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In today’s bulletin, Father Hilton writes:

TWO VOLUNTEER POSITIONS NEEDED!

When we open our beautifully renovated church in May, there are two important volunteer positions that will need to be filled in order to help make our Sunday Masses run smoothly.

The two positions are:

Coordinator of Bell Ringers

When the new church is opened, our new bells will joyfully ring out for five minutes before every Saturday evening and Sunday Mass! The glad sound of the bells will call us to the Holy Mass and to prayer with adoration of our God. Two parishioners will be needed at each Mass to perform this ministry of bell ringing. It will be the job of the new Coordinator to sign-up bell ringers, train them and make up a monthly schedule. This volunteer position is perfect for someone who loves the Mass, likes working with people and is well organized. If you’re interested, call Fr. Hilton and he will give you all the details.

Coordinator of Sound Engineers

Our newly renovated church will have a sound engineer’s booth in the choir loft, which will allow us to constantly adjust sound levels and music mixing during the Holy Mass. This will result in a dramatic increase in the quality of sound of our music during Mass and help everyone present to hear clearly the priest and lectors. The sound booth will require a trained sound engineer to be present for each of the Masses of Saturday evening and Sunday. It will be the job of our new Coordinator of Sound Engineers to recruit and train sound engineers for each of the weekend Masses and to make up a monthly schedule. This volunteer position is perfect for someone who knows and loves sound equipment, likes working with people and is well organized. If you’re interested, please call Fr. Hilton.

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Tweaking the Reverb

The reverberation period is the number of seconds that sound will linger in a given space. Specifically, it is the amount of time in seconds that sound energy will take to drop 60 decibels after the source has ceased producing a tone.

The science of sound has been a topic that I’ve been interested in for a while, starting with my work in the 1980’s developing a performance space with Hunger Artists Ensemble Theatre. We ran into many problems with acoustics and sound separation. Eventually, we had to cancel the project because we couldn’t solve the sound problems. Good sound is important, in theatres and churches.

Consultant Scott R. Riedel authored the pamphlet Acoustics in the Worship Space (AITWS), which is part of the Church Music Pamphlet Series edited by Carol Schalk. AITWS is a tight, technical document which addresses many of the acoustical issues which need to be considered in building or renovating a church.

One of those issues is reverberation, or reverb. Riedel says,

In rooms to be used for liturgical worship, where speech, corporate spoken response, corporate singing, and liturgical choral and organ music are the primary sound sources, a reverberation period near two seconds at mid-range frequencies is desired.

My copy of AITWS arrived last week, and I’ve been studying it in hopes of learning more about the science of acoustics. AITWS points out the different effects that different surfaces have on sound. When a sound wave hits a surface, the energy will be either reflected, absorbed or transmitted. The material and geometry of the surface will determine what happens to the sound. The geometry part is complex (especially for a liberal arts major who struggled with trigonometry in college) but the material effects are pretty straightforward. Reidel offers this chart, which is straightforward enough to use without calculus.

Sample List: Percent of Sound Energy Absorbed by Materials (per square foot of material) (@ 500 Hz.)

Unglazed Brick 3%
Glazed Brick 2%
Unpainted Concrete Block 31%
Painted Concrete Block 6%
Drywall 5%
Marble 1%
Plaster 3%
Plywood Panel 17%
Plate Glass 4%
Drapery 55%
Acoustical Tile 70%
Terrazzo 1%
Glazed Tile 1%
Carpeting (average) 60%
Wood Pew, Occupied 75%
Wood Pew, Unoccupied 39%
Padded Pew, Occupied 96%
Padded Pew, Unoccupied 88%

Here’s the same chart sorted from lowest absorbance to highest.

Marble 1%
Terrazzo 1%
Glazed Tile 1%
Glazed Brick 2%
Unglazed Brick 3%
Plaster 3%
Plate Glass 4%
Drywall 5%
Painted Concrete Block 6%
Plywood Panel 17%
Unpainted Concrete Block 31%
Wood Pew, Unoccupied 39%
Drapery 55%
Carpeting (average) 60%
Acoustical Tile 70%
Wood Pew, Occupied 75%
Padded Pew, Unoccupied 88%
Padded Pew, Occupied 96%

What these charts mean is that we’ll need to consider using a variety of materials to improve the sound quality. The numbers point out why the sound in the Overflow (plaster, drywall, glass, painted concrete block) is so bad. They also show that every square foot of fabric we put in the church will require us to add more power to the sound system amplifier. These are all trade-offs that we’ll have to address.

Sound and acoustical issues will impact one of our primary goals – Proper Accommodation of the Music Ministry. Fortunately, we have planned to use the services of an acoustical consultant to help us sort out these issues.

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On Friday, 14 March, I had a chance to brief the Holy Trinity School Advisory Committee (SAC) on the what the Renovation Committee has been discussing. The SAC members were interested in the progress and the plan, particularly in how remodeling might affect the Mass times for the students, and how our plan would impact the use of the overflow space as a cafeteria.

I asked for suggestions, and the SAC members happily shared their good ideas. Their list of ideas is (hopefully represented correctly) here:

  • Padded seats in the pews
  • Make something marble (in the sanctuary)
  • We need a baptismal font
  • Build out to the west
  • Need more handicapped space in the west parking lot
  • Deal with the acoustic sound in the overflow space
  • Consider adding the same flooring in the overflow that we have in the gym
  • Increase the sound separation between church and overflow
  • Add some security doors so the church can be open during the day
  • Paint the back wall a different color – “we can’t see the Eucharist at the elevation”
  • The cross and triangle design on the ends of the pews is cool and should be retained

Any thoughts on these suggestions?

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