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Conspirare Sings a Very Cool Arrangement of "What If" on PBS

April 1, 2009 at 10:43 pm UTC

For years maestro Craig Hella Johnson and his incredible choir Conspirare have been quietly changing the game, taking choral music to a completely new level of depth and artistry. Recently, they’ve exploded onto the scene with a bunch of well-deserved Grammy nods and a national PBS special.

Craig asked me if they could arrange What If from Paradise Lost for the special, and of course I said YES. Basically, they kept the vocal parts exactly as they were in original quintet, and then recreated the electronica track acoustically with a percussion ensemble. The result is magical.

Here’s the original:

And here is their brilliant version:

Be sure to check your local listings to catch the entire concert on PBS.

  • Martin

    Sounds great. Great recording. And I'll mix it again for you any time Eric. Hell of a great feeling to mix that tune live.

  • Scott Williamson

    Hey, Eric:
    Was that really you commenting on MY blog?!? Thanks–we're excited to do Leonardo, and I'm glad to have reconnected with you in NYC–hope we'll stay in touch! Cheers,

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  • Beth

    Eric…though not part of a choir now, I have been blessed to be part of many. Like you, I started in college and was blessed to sing for C. Alexander Peloquin. I have recently learned about your music as a result of watching a PBS special on Conspirare. Oh my goodness!! I have spent countless hours on the internet listening and learning more about your music. Some thirty years later I realize that chorale music resonates with me like none other. Thank you for your beautiful music. I have searched high and low for lyrics to "What If" and simply can't get enough of Conspirare's redition. Do you have any suggestions on where i might get the complete lyrics? Bless you and keep up the wonderful work!!

  • That Guy

    Guess you liked my comment ;)

    Love this, love this, love this.

  • jadedsweetie

    if you go to, they have complete texts of the pbs special. i think it's there. it was such a pleasure to hear this piece in person!

  • Sam Gallegos

    Hammered Dulcimer. Nice.

  • Jake

    Wow!! This is incredible! Conspirare has achieved some amazing blend….I can't wait to see what the whole concert is like!

  • Nyx

    Nifty! I'm singing a solo in Craig Hell Johnson's arrangement of Hard Times(haunting, yet folksy). :) His work is fun. :D

  • Richard Waters

    Is this arrangement going to be published? LOVE it.

  • Mårten

    I'm wondering the same thing as the writer above me. Acoustic arrangments (like this one by Conspirare) of the songs of Paradise Lost should totally be released for people who lack the skillzor to perform them with electronics :D!

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  • Rebecca

    Hi Eric-

    I'm a HUGE fan of your music! I studied choral music with Dr. Staheli and my husband sang for the first Eric Whitaker CD they recorded. I love your "What If" piece. Is there anyway I could get a copy of the text from you? I've tried to find it but I've only found bits and pieces.

    Fan and fellow choir director

  • clifton guilaroff

    This by far and away is my favorite find of 2009.
    How life affirming. God bless Conspirare, God bless the terrific composer and lyricist of "What If". Wow, a hundred million times over. Life Changing.