Projects: St Jude’s, Randwick and St John’s College; The University of Sydney
The electro-acoustic challenges of traditional stone Christian churches are many. Originally designed to disperse the sound of choirs and organs while filling their vaulted spaces with light, they rarely interact well with modern microphones and loudspeakers. In addition, their age and heritage status often makes incorporating wiring and any visibly modern technology physically and aesthetically difficult. Sydney’s The P.A. People recently took on two separate church projects, the first of which faced all of these difficulties, while the second actively sought to exploit them to its advantage.
Built between 1861 and 1865, St Jude’s in Sydney’s Randwick is a reproduction of its English architect’s own parish church, St. John’s at Randwick in Gloucestershire. Feeling it’s almost 150 years of continuous use, the parish recently embarked on a major project. “The whole church has been going through a restoration to take it back to its original condition and to hide anything modern” said Brett Steele, Manager – Installed Systems at The P.A. People. “The whole power system has been rewired, the lighting replaced and a lot of the stonework restored.”
The P.A. People were initially brought in to install a hearing induction loop – a major challenge in a heritage church. “St Jude’s is an old traditional sandstone church with a tiled floor” explained Brett. “Luckily, though, there is a raised timber floor under the pews, so we had somewhere to install the induction loop.” Brett and the team then set about pulling out the old sound system and its wiring, then completely replacing every component. Cabling had to be re-run in and around heritage timber and stone. Working with the church’s stonemason enabled The P.A. People to install the majority of the cabling out of sight. Six metres of custom brass ducting was installed under the marble stairs of the sanctuary in order to both hide cable runs and blend in with the church’s original brass ornamentation.
The P.A. People chose to replace the loudspeaker system with a pair of JBL CBT 70J-1 column speakers with an added 70JE-1 extension, which increases pattern control down to 400Hz while increasing bass response down to 45Hz. The JBL CBT column speaker range has become a go-to in The P.A. People’s range of solutions, especially when dealing with challenging, reflective environments. “Having a vertically controlled loudspeaker helps a lot” Brett illustrated. “St Jude’s has lots of arches, very high ceilings and lots of exposed timber trusses; exactly what you’d expect from a mid-19th century church.”
Four Shure MX418 lectern microphones are used at the altar, lectern and prayer desks. A boundary microphone sits on the communion table. These are complemented by a Shure SLX radio microphone. All are processed through a Yamaha IMX644 rackmount mixer, which provides simple front panel volume control and saved scenes that can be recalled via dedicated buttons. A Crown XLS1500 power amplifier drives and protects the system. The result is a clear, coherent system that is easy to use for the congregation and clergy alike, unobtrusively incorporated into a church whose heritage is precious to its community.
Geoffrey Danks, Senior Architect for the St Jude’s restoration project, appreciated the sensitivity and care brought to the job. “The approach to the work undertaken by The P.A. People was exemplary” he said. “The location of cabling, speaker positioning and design were all undertaken to compliment the heritage of the building. The staff employed by The P.A. People extended themselves in cooperation and consideration to the fabric of the church and ensured that cabling was concealed within the stonework and that the speakers mounted in a sympathetic manner.”
The Chapel of St John’s College at the University of Sydney is a glorious Gothic Revival sandstone construction, completed in 1863. With its high vaulted stained glass windows, ornate stonemasonry and gothic detailing, it’s exactly this kind of acoustic that makes speech intelligibility hard to achieve with an amplified system. The P.A. People tackled this issue five years ago with a cleverly integrated BOSE Panaray system, but were recently called back to tackle a very different challenge.
The Chapel’s Master of Sacred Music, Richard Perrignon had a vision for St John’s that he had been waiting five years to realise. Having conducted choirs over the years in Australia’s oldest and grandest cathedral, St Mary’s in central Sydney, Richard sought to replicate its acoustics in the more confined environment of St John’s. Josh Jones, Project Manager at The P.A. People worked with Richard to provide a solution based on the concept of a large, reverberant Gothic cathedral in which the voices of the choir descend and expand in the manner which liturgical composers intended.
With the ceiling already at an impressive nine metres, Josh and the team decided to use it to their advantage. “We added six Bose DS100S loudspeakers into the ceiling, three each side, spaced along the length of the Chapel” Josh related. “They’re used for the choir only, so the sound floats down from the top of the church. It makes it sound like a much bigger space than it really is, and it really does give the choir an ethereal presence.”
While the new choir system is completely self-contained with its own components, adding it alongside the existing system was relatively straightforward. In addition to its own microphones and cabling, The P.A. People utilised a small analogue mixer that the Chapel already owned and added a single Crown DCi power amplifier to run the speakers. “We didn’t need any extra processing in-line” continued Josh. “Intelligibility wasn’t the goal – we wanted to get the reverberation. Basically we’re bouncing sound off the wall and letting it float down.” Five years after Richard Perrignon imagined a new acoustic space, The P.A. People have made it a reality.