February 6, 2020
Borough of Manhattan Community College (BMCC/CUNY) is creating the first user-generated virtual choir in the City University of New York system. Singers from around the world are now able to record and upload performances of themselves onto the CUNY Virtual Choir Project website, through March 31. Those performances will be synced and blended with a live performance by members of the BMCC choral program that will be live-streamed online in May.
The CUNY Virtual Choir project is being funded by the 2019-2020 Diversifying CUNY’s Leadership: CUNY-Harvard Consortium and led by Music and Art Department Chairperson Eugenia Oi Yan Yau. In January 2019, Yau was selected to be one of eight scholar leaders in the 2019-2020 consortium and is the first BMCC professor to be selected for the program.
The CUNY-Harvard consortium is a professional development program intended to cultivate a diverse group of future academic leaders across CUNY. The program is based on nationally recognized higher education leadership programs at the Harvard Institutes for Higher Education (HIHE) and the American Council on Education’s ACE Fellows Program. As part of the consortium, Yau completed a management development program at Harvard in June 2019.
For instructions on how to upload onto the Virtual Choir website, watch this video.
Yau says the virtual choir project provides a safe space for people who are interested in participating in a choral group without any physical limitation.
“People can join us from around the world and sing songs that embrace the true values of diversity, inclusion, acceptance and belonging,” she said.
The CUNY project was inspired in part by composer Eric Whitacre, who developed the first widely known virtual choir in 2009 and became a global phenomenon with thousands of participants.
The CUNY Virtual Choir will be open to all aspiring singers with access to the internet. Participants interested in performing should visit the project’s website, enter their basic profile information such as name and location, then download the two songs—both written by BMCC music professors— so they can practice. Next, they can use a smart phone or computer to record and upload their performances.
The two songs are Together Now, composed by BMCC music Professor Quentin Angus, lyrics by Natalie Dietz and We Are Everywhere, written by music Professor Can Olgun with lyrics by Olgun and Suzzane Douglas.
The individual audio performances will then be synchronized together with all the other submitted performances by members of the BMCC Information Technology team. The final day for submissions will be March 31. The live performance will feature members of all three choral program choirs including the College Chorus, the Concert Choir and the community-based Downtown Chorus.
The BMCC Downtown Chorus, which was founded in Fall 2006 is dedicated to fostering and sharing the art and joy of choral music. The Chorus performs music from diverse historical periods and cultures. Members include students, faculty, and staff from BMCC, as well as residents of the downtown area.
The BMCC Concert Choir, formerly the Select Chorus, was founded in the Fall 2017. Concert Choir is designed for music major students who will study and perform repertoire from the Renaissance to the present day.
The BMCC College Chorus was founded in the Fall 2017 and is open to all BMCC students interested in learning, rehearsing, and performing standard choral literature. Diverse works are explored, from the great works of the past to present day material.
Technology will bring BMCC music program to the world, and the world to BMCC
Yau says the musicians almost always work together in ensembles, and this technology will allow BMCC to share its choral programs with the world.
“This particular music-making experience is a total creation of digital togetherness through the worldwide web and current technologies,” said Yau. “Our music students, faculty and community members are no exception. No harmony can be made with a just a single voice.”
BMCC Choral Program members say they are thrilled to showcase the music program at the college and to connect with singers in places far from New York City.
Music major and Brooklyn resident Akeem Stanford who has been making music since he was in middle school hopes the virtual choir experience moves people.
“I’m excited to see how this all turns out,” said Stanford. “I think people who might be shy, might be more willing to put themselves out there because this is through a camera and not live.”
BMCC Downtown Chorus member Ivan Guzman, a professor of engineering at New York City of Technology (CUNY) says when he first heard about the virtual choir project and its potential global reach, he was impressed.
“This is the sort of project that showcases the bright side of humanity. Music transcends,” said Guzman, who added, “I encourage my students to participate in projects like this which are beyond their fields of study.”
Voice major Daniel Campos, who grew up in the South Bronx, said he’s been making music since he was a small child. By age six, his mother had bought him his first piano and when he was in high school, a teacher inspired him to take his music training to another level.
“When I sing though, it’s from the heart,” said Campos, who is also grateful for the technology that will bring his voice together with voices from around the world.
Retired Pace University Mathematics Professor Dina Taiani commutes by train from New Jersey to participate in the Downtown Chorus. She says the diversity in ages and nationalities in the choir is rewarding and that math and music are related.
“Counting, intervals, and patterns are important to both,” said Taini.
BMCC alumnus Theodore Mankiewicz started with the BMCC choral group in Fall 2015. Now at Brooklyn College (CUNY), Mankiewicz says singing in a choir is a unifying experience.
“Think of the virtual choirs as all these different voices, all in their own setting wherever they are in the world,” said Mankiewicz. “Yet, we’ll all be coming together as supporting pieces for each other.”
- Project funded by grant from CUNY-Harvard Consortium
- Singers from anyplace in the world invited to upload performances
- Participants can sing two original songs written by BMCC faculty