St. Augustine Church Brings Speech Intelligibility to the 19th Century
Traditional church uses a light technology touch to maintain speech intelligibility
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Organized religion has embraced media technology to such an extent that churches use various forms of audio and video to differentiate themselves, and as part of strategies aimed at both distributing a message and garnering market share, ethereal as it may be. In a world of mega-churches that can sometimes seem indistinct from large entertainment venues, it’s sometimes hard to remember a time when houses of worship were anything but cutting edge.
Plenty of those establishments still exist, evoking a much earlier and simpler mode of worship; however, they also have to contend with some of the same problems that plagued churches for thousands of years, most notably speech intelligibility. Catholic churches in particular have encountered the issue over the last half century, since the Vatican II liturgical reforms allowed Masses to be celebrated in the vernacular. Before that, a lack of fluency in Latin didn’t necessarily interfere with the ability to appreciate the immersive sonic environment of a typical Catholic church, its hard parallel surfaces encouraging an echoic cloud of reverberation that made the sung and even the spoken words of the ritual part of a larger kind of music.
However, once the Mass became linguistically understandable, it also had to become intelligible as well, and even the most traditional worship spaces had to find ways to address that.
One of those is St. Augustine Parish Community Church, in Minster, Ohio, a Catholic church that traces its beginnings back to the early 19th century. Its main structure was built before the Civil War and while it has undergone numerous repairs and additions since then, its basic interior design would be familiar to even its earliest congregants. But, if they were trying to understand what was being said from the altar, they’d have the same problems as their descendants did, at least until the church, which is protective of its traditional physical presence, acknowledged the need for some technical assistance.
Nothing to Soak It Up
“There was nothing to soak up the sound in the church, which has stone floors and walls and wooden pews,” says Greg Owen, who describes himself as a “tech volunteer” at the church but whose facility with acoustical concepts underscores a better-than-average grasp of acoustical challenges churches like St. Augustine face. But, he adds, the church fiercely guards its traditional look, adding a metaphorical twist on their response to technology. “If I so much as brought up putting carpets in [to address reverb], they’d stone me,” he laughs.
But pragmatism trumped
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