By Andrew King | As seen in Professional Sound
St. Paul’s Parish touts itself as “a vibrant Roman Catholic parish in Summerside, PE,” and as is often the case, much of that vibrancy comes via the involvement of young worshippers in weekly services.
Reverend Chris Sherren, the pastor at St. Paul’s since the summer of 2014, embodies that youthful spirit himself. Ordained in 2010 and having since spent time at a few churches across the Island, all part of the Diocese of Charlottetown, he spends his downtime snowboarding and strumming his six-string. Prior to being named pastor at St. Paul’s, Sherren served as the spiritual director for the diocese’s Teen Encounter Program. Subsequently, one of his key objectives since taking over at St. Paul’s has been to further engage the young people in his worship community.
The sound system that Sherren inherited with his appointment at St. Paul’s admittedly left much to be desired in terms of intelligibility and performance, but instead of simply seeing a problem needing a solution, Sherren and the parish team recognized an opportunity – a chance to improve and enrich their services through a sophisticated multimedia system that would simultaneously engage members of the community and get them more actively involved in worship.
“The conversation started with a phone call from the pastor, who was pretty frustrated with what they had in there for a sound system,” begins Jay Perry, the principal of Points East Audio Visual, a technical services firm also based in Summerside. “It wasn’t intelligible and wasn’t covering the room properly, so he was asking about ways we could improve the sound in the room.”
Sherren elaborates on some of the issues he was facing: “It was really difficult to achieve clarity, and certain areas were quite problematic – especially the rear of the church. In our choir loft, it was pretty much impossible to hear anything; same at the front in the sanctuary. So there were really important areas not getting any sound, or at least not a very clear sound.”
Right from the outset, the discourse also involved a means of not only engaging young parishoners through a spirited music ministry and dynamic multimedia system, but also through the operation and manipulation of the technologies delivering them.
Working with those loose guidelines at the end of 2014, Perry started conceptualizing potential solutions that would work in the space while adhering to the church’s budget and offering intuitive and user-friendly endpoints. “We started completely from scratch and replaced everything,” he says.
Early on in the process, Perry was in touch with Jodi Rhuland, SFM’s sales rep for Atlantic Canada and a frequent collaborator with Points East. “We worked closely with the engineering and support staff there to come up with some system options that would work well in that room and not break the budget.”
Outside of its weekend services – two on Saturday and two on Sunday, with the evening Saturday service presented in French – St. Paul’s has a mass every day of the week; of course, it also plays host to several weddings, funerals, and other special services each month. Many of these have the parish’s associate pastor, Reverend Auralraj Santiago, joining Sherren in the sanctuary. Because of this full but not entirely regular schedule, Perry explains that his client wanted a certain level of automation with the system that would tailor its performance to these various applications.
Perry had a control solution in mind, though he admits he wasn’t sure his client would embrace it. “I was impressed by Q-Sys when they first introduced it, and I had a fair amount of experience with it last year, attending training seminars at trade events and through SFM,” Perry says, referring to QSC’s network audio solution. “It’s a product that I always thought would be a tough sell in my market because of the cost – particularly PEI. But when you look at everything it offers the client, it’s a no brainer.” Evidently, the team at St. Paul’s agreed with that last statement.
A scalable solution for signal processing, audio control, and speaker management, Q-Sys was an ideal choice for St. Paul’s because of its virtually unlimited presets for amplifier and level controls in any necessary configurations.
Perry is certified at the first level of Q-Sys training and handled the vast majority of the programming for the St. Paul’s system on his own. “It was some of the more customized programming, for projector control, for example, that was done not only with SFM, but also with QSC directly,” he explains. “We have a great longstanding relationship with the team at QSC, so I was able to put in a call, describe what I was doing, and they sent me some starting points.” He adds that SFM tech support specialist Marc St-Jacques was instrumental from the initial design and modeling phase onward.
As for how such features specifically benefit St. Paul’s, Perry explains: “On a weekday, with the simpler services, we can run one set of snap shots, in which case everything is automated. But then during weekend worship, they can have a console operator for the more dynamic presentations who can take over certain parts of the system while others continue to run on presets,” he says, referencing the headset and pulpit mic levels as an instruments and numbers and things,” Sherren explains. “In the past, we simply had one setting and everyone worked with it; now, we’re able to program these different configurations and it’s easy to recall those settings. You don’t have to be a professional mixer to use them; you can just load them up and go with it.”
For services with a more elaborate music ministry, Q-Sys can grant control to the Allen & Heath Qu16 digital console selected to handle live mixing – the only primary system component not sourced through SFM. The desk boasts 16 channels, a USB audio interface, built-in effects, and potential iPad controllability.
For primary reinforcement, among the products that were considered from Fulcrum Acoustic and EAW – both part of SFM’s pro audio offerings – was the latter’s QX396 two-way trapezoidal enclosure. While they considered a left-right configuration and the pros and cons of mono vs. stereo, Perry says that, considering the hostile acoustic environment, he opted for a mono arrangement ideally suited to that type of room.
The QX396’s broadband pattern control makes it ideal to tame less-than-ideal acoustical environments, and St. Paul’s is certainly one. The space is long and largely symmetrical, with a uniform ceiling height and shape from front to back. Virtually all of its surfaces are hard and reflective, including some marble and the rows upon rows of traditional hardwood pews, making for – like many houses of worship – a highly reverberant space.
“I’d had previous experience with that particular product line through another church we did and we were quite pleased with the results,” Perry says. “It fit into the budget here, so after we did up some acoustic models and presented it to the client, it was obvious it would make a significant improvement on how the room sounded.”
Two boxes are flown approximately 10 ft. down from the peak of the ceiling, with one at the front of the nave and the other about halfway back on a slight time delay. As Perry explains, “We didn’t want to mess with the aesthetic. Large speakers on the wall were a no-no; they wanted something discrete that would blend in with the design of the room.”
Perry adds that actually flying the boxes had its own set of obstacles. “It’s a very high ceiling, but getting a lift into the building was very challenging,” he says, adding that in some cases, there were literally inches to spare. “And getting wiring in was difficult at best.”
An early incarnation of the design also included subwoofers, but as Perry explains, they opted against launching additional low energy into the challenging space. “And the