First Presbyterian Church in Grand Haven, Michigan, has been faithfully ministering to its community for 170 years, and although it still hosts a Sunday morning service complemented by traditional organ, piano and choir music, the church has also implemented a more contemporary service to remain culturally relevant to younger audiences. With this partial shift to electric instrumentation, the church turned to LiveSpace, a leading integration and design company in nearby Grand Rapids, to supply a new house sound system built upon L-Acoustics’ ARCS Wide and Focus constant curvature line array.
Despite First Presbyterian’s modest-sized 350-seat sanctuary, the initial challenges were numerous, points out AJ Sweeny, LiveSpace’s director of integration operations and design. “The previous sound system was not a good fit for the room; a columnar array mounted two feet off the floor blasted the first two pews and covered very little of the rest of the seating area,” he recalls. Furthermore, the sanctuary’s stained glass windows, solid wood walls and small expansion area on one side of the room created a host of acoustical challenges.
Much of the sound from the prior system wound up hitting the sanctuary’s side walls, making the speech intelligibility of sermons and lyrics alike difficult to discern, notes Mike Mrozinski, LiveSpace project development manager. “The energy was all over the place,” he adds.
The church’s budget committee had already been wrestling with the audio issues for over a year before LiveSpace was called in. In a quandary all too familiar for mid-sized churches that depend on volunteer staffers to run their A/V systems, the committee was trying to find a technology solution, but one that was appropriate for the space and able to support two types of music styles with diametrically opposed acoustical needs.
“When we first assessed the environment, we explained to them that managing the sonic energy while keeping it away from reflective surfaces, like the walls, was critical to keeping speech intelligible,” Sweeney explains. “We discussed acoustical treatments to manage the energy of the contemporary music, but the committee worried it could hurt how well the traditional choir sounded in the church.”
After attending several Sunday services and carefully analyzing the church’s needs and the space’s requirements, LiveSpace presented to the committee a small but perfectly suited solution: an L-Acoustics ARCS WiFo system comprising a few components. Two ARCS Wide serve as the main left-right system, with one ARCS Focus as a monitor for the choir and 8XTi and 12XTi coaxial enclosures for fills. Two flown SB18i subs deliver the low end, with two LA4 amplified controllers handling all power and loudspeaker processing.
The precision of the ARCS WiFo waveguides eliminated the need for acoustical treatment since the ARCS Wide enclosures maintain a precise 30-degree coverage pattern for the main seating area and 15 degrees of coverage for the ARCS Focus on the choir. As a result, sound is directed only where it is needed, no longer hitting the walls.
“All the feedback problems they once had there are now gone, and it was the first time the choir loft had ever clearly heard a sermon,” says Sweeney. “When L-Acoustics says the pattern is 15 degrees, it’s exactly 15 degrees. That’s how sharp the coverage line can be drawn.”
Sweeney told the committee that if it felt the contemporary music was still overwhelming the room that he would come back and add acoustical treatment, but to please let the system first show them what it could do. “We checked back with them in a couple of weeks and they told us the sound system alone solved every issue they had. Providing smooth, constant, full-frequency audio for the contemporary service also allowed the chorus voices to fill the church beautifully as if traditional programming had no audio system at all.” So big things still do come in small packages, and in this case, two diverse worship-music styles are able to play nicely together under the same roof.