Eric Whitacre conducts mass student choir at Emens

Popular composer from UK loves to instruct youth

By Rick Yencer

MUNCIE, INDIANA (NEWS) - Only a half century celebration could bring a world famous conductor and composer to direct more than 300 students in a mass choir at Emens Auditorium.

Eric Whitacre, whose virtual choirs have remade classic and other choral music, was on hand to show the popularity of song. 

Students from 10 high schools and six Ball State choirs sang Water Night, a poem by Octavio Paz, that Whitacre remade into song. That piece released in 2012 went viral and debuted at the top of iTunes and Billboard classical charts.

 Whitacre's virtual choirs have brought millions in touch with classical and other choral music,  witnessed by the youth crowd Wednesday. Many went on stage and performed in that mass choir not seen on campus or in the Midwest.

The  Grammy winning composer and conductor was brought to Ball State by a committee of community and college people who added to the playbill of Emens for its 50th anniversary.

Barbara Burns was instrumental in brining Whitacre to Muncie, said Andrew Crow, who directs choral activities at Ball State besides helping direct music for Masterworks Chorale and at High Street United Methodist Church.

That spring to the step and the wave to the hands shows what a master Whitacre is at conducting people and their talents. He is a composer in residence at Cambridge University UK, and has his own professional choir in Abbey Road Studio 1.

His first album as a conductor and composer, Light & Gold, won a Grammy in 2012 and what students were talking about the most was his virtual choirs on YouTube that has attracted millons of listeners.

But a poem and story that is the simple basis for lots of music was portrayed in real life by author Anthony Silverstri and illustrator Anne Horjus.

Whitacre told the story about wanting to set a Robert Frost poem to music but found it was still protected by copyright.

So he engaged Silvestri into remaking that miles and miles to go until I sleep into a song which Horjus illustrated for a children's book called Sleep.

Silvestri talked about the song being a story about how he would get his young son to sleep amid the death of his wife to cancer.

The Ball State Concert Choir mastered the song while illustations of the book flashed on the wall for the audience.

The event gave hundreds of high school choral students from Fort Wayne to Indianapolis the ability to perform with a world famous composer and conductor. And Whitacre said his greatest joy was working with students to master the art of song.




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