The Importance of Auditorium Acoustics

High schools that have an auditorium are fortunate enough to have one. It is the heart and soul of any school. It can be used for lectures, award ceremonies and musical theatre productions. The room is subject to a variety of events. All attendees must hear and appreciate the content of each event. This is the purpose of auditorium space acoustical design.

An auditorium’s acoustical design is unique from any other space in a high school because it meets the demands of performing arts. It is also different from a lecture hall. Many students will experience the auditorium as their first exposure to performing arts as both performers and audiences. We want this first introduction to performing arts to be positive. Therefore, we aim to create a space that is both functional and artistically flexible. It should also be easy to use and enjoyable for audience members and performers.

Shakespeare and other dramatic theatre productions rely on the clarity of the actors’ speech and a natural connection to the audience. The plays must be performed without any voice amplifying. Concerts of the chorus, orchestra, or band show the unamplified, natural sound of these ensembles. These concerts require both acoustical mix and reverberation, as well as clarity. Natural acoustics is the best way to achieve these.

Jason Luciana is the choral director of Wilmington High School in Wilmington (Mass.). He prefers not to use amplification when conducting choral concerts. He uses microphones to record soloists in Cappella groups but will not use them for the entire group if the room is too loud. In musical theatre productions, featured singers and actors are mic’ed to balance the pit orchestra and create a Broadway-style singing style.

Adam Brown, a drama teacher at Newton North High School, Newton, Mass., is directing theatre. He wants his students to project their voices without the need for amplification and also to use amplification when necessary. Proper acoustic design is a necessity and wise investment. “The last thing any school director wants are parents who can’t hear their children or see them perform,” he says.

The new Newton North High School auditorium has an acoustic design that includes suitable room size, shape, sound-reflecting surfaces and a well-designed sound amplifier system. The system also features sound isolation from adjacent school spaces and a quiet mechanical (HVAC) system. It is important to provide quiet background noise conditions for any performance space. This allows students to utilize their full dynamic range and helps the audience to concentrate on the performance.

The acoustic design covers many building and room design aspects and is closely coordinated with technical and architectural theatre design. Martin Vinik, the theatre designer, observes that the same pendant ceiling panels provide the reflective surfaces that optimize acoustical performance, mask our auditorium lighting catwalks, allow easy access to maintenance and diffuse air that falls from exposed supply conduits above.”

A well-designed auditorium for high school can last longer than the school it was built in. This is the case in Greenfield, Mass., where the beloved 1957 auditorium will be renovated while the rest of the school rebuilds around it. Good design, including acoustic design, will pay dividends for many decades.

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