Posted in education on July 1, 2017 10:40 am EDT

Sound & Sensibility

Three resounding examples of how acoustic and design experts can adapt existing worship spaces for more modern sound.

Church in Santarem, Portugal. Image by StockPhotosArt.











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TAGS: acoustics, architectural design, sound, worship space,


By Ed Van Herik

Acoustics issues and solutions begin when the architect starts his design, but sometimes a house of worship finds that issues of time and technology require a remake.

Church acoustic experts say that it can be a challenge to design a sanctuary that can effectively accommodate a praise band in one service, a traditional choir and organ in another, and perhaps congregational or a capella singing in between.

In general, churches with a long, rectangular sanctuary are better suited for traditional choir and organ arrangements, while wedge-shaped rooms highlight praise band performances, acoustical consultants say. Still, they stress there are a number of options that can adapt an existing space to new uses.

As churches wrestle with similar sound problems, they find there are a variety of ways they can address the issue.

Vassar Chapel, Poughkeepsie, N.Y.

Vassar Chapel is a stately structure with a traditional chapel used for a variety of religious services. Like many houses of worship, it had seen its uses change over the years, creating acoustic challenges for its 40-year-old sound system.

Vassar Chapel

“There were a number of major campus-wide events where the existing system failed” at the 1000-seat chapel, says Greg McCurty, media resources senior specialist at Vassar. “Media Resources had to bring in equipment for hire on an event-to-event basis. That was not a sustainable solution for the number of scheduled events.”

Vassar turned to Walters-Storyk Design Group (WSDG), an international architectural and acoustic design firm specializing in professional audio and video production, multimedia, broadcast and performance facilities with U.S. offices in Highland, N.Y., for advice.

WSDG found that the chapel’s acoustics reverb time was much longer than the room’s optimal requirements. To compensate, WSDG installed a digitally controlled, electro-acoustical solution to cover both the seating area and the balcony. Complicating the upgrade was the fact that the speakers and ancillary equipment needed to be tucked out of site in the chapel.

The speakers were installed more than 30 feet above the floor, with the main front loudspeakers, EAW DSA 230/250, placed one above the other in digitally controllable line arrays.

WSDG decided to use a combination of modern line array and conventional passive speakers. The speakers were installed more than 30 feet above the floor, with the main front loudspeakers, EAW DSA 230/250, placed one above the other in digitally controllable line arrays. EAW JF80 delay loudspeakers were used in the rear and in the balcony.

The complete system also includes a CD player, a tape deck, multiple wireless microphones and receivers, Crown amplification, BSS Soundweb Digital Signal Processing (DSP), and a BSS Jellyfish Remote Control user interface with LCD screen, according to WSDG.

“The system is more than adequate to service the types of events that are typically scheduled in the venue,” says McCurty. “WSDG did an amazing job of disguising the new speaker system and integrating it seamlessly into the architecture of the chapel.”

St. Mark’s Lutheran Church, Marion, Iowa

At St. Mark’s Lutheran Church the congregation had always expected to expand beyond their 600-seat sanctuary, and when they built their current building, it was with the expectation that the walls could be moved outward when the time came.

As the church looked into expansion, it also wanted to provide improved musical capability for both contemporary and traditional worship, reports James Ogann, chairman of the technology and acoustics committee at the church.

St. Mark's

When the church decided to expand, it also brought in Scott Riedel, acoustics consultant and owner of Scott R. Riedel & Associates in Milwaukee, to assess its sound issues and recommend an expansion path. “Scott told us we would be disappointed if we expanded the current space and tried to use it for both contemporary and traditional music. We would need to split the difference,” says Ogann.

The church had encountered a more pressing roadblock, though. The price of simply moving the walls out was much more expensive than anticipated. The upshot: The church built a second, 350-seat worship space for traditional services.

“We ended up with two really good rooms,” Ogann says, a development that came with an unexpected bonus. Along with the new space, the church was able to acquire an historic E.M. Skinner organ, refurbish it, and use it in the new worship space. Skinner was a noted organ maker in the 20th century, whose musical instruments are coveted by traditionalists.

Riedel believes that acoustical costs can be kept low in a new structure largely through architectural design, and he worked closely with St. Mark’s architect, Gary Landhauser of Novak Design Group in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, to make maximum use of design options to enhance the acoustics.

“The new room, primarily used for choir and organ music, requires a longer reverb period, and has no sound-absorbing acoustic panels,” Riedel says. “Its side and rear walls are hard, to reflect sound, but the room also makes use of wall splays and angles to diffuse the music, as are the windows in the rear of the sanctuary.”

In addition, hardwood panels are suspended above the chancel and choir areas to further reflect the sound, Riedel reports. The floor is made of reflective wood and concrete, while the only sound absorbent material in the sanctuary is the upholstered seats.

To ensure sound quality on the same level and the basement level, which houses a Sunday-School education room and the organ blower/motor room, Riedel used

Kinetics ISO-Max, which involves a series of absorbers, barriers, and resiliently mounted elements, for the sanctuary flooring. Windows were insulated/laminated, and doors are solid with perimeter gaskets. The organ blower air-intake is an insulation-lined manifold with two 90-degree turns to prevent blower noise from exiting through the air-intake.

Clinton Frame Mennonite Church, Goshen, Ind.

At Clinton Frame Mennonite Church in Goshen, IN, their disappointment in church acoustics began the day they moved into their new structure. “The very first day, we sang one song and everyone had sad faces,” said Joel Miller, head sound technician.

Clinton Frame had moved from a small shoebox of a room to a pie-shaped sanctuary 15 years ago. The congregation had a number of sound demands to place on the new structure: Like most congregations, they had a need for the spoken word to be heard from the front of the room. They also needed to accommodate a capella singing, as well as singing from the choir and from the congregation.  continued >>