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Facilities: What are the best Dimensions for a rehearsal room?



Original question:

Erskine College is building an addition to and renovating our current
music building. The new wing will include a choral rehearsal room. I am
interested in dimensions, acoustics, features, etc. of successful choral
rooms, particularly the following:

What are the dimensions of your choral room (width, length, height)?

What size choirs rehearse in it successfully?

Do you have raised platforms for seating? What is the set up (number of
rows, seats per row, height of rows, maker of platforms)?

Is your room used for other purposes? If so, what and how?

How is the acoustic in your room? What acoustic would you recommend?

What would you change about your room if you could?

I welcome any suggestions, advice, warnings, etc.


Responses:

3 publications were suggested:

1. Music Facilities: Building, Equipping, and Renovating, by Harold P.
Geerdes, published by MENC 1987. It is a little dated, but there are
helpful things concerning appropriate cubic volume, etc.

2. Acoustics for Performance, Rehearsal, and Practice
Facilities, published by NASM, Sept. 2000. This is an excellent
resource. Included are pages on appropriate materials for walls,
ceilings, and floors, as well as considerations for HVAC units.

3. Wenger's book on music facilities is an absolute goldmine of ideas.
It's available free, so study it before you make any decisions. Contact
your Wenger representative to request a free copy.

Suggested contacts:

1. Ed McCleary from the University of Maryland

2. Earl Rivers at the Cincinnati Conservatory. They redid their room (a
former swimming pool!) a few years ago, and came up with some good
ideas, especially in regards to tiered seating. He is at
Riverseg(a)ucmail.uc.edu.

3. Rene Clausen, Concordia College/Moorhead MN, you should get in touch
with him. Their choral rooms are outstanding, and designed/built under
his supervision. I've never seen/heard/sung in better.


Personal Experiences

I went through this very same process 9 years ago at the church where I
am Director of Music. A major expansion and renovation. Fortunately I
was able to draw my own preliminary plans for a 4,500 square foot "music
complex" of four rooms.

Our main rehearsal room is 42' wide by 35' deep. This allowed us to
have four tiers of Wenger risers, which comfortably seats our combined
(2) adult choirs of 85 voices. The depth of the room allows us to use
extensive floor space when rehearsing instrumental ensembles
(percussion) with choir. It also allows us flexibility in utilizing
massed voices with youth and children's choirs. Most important (among
many things) is ingress and egress of choristers as they enter from an
outside hallway and a adjoining robe/handbell room. We have a total of
four doors entering the main room which allows for a little less
distraction from "latecomers"

The ceiling heighth is approximately 16' and accoustics are what I might
term "natural". The room has brick walls and a large white board (16')
which allows some bounce to the sound. On one wall (between the two
doors from our robe room) are built-in shelves with 110 "slots" for each
chorister's music, hymnal, folder, etc. Also part of the built-ins are
open shelving (8' width - total of 6 shelves) for new music or music to
be returned. My music secretary/librarian loves it .... easy to access
individual slots to distribute music and the open shelving to separate
for filing.

By the way, we have a separate room for our music library, using either
white boxes for octavo, and the black Gamble boxes for collections and
extended works. We have over 1500 octavo titles and 500
oratorio/collections on shelves (floor to ceiling) in a room that
measures about 16' x 30'. The room is also accesibile directly to the
large main rehearsal room.

I love having my office access directly to the large rehearsal room ....
always seem to find a reason to need something that is right near by.

2.
A. You need to have a room large enough to accommodate your largest
possible group ever. That seems pretty obvious, but getting construction
planners to design one that large is not an easy thing! (You may have to
lie a lot!)

B. You want the room large enough to be able to have an
instrumental/choral rehearsal of chamber choir & orchestra proportions.

C. I recommend FLAT FLOOR with SEATED CHORAL RISERS instead of built-in
risers. If your school has lots of other facilities you can utilize with
a flat floor, you could consider built-in risers. You could be locking
yourself into something you (or a successor) may regret in the future if
you have built-in seated risers. If you must do that, have the room
designed flat and then have wooden risers built in so they could be
removed or reconfigured in the future. (I like them carpeted!)

D. You should have enough space to have a full choir set up on seated
risers PLUS a full choir on movable standing risers. In my high school
choir room, I had these set up facing the seated risers, and then I
could do part of the rehearsal from the seated risers and then have the
choir stand for part of the rehearsal.

E. You want to have enough room so you can step back away from the choir
and hear the "blended" sound instead of the individual voices. If you're
always right in front of them, you don't hear the audience perspective.

F. A SQUARE room seems to be better suited to most of the above
recommendations.

G. Most people recommend "dry" acoustics for rehearsal and "live"
acoustics for performance. I would agree, but don't go to extremes
because a drastic change can affect the singers responses. If you have
the luxury of rehearsing in your performance hall a lot before each
concert, this is less of a concern. If the acoustics in your rehearsal
hall are too "live," it does affect your judgement about blend, balance
and intonation because you just don't hear as objectively -- at least I
don't! But I hate rehearsing in a "dead" room (and so do singers), so
don't get carried away. If you use those movable acoustic panels (Wenger
and lots of other companies make them) you can adjust the acoustics even
after you move into your new facility.

9. Carpeted floor (low pile) and live walls and ceiling seems to work
well. The carpet absorbs foot noise without soaking up too much sound.
Then you can "play" with the acoustics on the walls and ceiling using
those sound modules. Some people don't like carpet because it holds dirt
and dust, which can cause allergy problems for some singers. If your
school does a good job keeping things clean, this should not be a
problem. Remember, too that carpet needs to be vacuumed daily and
shampooed every three months. And you'll need to replace it in 3-5
years.


Thanks to all who responded.

John Warren
Erskine College
warren(a)erskine.edu