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Danville Community Presbyterian Church
Completed in 1979, the sanctuary of the Danville Community Presbyterian Church epitomizes worship center design trends of the era. The structure is an irregular eight-sided polygon, slightly elongated, with seating provided for just under 800 when configured for Sunday worship. Intersecting wooden roof beams separate the vaulted ceiling from the broad seating area, lending a sense of intimacy to the space, while natural light floods in from a clear window that frames a wooded section mountainside-part of a mountain ridge separating the San Ramon Valley from the eastern side of the San Francisco Bay.
A Nice Room...but Tough to Cover
"The church didn't have a praise band when this structure was designed," says Craig Ferrill, chairman of the church's Sanctuary Renewal Team," and wouldn't have one for many years to come. Back then, the sound system was for voice only. Music was limited to organ and acoustic piano, and unamplified choir. I'm sure nobody at the time had any notion of the problems we'd be looking at 20 years later."
Ferrill certainly holds a unique perspective on the sound reinforcement needs of the church. Not only is he the lead guitarist in the praise band, but by profession he is an electrical engineer who holds a top technical management post at a cellular phone company. As one unusually knowledgeable in sound reinforcement technology (for a church layperson), Ferrill was reluctant to accept any compromises in quality when a new system was proposed as part of the church's top-to-bottom sanctuary renovation project in 1999.
High Flying Shot Down
The Sanctuary Renewal Team drafted a comprehensive list of desired sound system characteristics, which included the ability to carry a wide range of music (including high energy styles for the Saturday night youth service) as well as video sound tracks, spoken word and choral presentations. The speaker clusters had to be compact and unobtrusive, because, Ferrill maintains, "you don't want people being distracted by large, black boxes." But at the top of the list was consistent, uniform coverage throughout the room.
Ferrill and his fellow team members visited churches of similar size, with similar worship styles, in the area to appraise possibilities, and then brought a few finalists into the sanctuary for auditions during brief pauses in the ongoing reconstruction.
Pro Media, a Meyer Sound dealer in nearby El Sobrante, brought in two CQ-2 loudspeakers from the company's rental stock and, using a Genie lift, deployed them in roughly their current positions. "It was a dramatic demonstration of the quality of the system," says Ferrill. "The CQ-2 was the overwhelming choice. It had such a smooth, natural sound, and also great dynamic range. It could get very loud, but even at very soft levels it didn't lose the highs and lows." Also, according to Ferrill, the demonstration gave clear evidence that the CQ-2 clusters could cover the room and still prevent bleed into microphones on stage. "We were very concerned about feedback because of the way the room is shaped, where the stage is located, and where we would have to put the speakers to get room coverage. When we looked at the other products, we didn't see the same level of precision in controlling both the horizontal and vertical dispersion from the cabinet that we saw in the CQ-2."
The Meyer self-powered loudspeakers were more expensive than conventional amplifier and speaker combinations, Ferrill notes, but some of the differential was made up by labor cost reductions in simplified installation. Also, he adds, the church had wisely budgeted for a system that would serve the congregation for many years to come.
"We have 1,500 attending services every week now, and we expect that to grow to 3,000 over the next ten years. If that's the case, then this system is going to get a workout. We wanted something built to last, that has been road tested and well proven. In that respect, we felt that the CQ-2 was well worth the price."
Seasoned Ears Take Charge
"I've mixed on all the big-name rigs," he says, "but the Meyer systems always stood out. You can really hear everything you are doing. Indoors or out, the clarity is just scary. And they don't get harsh on you when pushed hard, which is extremely important in churches."
Tillery now mixes all three Sunday services personally, though volunteer back-up mixers are in training. His right hand man (age 13) mixes the Saturday night youth service while Tillery "works" on stage behind the Roland V-drums.
After four months of service, with all the fine-tuning and re-tweaking complete, the new system has met or exceeded all expectations. And the expectations were high, on both the part of the pastor and the congregation.
"Danville is an affluent community and most of the people here have great car stereos and high end home theater systems," notes Tillery. "They are used to hearing music that is clear and full, with no distortion. Also, the space will be rented out for concerts and recitals, so they knew it just made sense to get the best system they possibly could."
Intimate Sound for a Large Space
As both engineer and musician, Craig Ferrill seems appreciative of both the technical and aesthetic virtues of the new system. But it's in his role as active church member where he expresses the most satisfaction in the role his team played in creating a new "joyful noise" in the Danville Community Presbyterian Church. "We knew we weren't just doing this for ourselves. It was also for the next generation coming into the church in the future. We wanted something that was of lasting value. That played into the equation as well."