Basil writes some thoughts on acoustics in orthodox churches and mentions an excellent article by Reader David Nelson. I found this nice HTML version of the same article, Acoustical Guidelines for Orthodox Churches. Acoustical design can significantly impact Orthodox worship. Without proper care, the clarity of the speech and chanting will be lost and noise will be a distraction.
I’ve found it fascinating to read similar articles about the importance of acoustics in the Jewish Synagogue and find that most of the same design requirements apply.
Synagogue Acoustics: “Shema Yisrael (Hear, Israel) strongly implies that acoustics is fundamentally important to the design of Synagogues.… A pleasant sound and good speech intelligibility are blessings that will make the experience of the worship service more enjoyable, and create a precious opportunity to hear the human voice partaking in that most human activity, prayer.”
One thing I hadn’t realized is that electronically amplified sound is not permitted in the Orthodox Synagogue on the Sabbath. This has led to innovative solutions such as the Acousto-Fluidic Sound Augmentation that may produce better sound: “An interesting advantage of acoustic augmentation over electronic amplification is the fact that the entire process occurs at the speed of sound rather than at the speed of light. In our system the sound travels through the sound pipes at the same speed as the voice in air so that the sound coming out of a speaker arrives at the same time as the spoken voice or the outputs of nearer horns and, as a result, there is no bothersome echoing. Using an electronic system one has to specially design in time delays to prevent echoing. Consequently the acousto-fluidic system provides a very natural sound and rendition.”
Silence is Golden: “Some times we don’t want to hear everything. Imagine if you could hear and understand every conversation at your office. It would be terribly distracting. But when we do want to hear every little thing—at a religious service, in an important meeting, at a play, or at a concert—background noise is critical. During a lecture or sermon, any audible sound not made by the speaker is noise; during a performance, any audible sound not created by a performer is noise.” This general article about accoustics identifies many sources of noise. Ones that will most affect us at St. Athanasius are traffic noise, air conditioning, and buzz / hum from lights.