Thursday, June 26, 2008

Jonathan Sevy: Three Tenors or Three Taiko Drums?

The following is essentially a copy of the letter originally sent on 29 October, 2003 to Penticton City Council, School Board 67 Board, and MLA Bill Barisoff:

RE: Penticton Secondary School Auditorium Friends, In 1999 I returned to Penticton after a nearly 30 year absence. My wife and I joined the Community Concert Association, and have been attending those concerts regularly in the Pen High auditorium.

We typically sit in the front or second row. Last year Quartango played for us, and their music included many subtle elements that I thought must surely be lost to those sitting farther back in the hall. After intermission I went back and sat in the back row, just to satisfy my curiosity. There was no electrical amplification. To my amazement, the sound quality was as excellent at the rear as at the front. There were 600-700 people there, yet the music volume was nearly undiminished by the distance. In fact, the only difference I could detect was a gentle blending of the sounds, where the instruments sounded more distinct from each other when seated 10 feet away from the performers.

Between the next few pieces, I moved up about 10 rows each time and listened from those positions. Except for small wedges of seating just at the extreme ends of the front 3-4 rows, the sound throughout that hall was exquisite. Not good, exquisite. I commented on my findings to Mr. Hobden, President of the Community Concerts, and to the stage manager. Each of them confirmed my impressions, and mentioned performers who had made similar observations.

One renowned musician had only recently commented to a group of students that the sound in our high school auditorium is superior the Met. Very few of the excellent professional musicians that we have heard in the past 5 years have requested amplification. None needed it.
The Pen High auditorium is unusual. In fact, it is extraordinary. It is a treasure. I make that statement without sentimentality, but as a semi-professional musician myself with some personal stage experience. I have sat in celebrated concert halls in Canada, the US and Germany -- including the Mormon tabernacle. It may seem incredible to you, but in my opinion the acoustics in the Pen High auditorium are just as impressive as what I heard in the best of them.

To destroy the fortunate confluence of conditions which has produced this remarkable place is folly. To borrow millions of dollars to construct an electronic hall that will require tens of thousands of dollars of tinkering and upgrading every year, plus unknown tens of thousands for professional sound engineers at virtually every performance forever--folly. Cost, cost, cost, and no real benefit. We have attended and fully enjoyed a number of concerts, sans electric, while basketball games were being played in the gym across the hallway.

As a performer, I can tell you that the single most frightening part of going on stage is knowing that the person in the sound booth controls the performance. Unfortunately, many sound experts are careless or ignorant of their equipment, and most are careless or ignorant about how the performer wants to sound.. The results are far too often disappointing. The typical sound engineer drives to work with his boom-box car stereo system blaring, then cranks up the bass of every performer, making the Three Tenors sound like the Three Taiko Drums. Our city will regret relying on fickle electronics rather than stable, dependable acoustics. Our amateur and student performers will be particularly deprived by the high-tech systems that are being considered as replacements for the current auditorium.

Politicians love to borrow and spend money, leaving a legacy of debt for their constituents' children and grandchildren. I, for one, heartily disapprove. If you must alter the Pen High auditorium, please use a gentle touch. It can and should be celebrated as an ongoing source of joy to our community for generations.

Jonathan B. Sevy

1 comment:

ejay said...

Thank you for posting this letter as I'm sure many of us didn't see it in 2003. Mr. Sevy explains with authority why our PSS auditorium is worth fighting to save.
Jeanne Lamb