Wilmington, DE - In the middle of the 19th Century, the Industrial Revolution was in full swing, and Wilmington, Delaware was a booming shipping port and steel town with a rapidly growing working class populace. Founded in 1868 as a "workingman's church," Grace United Methodist Church has been a landmark in the heart of downtown Wilmington since well before most of its neighboring structures, earning it a spot on the National Register of Historic Places.
Though the 500 seat sanctuary is not overly large, it's nonetheless as majestic and impressive as any mega-cathedral. The building's hand-built stone edifice is a gateway to a soaring 55-foot arched ceiling and a collection of stunningly beautiful stained glass masterpieces.
Grace United Methodist has also gained a reputation throughout the region for its music and musicians, including a highly sought after choir and a resident chamber music ensemble, Mélamonie. As Tony Hersch, President of Pottstown, PA-based Audiobahn, explains, the talent and professionalism of the church's musicians has gone a long way in setting it apart.
"Many of the singers in their choir are accomplished professionals, and virtually all of them are phenomenally talented, on an operatic level," says Hersch. "Their director is a highly accomplished pianist and organist, with a doctorate in music, and their performances are always in high demand."
With such a strong emphasis on music, it's not surprising that Grace United Methodist Church's elders and congregation were less reserved than many Methodist congregations in their approach to sound system design. "They were very involved in the process of selecting their new audio system," says Hersch. "They really did their research and knew what they wanted to accomplish."
With its vintage lathe and plaster walls, reflectivity has long been a problem in the sanctuary, and spoken word intelligibility was a prime requirement for the new sound system. But musicality was also a critical factor - the system had to deliver full-range performance that could complement the choir and musicians.
The idea of a traditional line array was first suggested, but as Hersch points out, this was a project where a line array would have looked out of place. "Aesthetics are really a consideration in a place like this," he says. "The architecture is absolutely gorgeous, and hanging a bunch of loudspeaker cabinets would have just destroyed the aesthetic completely. We were suggesting a very different approach."
Hersch arranged to demo a pair of ENTASYS column line arrays. "We set up a pair of ENTASYS full-range cabinets on tripods, along with a VLF208 subwoofer to give it some bottom end," he says. "We ran an EASE program on the room, set things up, and they were just blown away. Everyone in the choir got up and sang through it. We utilized a Shure wireless lavalier system and a Countryman podium mic for the demo. We were able to tune the lav mic to a point where it sounded like a good quality handheld mic. The sound was just wonderful."
The church also took delivery of one of the first-available Soundcraft SiCompact digital mixing consoles, incorporating it into a new custom-built booth at mix position. The console is connected via MADI to a Pro Tools|HD system. "They record most of their services to two-track as well as multitrack, and then mix and master it for download on their website," Hersch explains. "The services are very popular."
To pick up the choir, Hersch provided four Audix MicroBooms on mic stands, while the vintage piano is outfitted with a Helpinstill Piano Pickup System. On the main platform, monitoring is handled by four custom-stained Community iBOX i2W8 cabinets. Community VERIS 8 cabinets provide monitoring for the choir.
Reactions to the new system have been overwhelming, says Hersch. "The ENTASYS sounds fantastic. The sound is focused where it needs to be, and the new system allows them to easily record the service and make it available to others. We've taken a church from the early 1800s and incorporated 21st century technology into it."
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