David Seungjoo Baek

Eric Whitacre's Virtual Choir 4 (VC4)

Phenomenological Exploration on
the Lived Experience of the YouTube Creators of VC4

- the Power of Open-source, Peers, and Collaboration -


Researcher    David Baek
Category        Academic (MA Dissertation)
Duration        9 month (Jan 2013 - Sep 2013)

Goal              To Explore the Lived experience of YouTube creators of VC4.
Method         Phenomenology  +  Colaizzi Strategy (1978)
Keyword        Digital Prosumption, Virtual Experience, Peer Collaboration, Social Production, 
Grassroots, the Lived Experience, Phenomenology, and Colaizzi (1978)

Supervisor    Dr. Laura Harvey
Location        King's College London, United Kingdom

*Phenomenology = an academic strategy to excavate the multi-layers of human experience, feeling, and emotion.

1. Background
2. Introduction
3. Method : Phenomenology & Colaizzi Strategy (1978)
4. Findings
5. Implications & My Takeaway
6. Academic Reference

(Contents limitedly presented due to the length)

1. Background

I was a scale performing art manager (2005 - 2011) 

  • observed and interpreted cultures and behavior of people

  • to meet their taste with my production contents

  • holding a top-down (artist-audience / producer-consumer) perspective regarding the production and consumption of culture, knowledge, and Information 


Around then, YouTube strikingly embarrassed me...

  • The normal people, as I called "silent audience", started making debuts online since 2006,

  • as individual and collectively-participatory scale. 

  • It was a fundamental challenge to my expertise, and to the previous production and consumption system of culture and information. (See the diagram below)


On Feb 2013 in London UK, I reach out to Eric Whitacre. (the VC4 project leader & 2012 Grammy Award Winner)

  • I focused on Eric Whitacre's Virtual Choir (VC) on YouTube for my research.

  • I narrowed down my research goal to explore the “VC project the 4th” and the Lived experience of the project participants on YouTube (Experience Research).

  • I introduced my research initiative to Mr. Eric Whitacre and obtained his approval.

2. Introduction

2.1. Eric Whicatre's Virtual Choir 4 (VC4)

Eric Whitacre's Virtual Choir 4 (VC4) is produced and staged on YouTube throughout the co-creation process between Eric Whitacre and his media engineers and 5906 VC4 participants from 101 countries.

  • Voluntary participants from 5-year-old kid to 98-year-old granny

  • Use their smartphone or camcorder, to record the choir parts each participant took

  • Eric Whitacre and Media Engineers create the final version of choir

  • Organically-collaborative process between two parties through the co-creation

  • All VC4 participants "prosume" their experience and the final virtual choir content.


2.2. Research Goal & Questions

As a traditional performing arts manager in theatre setting, I had macro "Why" and "How" questions about the prevalent practice of civic participation on YouTube. 

So, I conducted a purely qualitative research that explores the experience and the lived experience of VC4 participants during the process of their co-creation and prosumption activities.

Large Questions

  • What is the cores and the essence (the Lived experience) of the VC4 participants?

  • What are the layers of the participants' experience?

  • How are the layers formulated and interact with each other?

  • How do the layers affect their behavior, emotion, and feeling in daily lives?

Research Questions

  • What drives the participants to participate in the collective virtual project?

  • How do they feel during and after the participatory debut process?

  • How do they perceive their labour, being, and participation in the peer production practice?

  • What do they expect through the participatory practice?

  • How they feel when they find and see themselves presented on the final YouTube show-case?


2.3. Method at a Glance

To explore these questions, this research harnessed a phenomenological qualitative research method, within the philosophical paradigm of Edmund Hussurl's phenomenology (Hussurl, 1970) and with Colaizzi data analysis strategy (1978) applied.

Briefly, I chose this research method because Phenomenology (see 3. Method for details):

  • is useful to illuminate and visualize the experiences created in daily setting 

  • is good to uncover a shared communal experience  

  • provides a fundamental paradigm for any of current qualitative research methods (Lee, 2011)



3. Method: Phenomenology & Colaizzi Strategy

3.1. Introduction : Phenomenology & the Aptness Herein

This research targets to explore the VC4 participants' experience by elucidating their experiencerebuilding the overall structure of that experience, and extracting its essential meanings from the participant’s standpoint in a deep, full way.

For this goal, I exercised "descriptive-phenomenology" by Hussurl (1970), because the method is useful for :

  • “Exploring and understanding people’s subjective everyday lived experience” (Shosha, 2012)

  • “Surfacing deep issues and making voices heard” (Lester, 1999).

  • "rebuilding the lived experience of research participants on their own ground, premised on the shared experience of the group" (Lopez and Willis, 35 2004)

5_VC4_Dynamics of Phenomenological Qualitative Research.png

The above diagram presents the core of phenomenological method

  1. Go back to the phenomenon and the participants' experience themselves.

  2. Do iterative interpretation and description with the flow of thoughts ceased.

  3. Bracketing : put aside any pop-up thoughts.

  4. Explore the layers of experience in-depth throughout thorough inter-view on the experience.

  5. In so doing, co-generate participants' experience on their own ground.


3.2. Narrative Generation (Data Collection) : Qualitative Interview

Quality interview is essential for any qualitative research. In Phenomenology it is primarily important for researcher to deep-dive into "what happened" and "what is the meaning" to research participants, throughout intimate conversation: literally, "Inter-view".

Here I present my empirical thought about the degree of interview difficulty by the nature of participant experience. In general, good experience is easy to explore, and so a certain extent of bad experience is. Mundane experiences is the hardest for excavation in detail.

(Detailed explanation available upon request.)




As for VC4 Participant Interview,

  1. My research participants generally had good experiences throughout the whole process.

  2. Some were driven to VC4 by extremely bad previous experience.

  3. Therefore, the interviews generated rich narratives (data) thanks to the natures.


The interview process satisfied all the prerequisites for the process as shown below. 


3.3. Data Analysis : Seven-step of Colaizzi Strategy (1978)

Among the qualitative analysis strategies in Phenomenology, such as Giorgi(1970), Colaizzi(1978), and Van Kaam(1969), this analysis harnessed Colaizzi (1978) method for some reasons, mainly because :

  • this method focuses solely on “the commonly shared experience" of all research participants, 

  • and it reflects more on the participants’ language and expression for analysis (Kim et al., 1999)


4. Findings: Voice of You

It is impossible to disclose the whole analysis data here due to the length and the quantity. So, I present a summary of the Lived experience of VC4 participants and the partial disclosure of the exhaustive description only.

4.1. Introduction

Appropriating the Colaizzi (1978) data analysis method, I constructed the overall structure of the VC4 participants’ experience as research analysis and findings, drawn from 201 significant sentences, 85 formulated meanings, 43 themes, and 9 theme clusters:

  1. Calling to the New World

  2. Realizing True Humanity

  3. Dwelling in Fellowship

  4. Finding Acceptance (Shelter)

  5. Discovering My Self

  6. My Story and My Song

  7. Healing and Liberation

  8. Spiritual Connectedness in a Collective Entity (Ethereal Kingdom)

  9. Frontier Apostles

4.2. The Lived experience of VC4 participants

The essence of VC4 participants’ experiential phenomenon is here reduced from the exhaustive description. In short, the VC4 prosumers experienced a co-developing process of individual and communal immaterial value related to humanity and spirituality in cooperation with the company’s business, to make the better world a better place to live in.
The participants experienced indescribable feelings of attraction to the VC4 Internet phenomenon. Partaking in the project and community, they realized the value of humanity and the meaning of others through sharing, cooperation, interaction, comfort, and encouragement working toward a communal goal. Distinctly from the world they inhabit, they saw VC4 as a place to escape memories of rejection and to relieve mental and emotional stress. 

Paradoxically, they encountered existential questions based on that incorporeal relationship with other participants. However, they discovered, recognized, and accepted their true selves in relation to VC4, through constructive communal interaction and spiritual bonding embracing people of diverse backgrounds and levels of expertise. They held the omnipotent power of that experience to be “the one” that enlightens the world they inhabit for the future.


4.3. Partial Disclosure of the Exhaustive Description

4.3.1. Calling to the New World
The research participants shared a first indescribable feeling of attraction upon seeing the previous version of Whitacre’s Virtual Choir, which attracted them to a curious and dreamy world of the unexplored. For most participants, this feeling was important in instigating their desire to participate in VC4.

“It was fascinating to look into the lives of all these people. You know... it’s like as I look at you and I am thinking, ‘Wow! What life experience have you had?’... You see these people there.... Wow! I wonder what their story is?’.”


4.3.2. Realising True Humanity
Research participants commonly mentioned feeling the true value of humanity being achieved as they recorded their contributions through the VC community’s mutual helping, encouraging, and cheering via positive and constructive dialogue toward communal goals. Furthermore, in the course of conversation, it emerged that the participants had been deeply touched by the life stories of other singers. The participants expressed an intense longing to see, feel, and confirm the collective voice of their hearts and souls as they awaited the final VC4 performance, as if waiting to open a Christmas gift.

“... She passed away. And she posted this on Facebook on the VC page; there were like thirty people who were in the VC with her, that sent their comfort... prayers... that sent their sympathy....”


4.3.3. Dwelling in Fellowship (Meaningful Co-creation)
The participants, throughout the VC4 process, realized that it was “we” who did the work, rather than a specific individual. At the same time, each member discovered how other members discovered meaning for themselves. This mutual recognition and appreciation of meaning clearly emerged through the participants’ statements.

“The VC is not about every individual, it’s about the group. It’s almost spiritual, because it’s the whole unity of group. It’s not about every little person.”


4.3.4. Finding Acceptance (Shelter)
The participants mentioned feeling that the concept of VC4 stood in opposition to a world of rejection and conflict, and that they felt they belonged to and were welcomed into the VC4 community and performance, with, they stressed, no qualifications or criteria.

“... I had a difficult... hard... for a couple of years which involved lots of rejections and frustration... you know... not belonging here, not belonging there, so... the idea that I can be involved in something this extraordinary and that I can be embraced... and included... and I can belong here, it’s really significant.”


4.3.5. Healing and Liberation
Participants shared that the experience of VC4 participation helped them overcome hard times in life, whether physical or psychological, at an internal level, through their own experience or through listening to other members’ life stories. It also emerged that participants felt like living creatures set free in watching their work in the final VC4 performance.

“...When you get together with people, there is the sense of... cooperation, you know... that you can open up to one another. It’s kind of like therapy? It’s like therapy...”


4.3.6. Spiritual Connectedness in a Collective Entity (Ethereal Kingdom)
The 1140  VC participants perceived a physical disconnection in their relationship with other members, but commonly experienced a strong spiritual intimacy and a feeling of an entity existing within the surreal and majestic power of the VC4 performance.

“My girlfriend and I were like crying and ahm... we were very moved... how to say this feeling... it was bigger than ourselves.”



6. My Takeaway & Implication

YouTube is sociocultural- and sociopolitical-oriented phenomenon, rather than just a new type of broadcasting, particularly in terms of “authorities” and “social stratification”.

This section shortly present my thought in key phrases.
I am always willing to discuss over these issues and explore design improvement based on that.


Socio-political Sphere

  • YouTube is “that” production means anticipated hundreds years ago.

  • Power of open source & company-consumer production modality.

  • Grassroots resistance against media manipulation.


Socio-cultural Sphere

  • The social agent that makes real cultures.

  • UCC = User-copied Contents? No. Autonomous move.

  • Revelation of unheard voice and diversity.

  • Co-existence of Elitism + Culturalism + Structualism.

  • Psychological rehabilitation of agent.


7. Academic Reference

Benkler, Y. (2006). The wealth of networks: How social production transforms markets and freedom. Yale University Press.

Husserl, E. (1970). The crisis of European sciences and transcendental phenomenology: An introduction to phenomenological philosophy. Northwestern University Press.

Jenkins, H. (2006). Convergence culture: Where old and new media collide. NYU press.

Lee, N. I. (2011). Phenomenology and qualitative research method. Grenzgänge: Studien zur interdisziplinären und interkulturellen Phänomenologie25.

Lester, S. (1999). An introduction to phenomenological research.

Lopez, K. A., & Willis, D. G. (2004). Descriptive versus interpretive phenomenology: Their contributions to nursing knowledge. Qualitative health research14(5), 726-735.

Shosha, G. A. (2012). Employment of Colaizzi's strategy in descriptive phenomenology: A reflection of a researcher.


Virtual Choir 4 images : https://ericwhitacre.com/

Melody Myers : https://youtu.be/OKntBj_vpQI

Penguin : https://orig00.deviantart.net/5247/f/2014/049/0/a/tux_linux_by_deiby_ybied-d70w4xk.png