Inspiration: ADM Student Meets Choral Hero


Photo by Megan Olson

Senior Megan Olson anxiously awaits her turn to question the esteemed composer Eric Whitacre, nervously pondering which of her many questions to ask. She was given this opportunity through Becca Cassel, ADM’s choir teacher, and the Wartburg Honor Choir, which only allowed 400 students to attend this event. “It was extremely surreal,” Olson said. “It was insane to think that he was talking to me… it was hard to believe I was actually speaking to someone that has had such a large influence on my life.”

On Sunday, January 31, senior Megan Olson was given the opportunity to meet the esteemed and world-famous choral composer Eric Whitacre through the Wartburg Honor Choir program. Due to the pandemic, the typical experience was canceled, but this virtual meeting allowed for 400 students and musicians to listen to the flowing melodies, clamoring clashes, and sweet resolution of his music, followed by a Q&A session with the composer. 

Olson, who was nominated as a panelist, was one of 25 people who had the opportunity to talk and ask Whitacre a question. However, that led to the daunting task of choosing the question she was to ask him. Before meeting Whitacre, Olson struggled to take in the reality of the situation– that she was face to face with one of her heroes. 

“I was… very starstruck,” she said, with a grin on her face. “I was also very nervous. I asked my friends if the question that I had was ok. It was really hard to think of a question that was smart enough for him.”

Whitacre’s music has been ingrained into the hearts of millions of “choir kids” and choral scholars worldwide. Both his compositions and his kind demeanor have inspired a new generation of students that are passionate about choral music. 

Whitacre has gained notoriety through the choral world by both composing some of the most unique and powerful pieces in this contemporary era of classical music and for popularizing the virtual choir through “Water Night” and “Sleep.” 

Whitacre describes the first time experiencing classical– more specifically– choral music as, “the most transformative experience I have ever had– in that single moment, hearing dissonance and harmony– and people singing, people together, the same vision,” Whitacre said at a Ted Talk in 2011. “I felt, for the first time in my life, that I was part of something bigger than myself.”

After experiencing this, he continued and became a composer, and has gone on to write 68 unique choral pieces, film scores, band pieces, and more. All of those pieces contain the complex harmonies, soaring melodies, and delicious dissonance that have distinguished him from the rest of the choral world. Remarkably, his pieces have a tendency to create strong emotions in the listener.

“The first time I heard ‘Sleep’, I’m pretty sure I cried,” Olson said. “It is just so beautiful, and the way he writes his phrases and harmonies makes it almost impossible not to feel such intense emotions.” 

Such an inspirational meeting has the incredible capability to impact one’s future, and Olson is no exception. Since her acceptance in the summer, she plans to study music education at Wartburg College. However, her outlook on her future is much more bright due to this meeting. 

“I’ve always known I was going to be a musician in some way, but this meeting has definitely impacted the way I see any career in music,” she said. “The most important thing about being a professional musician is believing in your career. Instead of asking if you’ll be rejected from the next project you try to do, as yourself ‘what if it goes well’, and believe that it will.”

Olson has already begun working on her next project: All-State Jazz Choir, an elite group of auditioned jazz singers that will, hopefully, perform in the summer. She also plans to begin composing pieces in college. 

“He inspired me to stop doubting myself as much, and to just believe that things will work how they are meant to,” she said. “I’m definitely going to try to step out of my box a little more, and maybe try some new things.”

Stepping out of one’s comfort zone, especially in the realm of music can be extremely daunting, whether that is learning something new, performing, or joining a choir. However, if one is inspired, and this especially pertains to Olson as of now, one can be given the confidence to try anything.

“This is probably a thing that any choir kid can relate to, but Eric Whitacre has really inspired me chorally. He writes music that is so beautiful and impactful, and it was so insane getting to meet him,” Olson said. 

This has truly been an unforgettable experience for Olson, as it is not every day we get to meet our heroes.