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His Heart Is In New York: H.S. Concert Hall Gets ‘Thumbs Up’ From Tony Bennett

June, 2013

In 1999, singer Tony Bennett and his wife Susan Benedetto, then a public school teacher, were inspired to start a public high school for young artists. They envisioned a school that would integrate the arts with rigorous academics, require a commitment to community service, and help students cultivate a lifelong love of, and dedication to, their artistic passions and crafts.

Over the next several years, the Bennett’s received assistance from the New York City Department of Education, local leaders, and the not-for-profit Exploring the Arts (founded by the two) in raising the necessary funds to turn their dream into reality. In 2001, The Frank Sinatra School of the Arts, in tribute to Mr. Bennett’s long-time friend, opened in temporary quarters with its first 250 students. With the help of many friends and supporters, in 2009, the school opened its new extraordinary home, located at the Kaufman Astoria Studios complex, in Astoria, Queens, and Tony’s cherished hometown. Ennead Architects LLP (New York City, formerly Polshek Architects) designed the school, under lead architect Susan Rodriguez.

The Tony Bennett Concert Hall, named for its founder, is a state-of-the-art performance venue built specifically for the use of the students at the Frank Sinatra School of the Arts. The 800-seat venue hosts the school’s annual musical, instrumental, vocal, dance performances, and screenings of work by film and media students, who are able to experience their art on a 40 ft.-wide proscenium stage constructed with a permanent sprung floor, a 35 line set fly system, digital audio system, 244 circuit theatrical lighting system, and digital projection. Mr. Bennett’s desire is for high school student artists to experience performing in a venue that is comparable to that of a professional venue.

The Tony Bennett Concert Hall, along with two black box theatres, initially opened in 2009, but it wasn’t until late 2012 that the theatres’ were 100% complete. During the early design phase of the hall back in 2005, sound engineer and designer, Tom Young, who has worked with Mr. Bennett for close to 20 years, was brought in to oversee the sound design of the theatres. He had an idea on how to make the theatre acoustically appealing for the various genres of music taking place by the students. In October of that year, he took the Bennett’s to preview the Yamaha Active Field Control System (AFC) installed in the New York City Fifth Avenue location of Yamaha Artist Services, to determine how AFC could benefit the students and the theatre. “We were all impressed with the sound of the system and how it created a natural reverberant field in a room with a drop ceiling and rectangular in shape,” states Young. “After hearing the system, it was definitely something we wanted for the Tony Bennett Concert Hall.”

Active Field Control is a reverberation enhancement system that adjusts and enhances the acoustic characteristics of a facility while preserving natural characteristics. This is achieved by creating feedback loops of microphones and speakers located in the reverberant field of the room to “recycle” the reverberant energy, thus extending the RT time. Yamaha AFC is used to create varying RT settings to suit different performance applications within the same facility. The system can be used to add spaciousness to under balcony or stage areas so all audience members and performers can enjoy the same sense of connection to the music for a greater shared experience. AFC systems can also be used to add early reflections or as crowd enhancements systems.

“The Frank Sinatra School of the Arts, and more specifically, the concert hall, was a project that encompassed a dream come true for me personally,” says Young. “Over a span of 30 years working as front of house engineer for Frank Sinatra and Tony Bennett, my personal goal was to create one of the best sounding theatres in New York City. The original audio design by David Harvey of Harvey, Marshall, Berling Associates and I initially was a typical value- engineered system required by any New York City school but with the added mission of creating a good sounding space.” In addition to the AFC System, Young and Harvey envisioned a more traditional left/right line array sound system that would accommodate any level of performers including headline acts that would be brought into the school for master classes as well as one that would meet the rider of national acts.

The project, which began prior to 2008, had some uphill battles to solve; namely, the school education authority process for approvals. During that period, the late Lon Brannies of Yamaha Commercial Audio Systems in California and Takayuki Watanabe from Yamaha Japan began the process of initial room measurements followed by the design of the AFC system. By February 2010, a site survey was conducted by Yamaha Systems Design Engineer, Joe Rimstidt, and working on both an EASE model and NEXO GeoSoft model, discussed with the team options for the main sound system. During the original construction phase, the house PA system was changed back to a center cluster of NEXO Alpha EF and EM cabinets, and the AFC system was tabled for later installation/retrofit.

Eighteen months later, during the fall of 2011, the planning of the AFC retrofit got back underway and was finally completed in the fall of 2012 with assistance from ACIR Professional (Egg Harbor Township, NJ) and project manager Bobby Harper, electrical firm Striano (Long Island City, N.Y.), Yamaha’s Rimstidt, and school technical director, Andre Vasquez. The theater had already installed a Yamaha M7CL-48 as its front of house console. The M7CL-48 is using Yamaha AD8HR remote preamps located in the racks over the stage controlled via Ethersound.

“The newly installed AFC system, virtual band shell, and line array system have dramatically changed not only the quality of the way our productions sound but how the students perform,” states Vasquez. “Patrons who attend our productions have come up to me countless times to express how much they enjoyed not only the show but the sound of the show. The performers can hear one another so well that now the level of readiness has increased in all students resulting in one great performance after another. Mr. Bennett and Susan, Tom Young, and Yamaha have given us a system that has changed not just the audience experience, but the performers experience on the stage as they produce their art.”

The final main system is a NEXO GEO S12 system consisting of two main clusters, each containing six GEO S1210 cabinets and one GEO S1230; the bottom two cabinets on each side are equipped with FLG kits for 120º of horizontal coverage; two NEXO RS18 subwoofers per side; three NXAMP4X4 amplifiers equipped with EtherSound cards connected to the existing EtherSound network; and four Yamaha DSR115, self-powered Yamaha speakers for stage fills/monitors. The NEXO line arrays were flown to an existing catwalk that is located right outside of the proscenium and motors were brought in to raise the array to the exact location, and then the speakers were dead hung from the catwalk.

The theatre’s AFC system is a hybrid AFC3/LAP3 system with both the standard AFC3 system utilizing a new AFC-FIR card for processing and the enhanced option of using a dedicated FIR processing computer with the LAP3 external computer. Four microphones above the proscenium feed two different AFC systems. “System 1 is for reverberation enhancement in the house and under balcony areas,” notes Rimstidt. “This system includes four Yamaha S8AFC speakers mounted above the proscenium reflector and 15 S8AFC-D speakers placed in the ceiling above the audience area. There are also 14 S8AFC-D ceiling speakers in the ceiling to cover the under balcony seating area. Nine Yamaha XM4080 4-channel amplifiers power these speakers. This AFC set up enables variable room RT characteristics to be changed to be more suitable for the performance material and enables audience members sitting under the balcony to share the same sense of spaciousness as those seated out in the open room area.”

AFC system 2 was designed for reverberation enhancement/energy exchange on the stage. This system consists of 18 Yamaha IF2205 speakers mounted above the stage with five XM4180 4-channel amplifiers powering the speakers. “System 2 adds a sense of spaciousness to the normally “dead” sounding stage area and helps performers hear others on the stage,” says Rimstidt. “The microphones are split to feed both systems, and while the systems’ change scenes together, each is tuned individually (with the other system ‘on’ as the two interact and will affect each other’s final RT characteristics).”

Each sub-system has its own master AFC processor, separate output processing, and amplification for each speaker. The Yamaha AFC team created four initial Scenes with varying RT times and equipped them with a control to adjust the enhancement for each of these scenes using a Crestron control system. There is one set of scenes that has a very similar average RT time using the AFC-FIR card for processing, while the other scene uses the AFC-LAP3 computer that will allow for dual system comparisons when required.

In a joint statement the Bennett’s said: "Putting the finest sound system in the Tony Bennett Concert Hall at Frank Sinatra School of the Arts has turned it into one of the best sounding halls in the United States. How fortunate we are that both Tom’s team and Yamaha were able to create this for the public school children of New York City."


Location Houston, US

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