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New Choir Room

Hello folks! I am a first year choir teacher who is blessed enough to be looking forward to a brand new choir room for the 2014-2015 school year. The administration and planning board are asking for my input into the details. What do I want to see? What makes for a choir room that flows and is conudcive to good accoustics and choral learning? Here is where I come to you! All I know is that I want riser steps and posture chairs instead of using the choral risers as we do now (a nightmare). Any suggestions for a newbie? What are some essentials and what would your choir room look like if you could have anything you wanted? Thanks for your help!
on January 31, 2013 6:47pm
I would want enough space in the room to also be able to set up standing risers in order to practice for concerts. Beg for a water fountain in the room - so much easier thatn writing hall passes.  I would ask for a separate music library room, and uniform storage room and at least one practice room. 
Mary Jane
Applauded by an audience of 1
on February 1, 2013 6:59am
Overestimate the amount of storage you think you'll need. Otherwise, as we did, you'll wish you had more. I would also echo Mary Jane in asking for the separate music library, robe/uniform storage and practice room(s), as well as enough flat floor space to set up your choral risers for final rehearsals before concerts. I would also ask for a private office. That allows you to be able to lock up valuables, fundraiser money, etc. and still be able to use the room. Not to mention it gives you a quieter place if you need to talk to parents or students while there are kids around after school. The water fountain would be nice, but unless there is a need to run water lines for other nearby purposes in the new area (i.e. restrooms), they won't do it. Ask your planning committee to bring in an acoustics expert to work on acoustic panels, etc. to avoid too much ring or dead sound. An integrated projection/sound system is very handy for running announcements on power point, playing examples of pieces you are singing, doing on-screen marking of scores, etc. If there are other classrooms being built, they are probably putting that stuff in those; make sure they don't forget you! Depending on your creativity in using it, a SmartBoard or equivalent is also very nice, particularly for teaching theory or sight singing. That's about all I can think of unless you can swing a new piano out of the deal too! ;)
on February 1, 2013 7:33am
I was fortunate to be in a similar situation.  These are just a few suggestions.  I'm sure there will be many people with some as well.
-We went with a squared room:   I think it was 42 x 42.  Get the ceiling as high as possible.  
-I think the suggesiton is usually between 16-20' high. 
-If you are right next to the band room, it's a good idea to put your music storage, offices on the shared wall to create a buffer zone so the band doesn't sound like its in your room.
-I would recoomend portable risers.  if they are built in, it severely limits what you are able to do in the room.
-Tired ceilings is a must.  
-A tiled floor will be much easier to clean.  We actually got two separate colors.  A while tile for the outher border and blue for the inner.  The inner was the exact dementions of the stage so not only could be make sure the groups could fit, but it also made a great space to hold a separate dance or blocking rehearsals while the actuall aud was in use.
-on the fllor have all your microphone, AV, power, and sound hook-ups.  If you have them in each quarter of your room, it prevents mires from streaming all over the room.
-gotta have windows, just make sure they are high enough so people walking buy aren't distracting.
-I found it useful to have a projector and large sreen to stream videos and music examples from.  Is also good for creating sightsinging.  
-White board, with and without staff.
-Wall sound panels.
-If they installa sound system try and get a subwoofer, makes all the difference for playing music samples.
-upright sliding library shelves are amazing.  
-Double doors with removealbe middle post.
That's all I can think of for now.  I'm not sure if peope would agree, but I really like the Wenger products.  I would call them and get a quote.  They are quite expensive, but their risers are wonderful and last for a long time.  You pay for quality is true in the case of Wenger.  Our school had the Architect meet with each department.  They were really happy when the music department walked in with hand drawn to scale drawings of what we wanted our rooms too look like.  Makes their job easier and they know exactly what you want.  We were the only department that was that prepared.  We also got mucho brownie points with the Administrations, and for a building project, that's always a good idea.
Hope this helps!
-Jonathan Brooks
on February 1, 2013 8:25am
Check for HVAC noise.  I know of one choir room where the air handlers are suspended from the ceiling.  It sounds like old-fashioned window unit ACs when they are running.  In another school, right outside the choir room was a 'condensor yard.'  There were about 15 - FIFTEEN - or MORE external air conditioning units.  Some of them were very large.  When they were all running, which is nearly year-round in Texas, it sounded like a hurricane.  Very, very distracting.
I was a band director, so there were some differences, but one thing we overlooked when planning new facilities was a place near the entrance for books, coats, and backpacks.  And, think about after-school rehearsals.  Students will need to be able to get into the choir room and restrooms while the rest of the building is secure.
Try to make sure you can see the entrances to practice rooms from your 'podium' area, and ask for windows on all doors, so you can monitor activities.  I would rather see the offices, library, and uniform storage rooms enlarged to be used as practice rooms than to have a bunch of tiny rooms for specific uses.  I was in one situation where there were 10 practice rooms, but each was tiny, and they were down a 'blind' hall, à la college practice halls.  The principal called it 'the hatchery.'
And then there was the band hall with the state-of-the-art projector and screen - mounted on the wall behind the students.  The director was the only person who could see it.
I'd try to take a couple of people with you on a tour of choir rooms in the area.  Be sure to ask the choir directors - not the pincipals - what they would change.
on February 1, 2013 9:05am
You will be receiving lots of good advice via this forum.  I'd like to add a few tidbits based on my 45 years experience.  Two schools and a church position.  If you do have tiered risers (built in) make sure that the lower level is the same as the entrance door.  This allows disabled students easy access to the rehearsal room, and if you are moving equipment or piano's, there will no lifting by your bass section.  Second, make sure to consider the room aesthetics.  Have walls available for art-work (professional and/or pictures of your groups)  Each student will be spending 180+ hours each year in the room, and a pleasant decor adds to their acceptance and comfort level .... producing music to their highest level.  Another touch is enough floor space for movement along with casual gathering before and after rehearsals.  I currently have a music suite at my church, which I designed from the ground up in 1998 .... and while it served us well .... it looked and felt like a school classroom.  We recently renovated and along with stunning art pieces, we also have two sectional couches where early-birds like to hang out .... usually the tenors grab this "prime spot".  Now its their musical home, away from home.
Just a few extra thoughts as you approach this marvelous endeavor.  I wish you well!
Mel Rookus
Nardin Park UMC
Farmington Hills, MI
on February 2, 2013 6:21am
Also NAfME, formerly, MENC has a publication for new space design that is excellent, discussion sound transmission issues in engineering terms, and many other things about rehearsal and performance spaces that we, and our architect fond EXTREMELY helpful. It is very inexpensive.
on February 2, 2013 8:29am
All of the above sounds logical to me except the suggestion regarding proportions.
I make a good chunk of my living these days helping people "fix" acoustic errors that seem to defy surface treatment for solutions.
The basic first step in a room design, whether sanctuary, studio, classroom, or performing space is to use proportions to spread out modal behavior (standing waves that make that "ring" and/or extended reverberation at one, or vary few frequencies).
I happen to like a series developed by Louden:  1:1.4:1.9.  Each represents a distance in feet, inches, or whatever...
Essentially the ratios represent distances that result in resonances that aren't so close together they tend to give the space a "signature".  Sometimes those "signatures" take on the behavior of your shower - if  you have a deep enough register in your singing voice, you can make the shower, or even the whole bathroom ring, no matter how softly you hum or sing "that note".
Making a choral space so that it doesn't favor one register over another can help you by not making one part easier to hear than another.
As to sub, or infra-woofers, there are dispersion, or directivity issues that need to be dealt with first.  Make sure all the seats are ones where the sound is natural and roughly as loud as the other seats in the room.  Then make sure the range of the playback system is consitent with the examples you want reproduced...
The suggestion about getting an acoustician to help at the drawing stage is probably the smartest of many very intelligent suggestions.  Making sure the consultant has a musical background is another essential - it wouldn't hurt if they had conducting and rehearsal chops to go wit it!
All the best and most musical to you!
Gene Lysinger
on February 3, 2013 6:03pm
I am working on this as well.  I found this very helpful:
Also , if you don't already have choir posture chairs, I highly recommend those - they have tablet arms if you do theory work or any other writing. If the dimensions and location aren't already fixed, I would definitely read the Wenger guide. I would also ask for a projector/screen/internet so you can easily show videos of other choirs among other uses and a white board with staves or a smartboard.
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