Church Production

Photography by: Robert Pfiefer.

On Solid Rock

A Virginia church upgrades and strengthens its AVL systems for more flexible worship

By Andy McDonough
June 28, 2016 2:44 pm EST

Topics: Medium Church 300-800, Audio-based, Video-based, Lighting-based,
Tags: production, projects,

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"One week our service will be traditional with strings and orchestral instruments and the next week we’ll be setting a contemporary stage with drums and electric guitars."

Ross Milby
Technical Director, Stony Point Presbyterian Church, Richmond, VA.

Worshippers at Richmond, Va.’s Stony Point Presbyterian Church appreciate variety. As a result, there is no typical Sunday morning service. “Every week is different,” remarks Stony Point’s technical director, Ross Milby. “One week our service will be traditional with strings and orchestral instruments and the next week we’ll be setting a contemporary stage with drums and electric guitars. The variety is something our congregation expects and looks forward to.”

The church is blessed with an engaged congregation that includes many gifted—and several professional—musicians who expect great production quality. “At Stony Point,” say Milby, “there isn’t just one style, and our new AVL systems had to support that.” With so many professional expectations, Milby and integrator RTW Media of Ruther Glen, Va., knew they would need to be spot on with their choices of components for the church’s new 500-seat sanctuary. Systems would need to deliver both the clarity and realism needed for orchestra and the spoken word, but also provide the venue with enough depth to power concert-style productions and modern worship.

Milby knows his congregation well and professes to have learned what he knows about mixing sound as a volunteer right there at Stony Point. He came to the church as a singer just over 10 years ago and was anxious to do more. So, when the music director asked him to work sound for the group, he readily agreed. “I developed a huge liking for running sound, perhaps because I always wanted to play an instrument,” he says. He viewed his audio console as his instrument and helped to improve sound for the group. His efforts were so successful, he eventually began subcontracting for local integrators doing sound and lighting. His experiences included theater groups, small concert and corporate settings in the Richmond/Washington, D.C., area, as well as project management responsibilities for more sizable AV projects in auditoriums, classrooms and theaters. The work in theater exposed Milby to more formal sound design. “That pushed me into a new realm,” he recalls, “handling up to 40 wireless mics and a 20-piece pit orchestra while coordinating all the volunteers.” He worked part-time at another local church and was active with the informal organization of the Richmond area’s AVL experts. Milby, along with three volunteers, shares responsibilities for lighting, audio and projection for the church’s productions.

Audio Opportunity

While Milby cut his teeth doing audio in Stony Point’s old sanctuary, everyone knew that the acoustics were bad. “It was hard,” he recalls, “it really didn’t matter what sound system you had.” So, when the church needed more space for worship and decided to remodel, Milby and the church leaders recognized it as an opportunity to build a better sanctuary with quality sound, lighting and projection. “For our worship, sound quality is key,” says Milby and while the church wanted professional lighting and projection systems to support worship, he recognized that improved audio quality for all their productions presented the biggest challenge and would be most appreciated by their congregation.

Stony Point’s new sanctuary, with its tall ceiling and post and beam look, was designed by architect Bruce Wardell of BRW Architects in Charlottesville, Va., and built by General Contractor Jeffrey Modisett, president of Conquest, Moncure & Dunn Inc. of Richmond, Va., to provide the much-needed additional space for worship, but also fit with an overall relaxed design for Stony Point. With its expansive front porch, the building has a domestic and comfortable feel to it. According to Milby, “The style of the building is very welcoming. It invites the community to join us on Sunday morning. It’s not at all a ‘churchy’ look.” The new AVL systems for the space would have to provide the technology for modern worship, but also maintain the relaxed feel of the space.

Milby presented Logan Hinnant, division manager for RTW, with the budget and challenge to provide an audio design for the new sanctuary that would fit the room, be flexible enough to support the wide variety of productions at Stony Point, and still deliver the realism and clarity needed to support the spoken word. Hinnant, a 15-year veteran of church audio, lives by the axiom that audio is both art and science and uses his creative side to best understand the client’s needs. “What sounds great to me might not be so great to you,” he says. “When it comes to a new build, it’s a great advantage to show clients what you believe they are looking [for] and get their validation.” To that end, Hinnant invited Milby and Stony Point’s musical director, Michael Bryant, to visit several nearby installations to hear different manufacturers’ approaches to sound. Milby also attended the InfoComm conference to hear systems in action. The systems that repeatedly caught their attention were designed by Danley Sound Labs. “When a client hears a system in action, it’s very telling,” says Hinnant. “Everything else is just talk.”

Having selected Danley to meet the main design criteria of vocal clarity and definition for musical instruments, Hinnant looked to Danley’s eastern regional manager, Skip Welch, to model the room. To achieve superior vocal clarity using a center channel, Hinnant installed an LCR configuration with three compact Danley SH69 loudspeakers mounted directly to the trusses. Each full-range SH69 houses two 12-inch woofers, six 4-inch midrange and a 1-inch high frequency driver. Danley provided custom paint for speaker and grill to match the room and a single Danley TH118 subwoofer was installed below the stage to provide low-end. Two Danley DLA 7500 amplifiers provide power for mains and the sub, as well as contain a pre-loaded, custom library of Danley product presets and signal processing. Hinnant finds that he recommends Danley components often, appreciating their consistent quality and value. “You can spend more money,” he says, “but it would be hard to get more than what Danley provides. The system has exceptional clarity; a pure and wonderful sound.”

To control sound at Stony Point, Hinnant recommended a Midas Pro1 Digital Mixer as the mixing console. “Midas has the preeminent preamps in the industry,” he says. “It’s been a ‘go to’ board for us for some years.” In addition to its ability to produce great sound, Hinnant’s experience is that its design is a good match for anyone with previous analog experience. He adds that clients appreciate how the full-featured console presents things in a way that doesn’t require navigating through multiple layers; the source of frustration for many volunteers.

Hinnant was able to meet the church’s requirement for a flexible physical, as well as sonic, design by wiring the two Midas DL153 Stage Boxes through a patch panel in the basement. In this way, the racked stage boxes and snakes can be located to their best advantage anywhere on the stage. Similarly, the basement panel provides an option for the mixing console to be located in a booth to one side for worship or easily moved to a central mix position for mixing concert productions. Next page