Liberty University Concert Hall Takes Variable Acoustics to the Next Level

by Thomas S. Friedman
in Installations
The main concert hall at Liberty University’s School of Music is shown here with the telescoping choir seating in place. Spacious FOH position features a DiGiCo SD5 house console. Photo by Alan Karchmer
The main concert hall at Liberty University’s School of Music is shown here with the telescoping choir seating in place. Spacious FOH position features a DiGiCo SD5 house console. Photo by Alan Karchmer

The pride of Lynchburg, VA, Liberty University’s School of Music, set a new benchmark for acoustical flexibility as it debuts one of the world’s first performance venues to offer adjustable architectural acoustics working hand-in-hand with Meyer Sound’s Constellation active acoustic system. Students, faculty, guest ensembles and the surrounding community can now experience musical performances of any genre in acoustical surroundings precisely tailored for optimum benefit.

Ranked among the leading music education programs in the nation, Liberty University’s School of Music committed to building a world-class venue for orchestral and choral music as the centerpiece of its new 141,000-square-foot Center for Music and Worship Arts. The Charlottesville, VA-based architecture firm VMDO tasked David Greenberg of Creative Acoustics (Westport, CT) with designing a hall that could deliver optimum response across a wide range of uses.

“Initially, my brief was only to design a hall ideally suited for acoustical music performances, and I included adjustable architectural features to accommodate those uses,” says Greenberg. “But the hall also would be used by the School of Religion, with a program rich in amplified music styles ranging from ballads to rock. And it would be used for touring performances as well. That’s where Constellation came into the picture. I worked closely with Meyer Sound’s team to understand the capabilities of Constellation so the school could best take advantage of having both technologies at their disposal.”

A wider view of the hall (with the choir seating retracted) gives a feeling for the venue’s wide expanse and elaborate ceiling detail. Photo by David Greenberg

‡‡         The Holy Grail

Greenberg points out that having two adjustable systems working to complement each other affords unique opportunities for crafting aural environments. “A Holy Grail of acoustics is being able to precisely adjust the second order decay,” he says. “The reverberation gets out of the way so that the sounds you want to be clear and distinct are not covered up. Here, you can have the physical acoustic providing initial reverb decay, that dies off, and then you have the active acoustic continuing beyond that in a totally controllable fashion.”

The ultimate benefit, he continues, is greater flexibility. “Certain types of music will benefit more than others, but having the two systems together means the range of programs you can host with optimum response is much wider.”

According to Michael Gerringer, AV architect and large public venue manager for the university, the turning point in deciding to build a “world’s-first” system came during a visit to Northland Church near Orlando, the first house of worship to be equipped with Constellation.

“Our music school dean, Vernon Whaley, fell in love with what he heard there and said we really need to have this in our new hall,” recalls Gerringer.

The physical acoustics of the hall are altered using motorized drapes and vertical banners selectively covering wall areas behind the stage and around the perimeter of the auditorium.

The Constellation active component comprises 48 miniature microphones spaced around the hall for sensing ambient acoustics, together sending signals to a D-Mitri digital audio platform that includes four dedicated processors (one for each reverberation zone) that host patented VRAS acoustical algorithms. The resulting acoustical characteristics are created in the space by 303 compact loudspeakers and 18 compact subwoofers, also distributed throughout the hall to emulate the reverberant effect of reflective surfaces.

Some of the 300-plus suspended downfiring ceiling speakers that are part of the Meyer Constellation system.. Photo by Alan Karchmer

‡‡         The Real-World Test

The system’s capabilities were given a workout for the annual “Christmas on the Boulevard” concert. It started with the school’s orchestra and choral ensembles performing excerpts from Handel’s Messiah in the first part of the program.

After intermission, the lineup included a variety of numbers from popular holiday films, and the event closed with traditional carols. “Everybody was in awe after that event,” recalls Gerringer. “It was astonishing what we could get out of that room.”

Gerringer adds that the Constellation system “will give our students a greater knowledge of the technologies that are available in the real world. We can push the envelope of audio and acoustics, and that gives our students an edge when they go out into the workplace.”

In addition to events produced by the university, the new hall will host concerts by the Lynchburg Symphony and touring ensembles such as the Richmond Ballet, accompanied by full orchestra. “It will be open for all kinds of events that fit a 1,600-seat footprint, including conferences, awards shows, perhaps even a presidential debate the next round,” says Gerringer. “With this acoustical flexibility, there’s really no limit to what we can do.”

‡‡         “Big Studio Monitors”

When direct amplification is required, the hall offers a house system based around a Meyer Sound Leopard compact linear line array system. “The Leopard arrays have performed beyond our expectations,” comments Gerringer. “They are clean and transparent, and perform well whether the sound deadening curtains are in or out. I’m an audio mixer myself, and I can hear things through the Leopards that get lost in other P.A. speakers. They are like big studio monitors.”

Supporting the arrays of 15 Leopard loudspeakers per side are two cardioid arrays, each with 1100-LFC low-frequency control elements, four Leopard for center fill, two UPQ-2P loudspeakers for outfill, 14 MM-4XP self-powered loudspeakers for front fill, and 10 UP-4XP loudspeakers for upper balcony fill. Four MINA line array loudspeakers and four UPJ-1P VariO loudspeakers are available for choir loft and stage fill.

‡‡         Other Amenities

Besides the Meyer Sound P.A. and Constellation system, the main hall features DiGiCo SD5 and SD10 consoles (with SD Racks), and connectivity from the facility to the complex’s adjacent recording studio, designed by John Walters of Walters-Storyk Design Group (WSDG).

Onstage, a telescoping choir loft doubles the stage seating from 150 to 300 singers, while easily retracting out of the way when not in use. The stage also features an orchestra pit that can be raised and lowered to three different levels.

‡‡         Putting It All Together

Another principal contributor to the hall’s success was Theatre Consultants Collaborative of Chapel Hill, NC, with Jason Prichard taking charge of overall AV system design. Miami-based Pro Sound & Video handled installation of concert hall audio under the supervision of Brian Bolly.

In addition to the main concert hall, Meyer Sound systems also are at work in 11 smaller performance and learning spaces throughout the new facility, including recital halls, choral and wind/symphony rehearsal rooms, songwriting and computer labs and the guitar commons. A total of 39 Meyer Sound products have been installed in these areas, with the various systems comprising CQ-1 and UPQ-1P loudspeakers, UPJ-1P VariO loudspeakers and Amie precision studio monitors as well as 500-HP subwoofers. Six MJF-210 stage monitors are available for use in the main concert hall.

Liberty University Concert Hall

  • Capacity: 1,600 seats
  • Key Components: Meyer Leopard line arrays, 1100-LFC subs, MM-4XP front fill, UP-4XP balcony fill, UPQ-2P outfill, MINA and UPJ-1P for choir loft and stage fill; Meyer Sound Constellation system on D-Mitri platform with 303 ambience speakers; DiGiCo SD5 FOH console.
  • Integrator: Pro Sound & Video
  • Designers: VMDO, architects; David Greenberg of Creative Acoustics, acoustician; AV design by Jason Prichard, Theatre Consultants Collaborative