Built decades before the birth of the modern field of architectural acoustics, George Post’s Troy Savings Bank Music Hall incited a less than favorable response from critics upon its 1875 opening. Twenty years later, in 1890, a large, eight year old Odell concert organ purchased from New York financier William Belden was installed in the Hall. Though its design was never intended to accommodate such a substantial presence, legend has it that this modification transformed the Hall into the acoustic wonder that it is today.
The truth is that great halls aren’t made by a single intervention, and Troy Savings Bank Music Hall was destined from the beginning to stand among the best in the world. The narrow shoebox form promotes early sidewall reflections that are important for a sense of envelopment, and the tall ceiling and ideal seat count of 1180 to provide intimacy and sustain an optimal reverberation. The original padded wooden seats absorb a minimum of sound, and the shallow under balcony ensures listeners in even the deepest seats hear the effect of the entire room. The thick plaster surfaces support middle and low frequency sound and the ornamental detailing acts as acoustic diffusion, scattering and distributing sound energy evenly. The Odell organ itself - a magnificent instrument restored to working condition in 2006 - performs a second duty as acoustic diffusion, and the cove between the organ and stage improves musician communication while projecting sound to the audience.
By 1925 the importance of the Hall to the community was such that Troy historian Rutherford Hayner wrote: "The building of a great Music Hall, one of the really important structures of its kind in America, fifty years ago, gave to the community a sort of rallying point musically... Certain it is that no city of equal size in the country has enjoyed so much of the world's best music and musicians."
Today the Hall’s excellent reputation for orchestral and chamber music has expanded to include amplified events. Acoustic curtains line the rear walls and can be deployed or retracted as needed, and hand-painted absorptive panels can be added to the cove on stage without a visual change. Always with preservation of sound as the top priority, Troy Savings Bank Music Hall has evolved to become a destination venue for a wide range of classical and modern music performances and recording.
Finally, the visual and historic appeal of the Hall must not be overlooked in any discussion of its acoustic character. The ear and the eye are inseparable in the concert-going experience, and even a room with equivalent acoustics could not sound as good as the visually stunning, historically rich Troy Savings Bank Music Hall.
- Zackery Belanger.
Adapted and expanded from R. McClintock