A ringing melody

When Abbie Dillon (’16) plays her instrument with four fellow tuba players beside her and a blaring percussion ensemble behind her, she can’t help but shift her focus from the music she’s playing to the music blasting in her ear.

Due to the growing music program, specifically the concert band, the main rehearsal room Y–102 no longer accommodates the mass of student musicians.

While Dillon can’t avoid the noise, she only experiences the deafening level once every two days.

Performing Arts Department Head Bronwyn Harrison believes that music teachers experience the greatest effects. “The risks for the students aren’t as much as you think they are. The risks are really for the teachers and they’re all hearing risks,” she said. “If you’re exposed to loud noise over a large period of time for a number of hours, you have risk of hearing loss.”

After the music department reported concerns with the noise of the room to Director of Operations Jim Heynderickx, acousticians from Gilleron Scott, an acoustic consultant, conducted a report in the first semester. The report showed that during certain rehearsals, the noise level reached extremely high levels, unsuitable for band teachers with repeated exposure to the noise, but not risking damage for students.

Providing an immediate fix for the problem, the facilities and maintenance team added acoustical curtains to the room over Spring Break, which should reduce the reverberation and decibel levels in the room. “They’re designed to absorb sound instead of reflect in the back,” Heynderickx said.

Dillon appreciates the additions of the acoustical curtains. “It’s helpful just because it does give everyone a little more room to breathe and that will improve playing,” she said. “As with the curtains, as a band we do sound better and the sound is less dry, but just having a little more space and not being so cramped has made everyone a little more comfortable.”

Apart from the safety concerns, the noise level impedes the musical environment. “I wouldn’t say it’s hindering our performance, but if we had a bigger space, then we definitely would be performing better,” Dillon said. “We are able to perform just fine, but I think this year is really pushing it with numbers. Next year if the band keeps growing the way it has been, then they’re going to have a serious problem with the room.”

Band Teacher Gordon Graham concurs that students need more space for a greater musical product. “When there’s that amount of sound going on, it needs space for it to literally travel and be absorbed in. If all they can hear is percussion really loudly in their left ear or the trombones, you’re not getting the true musical information that a musician needs in order to learn, to be a better musician,” Graham said.

Though acoustics remain the main musical concern for the department, other issues hinder the room as well. “It’s not just the acoustics of the room, it’s the crowdedness… it’s not super comfortable just in terms of a space,” Heynderickx said.

Dillon finds the room “uncomfortable,” citing temperature control (or lackthereof) as the largest contributor to the discomfort. “It gets hot really fast, I wouldn’t say people are really, really squished, but it would be more comfortable if there was a bit more space,” Dillon said.

Other music ensembles, such as the choir, face difficulty with space. Choir member Sophie Partridge-Hicks (’17) feels a discrepancy between the acoustics of the choir room and the School Center. “We always have to go to the School Center to try to get better acoustics and it’s always not the same when we perform there,” Partridge-Hicks said.

Removing instrument storage lockers from the band room, which are currently held in the Gym Foyer, afforded an interim solution for the lack of space. “The goal of that was to increase the volume of the room. It also makes it more comfortable that they’re not packed so tightly together,” Heynderickx said.

Graham appreciates the improvements amidst the acoustic report. “[Gilleron Scott] did make some very strong recommendations and the school I think is now following through on some of those, looking at what they recommended, one of which is try and create more space so the sound has somewhere to go, and also lower the exposure of the band teachers.”

While the additional acoustical tools and space alleviated some problems, Heynderickx recognizes the need for more permanent progress. “The room isn’t perfect. There are still many other things that could be done to increase volume and to reduce the noise,” he said.

Heynderickx and the administration remain uncertain of a definitive time frame to resolve the concerns with space and sound level.

Harrison believes the trouble with the band room requires further swift and meaningful action. “It’s not something that we can put off. It’s something that’s as important as anything that concerns the health and safety of the faculty and the students.”