Milton-Freewater woman's voice part of global harmony

Melissa Cunnington’s singing is among thousands of voices in a global virtual choir video.

An angel of music soars over a city in which windows are filled with the faces of singers in the virtual choir video “Fly to Paradise.”

An angel of music soars over a city in which windows are filled with the faces of singers in the virtual choir video “Fly to Paradise.” Illustration courtesy of Claire Long


MILTON-FREEWATER — Nearly 6,000 voices representing 101 countries were chosen from more than 8,400 auditions for the five minutes of the song.

And Milton-Freewater Unified School District music educator and choir director Melissa Cunnington is happy to be counted among them.

“Fly to Paradise,” a 13-minute virtual choir brainchild of American-born composer, conductor and lecturer Eric Whitacre, was released June 11 on YouTube and had garnered more than 224,000 views by this morning — 83,000 of those in the first 24 hours.

Soprano, altos, tenors and bassos from all corners of the world learned the music and recorded themselves singing. The submissions were then uploaded onto a server and a video team sized and synched the videos to build the creation, said Claire Long, executive producer.

“Voila. It’s no easy or inexpensive process, though,” she said.

It is the fourth such effort from Whitacre, who chose “Fly to Paradise” from his award-winning musical “Paradise Lost.” The show is heavily influenced by Japanese anime and manga, and is a mix of musical theater, opera, electronica and film score.

Cunnington participated for the first time in Whitacre’s virtual choir after learning about the concept while working on her masters degree, she said.

“You probably won’t see my face,” she said. “But you can find my name in the list of the credits at seven minutes, 20 seconds of the video.”

The idea began for London-based Whitacre in 2009 when a fan of his recorded a video of herself singing one of his songs in soprano and shared it on YouTube. The composer was taken with the video and asked others to do the same to form a choir — not to replace live choirs but to build a global community of musicians, Whitacre said on his web page.

In 2010, the composer went online to seek like-minded singers. He videotaped himself conducting “Sleep” and imagined the participants in front of him. They, in turn, watched the video and sang to his direction. That ensures everyone is seeing the same movement at the same moment in the music, Cunnington explained.

On the fantasy-style video of “Fly to Paradise,” the faces of the 5,905 singers fill individual windows of cyber skyscrapers, in a crayon-hued city set in a sort of moonscape, while an animated angel walks — then flies — among them.

Initially Cunnington, a performer in her own right who has produced CDs, sang in local bands and participated in many choirs, was unsure how to audition for Whitacre. A tutorial on his website, however, showed the way and chatting with virtual choir members online gave her more direction, she said.

“It’s like this family,” she said. “People talk to each other in these forums and they are so welcoming to new voices. I had questions and people just jumped in there and answered them.”

People of all ages have embraced the projects. In Virtual Choir 4, singers from age 6 to 98 contribute to Whitacre’s most ambitious online effort thus far. All donned black tops and recorded in front of a simple background, Cunnington said. “I just hung a sheet behind me.”

Even with her level of experience in public singing, it was a vulnerable moment, she added.

“You’re not with other people, per se. And I have recorded my own voice and I get to nitpick everything,” she said. “This one I had no control over. I think it could be nerve-racking for people who have done less solo work and recording.”

She said she’s anxious to introduce the virtual choir concept to her McLoughlin High School students.

“To show kids how people from around the world can create music together. They are connecting on a completely new level … there are not a lot of accolades, but it’s greater than yourself, greater than your own world. This is limited to a few mediums that can share like this.”

Sheila Hagar can be reached at or 526-8322.


Eric Whitacre's Virtual Choir 4: Fly to Paradise


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