Auditorium renovations to enhance musical performances

Taylor Corley, Campus Carrier arts and living editor

Berry College students and music ensembles will be seeing the benefits of the newly renovated Ford auditorium in the spring of 2020. The state-of-the-art acoustics will be in full effect enhancing the musical experience for both the audience and performers.

Renovations started in early May and have continued throughout the beginning of this academic year. Over the summer, the second and third floor of Ford were remodeled, and the music department was able to move back into their classrooms the last week of August.

However, the biggest buzz surrounds the changes being made to the auditorium.

“The building before it was renovated was very limited in its acoustics,” Adam Hayes, associate professor of fine arts and music, said. “It was designed as less of a music hall and more of a general assembly hall.”

Most colleges and universities have several different halls, all catering to the needs of different instruments. It’s not uncommon for them to have three or four different music halls.

“If the school is hosting a 90 piece orchestra they’re going to perform in one hall and a small voice choir is going to perform in another,” Hayes said.

Before the Ford auditorium renovations, Berry music ensemble had the challenge of trying to make all of performances happen in one space. As a result, often the choir and classical guitar concerts took place in Frost Chapel or the College Chapel. Now, all of the ensembles will be able to perform in the same place.

In the new building, the acoustics can be adjusted manually.

“It’s basically going to have powered acoustical panels that can be lowered down with the push of a button to deaden the sound for larger ensembles and can be raised to liven the sound for smaller instruments and allow more echo,” Hayes said.

The design idea came from an engineering firm based out of Chicago. The company specializes in designing concert halls around the country. The engineers worked with Berry to come up with a design that would preserve the historic bones and structure of the Ford auditorium while still improving the sound quality inside.

“The most dramatic change was the renovation of the ceiling,” Hayes said. “They tore out the old ceiling and are coming in with a nice, tongue and groove wooden ceiling that’s going to have a huge effect on sound amplification.”

The renovations also include moving the stage, adding an amplifying sound system, and installing state-of-the-art video and voice recording software.

Before the instillation of the preset recording system, ensembles would have to set up mics and amplifiers. Now performances or rehearsals can be recorded at anytime with the push of a button.

This recording system is an important addition because it will help students further their music career beyond Berry.

“Now students can save these recordings for auditions, summer programs, or graduate schools,” Paul Neal, Director of Choral Activities said. “It’s giving them a better outlet for their own professional development in other projects.”

Renovations are being made to enhance the audeince’s experience as well. There will be new seating, lighting, and an air conditioning system.

The new AC system is called Slow Flow.

“It is designed for concert halls because it doesn’t make any noise when it’s on,” Hayes said. “If we were recording a professional track in the auditorium, we wouldn’t have to turn the air off to record, we could actually leave it on.”

Everything is being changed based on acoustics, from the lobby design to the toilet placement in the bathrooms. There will also be an updated green room where the artists prepare and get ready before a show.

Berry has one of the oldest, most established music departments in the state and they have a reputation for high quality performances. The department has been accredited by the National Association of Schools of Music since the 1960’s and over 10 percent of the student body participates in a music ensembles.

Berry is a top destination for the study of music, but the old auditorium hindered the music program when it came to recruiting.

“Right now our main competitors when it comes to recruiting quality students are the regional colleges and most of them, if not all of them, have better facilities and greater concert halls, so hopefully this renovation is going to help us level the playing field a bit when it comes to recruiting,” said Hayes.

The hope is that people from outside of Berry will want to perform and record in this auditorium. Overall, the facility renovations are going to significantly enhance the attraction to Berry College’s music program.

“The new performing space will be one of the best in the area,” Neal said.

Renovations have caused slight difficulty with scheduling performances and rehearsals because the auditorium is completely out of use. As a result, practices are currently being held in Ford dining hall, the College Chapel and Frost Chapel, and some events are taking place in Krannert Ballroom.

“I don’t want to convey it has been hard on us at all — it’s a welcomed challenge — but it’s been a challenge to try and find places for all 17 ensembles,” Hayes said.

Students will be able to see the new auditorium late next semester. The choirs, accompanied by two pianists and a percussionist, will perform “Carmina Burana” at an inaugural concert. The musicians will also perform a piece composed by Dwayne Milburn in honor of the new hall.

In the old hall, there were verses from Psalm 96 on the wall, circling the building. The verses were inspiration for the song being composed by Milburn.

“The psalms will still be featured in the new auditorium, but as an ode to our old building and in honor of the new one, Dwayne Milburn is composing a piece for the choir to sing based off the texts,” Neal said.

The renovations are estimated to be done by the start of next semester, but the auditorium will be open for students to see and performers to use after the inaugural concert in April.

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