Many churches have a difficult time achieving proper separation because of the existing architecture of the worship center and platform. In many churches there is a baptismal and/or organ speakers that inhibit the vertical movement of the choir. This can be overcome if the choir is a high enough priority to the church, as it will require a major renovation of the entire platform area.
On a typical contemporary worship platform with a choir there are many differing acoustic requirements for optimum performance of each element of the worship service. The choir has one set of requirements, while the rhythm section has specific needs as does the brass section, the string section and woodwinds.
In the proper acoustic space a 40-voice choir can be as loud or louder than an 80-voice choir in open space. How do we achieve this? We place the choir in a space with reflective surfaces all around them. We put reflective walls in close proximity to the choir, we place a ceiling over the choir and we finish the floor with tile, wood or finished concrete. We try to make the choir space as reverberant and lively as possible.
To minimize the effects of the band on the choir mics we need to control the loudness of the band. This means that we need to strategically layout the band/orchestra with respect to instrument loudness and place as much absorption as possible around the rhythm section.
The items that must be located as far away from the choir as possible and acoustically controlled are the drums, percussion, brass section and amplified instruments. Also, the organ speakers or pipes must be located outside the choir space.
We typically recommend that the entire band/orchestra area of the platform be treated with as much acoustic absorption as possible. This means all wall surfaces near the platform be covered with acoustic absorption panels and the platform floor be covered with carpeting.
Under the instruments that require reflection such as strings and woodwinds we recommend that finished sheets of plywood be placed on the platform in the areas of the strings and woodwinds.
To help mitigate the sound from the brass, percussion & amplified instruments into the string and woodwind we recommend that gobos (portable acoustic barriers) be installed to contain the sound. In order to control the loudness of electronic/amplified instruments it is often necessary to remove all amplifiers from the platform area and give the musicians personal monitors utilizing “ear buds” or headphones. It is best to give the musicians some control over their monitor mixes with either a matrix type monitor system or a more-of-me monitor system.
As I have hopefully illustrated, solving the challenges of being able to hear the choir is not a simple task. There are many variables to be considered and decisions that have to be made, based on the church’s requirements, architecture and budget.
Quite often, the best decision a church can make concerning this issue is to obtain the help of an acoustics consultant who understands the science of acoustics and knows how to help the church discover their needs and desires concerning worship.
Dale Alexander of Creative Technologies Consulting has more than 25 years of experience as a team builder with the purpose of helping clients with their acoustic and performance technology needs. He has worked on various project types from Houses of Worship to Theme Parks to Sports Facilities.