Highland Park, TX, May 2010. Highland Park United Methodist Church (HPUMC) at Southern Methodist University (SMU), which dates back to 1916, has recently undergone a major renovation that includes a new pipe organ, sanctuary refurbishment and Renkus-Heinz Iconyx Digitally Steerable Array loudspeakers, specified by Kirkegaard & Associates and installed by Clair Brothers Systems.
When residents of the surrounding Highland Park neighborhood agreed to join the congregation, SMU deeded the land for the church and worshippers began meeting in a temporary structure known as the "Little Brown Church." Today, HPUMC's deep tradition of worship and outreach has helped the diverse congregation grow to about 14,000 members. The current sanctuary was built in 1927, and was recognized as a "Recorded Texas Historic Landmark" in 1994.
In 2007 HPUMC began preparations for installation of a new pipe organ built by Dobson Organ Builders, Ltd. of Lake City, Iowa. The new instrument is being installed in a completely renovated sanctuary. Stained glass windows have been repaired, HVAC systems upgraded and restrooms refurbished. The choir loft has been enlarged and sightlines from the balcony have been improved by increasing its slope, and the worship area has been completely resurfaced.
While the project has restored HPUMC's historic architecture, it has also turned back the clock on the acoustics by removing both the absorptive panels and the distributed loudspeaker system that were installed in the ceiling decades ago. The 900-seat sanctuary is a wonderful venue for organ and choral music, but like similar buildings the world over, it poses major problems for speech communication.
HPUMC turned to Kirkegaard & Associates' Chicago office. "I knew Director of Music & Arts David Davidson from the Dallas Symphony," explains Project Manager Mark Penz. "We conducted an evaluation and make some recommendations, for which system designer and senior consultant Jonathan Darling was mainly responsible, and replacing the old distributed loudspeaker system was high on his list."
Jonathan Darling'sEASE models showed that Renkus-Heinz Iconyx Digitally Steerable Arrays had the precise, programmable vertical directivity to deliver articulate speech in the highly reverberant sanctuary. The next step was to demonstrate the proposed loudspeakers to the church.
To mount the demo, Kirkegaard worked with Highland Park's long-time AV provider, Clair Brothers Systems of Dallas. Project Manager Mike Mason had come off the road in 2006 after 8 years with Clair Showco, and HPUMC was one of the most complex challenges he had seen so far.
"The church felt it was imperative to restore the sanctuary to its former glory," he says. "At the same time, they wanted to enhance their worship services by improving the intelligibility of the spoken word, without affecting the architectural beauty of the room or altering its 'natural' feel."
"The high ceilings and large volume of the space made amplifying speech a real challenge,"Mason continues. "In addition, blending loudspeakers into the traditional architecture took some ingenuity."
The demo also gave architect John Brown a chance to think about strategies for concealing the tall narrow columns.
After listening to an Iconyx IC16R, the church not only accepted the concept, but asked about larger arrays that would project further back in the sanctuary. The final system designed by Kirkegaard Associates and installed by Clair Brothers Systems included three pairs of Iconyx arrays: two IC16's at the front of the sanctuary, two IC24's for the long section of the nave, and two IC8's to cover the balcony.
A pair of BSS London DSP engines are used for delay and signal routing from the Soundcraft MH3 console. Renkus-Heinz TRX151 speakers mounted on the ceiling beams and powered by QSC CX Series amps an additional option for creating acoustic ambience for chimes and choir reinforcement.
Installing a new system in an old building is never simple, and this project was complicated by the need to keep the sanctuary open for Sunday services. "Clair Brothers Systems did a great job of working around the schedule," Penz says. "Every week they'd come in and set up on Monday morning, and have everything removed by Friday night."
With a new organ, a refurbished sanctuary and a state of the art sound system, Highland Park United Methodist Church has made a substantial investment in traditional worship. Highland Park's Director of Music and Arts David R. Davidson feels the attention to detail throughout the process has paid off.
"It was imperative for us as we created more live space to encourage a sense of community in the congregation as they sang and spoke," he emphasizes, "while not sacrificing intelligibility for the spoken word of the preacher and liturgists. We have not only accomplished a space that has improved our congregational song, we now have better speech intelligibility and clarity vastly improved over our past loudspeaker system. The installation of this system insured the success of our entire project. We have not had one complaint about not being able to understand the spoken word."