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Kleinhans should stop over-amplifying sound

It is an absurd situation when Kleinhans Music Hall, one of the supreme acoustic spaces in the nation, is being knocked for problems with its sound system. And yet the problems are real, as Mary Kunz Goldman’s Oct. 20 article reveals. It’s emblematic of the larger cultural problem that almost all of our musical entertainment nowadays is badly or over-amplified.
I attended the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra’s final Pops concert last season, which featured some Broadway musical comedy singers. At times, the orchestra was so heavily amplified (even the brass and percussion) that the singers could only fitfully cut through the volume, much less make their lyrics understood. How sad and how unnecessary!
It’s time that sound technicians start to realize that “less is more” when it comes to sound design in a perfect acoustical room like Kleinhans. It can’t just be the tech people, however, who make these decisions; the conducting staff needs to be intimately involved with the process. Otherwise, the musical director is ceding the issues of balance and dynamics to non-musicians.
Another key issue is rehearsal time. There’s usually less rehearsal allotted for Pops programs than for those on the Symphony series. Thus, the very concerts where sound issues need to be addressed generally have the least amount of time in which to solve them.
Trust the hall; Eliel and Eero Saarinen knew what they were doing when they designed Kleinhans. Years ago, I performed there in a production of “Jesus Christ Superstar.” During my big solo, my mic cut out. And yet, without any electronic help, I could be heard in the balcony. If that beautiful room allowed me to be heard, there’s no reason why Wynonna or Three Dog Night shouldn’t be shown off to best advantage at Kleinhans as well.
Michael Harris
Amherst