Listen: Eric Whitacre

whitacre534x800When does a contemporary composer of choral music get treated like a rock star? When he’s Eric Whitacre. It doesn’t hurt that he looks like a rock star, I’m sure. But in the end, it’s all about the music.

Last week when Whitacre came to the Boston campus of the Berklee College of Music, we got to see him, sort of.

El Guapo teaches at Berklee’s Valencia campus for half the year, so he tends to hear about what’s happening at the Boston campus as well. The news that Eric Whitacre would be speaking to students got us fired up for a field trip.

Arriving a few minutes before the presentation was to begin, we joined a very long line winding its way around the block. Students in front of us were incredulous that the event hadn’t been scheduled for the Berklee Performance Center, capacity 1,215, but instead for some room referred to as 1-A, which they estimated would hold about 80 people. Much head shaking and grumbling about cluelessness on the part of collegiate powers that be.


There were clearly many more than 80 people ahead of us in the line, and we had no idea how many more were already inside, but we’d driven all the way into Boston, and, more to the point, we had a parking spot, so we weren’t going to bail just yet.

After a long stretch with nothing more to do than contemplate the various man-buns of students in line with us, we finally began to move. We made it inside the building but were soon told that the room we wanted was entirely full, and that we could gather in an overflow room with a screen that would show the talk (hence the “sort of” seeing him). No one appeared to feel the need to consider fire code regulations; we and scores of other hopefuls shuffled in and found ourselves a place to perch.


Some artists who make amazing music turn out to be indifferent speakers, but Eric Whitacre is not one of them. I hadn’t planned on wanting to take notes, so was unprepared when he began to say things that I really wanted to remember, not least so that I could share them here. Loquita took some notes, but she’s off preparing to be a missionary, and hers are probably packed somewhere. I’m hoping the college will eventually release a recording.

In the meantime, if you’re interested in hearing him speak, you’ve got options, beginning with this TED talk about his first virtual choir. But listening to him speak pales in comparison to hearing the music that he’s written, so let’s move on to that.

I can’t begin to pick a favorite, but here’s a recording of his Alleluia that helps explain how you can think of a human being as a wind instrument. All I can say is, prepare yourself.

Because it includes my kids’ high school choir director, we have a fondness for Fly to Paradise, performed here by a virtual choir, and featuring some interesting animation.


I hope being surrounded by these voices has given you a taste for more from Eric Whitacre–I’m sure I’ll be featuring other pieces by him in the future. There’s plenty more I’m not yet acquainted with, and there’s more that has yet to be written.

During the Q&A segment, a great clamor went up when he mentioned that he’s writing a musical, and that maybe Berklee would be a place he should bring it to workshop. Based on Paradise Lost, the musical will be something to watch out for.

Do you have a favorite piece by Eric Whitacre?

[Images: Berklee, Photo Bucket, Wikipedia]


7 thoughts on “Listen: Eric Whitacre

    • She’s the chorus teacher here in town at the high school, and if you watch for her carefully you’ll see her in one of the singer’s “windows” early on. I think she shows up again, but can’t remember where. She’s a great teacher–our kids are very lucky!

  1. The BYU choirs love Eric Whitacre’s music and so do I! We did several pieces by him while I was there, and were treated to many more by the BYU Singers, who I believe have done albums of all his a capella works. My high school choir teacher was part of the recording process and had us do a few of his pieces as well. How awesome to hear him speak! I would like to have a day alone in my house where I could put his pieces on surround sound and experience them more fully- without little kids plugging their ears if they thought it was too loud!

  2. My favorite is Absolom. The first time I heard it I was literally stunned – I couldn’t speak or move. Such glorious music!

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