The Buzz: Install of the Month

Redwood Park Church, Thunder Bay, Ontario
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The Buzz:
Install of the Month

Jan 1, 2005 12:00 PM, By Alan Hardiman

Redwood Park Church, Thunder Bay, Ontario

Picture 600 screaming spectators watching a full-tilt rock band sweating and grinding it out before hoards of adoring fans — hardly the image most people call to mind when they think of going to church. But a broad ecumenical trend in Protestantism called “emerging worship” is aimed at reinvigorating ministry. Along with traditional rituals and elements, it prescribes large doses of the performing arts — dance, drama, and music — in the pursuit of congregational participation.

Redwood Park Church sought help from consultants Engineering Harmonics in designing sound, video, and lighting systems for its new 600-seat auditorium.

The emphasis on congregational participation means that acoustic design, along with sound, video, and lighting design, must allow the congregation to hear and see themselves and each other, as well as the worship leaders and performers on stage.

A case study of the successful partnership of theology and engineering in constructing a house of emerging worship is the recently completed Redwood Park Church in Thunder Bay, Ontario. The $2.5 million facility comprises a 600-seat, fan-shaped auditorium, complete with proscenium stage and adjoining lobby, administrative offices, and classrooms. The church retained Toronto consultants Engineering Harmonics to complete the acoustical design and performance sound, video, and lighting systems.

Redwood Park's worship ministries coordinator, Randy Walberg, provided the initial direction to Engineering Harmonics designer Paul Alegado. Engineering Harmonics President Philip Giddings and designer Jeff Bamford undertook the acoustic design.

“We did not want to affect the interior design by drawing attention to acoustic devices such as absorbers or diffusers, so the acoustic treatment had to be built into the existing walls of plaster and gypsum board,” Alegado explains. “No esoteric materials were employed. This was also consistent with the budget.”

In order for the members of the congregation to hear themselves, it was necessary for the acoustic design to provide short reflections from the walls and ceiling back into the auditorium. At the same time, however, reflections back to the stage had to be controlled and minimized for the performers so they could hear themselves clearly.

“We deadened the floor and designed the ceiling so that reflections remain useful,” Alegado said. “Most importantly, we angled the back walls so that reflections enable the congregation to hear themselves and feel part of the service. And with loud music, I wanted to make sure that it wasn't bouncing back to the stage, so in a few places we treated the rear wall with soft, absorptive material.”

The performance sound system also had to work within the acoustic design of the auditorium. The specification recognized that all parts of the church program would be reinforced by the sound system in some way. Messages and other spoken-word commentary are a key component, so speech intelligibility is highly important, and music is entirely reinforced (five- to eight-piece band plus vocals) and can at times be at concert levels during services. For these reasons, a hybrid voice/music sound reinforcement system was designed in a left-center-right arrangement at the sides of the stage and above it. The left and right loudspeaker systems (JBL AM4212/95) are used primarily for music reinforcement, supplemented by left and right subwoofers (JBL AL6115) mounted beneath the stage for extreme low-frequency support without distortion.

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The church’s sound console is a Crest X-Eight RT 40.

The center cluster is comprised of three loudspeaker enclosures (JBL AM4200/64 and AL6115) arrayed in a broad arc for complete coverage of the fan-shaped auditorium, and is designed for voice reinforcement. Additional fill speakers in the stage lip (Enforcer EFG502W) pull the sound image down to localize the sound source at the level of the performers and worship leaders. This prevents the distracting sensation that the sound is emanating from a position far above the audience members' heads. The lower speakers help create a phantom center. The ample coverage and good acoustics in the hall mean that no additional delayed speakers are required farther back in the auditorium.

The sound reinforcement console, a Crest X-Eight RT 40, is located at the center of the rear wall and offers true left-center-right panning to ensure that sounds are properly routed to the appropriate loudspeakers. Eight auxiliary busses provide for flexible monitor foldback to the performers and the addition of effects to the sound mix.

Directly above the mix position is a camera position and follow-spot position for the video and lighting systems. At the core of the video system are a projector bright enough and a screen large enough to be clearly visible from any one of the auditorium seats. A Sanyo XP41 video projector with 3300ANSI lumens is used to project everything from PowerPoint presentations and hymn lyrics to satellite video images onto a 13.5'×18' retractable Draper screen on the stage.

Worship at Redwood Park Church has turned out to be a very inclusive experience. Worship ministries coordinator Randy Walberg says, “People just love the new auditorium. They have come to expect a certain amount of professionalism and high quality at the technical end of things, and it has been very well received.”

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