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Ecclesistical & Heritage World No.99

Churches embracing new technology

The needs of a church sound system are quite simple in so much as they want intelligible audio to reach all the congregation including those with hearing impairments. Although this requirement has probably been the same for many years there is now a plethora equipment that can be used and this is when the world of sound can become a mine field.

During a recent major church refurbishment, Gritstone Project Management asked audio-visual specialists Blaydon Communications Ltd to devise a scheme that would fulfil the quite complex needs of several groups and fortunately, thanks to their expertise, they were able to put forward a proposal that met the technical requirements of the project and, just as importantly, the financial constraints that all projects have to bear.

The project was Jesmond United Reform Church which is a beautiful, impressive building just outside the city centre of Newcastle upon Tyne. The church is not only home to the local United Reform Church but also acts as a base for the local Korean Church and several community groups which increased the challenge of meeting the needs of all groups.

The sound system for the United Reform Church members was quite conventional in so much as there was a need to cover the pulpit, lectern along with a couple of microphone sockets to allow some free standing microphones to be used. In addition to these wired microphones there was also a requirement for a lavaliere radio microphone for the main preacher which would allow them to move freely around the sanctuary. In addition to the spoken word they also needed to ensure that the system could broadcast music to provide background reinforcement for the congregation singing hymns and also to ensure that music can be played to provide ambience to a wedding or when celebrating the life of a person during a funeral service.

The Korean Church were very similar in their requirements but they wanted to have more control over the sound and also wanted more flexibility from the microphone solution. This resulted in more radio microphones being added and the start of the search to provide a simple to use system that would allow them more control over the sound without over complicating matters for the other church users.

Blaydon Communications finally compiled a list of required inputs which included a professional fixed gooseneck on the pulpit, a professional free-standing gooseneck for the portable lectern and two condenser hand held microphones with stands for general use around the sanctuary. This was then added to by the inclusion of two lavaliere radio microphone systems and a further two hand held radio microphone systems.

Just when they thought they'd finished with the microphones, the organist came along and announced that she often struggled to hear the congregation and therefore occasionally missed certain cues that would help her keep time with the congregation. This was overcome by installing a pair of ambient noise microphones that would be routed to a monitor loudspeaker for the organist and could also double up as ambient noise microphones for the induction loop system from Univox Audio to provide a higher level of realism for the hard of hearing members.

With all the microphones decided the team from Blaydon set about determining how they could control and route all these without over complicating the operational requirements. The answer came in form of the wonderful Mackie DL806 mixer. This unit had enough capability to cope with all the needs and, thanks to the main control being via iPad, they were able to set up different scenarios based on which group would be using the system. The idea of being able to come in on a Sunday morning and choose a preset to recall system settings was greatly received by all involved and would save a fortune in Tippex that’s commonly used to try and remember where settings on a flatbed mixer should be set! In addition to the flexibility of control the iPad offered there was also the added bonus of the iPad being able to be used for music playback and also recording of services to be distributed to those not able to attend services - therefore extending the reach of the Church out into the wider local community.

Now that they had the ability to get good intelligible audio in via the range of microphones and the ability to process it Blaydon now needed to get that audio into the listeners' ears. They were very fortunate that Jesmond URC is quite a considerable structure and the height of the main church is vast

The changing use of churches in the UK is providing a business boost for the company. The increasing use of live music in church buildings means many places of worship are reviewing their needs and looking to new technology to provide crisp speech amplification while meeting the complex needs of choirs and live musicians.

In the past, these two tasks required different systems and the technical ability to set them up. Modern audio systems can cater for speech and music with the flick of a single switch.

A recent installation at St. Charles RC Church in Gosforth, Tyne & Wear has simplified the job of allowing priest Father O’Connor to address the congregation through a radio microphone and then, with a single switch, allow the church music group to play using pre-set sound levels. The previous system was over complicated and adjustments made by the music group affected the clarity of speech.

Another audio innovation is providing professional standard hymn music for churches with no choir or band and for occasions where the full choir is not appropriate. The HT-300 Hymnal Plus from Hymn Technology plays the music of 7,300 hymns with a wide choice of instruments including church organ, orchestra, brass and woodwind quartets and worship bands. The hymnal plays through built in speakers or can be linked to church audio systems.

Blaydon Communications managing director Paul Dougherty says:

“Churches today are exploring new ways to use their buildings outside of traditional worship. We are currently working on a Methodist church with three rooms and no fixed pews. The rooms meet a variety of needs from worship, weddings and celebrations to lectures and gatherings. All the rooms have differing acoustics so our challenge is to provide a system that will play a variety of music then switch to crisp speech with a single button. In the past this has required a mixing desk which the musicians would setup for their needs. Then the vicar or priest needed to reset this complex desk to allow them to speak to the congregation. We usually loan the church one of our systems for a week or so and we usually return to find both musicians and ecclesiastical staff delighted that a simple, effective solution has been found”.

Induction loops are also fast becoming vogue in churches and cathedrals as church administrators make provision for the hard of hearing. Blaydon Communications has recently commissioned an audio loop at St. Mary’s Cathedral in Newcastle upon Tyne as part of a £3m refurbishment to the 1844 listed building.

For further information please visit www.blaydoncomms.co.uk