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From Gregorian Chants to Christian Rock: Acoustics Matter in Your HOW

by SUMMIT on April 28th, 2015

From Gregorian Chants to Christian Rock

Music has always been an integral part of any faith service. Therefore, it’s not hard to see why acoustics, the science of sound, play a vital role in Houses of Worship.

Church Music and Acoustics

Church services typically comprise speech accentuated by music. For services to resonate favorably with the audience, it’s crucial to maneuver the sound effectively. Traditional church music was primarily composed of chants combined with piano or organ notes. Over the years, church services have evolved to include more contemporary music styles. No matter what type of music is being played, the sound needs to be managed effectively. This is where acoustic engineers, with their expertise in sound, can help HOWs deliver the best service for their congregations.

Understanding the Acoustic Space

Scott R. Riedel, president of an acoustics and organ design consultation firm in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, stressed in a Yale ISM review article the importance of building the perfect environment to inspire faith communities to worship with music and song. The environment Riedel refers to includes the church interiors as well as the instruments and people within. The “architectural-acoustical space” as he appropriately puts it, is a key player in whether or not congregants will think highly of that particular church. However, the building’s structure itself often presents the greatest challenges for acoustical engineers.

Acoustic Challenges for HOW

Acoustics are built into the very stones of the HOW and that is where the challenge lies. Most churches are not built with walls that have sound absorbing materials. While traditional music worked with these constraints, it created a jarring effect on contemporary music. Since reverberations are frequent, it makes the sound incoherent and less appealing. It is also important for the sound to be uniformly carried throughout the entire space.

Churches work to keep outside noise from disturbing the peace and tranquility which makes for an impactful service. Van Wynk identifies this as a need for churches to build “noise isolation” to keep out sound during services.

Today, churches want to move in tandem with the contemporary world to provide comfort and enhance spiritual enlightenment. This presents yet another challenge for acoustic engineers. Church services become holistic only if there is complete harmony between the mind, body and soul in each rendition. The shape and size of the rooms, the interior décor and how the walls are built all play an important part in creating the perfect acoustic balance. The coordinated efforts of the church architects and acoustic experts are imperative to ensure the perfect ratio of sound reflecting and absorbing materials in the HOWs and to eliminate unwanted noise. It is only through this conscientious effort that a house of worship can achieve the perfect acoustic balance.

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