Brilliant Songs #47: Jacob Collier’s “Audience Choir”

Let me start with what might be an audacious claim that could make for a fun parlor or brewpub back-and-forth next time you feel inclined to jump-start a conversation or veer it away from the sordid unpleasantries that dominate our 24-hour media cycle today. To wit: what, in your opinion, is the highest of the art forms?

Much as I love and admire the arts in general and various artists in particular, I have my own unequivocal answer to that question. I think music is the highest art form—the most powerful, soaring and transformative ever devised.

Actually, “devised” strikes me as not quite the right word, given how music seems, at its most baseline level, to be pre-thought, pre-verbal, both springing from and speaking to some deep inchoate need and capacity of our bodymind to recognize, appreciate, organize and replicate sound, rhythm, and other musical elements into an organic whole for our pleasure, joy, and even ecstasy.

Collier is one of those creatures seemingly placed on earth with a gift and mandate to sprinkle fairy dust on his fellow humans and expand their capacity for joy. Not unlike Bobby McFerrin, come to think of it…

Music is the closest, I think, we ever come to experiencing a fantasy, however momentary it might be, of heaven on earth.

“The effect of music is so very much more powerful and penetrating than is that of the other arts, for these others speak only of the shadow, but music of the essence,” is how the otherwise downbeat 19th century German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer put it. His countryman and fellow tortured soul Friedrich Nietzsche was both more sweeping and blunt: “Without music, life would be a mistake.”

Taking Mr. Nietzsche at his word, we do well to marvel at (and indulge!) music’s salvific, meaning-making qualities, its capacity to draw us out of the self-absorbed chatter of our egoic selves into a world of fully embodied listening, singing, and, when the mood inspires and space allows, dancing, as one modern electronic music song puts it, “’till the end of time.”



I have been all the more affirmed in these opinions after longtime friend and reader Kevin Feldman sent a You Tube clip to my phone recently featuring 29-year-old musical wunderkind Jacob Collier (pictured above). Clicking on the link, I became immediately transfixed staring at a barely two-inch wide screen emitting a tinny sound that was nevertheless of such celestial character that I knew I’d be writing about it in very short order.

Collier is one of those creatures seemingly placed on earth with a gift and mandate to sprinkle fairy dust on his fellow humans and expand their capacity for joy. Not unlike Bobby McFerrin, come to think of it, and select others who have mastered not only music-making, but the making of it into a widely participatory, small-d democratic art form.

We see this in Collier’s case not as an official song title but a concert activity, one deserving, nevertheless, of song status. So I will follow You Tube’s lead here in dubbing it “Audience Choir” as the 47th “Brilliant Song” in this series.

In it, the boyish and effervescent Collier conducts an impromptu “choir” comprised of mere concert-goers who bought tickets mostly to hear him pursue his dazzling multi-instrumental skills across various musical genres, only to find themselves at one stage of the program cast under the spell of Conductor Collier.

Cueing each section of the audience with a reportedly perfect-pitch note, he then gets them to modulate it on (gentle) command as he scampers about the stage east to west and back again, a study in absorption and wonder, coaxing wordless three-part harmonies of pure musical sound from his audience in a way that shatters all previous notions of the traditional concert staple known as the “sing-along.”

Gesturing with his hands and “drawing lines with my fingers and eyes,” he has, in the first excerpt below, some 2,300 people and in the second, more than 6,000 playing off their notes high and low, short and long, waxing and waning, the sound coming in waves, as if they were accompanying the murmuration of starlings.

One can hear and feel the audience choir rapt and soothed and beside themselves, knowing they have become participants in something sacred and solemn, far beyond everyday experience, with no space between singers and their song, all the singers part of one giant, mellifluous, wholly coherent wave.

The Comments on You Tube and Reddit reflect as much:

“Absolutely magical.”
“Who cannot have their soul filled by this?”
“This is the only thing I miss about church.”

“No words means universal understanding. I’m 65 and crying like a baby and I don’t know why.”
“I’m an atheist. But when you untap humanity like this it’s like listening to the divine and brings the words ‘Sing unto the lord’ a sense of meaning.”


With soul/gospel singer and fellow multi-instrumentalist Cory Henry in Germany


Given what we know about babies in utero being highly attuned to the sounds their mother makes and encounters in the world, it’s little wonder that Collier turned into a child prodigy and apparently never gave a passing thought to anything but a music vocation. His mother is a violinist, conductor and music educator, and with two younger sisters, Collier remembers a music-saturated family life in London that included all-hands-on-deck singing of Bach chorales.

He started singing lessons at age 8, opted to figure out the piano by himself, then learned keyboards, double bass, bass guitar, drums, mandolin,  and probably just as importantly, the technology behind You Tube. There, he picked up millions of followers by age 19 with inventive covers of tunes by Stevie Wonder, the Beatles, and more.

He also attracted the attention of the legendary Quincy Jones, who became his manager/mentor, based on his considered opinion that, “I have never in my life seen a talent like this.”

Collier has since played with and earned plaudits from artists in virtually every genre, from jazzmen Herbie Hancock and Stanley Clarke to R&B’s John Legend, bluegrass’s Chris Thile, pop crooner k.d. lang, soul’s Tori Kelly, and countless others. He won Grammys for his first four albums, and as a perfect offshoot of his “choir directing,” become a seemingly natural-born music educator and ambassador. (Check out his dazzling 11-minute appreciation and analysis of Stevie Wonder’s “Sir Duke” on You Tube.)

Says he of his choir activities:

“Over the past few years I’ve become increasingly obsessed and fascinated by the idea that you can conduct an audience in harmony. I’m a firm believer that everyone on the planet has a voice and that everyone’s voice is different and valid and when voices come together, beautiful stuff happens.” 

That sentiment puts him squarely in the camp of rock aficionado-turned-neuroscientist Daniel Levitin, whose groundbreaking 2006 bestseller, “This Is Your Brain on Music,” included a lovely excerpt of Jim, an anthropologist professor friend of his who was summoned to field work in Lesotho. One day, the local villagers invited him to join in one of their songfests, but Jim begged off, saying he couldn’t sing. (It was true, according to Levitin, who wrote that while Jim was an excellent oboe player, “he couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket.”)

Then Levitin added:

“The villagers found his objection puzzling and inexplicable. The Soho consider singing an ordinary, everyday activity performed by everyone, young and old, men and women, not an activity reserved for a special few….The villagers just stared at Jim and said, ‘What do you mean, you don’t sing? You talk!’ Jim told me later, “It was as odd to them as if I told them I couldn’t walk or dance, even though I have both legs.”

Indeed, a no-doubt solid case can be made for everyone on Planet Earth to sing their hearts out at every opportunity—who knows how dramatically our world would repair itself were that a common practice?

But most people seem to harbor at least a partial Jim inside themselves, introverts all the more so. For them, kindly and enthusiastic encouragement from the likes of a Jacob Collier can open an entirely new window on their world—which is where the light of music is always waiting to get in.


From June, 2022, returned to his hometown after a world tour…


If anything, this version from two weeks ago in San Francisco seems more polished (maybe more trained singers bought tickets?), though it’s shot from an upper balcony rather than behind the stage, so we don’t so much see as we hear what Collier has created..


“Sublime” is the operative word here—Happy Summer! (and summer rains…)


A scrolling list and opening paragraphs of all previous songs in this series can be found here.

Comments? Questions? Suggestions, Objections, Attaboys? Just scroll on down to the Comments section below. No minimum or maximum word counts!

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Deep appreciation to the photographers! Unless otherwise stated, some rights reserved under Creative Commons licensing.

Elizabeth Haslam, whose photos (except for the books) grace the rotating banner at top of page.

Library books photo by Larry Rose, all rights reserved, contact:

Stone wall musical note from Frank Lloyd Wright’s “Taliesen” by designatednaphour

Jacob Collier conducting by Raquel Bertrán for Events Dreamers

Collier with Cory Henry by Birgit Fostervold, Arendal, Norway

4 comments to Brilliant Songs #47: Jacob Collier’s “Audience Choir”

  • Barbara Leahy  says:

    Andrew you’ve done it again, made me sit back and say “what rock have I been living under.” What a fantastic talent, and the Sr Duke deconstruction is so worth a listen. Thanks again for bringing me up to speed with the 21st century.

    • Andrew Hidas  says:

      Can’t emphasize enough the big laugh and the “Me, too!” feeling I’m getting from this, Barbara. Sometimes good fortune and good friends help me find relatively unknown fabulous musicians that I’m glad to cast a bit more light on, and then there’s… this time, when I researched him with mounting dismay as I realized just how widely known and renowned he has been for an entire decade now by seemingly everyone in the world…except me.

      Oh, wait: you, too! Gladdens my heart! :-)

  • Robert Gutleben  says:

    What a wonderful and inspiring message you have shared this time. It made me consider that music is often in background of my soul. I once shared at a retreat many years ago that I have always wished I could dance.

    Perhaps my yearning to dance was my anima’s wish to express my experience of the music. Sometimes, as I scroll through Facebook, I stop at a post of music from the 50’s, 60’s, and 70’s again, and instantly I’m living the days of my youth that my conscious mind had forgotten. The memories come flooding back into my mind.

    Music is the touchstone of my life and inspiration to live on.

    • Andrew Hidas  says:

      Very glad to welcome you back here, Robert, all the more so on the basis of this most marvelous work. I would only add that I am a firm proponent of applying Mr. Collier’s dictum about “everyone” having a voice that is worth belting out in song to dancing as well: Sure, not everyone can be Fred Astaire, but everyone can most certainly dance—if only to literally just shake a leg, nod a head, wiggle some toes and snap a few fingers in accompaniment to music. There’s great gladness of heart in that, often becoming ecstasy, no matter the age, infirmity or skill level. So dance on, my friend—without apology!

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