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Danville Community Presbyterian Church


"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."

- Craig Ferrill
Chair of the church's Sanctuary Renewal Team

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
When you walk into the freshly renovated room today, the visual effect of the space remains one of balanced spaciousness and intimacy. And, when you clap your hands, you don't hear any difficult slap echoes: the multiple non-parallel surfaces work with the upholstery and carpeting to diffuse and absorb stray sounds. It might seem as an easy assignment for a system designer, until you see the full praise band on the stage, the obvious necessity of keeping the window views clear, the tiers of choir risers fronting the adjoining wall, and then start to consider just where the loudspeaker clusters should go. If you want to provide even, full-bandwidth coverage throughout this room at moderately high levels, the odd architecture seems to frustrate any approach you to take. That's why the position of the two Meyer Sound CQ-2 clusters might not seem ideal at first glance-until you realize other options are problematic.

"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
"There wasn't any single obvious solution," Ferrill admits. "It would have been relatively easy to fly the speaker clusters up high if it weren't for the roof beams. But the beams would block the high frequencies in too many seats, so we rejected that option. The loudspeakers had to come down below, but then it wasn't easy finding loudspeakers that could cover all the seats evenly, without causing feedback problems, and that also could give us the sound quality we wanted."

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."

Precise Placement
Pro Media president Drew Serb handled the exacting task of specifying placement angles for the two clusters, each comprising two horizontally arrayed CQ-2 cabinets. Pro Media system sales engineer Greg Willis served as on-site project manager, working in close consultation with Ferrill and Lloyd Kinkade of Meyer Sound. Pro Media also designed a delay system that incorporates three Meyer UPA-1 cabinets that were the cornerstone of the previous system-serving the church well for more than a decade (the pre-praise band era) and are still going strong. One delayed UPA-1 now covers the very back of the sanctuary as well as the sound booth itself, which had to be tucked away out of the main cluster pattern due to fire code restrictions. The other two UPA-1 cabinets cover the adjacent chapel area, which holds the overflow crowds present at almost every service.

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
The church felt that its new system deserved special care and oversight, as well as live music mixing experience, so a month before the Christmas debut, Darwin Tillery was hired as the church's new Technical Director. A seasoned engineer who has mixed tours for (M.C.) Hammer among others, Tillery still finds time to operate his own sound company on the side, the Oakland-based Joyful Noise. He was thrilled to discover that he would be working with a Meyer self-powered system.

"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 for the pastor, one of his primary concerns was making sure that the fast-growing church did not start sounding too big, too impersonal. "When we went before the session [church governing body], they were very strong on this point," Ferrill recalls. "They told us they want it to sound like the pastor was standing four feet in front of you, talking to you personally, and they wanted it to sound like that in every chair, front to back. I told them that it wouldn't be easy, but I think we have come very close to that kind of natural sound. It doesn't sound like a big PA. The room actually sounds smaller than it really is."

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."

May, 2000



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