How to build a simple yet very effective choral shell for $400.
The community based show-chorus I sing with, the Maple Leaf Singers, wanted to do something to improve the sound of our performance for our big fund-raising show - we sing over 15 times per year, but just a pair of shows bring in our critical revenue.
Massey Theatre, the place hosting the big shows, is a big box of a place, with a huge backstage and theatrical fly system. Our singing vanishes into the void, and we tend to yell because the sound balance is off - we can't hear each other. Yelling is not good and lowers our pitch, yet the audience despite our being miked to the limits of feedback, still can't hear us well.
The current option of choice - miking every performer - is not an option for a 60-member group. Nor is changing the venue. In desperation we decided to try sound reflectors, and to my modest surprise (I'm always surprised when something I build succeeds) - it worked better than we had hoped.
Consulting the local experts
First here's what researching with the local theatre people - the ones we consider to be keeners at their craft.They told us that a shell would do nothing for the audience, but would help us hear each other. This alerted us as to what to expect default, so that we weren't disappointed and could design around the default limits.
What our goals were
We wanted to, in decreasing importance:
1. Have the audience hear us - well duh! but today's audience wants volume
2. Hear each other - often taken for granted
3 Hear our monitors- without feedback
4 Hear the audience - this last is what makes it fun!
Studying the shapes of the commercial units, it turns out that a traditional choral shell - costing thousands of dollars and weighing many pounds, does not reflect the sound evenly - by design it scatters it within the choir, so that it primarily supports objective #2.
With modern materials, it seemed might be possible to satisfy more of the objectives, by focusing the sound at the audience, and by "piping" it from one side of the chorus to the other.
So what we built
Our choral shell system has two components, one not very visible, the other very much so. Both are made of the material Coroplast, the lightweight material using to make signs.
We now use this for all performances, as it is easy to set up and gives us consistent sound
This is only for use at the big theatre, directing some sound to the audience and some audience sound to us.
Note that it also acted as a "sonic pipe", transfering sound from riser-left to riser-right and vice-versa.
I used 3 thin wires to bend the panel.
What it looked like in practice, with the segments all linked together with Velcro, flown and lit:
The wonderful Massey staff were keen to try it, and suggest improvements.
The choral shell was very effective in a number of ways, and seemed to have no downside:
- The intra-choral sound was excellent: we could hear each other, didn’t yell, stayed on pitch, and could dis-regard monitors that were too loud or too quiet
- The shell apparently focused the audience attention on the choir, making us look closer and more intimate
- We could hear the audience a bit better; they sounded closer
- We had remarks like “Wow, you guys really had a lot of very difficult harmonies this year!”
- I think he choir most benefited – no-one’s voice was hoarse after 3 days of singing - the first time ever.
- Our pitch was good: I know that the piano/track never sounded sharp and our chorister with perfect pitch reports it was good
- The effect was like singing in the our normal rehearsal hall, perhaps with an even better unit sound - I could hear the ladies on either side and felt a solid crisp group sound. |
- and the cost was low - $400 for 10 sheets of Coroplast, lots of Velcro, and some wood.
SO if you are interested, let me know, and I'll post details of how to make your own.
* The Massey Staff also borrowed a new high-grade overhead microphone that helped.