soaring leap // eric whitacre workshop

Eric Whitacre did not know how to read music, thought he was going to be a pop star, and went to college for no greater reason than that was what everyone else seemed to be doing. After being convinced to join college choir to meet girls, Whitacre was blown away when he heard Mozart’s Requiem for the first time and was brought to tears.

It was something he had never experienced before. Something sacred. Something that he would never forget. Something that he would continue the rest of his life aiming to do – to reach and connect people through music to that something he couldn’t find words to describe. Inspired by this he continued his education at Juilliard where he earned his Master’s degree in music and is now one of the most famous composers of our time.

I first heard Whitacre’s choral music when I was going for my undergraduate back in ’05. When I completed my first choral composition Search Me I was curious what Eric Whitacre would think of it and sent it to him. He enjoyed the piece and encouraged me to focus on getting my piece performed rather than spending my time trying to get it published. He mentioned that once pieces are performed, those who hear and like it will want to publish it for you. So, I stopped licking envelopes and continued composing.

Hearing your music performed is one of the most unique experiences I think a person can have. I’ll never forget the first time I heard the choir sing the opening phrase of my piece. I was deeply moved and humbled as my composition became alive through the collaboration of voices.

A few weeks ago, I happened to be on twitter the same moment that Whitacre tweeted about a workshop he would be leading in Houston, TX. I quickly learned that the workshop Soaring Leap was for composers, conductors, and singers. I fit all three descriptions and couldn’t pass it up!

Picture courtesy of Charamy Vicoy

The workshop was truly wonderful! My eyes were wide open not wanting to miss anything! It was an intimate and priceless few hours. I think back to  Johann Sebastian Bach’s admiration of Dieterich Buxtehude’s music. Bach’s journey was a 250 mile trip on foot to “learn one thing and another about his art”. I think of the music performed around Schubert’s friend’s (the Schubertiads) living rooms and of Nadia Boulanger’s at home salons where her students would perform and be influenced by the top musicians of that time.

When Whitacre was speaking I was taking notes in my composition journal, when he was conducting I was watching the expression in his face and hands communicating to the choir, and when he was instructing other voice parts I considered them equal to my own and listened attentively.

Eric Whitacre invests in his fans and protégés do not go unnoticed. During the first break I was quick to introduce myself. I reminded him of our brief correspondence years before and thanked him for his reply and encouragement. He asked what I had done since and was truly engaged in my story. Again, humbled.

Photo courtesy of Charamy Vicoy

I will be sharing more insights and lessons from the workshop this month including Whitacre’s use of breath in sculpting music, awareness of audience, use of text or silence to enhance the music, creative process to start a composition, thoughts on tonal and atonal music, and the sacredness of music found in intelligent design.

Eric Whitacre inspired me to challenge myself to compose better quality music and have it performed again. My last commission was two years ago. It’s time to contact choirs and musicians to have me compose for them – even if it’s for free. I need to stop hesitating and find the opportunities waiting for me!

Written in my composition journal.

I sincerely thank you, Eric Whitacre.


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