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Concert band battles acoustics in Lobby 7

Halloween Concert
MIT Concert Band.
Directed by John Corley.
Works by Del Borgo, Holst,
Gabrieli, Prokofiev, and Wagner.
Lobby 7.
Oct. 27.

By Craig K. Chang
Staff Reporter

With its dome hovering high above all who pass through every day, Lobby 7 waits silently most of the time, ignored for its acoustic potential. Three tiers wrap around the lobby to form an almost box-seat and balcony array. The huge pillars, from a more distant view, hint at some sort of grandeur, set off by clear stained-glass panels. Are we in a cathedral? As unwary students stroll through, the hall echoes nothing but muffled conversation, until such events as Wednesday's Halloween Concert. The concert band's celebration of Halloween clearly demonstrated the fantastic sound effects Lobby 7 is capable of, while reminding us that such huge effects don't suit all music.

Imagine speaking only to hear your last sentence during your new one, and soon the effect of Prokofiev's March, Op. 99 played in Lobby 7 will emerge. The huge fanfare was altogether unintelligible because of the echo of the cavernous walls. If there ever were raucousness realized, this would be it. Wagner's Trauersinfonie too suffered this acoustical phenomenon. The piece's sorrow needed great control. But with echoes working against the musicians, each liberty turned into a completely unpredictable, gross interpolation of the players' intentions.

The ensemble's performance of Gustav Holst's First Suite for Military Band began to turn the lobby's acoustics to its advantage. The playing had a grand sound that put the listener right in the middle of the music. Of course, most of the audience was sitting right in front of the players on the lobby floor, but at least a point was made -- big sound. The big sound of the brass inevitably dwarfed the articulation of the clarinets and flutes; the lasting effect was that, in the middle of everything, we best heard the flaws of the acoustics.

The potentially beautiful sound of Lobby 7 flourished in the pieces where entire sections of the band separated to the second floor. After the brass branched off to the second floor for Giovanni Gabrieli's Sonata Octavi Toni, the sound of the horns from above finally bounced off the walls to clarify the stately nature of the music rather than to muffle it.

The flute section's moving to the second level created for the audience on the first level the stuff of dreams. Two weeks ago, the group's performance of Elliot Del Borgo's Canticle in Kresge Auditorium already had stood out for the use of the whole flute section for flute solos. This time, the exuberant melody wove not only in and out, but also up and down, to paint a panorama of cascades and flight. Canticle too displayed fierce percussion that literally shook the ground. From above was the ethereal, below, the roll of thunder -- these were the magnificent moments that fortunate audience members walked away with.