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Eric Whitacre Unleashes His Wisdom Upon Montclair State

Eric Whitacre was humbled and widely welcomed on Montclair Campus. Whitacre returns the love, stating the students of Montclair inspired him.

Credit: Cali School of Music

Eric Whitacre unveils his musical excellence to Montclair State community. Through the process of rehearsing and eventually performing his original music, he develops a fondness for the students of Montclair.

Eric Whitacre's temporary Nameplate on the front of the door he was to be interviewed in.
Picture of Eric Whitacre’s Temporary Nameplate. Credit: Cali School of Music

Honoring Eric Whitacre

There was a buzz of excitement upon the first notice of Eric Whitacre’s arrival in late April. Music lovers young and old recognize his transcendent chords and flocked to Kasser Theater to indulge an in-person experience. Music majors of all kinds got the thrilling opportunity to be one with Whitacre as they diligently followed every cue, pause and gesture.

To expand a little on this famous composer (if you do not know him already), Eric Whitacre is a Grammy Award-winning composer, best known for his impressive virtual choirs and his album, “Light and Gold.” His most popular songs are “Seal Lullaby” and “Home” which is also commonly performed by schools and universities globally. He has also honored to conduct his pieces in Carnegie Hall, Walt Disney Concert Hall, the Royal Albert Hall and Buckingham Palace with the world’s best orchestras. He is also known to have worked with Hollywood’s top composers: Hans Zimmer, John Powell and Jeff Beal.

Eric Whitacre conducting Montclair Choir during the Saturday concert at Montclair State University.
Eric Whitacre conducting Montclair Choir. Credit: Anthony Forgione – Montclair State Film/TV Senior

Whitacre’s Impact

These Montclair students were enraptured with the fact that they get the opportunity to be lectured by Whitacre himself. What the students do not know is what he had to say behind the scenes. After a long day of rehearsing with these eager individuals, a collection of film students scheduled an interview with Whitacre.

Upon entering the room, he had a comforting glow to his demeanor. Part of this was because he was in more of a private and less stress inducing environment, but also because he thoroughly enjoys conversing with upcoming artists/students.

Q: Is there anything that you would like to comment on that I haven’t asked you?

A: I love what is happening here at Montclair. There is such a diversity of thought when it comes to different styles of music making and of the importance of all these different areas of the artistry; of how we get music out of our souls and bodies and into the hearts of other people. I love that.

Eric Whitacre, interview in Chapin Hall at Montclair State University
Eric responding to a question during the interview conducting in Chapin Hall of Montclair State University.
Screenshot from Eric’s interview. Credit: Montclair State University’s Communication & Media Department

The Composer’s Connection

The art of composing is its own challenging project – what about conducting? As any music major would tell you, it’s far from easy. It is similar to directing a movie: everyone has to work like clock-work. Each individual has their own function but they have one central element, which is timing. The conductor is the keystone to making a performance work.

Q: What is your synopsis of your approach to rehearsing an already established ensemble?

A: The first thing I’d wanna do is establish a connection with the players themselves. I make a very deliberate attempt at making sure that we’re all breathing exactly the same way – choirs, bands, orchestras, doesn’t matter – and I’ll even start and stop a piece several times until I make sure that we’re on the same page. That goes for me as well; it’s almost like taking a Ferrari out for a drive. Some groups respond differently to certain gestures and I’m constantly attenuating in real time, identifying which language they seem to hear and is the language I can speak.

Eric Whitacre, interview in Chapin Hall at Montclair State University
Eric Whitacre conducting the Montclair Choir during their Saturday performance.
Eric Whitacre conducting Montclair Choir. Credit: Anthony Forgione – Montclair State Film/TV Senior

Montclair’s “Fearlessness”

Whitacre further explains how the impact that he made on the students simultaneously made an impact on him. It is one thing to teach a group of students, but to have a collaborative experience with a group of determined creators is unlike any other encounter. So much more passion, drive and humility is thrown into the picture, concocting a plethora of possibilities.

Q: Is there anything that you would like to comment on that I haven’t asked you? (continued)

A: I also love that the atmosphere here seems to be one of fearlessness which is not always typical in a university setting, and whatever is happening here, there’s something magical where the students seem to feel fearless. They seem to feel it’s okay to experiment and to try anything- if they fall, they’ll get right back up. It’s beautiful to see and humbling to be around.

Eric Whitacre, interview in Chapin Hall at Montclair State University
Eric Whitacre turning away from the choir and conducting the audience of Montclair students.
Eric Whitacre conducting Montclair audience. Credit: Anthony Forgione – Montclair State Film/TV Senior

Whitacre’s Love For Education

Through Eric Whitacre’s endeavors of being an official and highly recognized Yamaha artist, he continues to put his talent towards education. Montclair State University was definitely not his first or last school he will be visiting. This is because of one simple fact: Whitacre loves producing music as much as he loves connecting with upcoming artists. Making an impact on young people’s lives is as thrilling to him as scoring a measure of one of his works.

I’m humbled to imagine that my presence at a residency might have any kind of impact on a young student. It’s still surreal to me – you know, I still feel like a kid inside with all this stuff. And so then, to have people tell me that music I’ve written, or the experience they’re having at the residency is changing them in any way and changing the way they see the world… It’s humbling. It also reminds me why it is my vocation, that’s my life’s work.

Eric Whitacre, interview in Chapin Hall at Montclair State University

Although Whitacre has not announced which school/university he will be attending next, he intends to continue down this path and promote education for as long as possible during his successful career. A life filled with experience and authenticity is more enjoyable then living life lavishly, driving down the fast lane.

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