Music Center at Strathmore

The Music Center at Strathmore is renowned for its innovative acoustic design. The design in and of itself is its own art installation. Every form, shape and space has a significant function to balance sound while allowing for a dynamic range of sounds to be experienced. The high notes are crisp and not tinny, and the low notes are warm and full-bodied without fading away too soon. Arrangements and orchestrations are easily heard note for note from every seat in the house.

If an acoustician has accomplished their myriad of tasks to design a musical hall accurately, there is no bad seat in the house; meaning everyone in attendance should be able to receive the same notes in hearing at the exact same time. Magical synchronicity? Maybe a touch of that, but mostly the architecture of acoustics is a science. The architectural, structural and mechanical design of the entire building was determined by the requirements of the acoustic engineer. The shape of the floor, walls and roof; the wood flooring; and even the type of paint were dictated by acoustic specifications.

Acoustician Carl Giegold was one of the collaborators on the project. He offers a quick lesson on acoustic design. The reverberation time in this space is two seconds. This is the time it takes for a sound to be appropriately full, correctly received by the listener, and enveloping mid-frequency around middle C on the keyboard. Reverberation time is most commonly known as the amount of time it takes an impulsive sound to decay by 60 decibels. Human hearing decreases at lower frequencies, so lower frequencies require a longer decibel time in order to maintain acoustic warmth without early sound decay. 

Design elements help the sound soar and function appropriately. For example, the roof was raised over the third balcony in a swooping shape to offer more resonance. The metal ceiling offers 12 feet of volume in its attic which marries with mid-level volume to create dynamic sound. The tall rear wall serves to push the sound back toward the front of the hall for the benefit of the performer, so they are better able to hear their notes. An adjustable bank of acoustic reflectors hangs above the stage’s platform and highlights the long, graceful curve of the roof creating additional resonance. Reflectors cover the orchestra over the first few rows, which helps sound resonate for those seated in the balconies. 

In the Strathmore, sound travels up to one-half mile before it can be heard. Another variable to take into consideration is that the people in attendance absorb sound. Wool banners and velour curtains absorb sound during amplified performances to avoid overmodulation. Sound responds to the exposed concrete curves and undulations of the wall. The hall’s concrete walls are 16 inches thick to improve acoustics. The purple ceiling is made of brass mesh and can hide volume diffusing the sound. The ceiling canopy can be deployed at different levels.

“This custom canopy technology has really only been around for the last 50 years,” Carl says.

The state-of-the-art theater equipment system comprises 98 motors, which varies the acoustics within the concert hall, making specific adjustments for amplified rock shows as well as acoustic orchestral performances. If you think about it, seated in the Strathmore awaiting the first note, one is actually inside a shape-shifting, movable sculpture. The mechanical design elements achieve acoustic excellence and can be controlled with a handheld touchscreen device.

The Music Center at Strathmore is visually stunning and glows almost gold. The music performed in the space sounds golden too thanks to the architecture of acoustics.