This year, signups for Virtual Choir have skyrocketed. More than 17,000 singers from around the world found a way to participate in the sixth recording from the isolation of their own homes. They all learned “Sing Gently,” a song Whitacre composed during the pandemic. “Even early on, you’d be walking down the street in masks and you’d go out of your way to not pass someone,” Whitacre says. “A random stranger would become a threat. That was hard to see, and I was feeling that all over.” So the lyrics to “Sing Gently” encourage people to “live with compassion and empathy, and do this together,” he says.
The Virtual Choir team uses every video submitted, unless there’s a technical problem with the recording. That means there are thousands of videos to sync together, and thousands of sound recordings to edit so the result sounds seamless. This time around, the team featured three sound editors, six people reviewing each submission and two executive producers; the team was scattered through the U.S., the U.K. and South Africa. Across three different continents, they used Google Docs and Google Sheets to keep track of their progress, Google’s webmaster tools to manage thousands of email addresses and Google Translate to keep in touch with singers around the world. Singers checked the choir’s YouTube channels for rehearsal videos, footage of Whitacre conducting the song and Q&As with other singers and composers.