Scott Chassé: Keeping Voices Connected in Song
Many area religious institutions were hit doubly hard by the pandemic. Not only were services canceled or modified, but many events and choir singing were also canceled.
Scott Chassé of North Madison Congregational Church (NMCC) says that when the pandemic first hit, the loss of that voice was devastating not only to him, but the entire congregation.
“Music is such a huge part of our church. We are probably 20 or 30 people in the choir,” says Scott. After “shutting down the choir, there was a real longing for people to get connected again and to come together.”
Scott was determined to break that silence.
“I had some technical chops and had access to some software,” he says.
The technical issues that needed to be overcome in order to get more than twenty people, literally on the same note, were challenging, says Scott. Delays in transmissions and synchronization of audio and video from all of the different computers made the task extremely difficult.
“I had reached out to other churches to see what they were doing and I had purchased some software and started to learn how to use it—very slowly,” says Scott. “My son had a college friend who was quite well-versed in this program, so the church hired this individual, Jack DeMatteo, to prepare the videos instead of me having to conquer the learning curve. He did an amazing job.”
It turns out that connection choir members feel when their voices join is hard to duplicate virtually.
“[T]he two biggest problems in trying to coordinate a project like this are latency and tempo. Those are the key,” Scott says. “What happens is when you sing a song over the internet, your computer speed and processing speed is different than everybody else’s. Every computer has a unique signature and time stamp that goes with it. If you just take everybody doing their own thing together, they will not match up.
“And that latency is the first problem. The other problem is once you get everybody together on that, is the tempo,” he continues. “What we developed is our minister of music, Linda Juliani, who is incredible—the talent this woman has is just off the charts—she would basically play an entire accompaniment on the piano or the organ and then record it, then she would play the recording in the background and then play the individual parts: alto, soprano, tenor, and bass. So, she would send these videos out and then the individual parts would be able to practice and everyone would be on the right pitch and tempo, because everyone is singing off the same master song.”
Once those issues had been ironed out, Scott then had to lead the group individually through the complexities of the technology. As co-founder and owner of All-Points Technology Corporation, an engineering and environmental firm, he was able to bring some knowledge and resources to the situation.
“Many of the members of the choir are older and not necessarily technologically savvy. But I had a company and I was able to offer my cloud service to the church and was able to eventually teach our choir how to be able to do our choir singing virtually,” Scott says. “That was a whole big process. That was what the amazing part of this was. We were able to take a bunch of people who were 80 years old and had then doing things on the cloud and doing things technologically that they never thought they could do. That was the truly amazing part.
“We worked together hard on this,” he notes. “It required a lot of patience on everybody’s part and we able to get everyone to come together. And if you listen to it, it’s pretty good. Not bad for a group of amateurs!”
Recording in a dedicated studio can be hard enough, but virtual recording, especially with so many components was a true challenge for the group, says Scott.
“The big breaths, or the dog barked, or someone outside fired up a mower next door, and we would have to start all over again,” says Scott. “But regardless of the annoyances, I think it really kept people together and helped them to stay connected to the church and fellow choristers. I would say that each of the members who was working on their individual piece spent and an hour to two hours each, and then it took me probably 10 to 12 hours or work just to put one song together.”
For many churches, choruses and music are an integral aspect of their service. According to Scott, NMCC relies heavily on music and its chorus is deeply entwined with its worship, so the lack of music was essential to overcome.
“Everybody was hunkered in with this, and when we were able to present this, I think it lifted everybody’s spirits and gave them hope. To see everybody’s faces and really brought people together during a time when it was really difficult to do that,” says Scott. “The beauty of this virtual service is that it gives people who were members of our congregation who had to move away, whether to retire or live with their children, a chance to connect. We have congregants who had to leave the church years ago who are now back, and it’s because of this virtual experience. It’s so great to keep that connection.”
Scott’s musical interests are life-long, but as work and family demands arose, he temporarily had to put his talents on the back burner. Scott says he picked up his guitar back up again and restarted his musical journey.
“I started playing music as a late teen, playing guitar and singing. Then life happened. I own a company and I had three kids and just kind of got away from it,” says Scott, a professional engineer. “I lived through my kids, I have three children, and all three are musical; they all are very talented. They all grew up and suddenly the house got quiet again and I just one day started playing my guitar again. That was about 5 ½ years ago and it was literally like getting on a bike again. It came back easy.”
During this period, Scott joined the MNCC choir and only had a year of practice before the pandemic shut down the choir’s hopes of keeping the music alive.
“This opened up a whole new thing for me. But no sooner did that first-year end, then COVID hit,’ Scott says. “So, it was a difficult time for all of us.”
Scott and the choir have recorded close to 130 songs from March 2020 through the summer of 2021, including Christmas pageants and other events. The group’s efforts have been recognized by the national church’s synod and Scott says he hopes that despite the challenge and fun they endured, they hope to be back in person for good.
“While we appreciated the virtual, getting back together and singing back together is really better. It was special to be able to do this virtually, but now that we’re congregating again, it is really amazing. This year I’m hopeful we’ll be able to get through the impacts of this variant, but if it does happen, we are prepared.”