Sussex County Virtual Choir performs ‘Capture the Sun’

Social distancing couldn’t stop these singers from performing music to lift the soul, in a Sussex County Virtual Choir video that premiered ‘Capture the Sun’ on YouTube in May 2020.

From the quiet corners of 18 different households, the Sussex County Virtual Choir is soaring across the world in its first YouTube video.

The effort was open to the general public, directed and produced by choral teachers Matt Wattenmaker and Eric Tsavdar. The “Sussex County Virtual Choir” video is now online at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1d2J5tT-Pcs.

“If you want to do it, just put your heart into it,” Wattenmaker had encouraged people.

What he got was a decent and mighty chorus of 18 singers — some in high school and some with gray hair — willing to put themselves on camera for an unknown audience.

“People join choirs because they like to sing with people,” Tsavdar said. “They want to experience harmony and that communion with other people.”

Nothing can replace the immersion of a real, live performance, but a virtual choir bridges the gap for people separated by distance — or in this case, by State of Emergency restrictions on social gatherings. Each person submitted individual recordings. The audio and video were all edited together into a 3-minute song.

“We had three siblings on there, singing together for the first time in probably years in a choral setting. … They did feel this connection,” Tsavdar said. “How cool, how wonderful!”

The song itself is “Capture the Sun,” an original composition by Tsavdar. It’s ultimately a hopeful piece about reaching for dreams, and who will help you move forward, despite the mundane slog of everyday life.

“It felt appropriate for the situation. … Things will get better, and really, do what you can,” Wattenmaker had said in March, when COVID-19 was gaining traction as an official pandemic (and before widespread civil unrest began in the U.S.).

“We’re still in a tough situation, and new issues are arising every day,” he said this week. “We need messages to keep on pushing through and to do what you can. It just felt really good to finally get that out there and accomplish [this project].”

The entire project was a volunteer labor of love. For the audio, Tsavdar edited together a “rough draft” of the 18 voices, which was then polished by sound engineer Stephen Ganong. Video editing was done by high school senior T.J. Oxbrough, combining his skills in both music and editing.

“This video gave me goosebumps,” Tsavdar said. “It really made me feel amazing … that people were willing to stop what they were doing to devote hours of their life to do this.”

It’s a time commitment to learn one of seven musical parts (plus two solos), then stage a decent video that looks and sounds good. The singers were thrilled with the finished product.

It was not an easy feat, although the editors made it look easy.

“It’s harder than it looks. … it’s not an app … it’s fun, it’s rewarding. but it is not easy, but I would be glad to point people in the right direction,” if anyone else wants to attempt such a project, Wattenmaker said.

The directors are grateful to the Sussex County Music Educators Association (www.sussexcountymea.org) for hosting the project website.

The Sussex County Virtual Choir will continue making videos, using original, local and student-written music.

For songwriters, “it’s really hard to hear anything you write until you’re really big or you bump into a friend and they want to do your piece. So if we can give a voice … to be people who don’t have a giant following, that would be a cool outcome,” Wattenmaker said.

To submit songs for consideration, email scvirtualchoir@gmail.com. They both strongly encouraged anyone who loves music to participate in future recordings.

“There’s no better time to learn technology,” Tsavdar said. “It’s really great and rewarding to see the final results, and I encourage anyone who wants to do it to please go for it. Don’t be shy.”

Staff Reporter

Laura Walter is an award-winning reporter on schools, environment, people and history. A graduate of Indian River High School and Washington College, she has rappelled off a building and assisted a magician, and encourages readers to act on local issues.