This evening I was invited by Lynn and Meredith (two other Americans at the ICS) to go to a live performance of “some type of classical music.” They weren’t quite sure what it was going to be, but they’d heard about it at the tourism office and they were told it was free. So off we went!
It turned out to be Handel’s Messiah, performed by the Budapest Strings Orchestra. I’d never heard this piece live before and I’m glad my first experience with it was in the old Roman Catholic church here in Kecskemet. We were sitting in the second row, and the acoustics were really amazing. The tones reverberated in the air for several seconds after the musicians stopped playing or singing. When the orchestra and choir were at their loudest, you could feel the sounds vibrate in your chest, much like when you’re out gettin’ your dance on and the bass is super loud. This was different though, because the music was all acoustic, and it was the church itself amplifying the sound.
Naturally this made me interested in the acoustics of old churches. There’s been quite a bit of research done on them over the years. Here are two of the articles I read, if you’re curious too:
“Acoustic Characterization of Worship Ambience [sic] in Catholic Churches – Old Goa’s Capela do Monte: A comprehensive example.”
The Acoustic Characterization of Worship Ambience, a method used in Old Goa’s Capela do Monte (a significant Catholic church of Goa, a former Portuguese colony in India), introduces a new concept of describing the worship mood through evaluation of architectural acoustics results. [Bold is my emphasis.] Three acoustically constituted worship parameters named Sacred Factor (SaF), Intelligibility Factor (InF) and Silence Factor (SiF) are presented in this study. The constituent subjective acoustic measures were analyzed and averaged in four listener zones within the church. The objective acoustic parameters RASTI, RT, EDT, D50, C80, TS, ITDG, G, and Leq were measured. All acoustic parameters were normalized using the data of previous acoustic measurements in Portuguese Churches.
SaF was found to relate with Initial Time Delay Gap (ITDG) (R2 = 0.99) with a “F-Statistic” probability (p < 0.01). InF related with D50 and EDT (R2 = 0.99) (p = 0.07) and with subjective Directionality (R2 = 0.95) (p = 0.03). SiF showed correlation with G (R2 = 0.99) (p = 0.05). The tested prediction equations derived from regression analysis showed the possibility of evaluating and designing a “Tranquil Worship Mood parameter” in a Church, from measured and calculated acoustic parameters.”
I should probably come clean and tell you I might have skimmed parts of that one (it’s a little too heavy on the math for me). The sections I did read were highly informative, however! 🙂
The other one is a lot easier on the brain but no less interesting: Acoustic History Revisted
This paper will attempt to show that after the Roman Empire yet before the acoustical experiments of the eighteenth century (which are considered by too many acousticians as the true beginning of their science), there was a profusion of acoustical ideas, practices, and accomplishments. This text is above all for architects, a document reviewing sonic architectural expression of the past. It is one of many ways of “reading” a building, of understanding it Traditionally, visual sensations are considered predominant, yet other sensations can be acknowledged as well. It is possible thus to study architecture from a tactile, thermal, olfactory, or auditory point of view. […]”
That particular text talks quite a bit about using built-in eccentricities of architecture to spy on people (through eavesdropping), way back in the day.
Apparently I’m attempting to educate you this evening, because I also became curious about Handel and I’m going to link to a short text on him: Messiah
“The establishment of Messiah as a venerated English institution for Christmas and Choral Societies has a long and complicated history. A few excerpts are familiar to almost everybody, unlike any other work by its prolific and misunderstood composer. Messiah remains Handel’s best known work, although this was not a status that it enjoyed until the last few years of his life, brought about by annual performances in Handel’s oratorio seasons and charitable benefit concerts at the Foundling Hospital (an organisation for underprivileged children, and which still exists today as The Thomas Coram Foundation). It was not originally envisaged as a Christmas tradition, but its microcosm of Christian doctrine and faith was intended as a timely thought-provoker for Lent and Easter. ”
This is a paper that’s about a page long, and it gives a pretty nice synopsis of the history behind the Messiah. I don’t know how accurate it is because the author doesn’t cite his sources (although he does give a bibliography at the end), and the place I chose to double-check his statements was wikipedia, but… meh!… I think it probably gives the general idea and that’s all I was after.
Once again, the audience was uber-respectful, which made the whole experience that much more pleasant. Hungarians could teach the rest of the world a thing or two on attending public performances, I think. Anyway, here is a picture of the inside of the church and some people’s heads, since I didn’t want to raise my camera very high and be the only annoying one in the crowd. There’s a short video clip on my facebook page as well.
Budapest Strings performing Handel's Messiah
Ceiling of the church. (Bad picture, I'm sorry!) Does anyone know how to get rid of dust specks that are under the camera's lens?