“We had various issues in the church when I first arrived a few years back. One of those was in relation to sound and the huge variance in the quality of sound depending on where you sat, whether you were hard of hearing, the general acoustics of such a big building and the fact that some alterations had been made, i.e. the removal of the Winter Chapel. It was hardly surprising that a large number stood inside the main porch where they could hear everything, albeit separated somewhat from any celebration taking place. One other significant group was the Choir. While we could hear them the Choir could hear very little of what happened during any service.
An additional change which took place during the last two years was the installation of a new hot air heating system. While attenuation was installed to reduce it’s detrimental impact there was a marked increase in noise when the heater is on. Coupled to the fact that the heater needs to come on and off during a service to maintain the temperatures has meant that it was becoming somewhat a focal point.
In an attempt to overcome the various problems we sought to tweak the current system which included increasing the overall volume, tweaking the individual microphone levels and purchasing one type of microphone which could be used throughout. No matter what we seemed to do we could not overcome the problems outlined above or avoid creating more feedback and sound distortion.
As we are a large church, which can cater for in excess of 1000 people we needed to try to find a solution to this ongoing issue. This was again brought to my attention when we had a large celebration for First Communions. With a packed church the people could barely hear what was being said in contrast to a weekday with a relatively small gathering of about 40-50 when there would be feedback.
I contacted Peter Kenny and explained the numerous issues as we inspect the church buildings and explored the possibilities that might be open to us in seeking to resolve the issues that we were facing. While Peter assured me that most of the components where serviceable and usable the configuration of the system and the location of the speakers was, rather than providing what we needed, was adding to the problems. We therefore, as a Parish, agreed to move forward with Peter’s plans.
It is interesting for a person, like myself, who does not know much about the technical side of things to find out that less is more. By decreasing the number of speakers, relocating them and removing defective speakers and monitor speakers, we were able to achieve a great deal more with a great deal less. We now have less speakers and more sound, more clarity and no feedback.
Mind you, while this was a positive step forward in itself, we also took Peter’s advice in introducing a state of the art piece of kit (not sure what it is called if you want to include it’s name please do!) which would increase the amount of control we have over the sound levels that are being fed into the church.
The new sound system has made a remarkable difference and has already overcome its first challenge. During the Christmas services we were again confronted by a huge number of people with in excess of 1,300 people at our Family Mass and 1,100 people at our Midnight Mass. Both Masses were easily catered for in terms of sound as all we needed to do, for this special occasion, was increase the master volume. However, it was the children’s Mass which was noticeably different. It was so much calmer this year than in previous years. This was facilitated not only by the level and clarity of sound but also by the fact that the sound from the congregation was not being amplified and re-amplified through the speakers, as was the case before. Reflecting on this it has certainly made a positive impact on our celebrations here in Hayes.
I am sure that there are many other churches, with individual characteristics and quirks that have similar challenges to surmount. I am only grateful that, for us, these have been overcome.
I am grateful to you Peter for this, as with a little thought, and a great deal of knowledge about your subject this is one issue I can cross off my to-do-list.
Fr. Martin Stone, Church of Immaculate Heart, Hayes