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.
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 the 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 meters, 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 form 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.