Academic journal article Psychomusicology

Influence of Virtual Room Acoustics on Choir Singing

Academic journal article Psychomusicology

Influence of Virtual Room Acoustics on Choir Singing

Article excerpt

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The aesthetic appreciation of a choir performance heavily relies on both the singers' skills and the acoustical characteristics of the venue. Choir directors usually know that choral performances are greatly influenced by room acoustics, while the choir singers experience the difference between singing in a small room for practice and performing in a comparatively large space like a concert hall. Clearly, it would be beneficial for musicians to understand both the effect of room acoustical features on their performance and how best to adjust tempo, phrasing, dynamics, and other musical parameters with respect to a given venue's acoustical environment.

Investigations into the interplay of acoustics and architecture in ancient Greek and Roman theaters reveal that architects from this early period, such as Vitruvius, were already aware of the physical aspects of sound wave propagation and general aspects of room acoustics (Declercq & Dekeyser, 2007; Farnetani, Prodi, & Pompoli, 2008). In later times, scholars like Athanasius Kircher (1602- 1680) systematically explored the characteristics of acoustic spaces through various experiments on the reflection of sound, as documented in Part IV of the ninth book of his Musurgia Universalis (Kircher, 1650).

Likewise, early composers were knowledgeable about the acoustical features of the locations in which their music was performed (in churches, concert halls, chambers, open-air, etc.). Indeed, the room size of a venue was reflected in certain composition rules, the way of instrumentation, and specific styles of performance of that time. For instance, in contrast to traditional (unison) Gregorian chants, melodic lines (with separate voices) in Renaissance polyphony were often composed in a specific manner to avoid stylistically unsuitable dissonances that could occur due to late early reflections and very long reverberation times in large rooms (e.g., Wilson, 1959).

Additionally, composers of the late Renaissance and early Baroque period developed the Venetian polychoral style by placing groups of singers at different positions in a church in order to adapt to the acoustical conditions of (large) churches in Venice (e.g., Zarlino, 1558). Though this kind of musical conceptualization remains a special case of interaction between music and architec- ture, it shows that composers had a considerable knowledge of the influence of room acoustics. Later on, musicians and composers like Quantz (1752) and Mozart (1756) provided a number of recommendations regarding room size and how to adjust the style of performance (e.g., tempo adjustments) to the acoustical characteristics of a venue. For instance, Quantz (1752) recommends playing slower in large rooms compared to playing in small chambers to preserve the intelligibility of the music.

Taking into account the important role of acoustics for music performances, it is surprising that not much research has been done in this area from the musicians' point of view as compared to the listener's perspective which is a crucial factor in designing concert halls. Gade (1989a, 1989b), as one of the rare architectural acousticians who has considered acoustic conditions in concert halls from the musician's perspective, suggested a few objective parameters like "support" and "hearing each other" that are linked to the subjective impressions of musicians regarding room acoustics during concerts.

Empirical studies on the influence of room acoustics on solo music performance revealed that up to 50% of a performance feature's variance such as, tempo or loudness may be explained by room acoustical parameters (Schärer Kalkandjiev & Weinzierl, 2013). Solo musicians seem to intuitively adjust their performance to the room's acoustical situation, with "tempo" being one of the parameters significantly influenced by the specific reverberation time (RT) of the music venue (Schärer Kalkandjiev & Weinzierl, 2015; Ueno, Kato, & Kawai, 2010; Kato, Ueno, & Kawai, 2015). …

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