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Preserving Acoustics and Design in a Historic Church, Part 1

It’s a well-known challenge that never gets any easier to meet. A traditional church that’s very reverberant, but they need to understand the pastor through all of that reverb.

Preserving Acoustics and Design in a Historic Church, Part 1

Jun 6, 2013 4:28 PM,
With Bennett Liles

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Editor’s note: For your convenience, this transcription of the podcast includes timestamps. If you are listening to the podcast and reading its accompanying transcription, you can use the timestamps to jump to any part of the audio podcast by simply dragging the slider on the podcast to the time indicated in the transcription.

It’s a well-known challenge that never gets any easier to meet. A traditional church that’s very reverberant, but they need to understand the pastor through all of that reverb. Stage Right Productions was called in by St. Augustine’s Catholic Church to make it happen and Steve Merrill is here to give us the details, coming up right now on the SVC Podcast.

SVC: Steve, thanks for being with us for the SVC Podcast.

Thank you.

From Stage Right Productions and that’s sort of an interesting name. What sort of projects does Stage Right Productions take on?

We take on commercial installation, either churches, factories, baseball fields, football fields, anything out of the residential market. And we do live production, small tour support, and national act stuff, and we also sell gear out of our location to DJs and bands and stuff like that. So we’re a home-based, Christian-owned and operated family business, so we just try to keep it simple for everybody. [Timestamp: 1:23]

Okay, and you’re up there in Ohio.

Yes, sir.

That must be keeping you guys really busy. You’re got retail sales, installations, and live productions going on so that sounds like a handful.

Yeah, it can be. We balance it well and just enjoy what we do. [Timestamp: 1:38]

I know this is a Catholic church that you did this installation in, St. Augustine’s, but some of the worship styles vary in these. What sort of style do they have there?

It’s a traditional Catholic church. I don’t believe they have any Latin masses there. There are a couple of surrounding churches—we’re in a very large diocese of Catholicism over here in this section of Ohio—and yeah, just your traditional Catholic service and basically true to the Pope’s teaching and the teachings of the church. [Timestamp: 2:08]

So they’re probably more traditional in their thinking on AV things, too; the kind of appearance they want to have. Maybe they’re a little concerned about bringing in a new system and changing the look of things. What was their problem there? What did they need from the project?

Well, the ceilings being as high as what they were—I think we estimated the ceilings right around 65 or so foot high—and just a beautiful, old, traditional church that was designed for spoken word to be heard with no amplification at all. And they’ve gone through other changes in audio through the years where you’ve got a center cluster up in the middle of the church, which for that church was aesthetically not pleasing. The other ones looked okay, but it was just a multi-point source box and it just went everywhere. So basically the aesthetic thing was getting something that you didn’t realize was there, and when it was producing audio you just felt like you were hearing the sermon, the message, instead of paying attention to which speaker you had to set to when you go to mass. [Timestamp: 3:07]

And I would think that they liked the reverberant effect for the choir, but when the choir stops singing and somebody begins to speak it sort of starts working against you.

The room really can, with really no amplification at all, you could hear the reverberance of the room and so the challenge was to use a system that contained how much dispersion you that actually got up into the ceiling—up into the church—to reverberate. We really tried to keep everything at a low focal point for everybody and keep the audio clean. [Timestamp: 3:37]

I saw some pictures of the place. It’s a very old and historic building, so you can’t just come in there with a bulldozer. Did they have concerns about cable runs, drilling, rigging and you know, the aesthetic appearance being changed?

There was some concern with that. The idea is that the company prior to us that went in there, oh 15 or 20 years ago, had good location. Like I said, just the time technology wasn’t there. So we went through and cost-effectively we looked at the wire. The gauge was good. The wire checked out. Everything was good, so there was a lot of some of the existing things in the church that we could use because they just had their heating and cooling system put in and they decoratively painted these panels around everything that we had to run wire through, so it would be like going through three floors, or whatever, trying to fish wire through. So a lot of things lined up on the job that allowed us to get in and put speakers in the locations that we needed to, and a lot of the wire was currently already available, and like I said, checked it out and the gauge was right for what we needed to do. [Timestamp: 4:40]

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Preserving Acoustics and Design in a Historic Church, Part 1

Jun 6, 2013 4:28 PM,
With Bennett Liles

And of course speakers were the big thing on this one. What kind of speakers did you decide to use in there?

It was the Entasys 200 series, and we went with four of the 212s on the main level, and there’s also, up towards the altar area, there’s a total of four—two on each side—filling in like a center fill for the people in the very, very, very, front row. And then some going back to the priest during mass and those were the 203’s. Then up in the choir loft we just used 203s to supplement the clarity of sound that you were maintaining or getting from the system below. What you shouldn’t get with the Entasys system just becomes unintelligible above its dispersion point, which is what we were looking for. [Timestamp: 5:28]

I know there are multiple features there. What was the big draw of the Entasys 200 series? Had you used those before?

No, and since it being a new product. We’d used their flagship product Entasys speaker—their 4in. box, the three-way system—in a few other churches in our area and this is definitely a box people have been looking at. When they launched this it became more of a price point versus a three-way. Being a Catholic church, there wasn’t a need to go to the three-way box for just spoken word. I mean there’s not really any music that comes through it. Again, being liturgically correct in the church you don’t play CD’s and music and stuff like that. Traditionally it’s just organ and piano. And I think sometimes they do have a folk group in there and they play a little acoustic guitar or something, but very traditional, so obviously no recorded music during mass. So it’s just a spoken-word system and the 212’s just did a phenomenal job covering the area that we needed to cover intelligibly. [Timestamp: 6:27]

So I guess that’s pretty much what you had to do to balance the need for a robust and lofty choir sound with the requirement for speech intelligibility when the pastor talks.

Right, exactly. They do kids’ masses in there once, twice a week, and children have a tendency to rattle or go quickly through scripture when they’re doing readings and stuff. And several comments have come back from the people that they finally can understand the words that the kids are saying because we lost all the overtones, all the slapping around of sound of the old point-source system and it really just – we just really changed over everything you heard. You don’t have to struggle to hear the clarity and the diction. [Timestamp: 7:15]

What was the timeframe on this thing? Did you have to dodge around services or did they give you plenty of time to work?

Through the daytime, normally through the week. I did have a Eucharistic Adoration in there every Tuesday, so we didn’t even go in. That starts at 8:00 in the morning until, I think, 8:00 or 9:00 at night, and so we just didn’t do anything in there on Tuesdays. Kind of a leisurely timeframe, but we wanted it done, obviously, before Christmas. We did this in late November or so last year—late December I think, and wanted everything up and done by, obviously, Christmas for the services and stuff. But then, you know, we got lucky, and fortunate for everybody there were no funerals that we had to dodge through. Yeah, it was kind of like I said, they get the kids in there and practice the children’s service and the choir practices and stuff like that, so it was kind of timing my frames and getting in there. So it just took us roughly there abouts—dodging Thanksgiving and stuff—just two or three weeks to do the job kind of ducking in and out and getting it a couple days at a time. [Timestamp: 8:11]

Did you run into any surprises from architectural or electrical situations?

No. They just put the new heating and cooling system in there, so I guess the only surprise I found, being an old church like that I found out they built the heating and cooling system on the way out. And to get back to the back speakers we actually had to belly crawl and take a spade shovel down there on our belly and kind of scoop as we got underneath the heating and cooling system. So it was just a little bit of a dirty job on that side of it, but honestly it did go very, very smooth. So it leant itself to a pretty nice install with not a lot of problems along the way. [Timestamp: 8:50]

And the intelligible speech depended in large part on the dSPEC processor. Where did you have that?

That’s actually located up in one of the sacristies by the altar area in the back, which is where the amps and the existing equipment that they did have in there we worked with. So we put the dSPEC in and with Community already presetting all their speakers in there, I was able to go through and select the outputs—the speakers that we were using—and then kind of we measured it out and checked the delay times and stuff and then went though and used the processer just really, really leant itself to the job and to clean things up. Since it’s digital, I don’t have anybody in there that can get into it with a laptop, so nobody can push a button, tweak a button. Anything that can be done can be undone within five or 10 minutes, or walk somebody through on the phone. The processor really leant itself to kind of shooting from the hip and tuning and balancing out the room. We did use SmartRig 6 program to get in there and actually look at the room dynamics, and then we put SmartRig 6 away and we got out and started talking on microphones and reading and using them good RTA’s that God gave us, that all of us have on the side of our head, and just really did some minor adjustments after that. But it was really, it was pretty much set right the first time. [Timestamp: 10:19]

Alright, I’m glad that things worked out pretty well and thanks for the details on it. It’s Steve Merrill of Stage Right Productions and the St. Augustine’s Church sound system upgrade. In part two we’ll get into the microphones in the system and what you did with some of the original sound gear, so thanks and we’ll see you then.

Thank you.

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