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Dauntsey’s Goes Digital with Yamaha

Jul, 2011

Founded in 1542, Dauntsey’s School in Wiltshire is a co-educational independent day and boarding school with a strong tradition in music and drama. Unusually allowed to stage a range of West End shows, the school’s main venue has recently undergone a major technical refit, which has seen a Yamaha digital audio system installed.

Dauntsey’s 730-capacity Memorial Hall is the school’s main assembly space and is claimed to be the largest multi-purpose hall in the county. It is used for many events including plays, musicals, live bands, classical concerts, chapel services, school assemblies, discos, speech days, indoor sporting events and exams. It is also available for hire to external opera and music groups, corporate clients, celebrity dinner organisers and others.

Built in the 1970s and in the typical ‘educational’ style of the time (i.e. a large brick box), the hall’s internal acoustics are challenging and the existing audio system was no longer up to the task. A complete technical refit was required, which has included the installation of a Yamaha M7CL-48ES digital mixing console and three SB168-ES stage boxes.

“We opted for this system for two main reasons,” says Graham Paddon, of Hertfordshire-based Amber Sound, who supplied and installed the system. “Firstly it is the only current digital console that makes all the input faders available at once. Secondly, the remote stage boxes could be located in different positions - knowing the kind of work that the school does, it seemed like the ideal solution.”

This is confirmed by Kester Sims, the school’s head of music technology, who says, “The most important feature of the new system is that we needed much greater flexibility, given the poor internal acoustics and the multifunction nature of the hall. It needed to be usable by a non-techie to simply bring up an iPod or radio mics, but the next day it might need to be used for a full stage show with 18 channels of radio mics, four to six spot mics and 20 channels coming from the pit.”

One of the main reasons for needing a desk that could provide control of 48 channels on one layer is because, unusually, the school has permission to stage its own versions of a number of major West End musicals that are otherwise unavailable to schools and amateur companies.

“That’s thanks to George Biggs, an Old Dauntseian who, as a former president of SOLT and managing director of Delfont Mackintosh, has kindly helped us get permission to stage productions like Chicago, Spamalot, Miss Saigon, Evita, Les Miserables and Blood Brothers,” adds Rikki Jackson, the school’s head of drama.

Kester adds, “Those productions have a complex sound specification and it would be no use having a pupil trying to mix the radio mics on the first 24 faders if I am trying to mix the orchestra on the same faders, but on a second layer of inputs. Having the flexibility to do that and being able to move both the stage boxes and console to anywhere in the hall is fantastic.”

As well as acting in school productions, the technical production side forms an integral part of the syllabus. This has produced a number of alumni who have gone on to have careers in the industry.

“Sound design for the shows is a collaboration between the director, musical director and myself, but it is talked through in sixth form classes so pupils can help to spot any potential problems or areas of interest,” says Rikki.

“The music technology part of the syllabus also contains several lessons on audio mixing and signal paths. These lessons are usually done in the school studio or music department, to demonstrate the more complex signal paths of multi-track recording. However, we always run a few lessons in the Memorial Hall to get pupils familiar with the architecture of the desk. One pupil is then chosen to program and run the radio mics for the show. The high pressure atmosphere and quality we achieve - particularly given the time and financial constraints of being a school - are a super grounding for the really keen pupils.”

The Yamaha system has made a major difference, with both Rikki and Kester pronouncing themselves very satisfied.

“We are very pleased with both the system and support from Yamaha. The sound in the hall is cleaner and crisper and it is now easier to create accurate delays anywhere in the space,” says Kester. “I very much like the M7CL’s ability to change scenes without affecting the pit channels, in effect making the orchestra an isolated mix from the stage mics, but still on the same board.

“We also occasionally hide radio mics on the chapel choir and route them through a cathedral reverb. This is now much easier, less noisy and more stable than it was with the old system.

“I’d been looking for an excuse to buy an iPad and the M7CL was the perfect opportunity,” he continues, with a smile. “Controlling it via the StageMix app has opened up another whole new world of flexibility in the hall.”

Additionally, one of the most telling changes that the Yamaha equipment has brought is bringing a sense of anticipation to future events.

“We have an annual rock band competition where between four to eight school bands play two songs each. Next year is going to be the first that I am really looking forward to mixing,” says Kester. “Each song will be able to be stored as a separate scene and I anticipate the bands sounding more like their soundcheck than they sometimes have in the past!”


Products M7CL-48ES , SB168-ES

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