Hand in Hand: Acoustical Improvements and Good Organ Design
When an organ builder approaches a new project there are often many challenges, and acoustical environment is generally the most difficult. A good deal of credit for a beautiful musical instrument must go to the room that shapes its sound; likewise, a poor acoustic can limit the potential of even the most well-designed organ.
We were delighted by the grand proportions of First United Methodist Church, Montgomery, AL, but its acoustical effect was disappointing. The church engaged Paul Scarbrough of Akustiks, Norwalk, CT, to improve the acoustic profile. A detailed and lengthy study resulted in recommendations that were practical – achieving maximum result for time and money spent.
A great deal of credit for the success of our instrument goes to the organ committee and musicians for insisting on implementing the improvements. The key was to improve the reflection of the nave side walls. This created a more even, warm acoustic for the organ and for all music by increasing the reflection of sound during and immediately after it is produced. These considerations are far more important than long reverberation time. The room is now balanced acoustically, looks appealing, and serves myriad uses.
The musicians of First United Methodist Church were supportive clients who trusted our vision for the organ. The church’s long history of great music includes lots of organ-accompanied choral repertoire, and the congregation carries on the Methodist tradition of robust hymn singing. We designed the organ around these two primary musical needs. The Great division contains multiple diapasons to support the congregation, and a large swell division with double-enclosure gives more expressive control for accompanying. The Choir division is housed in a shallow, tall chamber, requiring a two-level design with pipes arranged carefully for tuning stability and easy maintenance. This is also where the 16’ Bourdon of the organ resides, allowing the bass tone to be brought down to ppp under the whisper stops across the chancel in the Swell.
The team at FUMC – music director James Seay, assistant director and organist Joshua Coble, and consultant Andrew Risinger – recognized that the best way to achieve a truly wonderful organ sound is excellent acoustics. We hope the new organ and resonant church serve this congregation for generations to come.
Schoenstein & Co.