief overview of the process.
First, I'll let you know, I was in on this idea pretty much from the onset. I got to know Eric Whitacre's music while attending BYU and Dr. Ronald Staheli and the BYU Singers were finishing up their landmark CD of Whitacre's a cappella works. No, I wasn't part of that group. Yes, I wish I had been...that's a different story.
Anyway, years passed and the internet became more of a "thing" and companies, individuals, and even composers found it valuable to have a website. I decided to look up Eric Whitacre's website and I read something super interesting. He said that a girl (Britlin Losee) sent her a tribute video of herself singing the soprano 1 line of Sleep. He posted on his site something like "Wouldn't it be cool if 50 people did the same thing and the videos were put together into a virtual choir?"
Many of us responded with a hearty, "Heck, yes!"
Scottie Haines took up the charge and accepted our videos and put them together into what is now referred to as the Beta Virtual choir (click below to watch). 116 tracks of singers that never met and had only communicated via a chat room as we were completing the process. (Yes, that's me providing the "conductor track").
Whitacre saw it and thought, "Wow, that was freaking cool!" Ok, he probably didn't say it quite like that, but that's how it translated in my head. He said he wanted to be more involved in the next one, Lux Aurumque, so he made the conducting track and we submitted videos again, once again compiled by the amazing Scottie Haines. The experience was so brand new. Record your part in your bed room and suddenly be part of a huge choir! "Singing together, alone."
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After that, the word spread, the process grew too big for one person, and the outreach was amazing. Sleep 2.0, Water Night (my personal favorite), and Paradise Lost quickly followed with now more than 5,000 singers participating!! Whitacre even createdLive virtual choir events! The idea seemed to be taking the world by storm!
But then it all stopped...
Virtual Choir 4.0 was released in 2013 and everyone was left asking the question, "What's next?" There has yet to be an answer. From talking to people, the last video was so large that is now felt impersonal (I still have yet to find my video in all those little windows). I know I felt the same thing. Did we push the virtual choir so far that there is nowhere left to go?
I don't think so. Just as great composers looked back into the past to find inspiration for the future, a great innovator could look at this process and tweak it into it's next form.
I believe this a valuable form of choral experience. Yes, there are some caveats as there are with anything. Some voices get muted or severely lowered to create a blend with the better sounding voices. No one will deny that happens. That doesn't diminish the experience. The amateur performer, the novice singer, the closet performer, the shower-only singer have an outlet through Virtual Choir to experience what it means to sing with a group larger than yourself. My thought is that the experience could lead to a greater interest in choral singing and fostering of this love into the greater society.
So, innovators of the world, I call on you to create! Help us find our voices in the next incarnation of the Virtual Choir!
I wanted to give a little shout out to a friend and fellow DMA student at UW, Sarah Riskind. She recently gave her first of two DMA recitals where she premiered a brand new composition: a cantata built around the OZ books by L. Frank Baum (If you didn't know, there are more books than the one staring Judy Garland). She wrote a four-movement work for choir, soloists, narrator, and string quartet.
It. Was. Amazing!
I tell you this today for two reasons. 1) I didn't have my blog set up at the time of the performance and 2) she just posted audio from her concert including the cantata. I had the privilege of being the narrator for the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th movements - a fun little acting role.
So, if you're reading this, please visit her site and let her know what you think about it.
"And everyone thought is was the wisest speech he had ever made."
I have just been introduced to a new place where I can link and post my hymn arrangements: FreeLDSSheetMusic.org. I have linked my arrangements on there and have plans to link my Scripture Songs by Steve on there as well...as soon as I have time! Click here to go directly to the listing of my songs.
"So Steve, you are a full time grad student at UW, you're a father of seven children, you commute for 5 hours a day, and you're composing new music frequently. What do you do with all that spare time you must have?"
I write more music, of course.
For the past 5 years, we have been memorizing scripture verses with our children. A couple of years ago, I started adding melodies to the verses to aid in the memorization and retention - to great success. Close to a year ago, I decided to put my melodies online for anyone to use...FREE!!
Enter "Scripture Songs by Steve."
This week marked a major milestone for our family: song #100! We used a verse from the Book of Mormon this week, 2 Nephi 32:8. This melody is a bit more complex than most of the ones I write, but they're catching on. We sing through it once at breakfast and once a dinner, after a week, they've got it! We plan on recording us singing them soon. That will be a fun family project!
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Fact: The sheet music publishing world is tough to break into. I have been writing choral music for nearly 20 years and have yet to find a publisher that is willing to take a risk on me. When I get the "letter" from publishers, I'm usually told that they don't have time or resources to give individual feedback for each piece submitted, but that what I sent them was not what they were looking for. That leads to the question, "What are they looking for?"
Fact: Breaking into sheet music publishing is more about who you know and good timing than having quality, publishable, performable pieces. I know my compositions are able to be performed because I have performed them. I know that audiences enjoy them. I just don't seem to have the knack of getting my pieces to the right publisher at the right time. And I don't know any of them personally so I'm always making a "cold sale" when I approach them - a difficult proposition for all but the most experienced sales person.
Fact: Publishing through a big name publisher doesn't make very much money for the composer. Part of each sale is divided up between publisher, retailer, and sundry other people before the composer (and possibly lyricist) get their small cut.
Myth: There's nothing you can do about it.
In the world of technology that we live in, it has become increasingly easy to self-publish your music. There are website hosting services (such as shopify.com, squarespace.com, or weebly.com among others) that can help you set up your own online store. There's usually a monthly or annual fee for these services, so choose wisely. Pros: you get to keep the money from your sales. No one else is taking a chunk from the price you set. Cons: if you're not having a lot of traffic and a lot of people visiting your site and buying your music, you might end up paying more for the site than you are making from your music.
There are other options out there as well. There is a great site out there that I use called CadenzaOne.com where any composer can upload their music for free, set their own prices, and make it searchable on their site (and in effect, on Google). They take a very small portion of the sale price to offset the costs of running the site, but besides that, they money goes directly to you. Pros: Your music is out there with a URL that you can share with others. It's a fully searchable site. The sales are taken care of by someone else, but you get to keep most of the money. Cons: Your music is up against a lot of other music from other publishers and self-publishers. It still takes a lot of time to market your own music.
Fact: However you choose to self-publish, you're going to have to work hard to get people aware that your music is out there. You don't have a publisher doing the work for you. Currently, I have about 40 songs listed on CadenzaOne, I've created this webpage where I can link to them as well as post other songs that I'm offering for free (for various reasons), I have a Facebook page (@sdcompose) where I can let people know about my latest compositions, and I am a member of several choir and composition groups where I can also make directors aware of what I have available (including ACDA Choral Composition Initiatives). There is also a heavy ground game that involves talking to choir directors that I am familiar with and showing them my pieces. The more you can get your pieces performed, the more likely it will be that other conductors will be interested in performing your pieces.
Fact: I, and most composers, don't compose with the idea of publication in mind. So, keep composing and don't give up!
I am super excited to announce that I have officially finished and uploaded all three movements of Semper Solus In Turba. Each movement can be performed separately or as a whole. Each is set for SSAATTBB a cappella choir. I'd like to share with you what I wrote in the notes at the front of each piece.
Semper Solus In Turba - This is a motto I came up with for myself in 2016 which translates to "Always Alone in a Crowd." I feel this way a lot - the feeling of being an outsider or lonely, even in the midst of a large group of people. As I thought more about this motto, I came to realize that it means a lot more than that. All of us have those qualities about us that make us unique in a crowd. Semper Solus In Turba therefore became a celebration of our individuality. Be proud of who you are and embrace what makes you...you!
I. Semper - Always - In this turbulent world, the idea that something can be constant is somehow reassuring. I began with a steady, slow, strong heartbeat which is the most fundamental constant in the world. As I looked for a poem to use for the soloist, I kept running into poems that used the word "always" - always faithful, always strong, always committed, etc. I finally found this poem which my father-in-law used to quote which I thought had a beautiful message. I took all the other ideas, translated them into Latin and gave those words to the chorus. The steadiness of the text remains even in the midst of the turbulence.
II. Solus - Alone - This piece was written to capture the feeling of being alone. Being alone is not necessarily a bad thing. Most of us do our best thinking when we are alone. Sometimes being alone can be the start of something beutiful. One girl alone in her room recording herself singing just the soprano line of a song brought thousands of people together to create visually stunning virtual choirs. Thousands of voices singing together, alone.
Being alone is different than being lonely.
III. In Turba - In a Crowd - I don't like crowds. I get tense at concerts, sporting events, or big cities. I feel trapped when surrounded by too many people. This song captures my angst while being in a crowd. The different languages are used to represent the idea that crowds are also made of individuals, each engrossed in their own worlds, their own thoughts, their own conversations. Just like being alone, though, being part of a crowd can be a breathtakingly beautiful experience when each individual concentrates on bringing their thoughts into one. Picture the raw power of an orchestra and a choir of 500 voices singing fortissimo, "O Fortuna!" and you begin to capture the potential of a crowd.
I hope you will take some time to listen to these pieces. They came from a very deep place and I hope they can touch you as well.
As I posted on my Facebook page (Steve Danielson - Composer) that back in December and into the new year, I was working on a new set of pieces called Semper Solus In Turba. I finished them right before I went back to school in January...but I was never really satisfied with No. 1, Semper. I didn't feel that the piece had the same depth as the other two and didn't feel connected to the set. I edited it once and created a central section that had some promise, but I still wasn't satisfied. After talking with Dr. Boers at the University of Washington, I had the germ of what I needed to do to fix it. At that point, though, school became very busy and I did not have the time to get back to the project. I'm happy to say that I have finally been able to sit down and complete the song much more to my satisfaction. I still need to add the dynamic markings, but once I do that, I'll be able to post the set and start to look for a choir to perform them.
I am going to begin working on a new piece very soon. I will be writing a new piece for the Nisqually Middle School Honor Choir (just formed last week!) that they will premiere this spring. I will let you know when I have motion on that composition.
Lastly, I've decided to write a large orchestral/choral work. I have started working on the introduction. I don't want to say too much about it right now, but I'll let you know as I make more progress.
Welcome to my new blog!! I have been meaning to add a blog to this site so I finally did. I will try to update this blog with my latest news and doings. I will write a more in-depth blog in a couple days, so check back often. Follow me on Facebook (@sdcompose) and pass this on to your friends! Thanks for listening.