Acoustics 101: Achieving Ensemble

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acoustical environment

Wilson Butler Architects

From an occasional series…

For most people, the word “ensemble” only means a group of musicians performing together. However, conductors and music directors use the word to describe a balanced, blended sound that unifies a group.

Can You Hear Me Now? The result is like the Latin saying found on U.S. coins: E pluribus unum, which translates as “Out of many, one.” Achieving true ensemble is the result of more than just effective rehearsals and individual practice. Musicians must be able to hear themselves and each other.

“If musicians can hear each other, they can play together as a much more unified group,” notes Laura Bordner Adams, Director of Orchestral Operations with the Richmond Symphony Orchestra in Richmond, Virginia.

Acoustical environments should support the musicians’ need to hear by providing useful, multi-directional reflection and blending of the broad spectrum of musical sound. Throughout history, the art of music has explored the entire range of sounds audible to the human ear; the range of human speech is at least a 40 percent narrower.

Enhancing Appropriately. In typical auditoriums, the stage and audience area are separated by a proscenium opening. In a previous article, we discussed the acoustical challenges this construction presents.

In many performance spaces, the acoustical qualities must be enhanced with appropriate equipment and acoustical treatments. No amount of practice, talent – or even a famous guest conductor – can overcome a poor acoustical environment!

If budget limitations prevent the installation of a full-stage acoustical shell solution (including overhead panels and towers) in a proscenium theatre, we recommend starting with the overhead panels. By closing off the fly loft area, you will achieve the greatest acoustical benefits. When future budgets permit, add the towers. A professional acoustical consultant can provide invaluable advice throughout this process.

Beautiful Results. As the centerpiece of the Richmond CenterStage complex, the Carpenter Theatre features a ‘Spanish baroque’ architectural style and vibrant color scheme carried through to the acoustical shell. Just as the shell helps unify the interior architecture, it also helps musicians create a unified ensemble. The result sounds as beautiful as it looks.

“Our Diva shell helps create the best acoustical environment for the musicians, enabling them to do their jobs in a better, easier way,” concludes Bordner Adams.

For more information about performance space acoustics, acoustical shells and other related topics, Wenger Corporation offers various resources, including a free 34-page planning guide outlining basic acoustical principles impacting many common performance spaces, along with a list of other resources.

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