On Saturday 19th February, I had the opportunity to visit the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire in substitution of our weekly ‘The Science of Music’ lecture and workshop. During this visit, we were able to gain insight on how room acoustics have substantial influence on the way we experience music performance, from the perspective of both a musician, and a member of the audience. .
Coined as the first conservatoire built in the digital age, the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire is a world class institution that offers exceptional training for the performers of the future. Featuring state of the art facilities, and over 9000 square feet of teaching, rehearsal, and art performance space, the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire offers a unique environment in which students can best enhance their craft.
The conservatoire is located only a short walk from Birmingham New Street station, right in the heart of the city. Upon arrival, we guided by stewards into The Bradshaw Hall, a concert venue seating up to 440 people. Home to performances of all event formats, The Bradshaw Hall serves to be multipurpose in nature- with lectures, drama productions, and award ceremonies all taking place on occasion. Stepping foot inside, my initial appreciation fell with the halls’ careful design: rows of mauve padded seats, the radiating warmth of its woody interior, soft performance lighting, and walls decorated with geometric shaped panels. This combination of attributes gave rise to an ambiance that is comfortably minimal but has all the allure of an esteemed performance space; at first glance, the Bradshaw Hall is objectively stunning. This being said, there is more appeal to its design than aesthetics alone.
Opened in 2015, the Bradshaw Hall was carefully designed with acoustics in mind in order to cultivate the best auditory experience from every seat. Covered in treble and bass absorbing panels, the hall’s design serves to dampen different frequencies to make sound more pleasurable to the performer and listener. To the front of the hall is a raised platform stage with three retractable risers and a stage extension, home to many symphony orchestra performances over the years. Here, high ceilings provide plenty of space for increased reverberation, providing the audience with a rich soundscape.
Coull Quartet and RBC Quartet
After our morning lecture on ‘Acoustics in the Environment’, we were split into groups and trailed off into different spaces to explore how room acoustics can affect the quality of sound from different instruments. Here, we were lucky enough to hear pieces performed by a harpist, saxophonist, and a violinist. My group started off in the Bradshaw Hall, where during each performance we were given the opportunity to move around the space to explore the room’s acoustics. Moving around the concert hall for myself, I found it interesting how the Hall’s design meant that distance was not a factor compromising quality of sound; even when standing on the balcony at the far end of the hall, I was confidently met with the dreamy chords as plucked by the harpist sitting centre stage, as though I were right in front of her.
We continued to work our way through different rooms in the conservatoire and stopped by the Organ Studio- an airy venue flooded with natural light. Here, I found sounds were a lot brighter and clearer in tone and quality, as embodied by the sharp high notes of the violin filling the room. This contrasted greatly to how music sounded when played in the Lab, a cutting-edge black box studio where theatre productions and art performances typically take place. As the saxophonist performed a Swedish monologue piece, seamlessly switching between tenor and alto saxophone, I noticed that the sound appeared quite dry in comparison to other rooms, likely down to the rooms’ fixed acoustics and low reverberation time.
Our trip to the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire was an immersive experience. It was here we came to understand the historical and cultural importance of music performance venues, while gaining a deeper recognition of acoustic considerations in architecture. Nearing the end of our visit, we were serenaded out by a string octet. While sitting in the Bradshaw Hall to listen to the final piece, I felt an increased appreciation knowing how much thought has gone into ensuring I have the best auditory experience from exactly where I was sat.
RBC Quartet in Organ Studio