Thursday, September 19, 2002

Sound system

We had an interesting music directors meeting at my parish where we discussed the use of the sound system for amplifying cantors and instruments. I tend to think that sound systems are necessary evils and that are often badly configured.

Some people seem to think that microphones and speakers exist so that everything can be loud. It's the idea that a speaker or singer should "fill the church." That way, you can be sure people hear everything, every word, syllable, breath and inflection. If a guitar or (heaven forbid) gaggle of guitars are all amplified, along with the singers, then this attitude tends to translate into BIG LOUD CAMPFIRE SING-A-LONG, where the roof in nearly blown off the church. The same thing can happen when the organist pull out all the stops (no pun intended.) I remember seeing a scrawled letter next to a fund-raising notice on a choir room bulletin board. The notice was for new pipes for the organ. The letter was from a very sensitive person who wrote "Don't you think the organ is loud enough? And you want more pipes? Not a dime from me!!!!"

I like my amplification to bring the sound to a level where an attentive person can hear what's going on. Just loud enough that the person still needs to concentrate and focus on what is being said or sung. Any louder and bad sounds become horrendous, and normal sounds are screams. It becomes very easy to tune out such an assault on the ears, and literally stop listening. Or course, there's still some additional help for people with hearing problems. But overall - sound systems should encourage active listening.