Congregational Singing and Acoustics -- By: P. J. Janson

Journal: Reformation and Revival
Volume: RAR 04:4 (Fall 1995)
Article: Congregational Singing and Acoustics
Author: P. J. Janson

Congregational Singing and Acoustics

P. J. Janson

Some time ago, the building committee at our church decided to install carpet in the sanctuary. I prepared a comprehensive submission, complete with supporting documentation, requesting that the committee reconsider their decision, paying particular attention to how music would be affected by the introduction of sound-absorbing materials. This plea, however, fell on deaf ears, and carpet was installed the next month.

The carpeted floor resulted in a reduced sound reflection, which in turn meant that the choir has found it more difficult to sing. Sopranos have difficulty hearing the basses, altos, and tenors. Indeed, many have found that except for their neighbor on the left and right, it has become difficult to hear one’s own section. It is clear that this poses difficulty in the choir, as their ability to sing as a group has been compromised, and their intonation has suffered as a consequence.

The change in acoustics not only affected choral singing, but indeed all music that is part of the worship service—and in particular congregational singing.

J. Ferguson comments on how acoustics and congregational singing are inextricably linked:

A basic requirement for vital congregational music and worship is a live acoustical environment. Music takes on a warmth and comes alive in a room that has resonance. Congregational singing is always better in such rooms, as each individual loses sense of self and is freed to join the resonant sound of other singers. In a real way the resonant room contributes to the sense of community that is essential to congregational worship. 1

It is noteworthy that nearly everything in worship is sound-related: Scripture reading, prayers, the words of the sacraments, sermon, and of course the corporate event of congregational singing. The question, then, is, how does the worship space accommodate these activities effectively?

In the Reformed tradition, the church building is “a functional place, in which the Christian community may meet together as a corporate expression of their common life in Jesus Christ.” 2 No one will argue that the introduction of carpet in a church will affect the acoustics, but the difficulty lies in the word “acoustics.” Good acoustics will mean something different for an office, a concert hall, and a church building. It is the function of the room which determines what good acoustics are. In this respect, the Protestant church is functionally an “auditorium”—a room where one hea...

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