For many of us, the COVID-19 pandemic has enhanced our appreciation of basic human connection. How many of us have come to crave face-to-face contact with dear friends and family that, until a handful of months ago, seemed so routine? But, here we are. Lori Nassif Istok shares her novel participation in a remarkable international effort to create meaningful connection in a virtual world. 

Since 2010, Lori Nassif Istok has been sharing her love of music with young children and their families in her classes at Lori’s Music Together in Cranston. Lori is soprano section leader and member of the professional quartet at St. Martin’s Church in Providence, as well as a longtime member of The Providence Singers. 

This spring, while most of us were stuck at home due to a global pandemic, conductor and composer Eric Whitacre decided to organize his sixth virtual choir. He composed a beautiful short choral piece called “Sing Gently,” and offered singers across the world the chance to join him in performing it. Over the years, I’ve sung in many choirs: small ones, large ones, a cappella, and accompanied by symphony orchestras, but never before have I performed a piece with 17,571 other singers from 129 different countries! It’s true that technically the 17,000 of us didn’t actually perform together. No stage that I know of is large enough to accommodate that many singers, and even if one existed, no person with any common sense would gather to sing in person in a group that size right now. The risk of catching Covid-19 is too great, with singers having been identified as potential “super-spreaders” of the virus.

Instead of a live performance, we singers videotaped ourselves singing Whitacre’s gorgeous composition in our own homes, and then all 17,572 recordings were skillfully mixed, 200 at a time, to create a beautiful, moving virtual choir performance, the largest in history! We sang from the heart…and from our bedrooms, our closets, our kitchens, even our bathrooms. The choir was wonderfully diverse in terms of age, gender, race, religion, sexual orientation. Most of us were strangers, brought together by a love of singing, a desire to participate in the creation of something greater than ourselves, and a core belief in the power of music to heal, to soothe, to transport, and most of all, to unite. In the text of “Sing Gently” Eric Whitacre urges, “May we sing together, always. May our voice be soft. May our singing be music for others, and may it keep others aloft.”  

During the stay-at-home order this spring, those of us who weren’t doctors, nurses, or other essential workers longed for a way to feel useful and help others. We missed human contact and our communities. Participating in the virtual choir became a way to offer solace to those who were stuck at home feeling sad, isolated, worried, sick. One YouTube viewer described the experience of listening to “Sing Gently” as “a moment of respite and relief in this current world of chaos, worry, hurt, devastation, and division.” The choir also provided a shared sense of purpose, as I became part of a supportive online community of singers from around the world, united in our efforts to crea`te something magical. Although being part of a virtual choir could never be as rewarding as making music together in person, this experience reminded me what a powerful force for healing and connection music can be.

The video “Sing Gently” by Eric Whitacre can be found at