The organist and choir director wants to hear that long reverberation
time in the room; the pianist doesn’t want it that long,
and the contemporary worship band doesn’t want any reverberation
at all. With all of these desires, how does a church decide
what’s best and what to invest in obtaining?
Before that can be answered, you need to be told that once
reverberation is longer than about 2 seconds, our mind processes
the remainder as just noise. It’s not musical, it’s
not helpful, it’s just noise. Go into any recording studio
and adjust the settings on an effects processor so it sounds
good to you for both speech and music. You’ll find most
people dial in only about 1.5 seconds or so, no more and not
Having a long RT60 (reverberation time) makes music sound more
like mush than music. Most music wasn’t written to be
performed in long RT60 conditions; music that was written this
way was because they had to compromise based on the room the
musician had to work in.
A properly diffused room makes music full, natural, and above
all else – musical!
A church in Brazil had a measured RT60 of over 7 seconds. Once
the room was treated with very simple methods (no absorption
was used), 5 seconds was cut off, resulting in a room with an
average RT60 of just over 2 seconds. Speech was now intelligible.
The choir could be understood, and the organist had to call
the organ tuner in to turn DOWN several ranks of pipes. In addition
to this, there was one full rank that had never been heard before
– this was now heard loud and clear. Timing issues between
musicians were eliminated. One would think the organist would
hate the reduction in the reverberation time – on the
contrary, the organist loved the changes.
In a medium Methodist church in the Chicago area, the room
was temporarily treated with acoustical panels. The organist
was asked to come in and play a little. As the organist walked
through the sanctuary to the organ, he commented that he actually
understood what people were saying to him from the rear of the
room. It was the first time that had happened; normally no one
could communicate from the back to the front or visa-versa.
He played a few measures of the song used the previous Sunday,
and suddenly stopped. With eyes wide open, he asked how we had
managed to increase the reverberation time and yet give his
organ more life and respond faster. As he talked more, he explained
that normally when he played there was a delay of hearing the
sound after pressing the keys. That wasn’t the case anymore;
the sound was heard as soon as he pressed each key. We hadn’t
increased the reverberation time at all and hadn’t shortened
it either. It remained at an average of 1.8 seconds.
Not only is the RT60 of the room important, but so is the placement
and shape of each wall in the room. A wall in the wrong place
or of the wrong shape can reduced a well rehearsed choir or
orchestra to a mess once they begin to sing or play in the sanctuary.
Timing issues caused by late reflections and not being able
to hear the others in the choir or orchestra are all problems
that shouldn’t exist in a church sanctuary.
As far as the audio system is concerned, we’ve all heard
systems which degrade the sound of an otherwise flawless performance.
Again, this doesn’t have to be the case, and when it comes
to churches, it should NOT be the case. A proper design, installation,
and operated system will not create problems, it will merely
allow everyone in the room to hear properly.
A concerned Christian and church audio/acoustics professional
All Church Sound