The newly engaged HRH Prince Harry and Meghan Markel will tie the knot next spring in St Georges Chapel in the stunning Windsor Castle. Steeped in history, the Rutland Chantry alone was founded in 1481, it’s glorious West Window is the third largest in the country and Prince Harry himself was christened in the chapel in 1984. Such a historic place of worship in a fairy tale castle; what more could a future princess ask for?
The rumour mill is rife and these thoroughly modern royals are expected to inject their own personal touch into their ceremony. Indeed, it is rumoured that Sir Elton John will be performing in St Georges Chapel on their special day!
No matter what style of music Harry and Meghan select, the fact is that the sound has to be right. There is a commonly held belief in certain circles that large church buildings have the ideal acoustics but are they are very large spaces and tend to be constructed out of lots of very hard and reflective materials such as solid wood, stone and not forgetting the fabulous stained-glass windows! And then of course, the flooring; hard or soft carpet?
Reverberation to the acoustic engineer can be both friend and foe! When these historic buildings were built, worship was often choral or organ led and the environments would have assisted unamplified singing voices to carry further and would have been essential to the functionality of the wind organ. However, for a church trying to deliver a more contemporary worship style where one may need to rely upon electro-acoustic amplification to deliver intelligible speech and clarity of music, then the “cathedral” feel will ultimately form an impediment to sound quality and listener comfort.
Reverberation is not a bad thing and it is a natural product of creating any sound in an enclosed space. Most of the time we are not consciously aware of reverberation, it is something we naturally expect to hear and our hearing does process it entirely subconsciously. However sometimes reverberation can cause us issues if it is not appropriate to the venue or application.
The fabulous team at Music Academy have outlined how problems with reverberation can go one of two ways:
1. “Too much reverberation will smear all the short, sharp transient sounds which are critical to speech intelligibility (think about the pronunciation of T’s and P’s) and make it harder to understand what is being said. Likewise, percussive or strummed instruments which are central to many forms of contemporary worship have very short transient components that will lose clarity and impede the clear expression of rhythm, making music feel cluttered and messy. At the same time, the length of the reverberation time means that sound energy stays in the venue for longer and builds up to greater levels, this can result in worship feeling overly “noisy” and is a common cause of the “it’s too loud” complaint. In a reverberant environment more of the stage noise will bleed out into the front of house sound so it also becomes harder for the sound person to control overall volume levels from the mixing desk.
2. In contrast, too little reverberation will lead to a very crisp, clear sound, but makes the venue feel very dry and uninspiring to sing in. This may be ideal for venues which are focussed purely on speech or contemporary music performance, but in churches where the worship is a participatory experience your congregation will begin to feel very exposed and have a tendency to hold back from fully engaging in the worship.”
So what could the options be for St George’s Chapel to reduce the reverberation and indeed, deliver a beautiful sounding wedding for Harry and Meghan?
Materials like carpets or large rugs can be a great way to add some acoustic absorption as a bi-product of other aesthetic design choices (complementing bridal colours or Harry’s regiment) and is more subtle than the more extreme scenario of resorting to specialist acoustic treatment! See our case study detailing this exact issue.
Why not? Again, the material will soak up a certain amount of reverberation and if used with the carpet, then augment the benefits! Importantly additional acoustic material can be hidden behind and specified to work with and compliment curtains.
3. Install an Indoor Garden…
When the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge were married, they created a lavish English country garden inside Westminster Abbey. Four tonnes of foliage including 8 twenty-foot trees and half a dozen English Field Maples were installed to create a ‘Living Avenue’. Question; was this the sole work and suggestion from Kate’s floral artistic director’, Shane Connolly? Or do we think that this was a collaboration between science and art where the sound engineers found a solution to alter the acoustic characteristics of the magnificent cathedral?
Remember that absorption is directly proportional to the wavelength of sound so, a useful easy to remember reference point is roughly 34cm at 1kHz, guiding us to the thickness of material necessary to be effective.
At Sound Systems UK, we apply the laws of physics to the art of sound and we understand the challenges ahead for the chosen acoustic engineers for the forthcoming Royal wedding. We have a lot of information on our website about how we tackle the challenges of place of worship.