AVA202: How can an existing church with a wonderful Rieger organ but dry absorbent acoustics be improved either by mechanical means or electronic reverberations systems?
Vidas: Hi guys, this is Vidas.
Ausra: And Ausra.
V: Let’s start Episode 202 of Ask Vidas and Ausra podcast. This question was sent by Eddie and he wrote:
How can an existing church with a wonderful Rieger organ but dry absorbent acoustics be improved either by mechanical means or electronic reverberations systems? Any experience of this?
It's in St Georges Anglican Church Parktown Johannesburg. Really a superb two manual organ but the room is quite dead and sec - I imagine early-reflection panels on the side walls and perhaps even in the roof/ceiling (or both) OR otherwise Electronic Reverberation system could be considered!
Building is 'n shoe-shaped designs by a famous SA church architect Sir Herbert Baker!
V: Ausra, I asked our friend and organ builder Gene Bedient to get a perspective on this and here is what he wrote: “As far as general acoustical suggestions hard surfaces, remove carpet, hard floor, irregular surfaces to diffuse sound efficiently, avoid flimsy wall panels such as thin drywall. Such panels absorb low frequency.” So were not really experts on acoustics, right Ausra?
A: Yes, that’s right.
V: But Gene probably knows quite a bit more than we because he built many wonderful organs in different acoustical environments throughout his career. And not every church, not every building has reverberant acoustics.
A: That’s for sure, yes.
V: Especially in the U. S. So in the case of Eddie’s in South Africa situation I think if they could really remove carpet, right, those things?
V: Cushions, exactly. What else? Umm in general avoid any cloth right?
V: That would strengthen the reverberation a little bit maybe one second or two seconds.
A: But still I don’t think you can do something significant in this kind of situation.
V: But then Eddie mentioned he imagines electronic reverberation system could be considered. Imagine that. I don’t have any experience with this. Do you?
A: No, I have neither but I wouldn’t do it because it sounds so bizarre. If the organ is pneumatical or mechanical then adding stuff like this you know I don’t think would work. It might make situation even worse.
V: And electronic reverberation system solution might be expensive too.
V: Because I understand finances are important right here.
A: Look at the bright side of this thing you know you can do repertoire that would not work maybe in large acoustics. Do more chamber music, ensemble music. That works quite well you know. And in church like this you know I don’t know if organ is upstairs or downstairs.
V: He doesn’t say.
A: But then we have no church with large acoustics and we have for example settings the choir has to be downstairs for example or the soloist has to be downstairs and the organist is upstairs you can never you know play together. But if the acoustic is dry you can easily do arrangements like this when soloist or choir sings from downstairs and you play upstairs and it still works quite well.
V: And then of course organist has to adjust his articulation.
A: Yes, you don’t have to articulate so much you know do a little bit more less space between the notes. So of course you have to play at a faster tempo too.
V: For a lot of people it’s easier to play in dry acoustics than in reverberant ones.
A: Yes, that’s true. Because it’s more like at piano you know, playing piano that way.
V: What you play is what you hear.
V: Um-hmm. It seems like it would be quite expensive remodeling of the building if you want to improve acoustics significantly.
A: Because I think that acoustics is such a thing you have to think about before building a building.
V: I know.
A: Unfortunately that not so many architects now considering acoustics in general. Not only in churches but concert halls a well. Like we have this Siemens arena, so called is Vilnius which holds how many people? A big crowd actually.
V: Ten thousand,maybe fifteen thousand.
A: I think the one in Kaunas holds fifteen thousand people. But this one in Vilnius holds ten thousand people and it’s used for all kinds of different activities for sports, for basketball, and sometimes it holds concerts as well and acoustic is just horrible.
V: And Vilnius University is planning to have a special concert next year there with classical music as well so we don’t know what kind of acoustical environment it will be.
A: I don’t know about this organ in Johannesburg, maybe some mikes would help if you amplify the organ, I’m not sure you know. You really need to consult a sound engineer.
V: And Gene in our correspondence gave a few contacts to Eddie to contact his acquaintances in this area. So maybe Eddie can find some help further.
A: True. But you know even if you will be able to make your acoustics better if you will have a good crowd of people coming to the service you might lose that too. Because with each additional person you know coming to the church the acoustic is diminished greatly.
V: Remember what’s happening during diploma graduation ceremonies at University of Vilnius where we play. If for example in empty room it’s like five or more seconds of reverberation with full organ but then when three hundred or more people come and pack into the building it’s completely dry.
A: Yes, it’s dry and organ sounds much softer than it would be in an empty church. So you need always to keep that in mind.
V: Yeah and play louder if you want softer registrations actually. Good. We hope this discussion was at least in part helpful to you but you really need to get some expert advice on this I think.
A: So I think the best advice would be for a future generation would be before building a church think about acoustics because that’s what should come first and then just worry about what kind of instrument you will put in that church.
A: Building is the most important.
V: And then when you play in such environment the beauty is that you can adjust your playing technique everywhere you go in every different acoustical environment. And at first when you just start playing in public and you have tried maybe just a few organs it’s really strange and uncomfortable to change your articulation, right Ausra?
A: That’s true.
V: Somehow if you are for example taught in a dry acoustical environment and then going to a cathedral then you are playing legato or more or less legato and it’s completely frustrating to adjust right away and vice versa, the opposite is true. If you are used to spacious rooms and good acoustics then going to a concert hall like this would be quite strange.
A: So I guess the most important thing is you know to consider all these possibilities and to know what might you know be waiting for you so be ready in advance.
V: And when you play listen to what the audience is hearing right? To the echo.
V: If it’s even there this echo. Sometimes you don’t have echoes. But still if there is no echo you know it’s a dry room.
A: I know and you know it’s a different feeling because I remember playing in the states in several you know churches where basically you hold the last chord and before even you know releasing the keys it seems the sound already disappeared. So acoustic is so dry, it’s not dry dry but it even eats your sound.
V: Like black hole.
A: I know, it’s a funny feeling. Not a very nice feeling but you get used to it as well.
V: Right. So the more you travel the more experience you will have and the less time you will need to adjust I think.
V: But in Eddie’s case I think there isn’t any possibility to do an acoustical environment of the cathedral out of let’s say supermarket acoustic.
V: Maybe a little bit. One or two seconds reverberation that would probably be the best he can hope for.
A: That’s actually two seconds, that’s a nice acoustic. I would consider that a nice acoustic just a we had at Grace Lutheran Church in Lincoln, NE.
A: It was nice.
V: And again it’s nice when you practice alone but when the big festivities in the church full packed with people then this disappears completely.
V: What can you do?
A: Well you know then peoples voices fill out the church. It works well as well .
V: Thanks guys this was Vidas.
A: And Ausra.
V: Please send us more of your questions. We love helping you grow. And remember when you practice…
A: Miracles happen.
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Drs. Vidas Pinkevicius and Ausra Motuzaite-Pinkeviciene
Organists of Vilnius University , creators of Secrets of Organ Playing.
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