Eric Whitacre, the Los Angeles Master Chorale’s Swan family artist-in-residence, says he’s like that old cola commercial — he wants to teach the world to sing. The whole world. And he’s not joking. But he’ll start with a statewide singing event, “Big Sing California,” which takes place Saturday at Walt Disney Concert Hall.
The massive project, years in the making, will feature the 100-voice Master Chorale onstage singing along with 2,200 audience members to a program of songs selected and conducted by Whitacre and Master Chorale Artistic Director Grant Gershon, along with guest conductors Moira Smiley and Rollo Dilworth.
Those proceedings will be simulcast to five venues all over the state packed with additional audience members who will also be singing along. Each venue will rehearse with its audience for a few hours before the event begins.
The hub cities and venues are Copley Symphony Hall in San Diego; Zellerbach Hall in Berkeley; Community Center Theater in Sacramento; Paul Shaghoian Concert Hall at Clovis Unified Performing Arts Center in Fresno; and Coil School for the Arts at Riverside City College in Riverside. The combined capacity of the six venues is 9,800.
“If you’ve never experienced a couple thousand people singing together, it just brings chills,” says Whitacre, who is world-renowned for his popular choral compositions and won a Grammy for choral performance in 2012. “It’s the best of human experience … the best of who we are distilled together.”
Whitacre began singing when he was 18, and it changed his life. He has been singing and composing since then, traveling the world in the process, establishing a massive social media following and creating a series of online “virtual choirs,” which are edited together after participants upload videos of themselves all singing the same song.
The largest of these is “Virtual Choir 4: Fly to Paradise,” which contains 8,409 videos from 5,905 people in 101 different countries. These projects provided the inspiration for “Big Sing California,” which will be livestreamed on the Big Sing California website so anyone in the world can watch. Songs to be performed include original choral compositions by Whitacre as well as popular favorites including “Lean on Me” and “Hey Jude.” A full list is available online.
Gershon, L.A. Master Chorale’s artistic director, says that as soon as Whitacre presented his idea for the event, the Master Chorale was all in.
“It was really gratifying to have the conversation with other choral directors,” Gershon says. “Plus, it gives people the chance to sing with the rock icon of the choral world.”
Gershon adds that Whitacre has “single-handedly gotten more people excited about singing together than anyone else on the planet. He confirms that the choral experience is transcendent and transformative. He’s a phenom.”
Whitacre has more than 130,000 followers on Twitter and Instagram combined, and in addition to his hosting and conducting duties on the big day, he’ll be updating his social media feeds with the music as it unfolds. And he doesn’t expect a sour note in the show.
“One of the beautiful things about mass singing is that it scales very well,” he says. “So if you go off the rails a little bit, it somehow gets smoothed out. I think everyone can sing. They just need a little bit of experience.”
‘Big Sing California’ with the Los Angeles Master Chorale
Where: Walt Disney Concert Hall, 111 S. Grand Ave., Los Angeles
When: Saturday, 2 p.m.
Tickets: Free. Participants must sign up online.