Sounds from Silence—The Miller
It was cool all right. On February 23rd smooth symphonic sounds resonated inside the Miller Theater. The invitation had encouraged us to bring a blanket and dress warmly as there would be no heat in the building. Bring chairs, too, for orchestra seating. This was to be an Event despite the spartan accommodations, and we wouldn’t have missed it for anything.
Larry Kirkegaard, the master acoustician directing the sound check, had instructed us about the effects to listen for in different areas of the auditorium. He also explained that the structure of the building supported the probability for full, clear sound. Seated in our folding chairs, camp chairs, and beach chairs, we experienced tests ranging from amplified music to various random sound pitches, ending in natural “unplugged” music provided by performers from the Symphony Orchestra Augusta. (SOA) Between checks we could move to other areas of the house to hear the selections from that perspective, a great opportunity for choosing one’s season seating choice before the Grand Opening. Throughout the orchestra section the sound was amazingly consistent from left to right and even from front to back. Much of this can be attributed to the open lobby area in the back of the house where the sound travels upward through the balcony and returns to the back of the house as well as arriving directly from the stage. Mr. Kirkegaard noted the richness throughout the hall. “The sound deep under the balcony was so nourished with sound reflected by the rear wall of the foyer and by the sound making its way through the balcony entry steps and mezzanine openness, that there was barely a change in quality from front to back under the balcony.” A full circle of sound is achieved with fullness especially for symphonic and choral music.
As volunteer audience members, we were there for several purposes, not just to satisfy our own curiosity. We and our blankets provided insulation in the auditorium to simulate a full house for the acoustics team’s instruments. Additionally the front area of the house had been layered with rows of insulation. Listening carefully we noted the intensity, clarity, and fullness of the various sounds being tested. Smiles were everywhere. In this age where we require excellent sound experiences in our lives including our iPods, our car stereos, computer speakers, and noise reduction headphones, here we were sharing the sound experience together. We could only imagine and thrill in the possibilities of listening to a full orchestra in such a magnificent setting.
Looking around, we were not blind to the decay that has befallen the Miller. However it is structurally sound and Mr. Kirkegaard himself states that the “Miller Theater does indeed have ‘good bones’ and extraordinary potential. We learned that its transformation will demand attention to excellence, but not extravagance to achieve.” We have work to do, but we do not have major obstacles to make the Miller into a superior concert hall. We are not pioneers in this field, for other cities have found gold in their old venues. Portland, Oregon took the challenge to renovate its abandoned movie theater, the Paramount, built in 1928. Since its opening in 1984 the famous Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall (aka The Paramount or “The Schnitz”) has become the home of the Oregon Symphony, Portland Youth Philharmonic, Metropolitan Youth Symphony, White Bird Dance Company, and Portland Arts & Lectures. The Concert Hall has inspired the development of a complete Performing Art Center surrounding her leading Portland to an exciting cultural renaissance. We, Augustans, can achieve such a goal. Can’t you almost hear it?
This winter theater gathering was an exhilarating event, and further proved that the Miller Project is a sound investment—it’s all about quality Sound! The most exciting prospect is that it is happening now. We have been waiting for an adequate space for concerts forever, and soon we will have the opportunity to hear superb performances as they have been so carefully rehearsed. Our audiences will really appreciate those initial sound checks we witnessed that February day—it was oh so cool.
Anne M. Bell
July 24, 2013