The Vision for St Nicholas’ Hall: A Space to Inspire
Further details about the proposed electro-acoustic solution.
An inspirational space that is acoustically and aesthetically alive for young people to make music together:
- A space that matches our pupils’ musical abilities and ambitions
- A space that increases musical opportunities for all in the local area
- A step-change in the experience of all musicians and audiences
In September 2021, Alistair Meachin from Harmonia Consulting conducted a full acoustic survey of St Nicholas’ Hall in response to an initial brief from John Watson (Headmaster) and John Barker (Director of Music).
The precise dimensions and multipurpose nature of the hall were carefully borne in mind during the course of the survey and the many discussions that took place in the weeks and months afterwards.
Alistair summarised some of the key acoustic properties of the hall in a zoom call with John Barker:
“You can’t get close to ideal acoustics for choirs and orchestras with physical acoustics without rebuilding your hall.”
“The hall is too low. There is not enough space for the sound to bounce around without getting absorbed by the audience.”
The diagram below provides a helpful visual summary of the gap between the current acoustic properties of the hall (orange and grey) vs the ideal acoustic properties (blue and green).
These “ideal” acoustic properties based on reverberation time (rt) and frequencies (in Hz) are agreed industry standards that result in a pleasingly blended result for choirs (blue line) and slightly clearer, drier results for orchestras (green line).
Alistair was clear; the best solution would be electro-acoustic in tandem with a mobile acoustic shell offering acoustic support and early reflections for performers. Two reputable companies were known to him that could provide this system of microphones and speakers that create an artificial but precise and bespoke acoustic: ACS and Yamaha
In November 2021, a Steering Group made up of a few parents and other interested parties were invited to give their frank views on the feasibility of a fundraising initiative to meet the costs of Harmonia’s recommendations.
It was agreed that the acoustics badly needed improving but that more research was needed to establish whether the electro-acoustic solution could deliver the needed transformation.
In April 2022, Yamaha visited LGS and demonstrated their system to Mr Watson and Mr Jeffries with the help of some LGS musicians. It is fair to say that everyone present was surprised at the positive impact of this system: it is no exaggeration to say that, collectively, we were blown away:
“The difference was stunning, especially the fact that it’s so flexible and adjustable. Every ensemble / soloist had their own “setting” to maximise the benefit: marvellous!” (Mr Ashwin, Choir Leader and Singing Teacher)
“Really surprised by the quality of improvement. It should also cope with different-sized audiences which for me is a key consideration if we were to opt in favour of a change. Amazingly clever system!” (Dr Simon Ainge, Head of Chemistry and School Organist)
“Not only will spoken presentations sound clearer, but musical events in the hall will sound much more noticeably greater and more full.” (Pupil, Year 10)
Yamaha Electro-Acoustic System
The solution consists of microphones suspended from the ceiling and speakers that are distributed around the walls and ceiling. The result is an authentic sense of acoustic “envelopment” that can be adjusted to according to:
- How many people are in the hall (i.e. how acoustically absorptive the space is)
- the location of the sound source (e.g. areas near the altar, the curtain, or the foot of the tiered seating)
- the nature of the sound source (e.g. choir, chamber group, orchestra, whole school singing and so on)
The inclusion of the acoustic shell in the solution would provide valuable early reflections, providing support for performers and a better initial sound source for the microphones to pick up: