|Tannoy VQ loudspeakers reinvigorate worship in Toronto, Canada...
Tannoy VQ loudspeakers reinvigorate worship at Toronto, Canada's Kingston Road United Church...
With close to three million members in 3,500 congregations nationwide, The United Church of Canada is the largest Protestant denomination in the nation. Typically, it is also considered one of the most socially progressive. Having said that, while the church tends to be progressive in terms of doctrine, says Paul Harris - a member of the Kingston Road United Church (KRUC) congregation for some twenty years - it is not always as quick to embrace audio and production technology as some large evangelical churches are.
"Some of the reason for that is economies of scale," Harris explains. "Most United Churches tend to be neighbourhood, 'walk to' churches that have, like us, a relatively small congregation." Correspondingly, funding such ventures is often out of the reach of the average small Canadian church.
Still, as many congregations have found over time, in order to continue to grow and prosper, attempts must be made to both reinvigorate their existing congregation and to attract new blood. Doing so often requires making investments not only in the maintenance of the spiritual health of the church membership, but also in the infrastructure that enables church leaders to nurture that health.
In this case, Harris explains, it was a donation from a member of the congregation that enabled KRUC to replace it's existing distributed audio system with a compact centre cluster design incorporating two Tannoy VQ loudspeakers, and to add acoustic treatments to cope with the distracting reflections inherent in such a highly reverberant space.
"One of the problems faced in Canada is that church populations are aging, so hearing what's going on during services has really become an issue. This was something that had to be addressed for the sake of the congregation."
Harris would know; as an Inside Sales Representative in the System Design and Integration Division of AVW-TELAV, he's an audio professional in his own right. Beyond that, however, he's experienced the sonic problems the church has faced for so long from pretty much every angle; as a congregant, as a member of the church band and, occasionally, as resident audio engineer and substitute preacher for KRUC's summer services.
He stresses that his own role in the project, however, was strictly informal, explaining that the 2009 design/install itself was undertaken by Westbury National Show Systems Ltd, and based on recommendations made in a Church Sound System and Acoustical Report provided by Joseph De Buglio of Toronto based JdB Sound Acoustics, in the fall of 2008.
"It's funny," Harris says. "People ask 'why would you use a different company in your own church?' But our specialty is corporate and, as far as I'm concerned, if you're talking church sound there isn't anybody better than Westbury; particularly for a building that was built in 1927, long before there was any knowledge there would even be a sound system. The first sound system wasn't put in until the 1930s, so there never was any consideration of acoustics. It's a beautiful space," he adds, "but what you're dealing with inside is concrete, glass and hardwood. It's a challenging room."
"The preexisting system dated back to the 1970s," Harris continues. "It was designed by well meaning amateurs who believed the more speakers you put in the better it will sound; near field speakers – like stereo speakers – mounted on the wall. So the speakers were wrong, the placement was wrong and the number of speakers was wrong."
Attracting new blood was also a part of the equation. Located well east of Toronto's downtown core in 'The Beach', the neighbourhood surrounding KRUC is seeing an ongoing influx of families with young children. "We have a busy and active Sunday School. We were already seeing a number of new members and we wanted to make it as good an experience for them as possible – They're not going to know they want to get the word from us if they can't hear it."
At the time, explains Brock McGinnis, salesman on the project for Westbury, the Tannoy VQs had only recently been unveiled. "They had, I believe, just been introduced that year; at either NSCA, or InfoComm." This, he adds, likely represented one of the first such installations of the product in North America. "I loved the sound of the VQ and proposed it to them. It was a little more money than they had planned on, as is often the case, but they just did an outstanding job. Very little equalization was required to produce a smooth, natural sound. It was consistent from the front of the room to the back of the room. It's a lovely sounding building."
When Westbury first provided the design and specification there was a rough budget in place, as well as a plan, provided by De Buglio, covering both acoustic treatments for the sanctuary and the provision of a centre loudspeaker cluster time-aligned to where the natural acoustic human sources are located. "Joe had suggested a two-box hang," says McGinnis. A single centre cluster including; "one long throw to cover the rear of the sanctuary and a small balcony and a downfill to cover the front section, in addition to acoustic treatments that the congregation were to implement themselves."
The main problem, Harris explains, was slap back from the balcony; a problem exacerbated by random reflections from the walls on either side of the sanctuary. To solve the problem, De Buglio suggested mounting painted sections of Sonotube on wooden braces on the walls in large flat areas that were producing reflections; a surprisingly elegant, if DIY, solution installed early in 2009 by KRUC's custodian, Pat Sherwood. "Those reflections are now dispersed and that's very much softened the sound of the facility," Harris adds.
De Buglio has worked on over 1000 churches worldwide. "I wind up solving the problems people can't solve with electronics." As a former sound contractor, he always recognized that acoustics were a sore point. He was contacted by KRUC on the strength of a reference from another of De Buglio's clients. "That's how I get about eighty percent of my work, through word of mouth."
"The moment a church hires me, it's acoustics first, sound system second," he adds. And implementing the acoustic treatments De Buglio recommended allowed the church save money that might otherwise have been spent on additional electronics. While Westbury opted for Tannoy loudspeakers instead of the boxes he'd initially recommended, De Buglio believes Westbury's choice of product was superior, noting that at the time of his initial recommendation, full information detailing the Tannoy VQs capabilities had yet to be released.
"Since solving the acoustic problem," De Buglio says, "they say now that the congregational singing is much better, and they're getting tremendous gain before feedback."
While the need for acoustic treatments was something KRUC's property committee could grasp immediately, they were a bit dubious when confronted with the compact footprint of the Tannoy VQs. "Their first reaction was, two speakers for a place this size?" Harris says. "It took a little bit of selling to make them understand that usually fewer speakers are a better option – if you can get the dispersion you need, and aim and tune the system properly. But Westbury was terrific in making that clear."
Ultimately, only one Tannoy VQ60 and one VQDF were used, hung as a centre cluster, twenty-seven feet high, virtually in the centre of the room between the pulpit and the lectern and in front of the proscenium opening.
Although it is not a huge space, KRUC is grand in its own way. Built in the gothic style, the 650-capacity church is far newer church than it seems at first appearance, but is constructed largely of concrete block, with a stone facing and soaring vaulted ceilings. "It's long and narrow and high," McGinnis says, "about fifty feet wide and 115 feet long, with an RT of roughly 1.6 seconds – For the pipe organ, perfect, but for speech intelligibility, a nightmare. The VQ was specifically chosen because of its controlled dispersion. Very little energy comes off the back of the box to bounce around in the choir area behind the proscenium, and it's great for the reproduction of both speech and music."
Additionally, the loudspeaker's high output and modular design make for an unobtrusive solution well suited to situations where aesthetics and clarity are equally important.
The new system also includes a Yamaha LS9 console, DBX DriveRack 260 DSP, one Crown CTS 1200 and one CTS 2000 amplifier. Westbury also provided two channels of AKG WMS 450 wireless for speech and worship presentation to augment a complement of existing microphones. An existing foldback system comprised of EV Sx80s is also used for the choir. In all cases, Harris says, Westbury was sensitive to the need to keep costs down. "I know from my own work, we're always reluctant to reuse equipment because it's almost like designing a weak spot in the system, but in this case the choir had no complaints, so we were able to use a small amount of the pre-existing equipment."
The result, McGinnis says, is a very happy client. "I went to a couple of services when the system was first turned on and it sounded fantastic. The difference is night and day in terms of speech intelligibility and in the impact of the music."
While KRUC offers a wide variety of services, and music is often an important component of their worship, the system was originally conceived, primarily, as voice lift. "That was job one," Harris says, and has been of great benefit to KRUC's regular minister, Richard Choe. "It's frustrating if you know people are having trouble hearing you. Now he knows now he's being heard, and it's interesting to see his confidence grow, because he knows the message is getting across."
In the end, particularly in terms of its versatility, the system has exceeded expectations. In addition to speech, Harris explains, because of its high degree of intelligibility and natural sound, it's ideal for reinforcing solo acoustic instruments such as a guitar, cello and piano.
Ultimately that allows the church to increase not only the quality of their own regular services and events, but to serve the needs of the growing number of groups and individuals who rent KRUC for concerts, weddings and other special events. "Anything we've got, we throw it at the system and see how it goes. We did a concert night with piano accompaniment and various vocalists and instruments and it was very successful."
Perhaps most importantly, it's an attractor for youth and offers a way for the church to keep in touch with the times and with larger trends in religion. "Even though we've had it for a couple of years, we really haven't fully explored the possibilities," Harris says. "But there are some younger members of the congregation who have taken an interest in exploring more of it's potential; young people who have been bringing in their rock band to play during services, and we would like them to feel they're being heard properly."
While it's unnecessary for a church like KRUC to implement the type of production required by a 1500 to 2000 seat evangelical mega church, it is important for all churches to give thought to the historical role that technology has played in worship. And potentially, products like the VQ series, although intended for a variety of applications, could benefit the average Canadian church greatly, particularly those whose membership no longer fill the church to it's maximum capacity.
"We have to remember that when the big cathedrals were being built they were the state of the art, acoustically and architecturally. There's sometimes a temptation for people to want to freeze things in that era, but we have an opportunity to do things that they couldn't back then and there isn't really any reason for us not to. If the church is going to be a living force in the next century then we have to make sure we're reacting to that in terms of the worship experience. This speaks very strongly to the overall worship experience and, from that standpoint, so I think technology has a big contribution to make."