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Gymnasium acoustics

My original question regarding working with a gym as a performance space
seems to, as I thought, be a common problem.
Here are some of the responses that I have received. In response to a few-I
do have a very supportive administration, but I am unable to use the
auditorium space for my concerts. We have two middle schools, a high school,
and very large choir and band programs at both. When we all do out concerts
at once, scheduling building use becomes an issue. Since I am the newest, I
get to work with what I can. I am choosing to experiment with the set up in
the gym and set up the risers in a corner, using the walls as a "shell" with
chairs set up in a diag. on the floor, and the bleachers used for the
singers, and overflow seating. Fortunately, TWO of my custodians have their
kids in my choir!! (This helps tremendously!)

-Kylie Meinka
Highlander Way Middle School
Howell, MI

Talk to admin about performing the concert in the local church. If they're
not willing to accommodate put your time in to get the experience and move
on. Non supportive administration is a recipe for disaster for any public
school music program.--------------------------------
One thing that a colleague of mine did (in your exact
situation) was to place ficus trees laced with white
lights on either side of the risers. It didn't help
with the sound but it looked very nice. She also used
microphones to help direct the sound to the audience
and covered up the cords in front of the risers with a
couple of nice looking rugs, which also served to
absorb some of the reverberation. Not the best
situation, but do-able!-----------------------------
You don't give much information as to your space. One thing that might be
a try is to use the space itself to replicate some of the effects of a shell
setting the choir in a corner with the audience aligned at 45 degrees or so
the end/side walls. Depending on the size and finish materials of your gym,
this can produce surprisingly good results. (Risers are certainly an
You can make a cheap acoustic shell the way radio stations used to condition
studios before sound deadening materials made from foam were invited. They
glued egg crates to the wall. This gives the sound many surfaces to bounce
off of. You could build a portable one with ply wood and "a" framing. Talk
to your local theatrical stage person and tell him you want freestanding
flats made out with "hard cover." The size of egg crate I'm talking about is
the 1 and 1/2 dozen size. I don't know of a supplier. My father did this
when he was in charge of temporary TV studio in a modular trailer for
Conoco-Philips. Yes, it will be very ugly, especially if left unpainted, but
hey, that might get you a shell from Wenger faster!

You can buy sound foam and glue on, but it will be way more expensive than
egg cartons!------------------------------
As many of the following as you can manage will help:

1. Experiment. When the gym is not otherwise in use, book time in it
for your choir. Have them sing from several different places, to get an
idea of how the chamber itself best reinforces the sound. (I know,
moving risers around is a drag; so at first have them flat on the
floor, or on flat platforms if you can con someone into putting two or
three of them around in likely places.)

2. If your gym is squarish, I suspect you'll get the best effect
singing from a corner, with two side walls to help focus the sound.
This will be easier to "sell" if it's possible to arrange audience
seating along two adjacent sides of the gym, rather than parallel to one
side only (as is sometimes the case when the only public seating
available is fold-down-from-the-wall bleachers). But work on it.
If the gym is rather thinner than it is long, perhaps singing from the
center of a short wall will do best.

3. Shells serve several purposes. The most important MAY be (depending
on structural characteristics) preventing the choral sound from getting
lost in the rafters etc. overhead. For an inexpensive start, arrange to
have several rigid, lightweight panels built that can be hung from the
ceiling (via ropes and pulleys if possible, to permit experimenting with
the effect of various attitudes -- that is, heights and angles). If you
were in a high school, I'd suggest getting cooperation from the
wood-shop teachers, whose students could make such things. If you're
near a high school, I'd suggest the same. Tweaking the angles etc.
could become an ongoing sort of research project for a few years, if
they felt so inclined.
I'd start with one or two large-ish panels, enough to cover most of
the area over the choir, then maybe move to a larger number of smaller
If this sounds rather peculiar, and you have trouble selling the idea
to administrators &c., it may help to know that when Roy Thompson Hall
was built in Toronto (the then-new home of the Toronto Symphony
Orchestra), the design included about a dozen circular (and transparent,
but that's irrelevant to the acoustics) panels suspended over the stage;
they were intended to produce the effect of a shell. Took the better
part of two or three years before those "clouds" (as they liked to call
them) were tuned (i.e., adjusted in height and angle) to best effect.
And the configuration for "best effect" for full orchestra is not the
same as for a quartet or other small group; we patrons (well, some of
us, anyway!) rather liked observing the different patterns they'd use
for different purposes.
For your purposes, rectangular and/or triangular panels are probably
easier to build and will do as well. Whether you (or your helpers)
want to make them out of transparent plastic, to minimize the visual
effect, maybe worth considering. But at the outset, if I were doing it
I'd use the simplest, lightest, cheapest construction possible, to show
the effect of having acoustical "clouds" at all. Later one could
graciously allow one's arm to be twisted by someone who had a bright
idea about how to improve their visual aesthetics.
A possible virtue of mounting them with ropes and pulleys is that it
might then be possible to store them up against the ceiling, in space
that is otherwise largely usused, so you wouldn't have to find storage
space for them between performances.

Once you have overhead panels ("clouds") nicely situated, it may be
useful to add a vertical (or near-vertical) back panel, especially if
you do sing from a corner rather than from the middle of a side of the
room. If it's on wheels, it will be easier to move from its storage
area to wherever you want it. And like the "clouds", it might come in
several separate pieces, so you could arrange a curved or straight
sound-reflecting wall behind the choir, as desired. The pieces could be
designed to "nest" when stored, so as to take up less storage space.-------------------------------
Don't underestimate the power of friendly colleagues! I had the same
situation, and had ordered shells, but had to do two concerts in the gym
before the shells arrived in the spring. I asked a colleague if he had the
portable Wenger ones, which he did. He asked his administration if he could
lend them, and they agreed. It took me going to his school to pick them up
and load them in my van (and return them the next day), but the sound
difference was worth the effort. The demonstration of the shells'
effectiveness just bolstered my case to MY adminstration of the need for the
We tried doing our concerts in the gym and found it so incredibly
frustrating we refused to do them there. We transport our kids to the
district HS for our concerts. If I did not have that option, I would
locate another site for the concerts. All the work you put into
teaching the kids gets thrown out the window in a gym. They can't hear

on November 21, 2005 10:00pm
Our concert hall does not work for voices so I always bring them to one of the good churches in the area. It is more work but the results are much more artistically satisfying.

Michael Conran
on May 7, 2007 10:00pm
After a look at Wenger's prices for acoustic reflecting shells, I am looking to make my own.

My first idea is to simply get 4' X 8" 1/2" plywood panels, attach another 3 to 4 foot extension at the top by hinges, and secure the contraption to stand upright with the top extension at about a 45 degreee angle. My small choir of twenty could do with 2 or three of these homemade reflecting panels, at 4 feet of width apiece.

I am also thinking of adding a formica surface to the plywood. Any ideas on this construction, or any url's that tell a poor choir director how to build acoustic shells for a couple of hundred bucks as opposed to $6000 for Wenger's wares?