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WoP #29: Why a Church Doesn't Make a Good Auditorium

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SgtLongcoat

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This Thursday, the Irondequoit High School Philharmonic Orchestra and Choirs will be performing their major works concert at the St. Mary's Church, right next to the Geva theater. It's quite the interesting concert to perform, in that we're all playing in an unfamiliar venue, and have had only a single day where we ALL got together to practice. Oh, and it doesn't help that the acoustics in the church are terrible, arguably only a little better than the IHS gymnasium.

Why are they terrible, you ask? Let me tell you. In a real theater or concert hall, the entire venue is designed with the acoustics in mind. For simplicity's sake, imagine sound waves as transverse instead of longitudinal. As Physics 1 taught us, if there's more than one source of sound, the sound will be amplified where peak meets peak and trough meets trough, and nullified where trough meets peak. Because the architects who designed the building know, in general, where the performers will be, they'll have a good idea of where the sound will be loudest (likes meet), and quietest (opposites meet), and will thus place the aisles at quiet points and the seats in louder areas, to maximize the enjoy-ability of the performance. Churches, however, (like St. Mary's) are not designed with acoustics in mind. Churches are designed for masses in which they generally have only a single person speaking, meaning that even if sound reflects off the walls, there's generally going to be a pretty similar listening experience everywhere. As such, the seats are organized in straight rows which are evenly spaced, meaning that when the orchestra starts playing, there's going to be some odd spots in which the sound dwindles more. Add to that the cramped feel of squeezing an ~20 person orchestra and ~50 person choir onto and in front of an altar, and it makes for a really interesting performance.

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