Let’s face it, the vast majority of Catholic churches weren’t designed for the acoustical needs of a contemporary music group. In truth, the acoustics in most Catholic churches are less than stellar, even for chant and spoken word. Many of our worship spaces are built with hard surfaces like marble, glass, and wood that add to the reverberation of sound in the space. It can be argued that a reverberant room can “assist in encouraging sustained singing of the faithful”, but this most often brings with it a sacrifice of clarity in spoken Word. All around, a tough problem to deal with.
At my home parish of Holy Trinity, we have recently completed a sound system installation, done in 3 phases, over the last 12 months. The speaker choices and placement have given us great results for clarity of spoken word and musical reproduction. After all the hardware went into the space, we had just one more wall to climb over. The WALL of SOUND coming from the music ministry area.
Our church is very reverberant, and the physical location of our music teams amplifies our problems with the acoustics in the room. (deliberate play on words). Our area for music ministry would easily approach the high 90 decibel range, which is way too loud for Mass. In addition, the acoustic drums and guitar amps added so much energy that it was impossible to get a good blend of the vocals. If you can’t make out the words of a song used in liturgy, you’re doing it wrong. All of these things were literally and figuratively causing headaches, so we took a risk and tried something new…
At a rehearsal one night, I made the decision to turn off all the amplifiers and we moved the electronic drum set we use in our rehearsal space into the church. Next, we turned off all the monitors (our team has been transitioning to an in ear monitoring solution over the last few months as budget has allowed). We shut off the guitar and bass amps and plugged them in using direct boxes (DI’s). Then, what happened next, was amazing…
We played one of the worship songs from our rehearsal time, and the audio coming from the main speakers was crystal clear. Pristine. You could hear every word, every note on the guitars, every detail. We haven’t looked back since. Here are some of the Pro’s and Con’s that we have found with this model.
- Complete control of the overall volume of the mass.
- Easier mixing
- The vocals can hear one another and blend. Ahhh.
- You can hear everything
- One of our musicians in the parish was attending mass in the pews, and noted that it was odd to be sitting with the music ministry towards his right side, but having all the sound coming from his left. (He was sitting between the band and the speaker array). To fill in some void. I have a 12″ speaker in the music ministry area that I use to send an aux mix into. While this may sound defeating of what we were trying to accomplish, it seems to give the corner where we are setup a natural sound.
- Musicians, like anyone else, respond to ‘feeling’ the air moving around acoustic drums, bass amps, and electric guitars. Playing in a quiet environment can really cause a musician to question whether what they are playing is translating well. Not having the wave of sound around can even lead to uninspired playing. It is critical to get your ear mix right so you’re comfortable.
- There is a little time delay between the notes we play and sing, and what we hear coming out of the main speaker array. Without using our in ears, it can be tough to lock in a tempo.
There’s no doubt that I love the ‘feel’ of live music, especially with the congregation singing God’s praises. Going direct has been an adjustment, but it has definitely served our parish better than the Wall of Sound we had before.
Share your experiences with managing monitor and band volume…