I played my only indoor wedding of 2023 in a cute little historic church today (yes, on the California Central Coast, most wedding clients choose "Nature's Cathedral"). The outside looked like 1890, and while the inside was nothing fancy, the acoustics were GLORIOUS!! I honestly can’t stop thinking about it. It felt like I was playing a violin inside another violin. The “nesting doll” acoustic effect created this rich hum that was such a treat to play into.
And that got me thinking about all the thousands of places I’ve played that don’t sound great. It’s actually very rare to find a space you don’t have to fight in some way, or that don’t distract you with thoughts that maybe you need new strings, or more rosin, or less rosin, or new bow hair, or tighter hair, or looser hair, or to just relax more and try not listen so thoroughly!
Particular experiences that come to mind was playing the main stage of the Winnipeg Folk Festival and having to imagine a great sound when all I could actually hear was a set of terrible sounding monitors! Staring out at thousands of people and the sound engineer way off in his tent, I just kept reminding myself that surely it sounded better out there. Thankfully, some footage I saw later sounded great. At least the audience enjoyed nice tone!
I also remember a recording session for one of my Strings magazine video projects. The room sounded so dead, like my violin was made of cardboard! It really threw me off and it took so much focus to power through. A lot of recording studios are in fact spaces I'd never want to play in. These days, since everyone tends to add electronic reverb after the fact, the spaces are often designed to have very little natural resonance. I always encourage my students to get used to playing in a variety of acoustic settings, especially in the weeks leading up to an audition, recital, or recording session. Being able to play despite terrible acoustics is really an art!
On the rare occasion I’m in a place like today where the notes just ring out - though not so long that the reverb becomes distracting, and not so unbalanced that the tone’s body is lost in a wash of echoing treble - it feels like I can do no wrong.
In between ceremony cues and people watching I tend to spend some time looking around at what could have created such magical acoustic spaces. Like my little home studio, which I also really lucked out with acoustic-wise, this space had some unusual angles and a lot of reflective surfaces. Notably there were also a lot of small gaps between the 100+ year old paneling. Maybe that’s the secret? Almost like the technology of manufactured acoustic paneling, but created naturally with the passage of time? Thankfully, my clients were easygoing and besides the bride’s entrance, welcomed me to play whatever I liked. I did!