The Leith Summer Festival - Ontario Music Festival

Leith Church Acoustic Information
"Classical music loves wood and plaster."

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Leith Church resembles a European ‘shoe-box' concert hall, which is a reference to the rectangular shape of the room. The Gewandhaus completed in 1781 in Leipzig, is thought to be the origin of this design. It was based on the typical Leipzig coffee house which was two stories tall and seated 200 to 400 people. Musicians would perform on a raised platform at one end of the main floor. The length of the hall would be about double its width. These high, narrow, rectangular spaces were nicknamed ‘shoe-box' halls. The ‘shoe-box' style provides sufficient sound reflection from the side walls to produce a rich sound. Many concert halls with famous orchestras, such as the Musikverein of Vienna and Concertgebouw of Amsterdam, are based on shoe-box design. The ideal Reverberation Time for a concert hall is about 2.0 seconds, that's the time it takes sound to decay 60 dB - from a loud sound to inaudibility. A common misconception about ‘shoe-box' halls is that their acoustics are accidental. The builders of the Leith ‘Auld Kirk' knew that the building they erected would allow the human voice to project to all corners of the church with little effort. After all, the simple chapel design had been in use for generations in Scotland and had proved its acoustical worth for oratory. It should be noted however that until late in the 19th century, musical instruments (with the exception of a simple tuning fork) were not permitted in Leith Church or most other Church of Scotland sanctuaries. So it was a wee bit of a surprise to learn that the chapel design also favoured musical instruments, particularly strings.

Historic Leith Church does not have textiles on the walls or cushioned seats, but the audience, along with the stage floor carpet, perform the important acoustic function of sound dampening. The room's reverberative qualities are also heavily dependent on the size of the audience, since people absorb much more sound than any architectural material. On occasion at Leith, performers have asked that the stage carpet be removed when a capacity audience is present. A balancing act.

Musicians enjoy performing at Leith not just for the superb acoustics but because of the intimate nature of the room. At most, 180 persons can find seating surrounding the stage on three sides. Chamber music heaven. Scott St. John, violinist with the St. Lawrence String Quartet has called it "the best sound in Canada." Mark Fewer, concertmaster of the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra says it's " . . an amazing spot." We think you'll agree.