Sound system gets rave reviews

TRAVERSE CITY – Those who attended any of the May performances of Fifth Third’s Jazz, Blues and Tango Series at the City Opera House were treated to an auditory delight as the City Opera House Heritage Association (COHHA) debuted the venue’s new sound system.

The $40,000 sound system was made possible by grants from the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians and the Michigan Council for the Arts and Cultural Affairs. It’s the first phase of the comprehensive Technologies component of the City Opera House Restoration Project, an $8.8 million phased redevelopment plan for a city-owned community cultural center in downtown Traverse City.

Currently, the project is more than 50 percent finished with the final restoration to be complete by December of 2006. A grand re-opening celebration is planned for early 2007, but the Opera House is currently open for a wide range of public and private events throughout this year.

It is for these events that the sound system, including a portable mixing console, wireless microphones, a Telex hearing assistance system, speakers, and additional ancillary equipment, was installed.

“A key goal of the restoration is to assure excellent support for a wide range of artistic and cultural events taking place at the City Opera House,” said Gerie Greenspan, Executive Director of the COHHA. “It is critical to the audience’s experience that the sound quality be there.”

Local communications company, Ascomnorth, was in charge of providing the quality the Opera House demanded. Their task involved adapting the original sound plan designed by a New York firm to satisfy not only the sound reinforcement needs at the Opera House, but also to fit the aesthetic features of the historical building.

“The originally specified system included numerous speakers, many of which covered important aspects of the building architecture or detracted from the beauty of the facility,” said Dave Barth, owner and vice president of Ascomnorth.

Barth and his associates worked closely with the COHHA to select high-quality products that would blend in with the architecture, applying a decorative motif where speakers are mounted to camouflage them. And they succeeded. A recent visitor commented on the wonderful sound, Greenspan said, but couldn’t locate the speakers.

In addition to being more aesthetically pleasing, the sound quality of Ascomnorth’s system has been given rave reviews. The audience ranked the first auditory experience for the Tango evening as “pristine.” Dave Greenspan, a U of M recording engineer who ran the sound for the May 6 event, said, “The system performs extremely well. Great room coverage with a warm, balanced sound. It’s not only pleasing to the ear, but the eye as well.”

Still, there’s more to be done. The second phase of Technologies Project includes the addition of theatrical lighting equipment, enhancement of the current audio system, and installation of audio and visual communication systems.

To fund this phase, at an estimated cost of $220,000, the City of Traverse City has tendered the City Opera House Technologies Project as its “Cool Cities 2005” grant request. If granted, the City Opera House would receive up to $100,000 in funding to be matched one-to-one by the community.

Even though there’s more work to be done in 2006, Greenspan believes that anyone hosting or attending an event at the City Opera House before the renovation is complete will have his or her auditory needs met. “This portion of the sound system will provide good support for our clients during our interim operations,” she said. “And, the system can be easily augmented for special requests.” BN