Renovation Improves Concert Hall Acoustics
Terry Concert Hall had served Jacksonville University (JU) in Jacksonville, Florida, well for nearly 25 years, but it was time for an upgrade. The hall had undergone no major modifications since opening in 1992.
JU’s music division had grown substantially over the years; it’s currently at 140 majors with a full array of ensembles, large and small. With 400 seats, Terry Concert Hall is the largest performance space on campus, used for student recitals, chamber music, full orchestra, choral and band. Larger concerts are often held in local churches.
“Previously there really wasn’t any substantial acoustical treatment on the stage,” said Timothy Snyder, DMA, is Associate Professor of Music, Director of Choral Activities and Music Division Chair. Snyder says the hall’s cinderblock construction made it a very dead space acoustically with hearing or listening difficult for large ensembles, especially band.
Some draperies had been installed to try and deaden the hall when it hosted large ensemble performances, but they didn’t work very well or provide sufficient flexibility.
Once renovation funding was obtained, Snyder was involved with the early planning phase, including discussing what was needed and what the hall’s deficiencies were. He met with the acoustical engineer and JU’s physical plant people. The dean eventually made the decision to choose Wenger, in consultation with the acoustical engineer.
Transform™ Motorized Acoustical Banners installed onstage by Wenger were “just the ticket” according to Snyder. “We can adjust them according to the presets and create some nuance in the reverb, which has been fantastic,” he notes.
For instance, for a fall jazz concert the banners were lowered halfway down. This kept the room lively enough for a small group, while maintaining a decibel level manageable for the audience.
With the full wind ensemble, the banners are lowered all the way. Snyder believes this really helps the ensemble with listening, including the students hearing each other across the stage. He notices improvements in intonation, ensemble and audience experience.
At a holiday orchestra concert, the banners were used for portions of the program, including during some Manheim Steamroller music with electric guitar and amplified violin. Snyder recalls the banners were lowered mid-program, creating a cool, “ooh factor” visually for the audience.
Along with the visible impact, Snyder declares the difference can be heard. “It’s really remarkable how the banners completely change the sound of the room,” he notes. At some concerts the banners are deployed throughout; at other concerts they’re never seen; at still other concerts, the banners are adjusted to suit different musical pieces.
JU chose the five standard incremental-length banner presets offered by Wenger; a student stage crew operates the banners using a wall-mounted, programmable control switch. Moving forward, JU may find some additional ways to manipulate the banners, such as creating specific presets for jazz band set, wind ensemble, etc.
In the Terry Concert Hall renovation, the stage was enlarged by knocking out the backstage wall and reducing the green room space behind by about 400 square feet. Wenger built a Diva® Acoustical Shell to accommodate the dimensions of the expanded stage and permanently mounted it.
“The Diva panels on the walls and ceiling create this wonderful, warm, reverberant sound that is great for choral music, without any kind of banner enhancement,” explains Snyder. He does not use the banners for his choral groups.
Previously JU used a “rather extensive” portable shell for choral concerts but Snyder’s groups no longer use it; it was sold after the Diva shell was installed. He credits the shell’s visual impact for changing the whole aesthetic feel of the room.
The audience response to the renovation has been enthusiastic, with musicians especially noticing the acoustical enhancements. A large rededication concert was held in early November, rescheduled after Hurricane Matthew, to showcase the hall’s versatility. It featured chamber music, musical theater, jazz…a little bit of everything. After that performance, some audience members told Snyder they couldn’t believe it was the same room.
For JU’s student musicians onstage, the cross-communication is now improved, enabling better hearing and tighter listening. On the low end, there may be one or two students onstage for solo recitals; on the high end, a large choral orchestral work might involve 140 student musicians – 80 in the choir and 60 in the orchestra.
“Overall we were really pleased with our concert hall renovation,” concludes Snyder, “It’s truly been a game-changer for us.”