Title means "Quietness", "Comfortable Sound" and "Excellent Acoustics"

Nagata Acoustics News 01-4 (No.160)
Issued : April 25, 2001

Tokushima Bunri University's Murasaki Hall
-- An Authentic Concert Hall Experience for College Music Majors --

by Keiji Oguchi

Bunri University is a large academic institution with seven colleges covering 21 disciplines. It maintains two campuses, one in Tokushima City, Tokushima Prefecture and one in neighboring Kagawa Prefecture's Shido-cho. The university's new Murasaki Hall, on the Tokushima City campus, commemorates the 110th anniversary of the establishment of Murasaki Gakuen, which grew and expanded over more than a century into today's full-scale Bunri University.

Murasaki Hall opened in December 2000, with the 43rd Season Concert by the university's orchestra as the inaugural event. The architectural firm responsible for the project's design was Educational Facilities Institute Co., Ltd and Nagata Acoustics served as acoustical consultant. The general contractor for the project was Nishimatsu Construction Co., Ltd, and the mechanical and electrical subcontractor was Yondenko Corporation.

<< Concert Hall Project Planning Phase >>

Before the addition of Murasaki Hall to Bunri's campus, the university already had two multipurpose halls. One is Murasaki Sai Memoria Hall, located on the Kagawa campus and having a seat count of 860 seats, and the other is Acanthus Hall, located on the Tokushima campus and having a seat count of 407 seats. Both of these halls were used for musical concerts as well as other purposes.

The planning of Murasaki Hall was part of a larger project to rebuild the university's Music College building. From the start of this planning, Masato Murasaki, the Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the University, expressed his aim to build a facility in which music majors can experience an authentic concert hall environment.

In order to "get everyone on the same page" with regard to the hall's requirements and desired feel and personality of the project's concert hall, all of the key project participants visited a number of prestigious concert halls both in Japan and abroad, listening to concerts and touring the halls' facilities. In particular, on the suggestion of a former Bunri English instructor, we traveled to Vancouver, Canada to visit and hear British Columbia University's Chan Shun Concert Hall in the university's Chan Center for the Performing Arts. Both the scale of this 1400-seat hall and the way it serves as the home concert hall to ensembles formed as part of the university's curriculum closely mirror the Murasaki Hall envisioned in the project's earliest planning stages.

<< Vancouver's Chan Shun Hall-A Facility of Similar Scope and Purpose >>

The similarity of our project's goals to the Chan Shun Concert Hall made our visit there a most valuable experience that helped us visualize and define the specifics of Bunri University's new hall. Chan Shun Concert Hall is fundamentally a shoebox-configured hall, but the front and rear are rounded so that the main floor plan is an oval shape. Chan Shun Concert Hall is ringed with two balcony levels and has a rather high ceiling. A special feature of Chan Shun Concert Hall is the large, deployable canopy that can be unfurled above the stage to enhance the hall's stage acoustics. (Chan Center for the Performing Arts was featured in our February 1998 News, available by clicking on the back numbers button at the end of this month's News.)

<< Summary of Murasaki Hall's Configuration and Design>>

Murasaki Hall has a seat count of 1,314 seats, designed in the "one box" style in which the stage area and audience seating form one continuous room not separated by any obvious design elements. Other salient points about the hall are as follows:

* The hall is designed in a shoebox configuration, one of the most appropriate configurations for concert halls.
* A large-scale stage canopy serves to send sound reflections to performers to enhance the sound heard on stage.
* The stage floor is connected to electronic controls that can raise and lower it in sections so that orchestras can seat their members in stepped configurations.
* Use of the hall for speaking engagements was taken into consideration in the acoustical design by including mechanisms to adjust the hall's reverberation time to better suit non-music events.

<< Murasaki Hall's Shoebox Configuration >>

Murasaki Hall's shape is fundamentally a traditional shoebox configuration. In keeping with the norms of this traditional shape, the slope of the hall's main floor audience seating is as gentle as possible, and the hall has a raised row of box seating on each side of the main audience area. The hall's basic dimensions are: Width: 21.5m (70.5 ft) x Depth: 41.5m (136 ft) x Ceiling height: 17m (56 ft).

<< Murasaki Hall's Stage >>

We installed a large, heavy canopy in the open air space above the hall's stage. This design element sends sound reflections back to the performers on stage as well as to the front rows of audience seating. In order to spread the reflections of the canopy as far as possible over both the stage and the audience seating, we designed a bowl-shaped, downward-facing canopy with a 10.5m (34 ft) diameter. The ideal placement of the canopy is with the height of the canopy rim 13.5m (44 ft) above the stage floor. The canopy contains lighting for the stage and a speaker system for speech amplification as well.

Sections of the stage floor can be raised and lowered using an electric-powered mechanism. Orchestras and string ensembles will use these risers to stagger the floor heights underneath various sections of the ensembles. Using risers produces several benefits. They enable the entire orchestra to be seen from every seat in the audience, notwithstanding the extremely gentle slope of the auditorium floor. In addition, using risers under an ensemble's string section increases the richness of the instruments' sound and the risers also have the salutary effect of serving as reflective surfaces for the musicians seated close to them. (For more discussion on concert hall stages, see our August 1998 News in the back numbers.)

At the rear of the stage we installed a wall of acoustically transparent, vertically ribbed material. Behind the wall, there is sufficient room for stage hands to move about in order to deploy sound diffusing or sound absorbing objects that can be used to make minor alterations to the hall's acoustics. The acoustically transparent, ribbed wall accomplishes two additional goals. It creates the visual impression of a semicircular rear wall in front of the room's boundary wall behind it and it also prevents undesirable sound focusing. By slightly altering the distance between each pair of ribs, we successfully implemented this design strategy without creating a diffraction grating phenomenon.

<< Murasaki Hall's Interior Design >>

Murasaki Hall
Murasaki Hall's interior displays generous use of wood materials. Raised hardwood flooring (supported on wood columns) was installed throughout the hall's audience seating area. The middle and lower portions of the interior walls are constructed of concrete blocks covered with mortar and then finished with wood-product paneling. The upper portions of the interior walls are GRC panels and the hall's ceiling is constructed of multi-layer board. These portions of the interior surfaces both have painted finishes. Acoustically, all of these surfaces are sound reflecting. Other than the audience seating materials, we did not employ any sound absorbing materials in the hall's interior design.

The upper wall GRC panels can be rotated open to change the hall's reverberation time. For concerts, these wall portions remain closed and act as sound reflecting surfaces. However, when these panels are rotated to their open position, their sound-absorbing side faces the hall's interior, shortening the hall's reverberation time so that it can be successfully used for seminars and other speaking engagements. The wall area that can be rotated covers approximately 120m2 (1,292 sq. ft) and the hall's reverberation time changes from 2.0 seconds to 1.6 seconds when the sound-absorbing sides of these wall portions are exposed for audience occupied condition.

<< Murasaki Hall's Inaugural and Other Concerts >>

Construction on the Murasaki Hall project completed in the summer of 2000 and the university's orchestra and chorus immediately began using the hall for rehearsals that culminated in the hall's combined Grand Inaugural and Season Concert in December. The program included Wagner's Prelude to Die Meistersinger Von Nurnberg, Haydn's Messiah and Dvorak's New World Symphony No. 9 ("From the New World). Maestro Shigeru Toyama, Bunri University Music College dean, and Herbich Richter, Vienna National Music College professor, shared the conductor's podium.

For the inaugural concert, the configuration of the stage floor's risers was changed depending on the piece being performed. For Wagner and Dvorak, the orchestra used a traditional configuration with risers at the rear center of the stage for the wind and percussion sections. For Hydn, the configuration made extensive use of the entire stage floor's risers for every section of the orchestra. The two variations afforded the audience an opportunity to hear two of the many configurations possible with Murasaki Hall's stage.

On March 24, 2001, the NHK Symphony Orchestra performed in Murasaki Hall, providing another opportunity to hear the hall's acoustics, this time with a professional orchestra. The program was Mozart's Flute Concerto and Mahler's Symphony No. 1 Maestro Yakob Kreizberg conducted and the flautist was Emmanuel Pahud. Prior to listening to this concert at Murasaki Hall, I also had the chance to listen to the same program with the same players performed at Suntory Hall, in Tokyo. The orchestra's sound was full-bodied and deeply resonant at both venues. However, compared with the expansive sound I heard at the arena-shaped Suntory Hall, the sound at Murasaki Hall exhibited the tightly crafted resonance characteristic of shoebox configurations. Experiencing the same orchestra perform the same program in these two very different hall configurations, with one of them being the recently completed Murasaki Hall, was an unanticipated acoustical treat.

<< Risers Offer a Good Practice Environment for Student Musicians >>

Since its inauguration late last year, Murasaki Hall has served as the venue for many public performances, but it gets nearly daily use by a large variety of student ensembles. When we first introduced electric-powered risers to the Japanese music world, by using them for Suntory Hall's stage floor, both the hall and the performing musicians spent some months of trial-and-error experimenting to determine the optimal use of the risers for entire orchestras, including their string sections. The ability and willingness of musical performers to acclimate themselves to the stage acoustics of a variety of riser height combinations was critical to this learning process. Because Tokushima Bunri University's Murasaki Hall serves as the home hall to many different ensemble configurations, this hall will provide student musicians with an excellent environment in which to learn how to feel comfortable rehearsing and performing on a stage with electronically-controlled, adjustable risers. I anticipate that this new hall's functionality will be fully exploited and enjoyed by Bunri University's budding concert musicians.

Philia Hall Successfully Weathers Challenging Times

by Hideo Nakamura

When Philia Hall, a 500-seat concert hall built as part of a project for the Tokyu Railroad Corporation, opened its doors in 1993, the hall's location was thought to be an easily accessible, prime suburban site. The hall occupied the top floor of a commercial structure in an upscale neighborhood, Aobadai, which is a 30-minute ride from Tokyo's Shibuya Station on the Tokyu Denentoshi Rail Line. The Tokyu Group opened a branch of its high-end Tokyu Department Store in the remainder of the floors.

Philia Hall quickly gained a following of avid fans and, since 1993, its calendar has annually included about 40 hall-produced concerts. Then, last year, Tokyu Department Stores decided to close the Aobadai store. When word of the store's closing was released, Philia Hall's devoted, music-loving fans naturally worried over the fate of the hall they had come to value highly. Luckily, Tokyu Railroad Corporation's plans to continue supporting the hall were unaffected by the decision to close the department store. For several months, Philia Hall's lively atmosphere and concert activities continued as always on the building's top floor, while the floors below stood dark and empty. In March 2001, replacement tenants were found for the building's commercial space and the entire structure again bustles with shoppers and concertgoers alike.

<< Why the Tokyu Group Kept Philia Hall Open While Closing Stores >>

By continuing to support its nonprofit Philia Hall while closing its department store branch in the same building, the Tokyu Group's parent railroad corporation demonstrated its unswerving commitment to supporting culture and the arts, even in these difficult economic times. However, I think that Philia Hall's fine track record of consistently attracting large audiences to its concert programs must have been a significant factor in Tokyu's decision to keep the hall in operation.

It is common knowledge that halls for the performing arts do not generate profits (except for a small number of commercially oriented venues) and there could be no question about the Tokyu Group's need to tighten its financial belt since it took the draconian step of shutting down the entire Aobadai department store location. In this environment, halls must demonstrate a consistently strong occupancy rate in order to garner philanthropic support or public funding. While this may seem obvious to some readers, in Japan there are many halls, especially public ones, that are ridiculed for being so empty that strolling their premises is not much different than a solitary walk in the woods. What is the secret of Philia Hall's success? To find out, I paid a visit to Ms. Reiko Tanaka, Philia Hall's Planning Manager.

<< Philia Hall's Upbeat Management and Positive Balance Sheet >>

Ms. Tanaka began her career with Philia Hall when the hall opened. She was a college student at the time and hired on as a part-timer. When I first met this manager, I was immediately struck by her positive attitude. I soon learned at least one of the reasons for her buoyant enthusiasm. Philia Hall's hall-produced concert budget is in black year after year.

A look at what Ms. Tanaka's budget covers helps explain how she can continuously run Philia Hall's concert programming production without also running up a deficit. The hall budget for which she is responsible balances income from ticket sales against fees to performers, program production costs and concert advertising only. Employee salaries and hall overhead are paid from a separate budget of the corporation. Nevertheless, the self-sustaining concert production budget is a source of pride and strength not only to the hall's audience patrons and performers, but to the hall's staff and maintenance organization, too. It drives Ms. Tanaka's enthusiasm and is a valuable metric she can use in retaining the Tokyu Group's ongoing support.

<< Philia Hall's Strong Ticket Sales and Advance Sale Strategy >>

Of course, in order to cover all production-related concert costs from ticket revenues alone, Philia Hall must aim for a high audience occupancy rate. The hall sets its goal at 85%. For the period April 2000 through June 2000, the hall's concerts achieved an average audience occupancy of 87%, and half of the hall-produced concerts during that same period were box office sell-outs.

Philia Hall uses a unique direct marketing scheme to promote upcoming concerts. Whenever a patron buys an advance sale ticket, the hall requests the person's name and address, which it enters into a database. Thereafter, the hall includes these names and addresses in its mailings of upcoming concerts. The mailings include prepaid return-mail postcards, which the DM recipients can use to purchase tickets for the upcoming concerts. The hall currently has a database of 20,000 names and it sends out each mailing to half of the names in the database.

Unlike many other Japanese halls, Philia Hall does not have a "Friends Society" or other membership scheme with the typical ticket discounts usually included with these kinds of memberships. On the contrary, there is no need to join anything or pay any membership dues to receive the hall's mailings. Ms. Tanaka says that she receives feedback from hall patrons that they appreciate the convenience of preferentially receiving advance notice of concerts via the mailings that come directly to their homes, and the ability to nearly effortlessly purchase tickets using the prepaid return-mail postcards. While Philia Hall's direct mail method causes the hall to incur all of the postage costs for both the mailings from the hall to patrons and from ticket purchasers to the hall, the hall considers the benefit of creating an easy ticket purchase method worth these costs.

One possible downside of Philia Hall's advance ticket sale strategy is that the hall sometimes receives a flood of more than 1,000 postcards immediately after sending out a mailing announcing an especially popular concert program. In these instances, the hall additionally incurs the labor and cost of sending out "apology letters" to a portion of the respondents, explaining that the concert has sold out. But this is a downside that any hall would be happy to shoulder.

The majority of the addresses in Philia Hall's patron database are in nearby communities, but 30% are outside the hall's locale. I was surprised to learn that the hall even has a number of repeat patrons who travel to the hall from as far away as Sendai, in northern Japan, and from Hiroshima, to the west. (Both Sendai and Hiroshima are several hours from Tokyo on the Bullet Train.)

<< Ms. Tanaka's "One Woman Show" Concert Production Work >>

I was also surprised by something else Ms. Tanaka told me. She single-handedly produces all of Philia Hall's hall-sponsored concerts. Because she has sole responsibility for deciding which performers and programs the hall will sponsor, the decision process is fast. In this era when hall's production planning is so critical to hall success, I know of no other hall that has taken the logical step of streamlining this decision process by giving the responsibility to a single individual.

In Japan, allowing one person complete control and power over production planning decisions may be an organizational setup that could only occur in the private sector and would be considered unacceptable for publicly funded halls. But given the excellent reputation of Philia Hall's programming, many struggling halls would at least do well to find some hints for themselves in Philia Hall's organizational structure. Even publicly funded halls can probably make their programming organizations more lean and effective.

<< Balancing the Concert Calendar Against Easy Box Office Hits >>

Box-office sales-or the lack of them-is a brutally honest evaluation of a concert producer's work. Ms. Tanaka, still a young woman with only a few years of experience, undoubtedly feels this pressure continually. One approach to her task would be to program only concerts that sell easily. But Philia Hall wants to be a classical music specialty hall that maintains a certain level of good taste and erudition, and it also wants to cast a wide net that stimulates as many different people as possible to attend some of the hall's concerts.

Ms. Tanaka says that she pays particular attention to minimizing her personal preferences and instead focusing on the selection of programs that will appeal to potential ticket buyers. Among the offerings she has produced for the hall are pianist Ikuyo Nakamichi's cycle of Beethoven piano sonatas, performed over a four-year period and concerts that feature Japanese winners of famous international competitions, each held soon after the artist's return home. The hall is known for its ability to act quickly to program concerts that match the current "talk of the town" among concertgoers and music fans, earning Ms. Tanaka high marks from music industry professionals and even difficult-to-please, connoisseur music fans. Ms. Tanaka keeps the hall's calendar centered on classical music, but she also exhibits the flexibility to broaden her audiences' listening vistas with programs of tango music, gagaku (traditional ceremonial Japanese court music), a now very popular shamisen duo and performances on such unusual instruments as the theremin and ondes martenot.

<< The Tokyu Group's Cooperative Agreement with Yokohama City >>

The entity responsible for Philia Hall's operations is Tokyu Railroad Corporation, which delegates the day-to-day work of running the hall to one of its subsidiary companies. In addition, Tokyu Railroad has an agreement with Yokohama City to operate the hall as the Aobadai Community Center for half of every year. The opportunity to use this quality of facility at city-subsidized, community center rates is a bargain for Aobadai residents. Each time the day arrives on which the city accepts applications to reserve the hall for the next season, community residents immediately rush to book weekends and holiday dates, because they know that their availability will disappear quickly. As a result, the only days that Philia Hall is empty is on the dates the hall has set aside as closed days to allow for maintenance activities and days off for all employees.

In my opinion, there are two keys to the successful joint use of Philia Hall by a private sector organization and a municipality. The first key to this success is that Yokohama City does not meddle unnecessarily in the day-to-day operations of the hall. It leaves this work to the Tokyu Railroad Corporation and its related, delegated subsidiary. Secondly, the Tokyu organization leaves the most important work of the hall-the planning and production of hall-sponsored programming-in the hands of young staffers.

<< Two Keys to Success: Fine Programming and Astute Management >>

I am sure that behind Ms. Tanaka's smiling countenance is the burden of hard work and stressful days. I was truly moved by her comment that the words of gratitude she receives from performers and the delight she sees on audiences' faces always make her forget how arduous her work can sometimes be. As the acoustician responsible for Philia Hall's acoustics, it was of course gratifying to me to hear Ms. Tanaka tell me she believes that the hall's fine acoustics are one of the reasons for the hall's excellent reputation. However, I hope that Philia Hall's owner and its employees understand that what is truly most critical to the hall's success and ability to attract its strong following of fans are its fine programming and astute management methodology. Like the halls many fans, I hope that this well-run, well-loved institution continues to shine for many future years.

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Nagata Acoustics News 01-4(No.160)
Issued : April 25, 2001

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