Is your space music-friendly — by design?

By Art Noxon

Simple strategies to make it so 

Make sure the space embraces acoustic music. In general, acoustic music prefers reflective, somewhat reverberant environments. Imagine an old-fashioned choir loft — a room in the balcony, with a large window opening into the congregation. It’s made out of wood, has a shiny wood floor, walls, ceiling and seating. Some 20 percent of the sound the choir makes passes directly out of the window, while the other 80 percent gets reflected off the interior walls, floor and ceiling of the semi-enclosed choir loft.

When the choir members can hear themselves and each other singing, they stay in tune and on tempo. They sing with gusto. Voices (even congregational singers) and acoustic instruments need a lot of reflected sonic ambience.

Consider your loudspeaker setup. Note that half the loudspeakers onstage are called “monitors.” They’re playing some particular form of the music towards the musician so he or she can hear what’s going on and play along with it — in time and in tune. Musicians face forward, while their monitors are set out in front of them and fire the sound backwards. Some musicians have music-making speakers onstage (often for the electric guitar and electronic drums), which usually face the congregation.

Find the house mains. These are the big speakers — one to the right of the stage and one to the left — facing into the congregation. The music congregants are supposed to hear is collected and mixed, and quality full-range musical sound is supposed to be delivered to the congregation through these speakers.

Meet with the tech running the board; odds are that the “EQ” setting doesn’t make sense. The only sound being allowed out of the music mains is some treble, high-frequency sound. Despite the size of the speaker, the bass is essentially turned off.

Go back to the stage: All those monitors are pointed right against the front wall of the church, which reflects the monitor sounds back across the stage and into the congregation. During that round-trip, the only energy lost is high-frequency. The low-frequency energy expands with equal loudness in all directions; only the high-frequency energy can be directed by which way the speaker is pointed. What’s happening is that the stage monitor speakers are already filling the room with bass sound, and the house mains are only being used to add a little top end to make up for the lost treble going backwards from the stage monitors.

When the congregation listens to the cacophony of sounds bouncing off the front wall of the church, filling the worship space, they think this is the music they’re supposed to be listening to. In reality, it’s the part of the music they’re not supposed to hear; they’re supposed to listen to the music being played by the big main speakers.

The only way to correct this chaos is to put sound absorption on the lower portion of the front wall of the church.

Add a modesty railing around the front of the band and the choir. Put sound panels on the inside of the modesty railing as it wraps around the band speakers, and leave sound panels off the railing as it wraps around the choir. Add carpet to the floor of the praise band, and remove the carpet from under the choir.

Art Noxon — an acoustic engineer with 30 years experience in voicing worship and other acoustic spaces — owns Acoustic Sciences Corp. in Eugene, OR.


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