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More Than Just Plush – This Virginia Church Sounds As Good As It Looks

Too often, the focus of a sanctuary is it's visual appeal. Ken Richardson, minister of the Franklin Heights Baptist Church, knows how important sound is to a congregation.

As Ken Richardson will tell you, it’s about more than just looks. The Minister of Music at Rocky Mount, Virginia’s Franklin Heights Baptist Church is as pleased with their new 1,300-seat sanctuary as anyone, but while most people notice the hall’s open, airy feel and welcoming ambience, Richardson is more impressed with its sound.

“So many people build churches to look absolutely stunning, but pay no attention to the sound,” Richardson observes. “Sound is key. Worship is a participatory experience, and all the audience are performers—we want to draw people in, especially those reluctant singers. If the room is dead sounding like an auditorium or a living room, it does nothing to encourage people. We want it to sound good, so they want to join in.”

Not surprisingly, considerable planning and design went into the sanctuary’s sound. “Ken got us involved in the planning discussions very early on, years before ground was broken for the building,” recalls Jim Hogan, project manager for Roanoke, Virginia-based Newcomb/IES, the systems designer behind the building’s audio, video, and lighting. “That allowed us a considerable degree of input into the building’s architectural design. Being involved so early in the process dramatically reduced the amount of problems we had to deal with later.”

Hogan, whose previous working relationship with Franklin Heights dates back some 10 years, recommended engaging an acoustical consultant to work with the architect, and brought in Joe Bridger and Noral Stewart of Stewart Acoustical Consultants in Raleigh, North Carolina. “We wanted to achieve an ambience that was more live than a contemporary sanctuary, but not as live as a traditional one,” says Hogan.As Richardson notes, involving the systems designer and acoustical consultant early in the game made a tremendous difference in the overall audio performance. “Because they were able to have solid input into the room’s actual design, they were able to design the sound system to complement the room, rather than designing it to fix problems. In fact, we had $36,000 budgeted for acoustic treatment, and we didn’t need to use it. They did such a great job in designing the room, we ended up not needing any sound absorption at all.”

Custom Audio System
The hall’s audio system needed to address both intelligibility and the church’s musical style. “Our worship style is what I’d describe as blended,” Richardson explains. “We have a praise team of eight to 10, as well as a full choir, and sing contemporary choruses along with traditional hymns. We’ve also got a small orchestra, with strings, winds, and brass, as well as organ, piano, and drums. So we knew we needed a sound system that was versatile.”

“They had a pretty clear idea of what they were looking for,” Hogan agrees. The process began with an exploratory phase, sampling a wide range of systems at other churches. “We spent several months taking them around to different sanctuaries to do some critical listening, and they asked all the right questions,” says Hogan. “There was one system in particular that appealed to them, and as it happened I’d been the technical director at that church during the planning stages.”

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The fan-shaped room is configured with four columns of pews on the main floor, and two outer rows raking upward to balcony level. The hardwood area under the orchestra and choir adds some reflection, while the rest of the house is carpeted. Two nine-foot by 12-foot rear-projection video screens are at either side of the stage.

“I would have liked to do a line array, but it just didn’t work aesthetically, and it was problematic with the placement of the video screens,” explains Hogan. He opted for a left-center-right cluster using six EV Xi-2153A/64F speakers. “The center cluster covers the whole floor, while the left and right provide the stereo imaging and cover the sides and the balcony.”

The upper tier is served by four Xi-1152A/94F boxes, while four rows of under-balcony seating are covered by eight Xi1082 boxes, all configured in mono.

“We had planned on using EV subs, but the height of the stage platform didn’t allow for the cabinets underneath. So we ended up putting two Bose Wave Cannons under there, which basically turned the whole platform into a subwoofer. We took most of the sub-frequencies out, so there’s no noticeable buildup on stage,” Hogan states.

The system is powered by 15 EV Precision Series amplifiers, including P1200, and P3000 models. “The EV amps’ remote control DSP gave us the option to network the system, configure all the amps, and monitor the system via their IRIS software,” says Hogan.

Front of house is headed up by a 40-channel Midas Verona console with a KlarkTeknik DN9848 processor handling loudspeaker management. On stage, four Shure KSM27 studio condensers cover the choir, with a Shure MX418 microflex gooseneck on the pulpit. The praise team is outfitted with 10 channels of EV RE-2 Pro wireless systems using RE510 handheld condensers. Monitors on stage include a pair of EV FRi +122/94 hanging choir monitors, as well as six EV FRI 28 LPM floor monitors.

“Robert Deyarmond from [Bosch Communications Systems, EV’s parent company] did the EASE modeling of the room, which was immensely helpful not only in planning the system, but also in communicating with the acoustical consultants during the design phase,” says Hogan. “It also helped us give the church board a visual representation of what they were getting.”

On Video & Lighting Sides
The sanctuary’s video component includes a pair of Reversa nine-foot by 12-foot rearprojection screens on either side of the stage, with rear projection via two Hitachi CP-X1250 4,500-lumen projectors doublestackedfi rst I thought I was being overly cautious,” says Hogan, “but a bulb blew on one of the projectors the very fi rst day.”

The projectors are housed in two custom- designed alcoves included in the building’s design. “I had wanted organ chambers, just in case we decided to put in a pipe organ down the line,” says Richardson. “The nice thing was, we were able to justify building in those spaces, since we’re able to use them for the projectors as well.”

A six-foot by eight-foot Draper motorized screen on the rear wall provides video for the choir, fed by a Mitsubishi projector, running through an Extron MVX 88 VGA A switcher. A Sony EVI-D70 PTZ Camera with Vaddio joystick completes the package.  The stage lighting system is comprised of 24 Lighting & Electronics PAR 64 lamps and 16 ellipsoidals. A Strand 200 Series 24/48 console with CD80 dimmer rack controls the setup, augmented by an Accent DMX programmable preset lighting control unit.

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Reaction from members of the congregation to the new sanctuary’s sound has been nothing short of ecstatic, Richardson reports, with a wide range of compliments on the system’s musicality as well as its intelligibility. Richardson says he expected nothing less. “We’ve been working with Jim for around 10 years now, and I can’t say enough about his talent and his integrity. As soon as we put the job in his hands, I knew it would turn out great. He’s not one of those designers that takes your money and disappears. He’s been there every step of the way for us.”Daniel Keller has spent more than three decades in the music industry as a performer, studio musician, songwriter, arranger, publisher, engineer, and producer. He has overseen the creation of Shure’s artist relations program in Europe and managed the introduction of Tascam’s computer recording product line. Since 2002 he has been president and CEO of pro-audio public relations firm Get It In Writing Inc.

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