Dazzling in Des Moines: New Acoustical Shell Debuts

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Wenger Acoustical ShellThe art and science of acoustics meet beautifully in a full-stage acoustical shell, which blends technical precision and functionality with the aesthetic artistry of finely crafted furniture.

Last month, a new Diva® acoustical shell debuted at the Des Moines Civic Center (DMCC). Excerpts from the Des Moines Register’s articles about the preliminary fine-tuning event and the opening concert illustrate some of a shell’s key benefits: better onstage communication, easy enhancement and improved audience experience.

Better Onstage Communication

An earlier blog described how “achieving ensemble” means musicians are creating a balanced, blended sound that unifies their group, better enabling them to hear themselves and each other. Members of the Des Moines Symphony (DMS) quickly realized how the new shell provided this benefit:

The musicians agreed that they could hear one another better, even if they struggled to put the improvements into exact words. It was “rounder sounding” and “tighter.” There was a “lushness.”

The DMS’ principal cellist said she could hear her entire section for the first time, as well as the basses behind her!

Easy Enhancement

Compared to the expense of a major renovation or new construction, an acoustical shell is a cost-effective, relatively easy enhancement that reinforces a performance space’s best characteristics while compensating for any deficiencies. The multi-purpose DMCC featured a fan shape to accommodate a wide range of activities; it was not designed primarily for music like a traditional concert hall. The project’s chief acoustician, Joseph Meyers of Kirkegaard Associates, explained his goals when analyzing the space in designing the shell:

“We try to understand how a room is behaving,” he said. “We want to accept a room for what it is – not to change it, but to make it a better version of itself.”

DMS’ music director stated that a challenge of the new shell is boosting performance by 10 or 20 percent, when “a lot of things are going right” with the DMCC’s hall already.

Improved Audience Experience

By definition, a performance requires an audience. The DMCC’s acoustical shell combines a compelling visual focal point with strong acoustical benefits, creating a memorable experience for audiences and music critic alike:

“The orchestra sounded better than ever in its handsome new acoustical shell…The distance from the stage to my seat way up in Row AA felt much shorter. The overall sense of “envelopment” the maestro described at an early rehearsal was easy to hear.”

For more news about other notable performing arts projects, stay tuned to this blog. For more information about acoustical shells, performance acoustics and related topics, Wenger offers various resources. These include 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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