The past and the future came together for about an hour Friday on the dusty stage of the Miller Theater as six Symphony Orchestra Augusta musicians performed snippets of compositions and The Star-Spangled Banner.
In their audience was symphony Maestro Shizuo Z. Kuwahara. Mark Penz and Lawrence Kirkegaard, both of Kirkegaard Associates, spoke to each other in hushed tones, sometimes shifting their faces upward, sometimes cupping their ears, and often closing their eyes and moving around the empty theater floor as sound testing was conducted.
Around the theater, sound devices recorded and measured the music as it bounced off the walls, ceiling and floor.
Kirkegaard Associates is a consulting firm that specializes in acoustics, noise and vibration control. Its findings will determine where improvements are needed to enhance sound quality as the old theater is renovated.
The historic theater, which has been vacant since 1984, is undergoing a $14.6 million project that is expected to be completed for the 2014-15 season. In 2008, Peter Knox offered the building as a gift to the symphony, which took possession of the building in December after conducting a 2½-year feasibility study.
“Essentially, what we’re doing is making noises and analyzing the way sound returns to various parts of the theater,” Penz said.
Standing at the rear of the balcony, Kuwahara said he was pleasantly surprised by what he heard. For example, the lower sounds of the bass instruments were more audible than they are in many venues.
“I thought that whatever is being performed on stage would sound farther away, but it sounds actually pretty intimate. That’s a very positive thing, in my personal opinion,” he said.
The theater was built in 1940 and was used mostly as a cinema. Friday’s study will determine how the architecture needs to change to accommodate the symphony and other musical performances.
“The stage is like a cone, and all the sound bounces off of the walls and ceilings. If they’re not in the right places, you could have double sounds that are not lined up. You could have interfering echoes,” said Meiko Di Sano, the executive director for the symphony. “That’s what we’re looking for, so the sound that’s amplified is supporting sound rather than disturbance.”
Although it will become home for the symphony, it will also serve as a venue for a variety of performances ranging from rock concerts to musicals, Di Sano said.