Toning Down the Sound: one church helps another solve noise issues

When St. Andrew’s-by-the-Sea, Little Compton, created significant improvements to its parish hall a few years ago, they inadvertently created a new problem: people couldn’t hear one another in a normal conversation. The solution turned out to be one church helping another. 

 “We rebuilt one end of the structure to open up the room with a high, vaulted ceiling and hardwood floors,” explained parishioner Doug MacFall. “But we had a problem because there was so much sound bouncing off the new hard surfaces.” 

 After struggling for some time about what to do, parish leaders had about decided to hire an acoustics consultant — when Music Director Karin Larsen suggested they visit St. Columba’s Chapel in Middletown, where her husband, the Rev. Erik Larsen, is the rector. 

 St. Columba’s had solved the same problem — also resulting from a parish hall refurbishment — by installing acoustic panels on the ceiling. 

 “Our refurbished parish hall, with hardwood floors and walls with lots of windows and no drapes, turned out to be very ‘live’,” explained Larsen. “We looked at several options because we couldn’t hold a conversation in the room. We found ceiling panels that have made a significant improvement.” 

 When the St. Andrew’s leaders visited St. Columba’s, they realized that the two rooms were nearly identical.  

“St. Columba’s was so enthusiastic about the results that it became clear it was the solution for us as well — no expensive consultant needed,” MacFall said. “Our rector, the Rev. Lynn Orville, and the vestry gave our committee an immediate OK to get prices. We went with the same supplier as St. Columba’s used and got a very good price.” 

 In all, St. Andrew’s installed 10 panels, costing $400 each, and then saved some money by hiring a parishioner to install them. The result, says MacFall, was “a 10-fold reduction in sound bouncing off the ceiling. The real proof of success, however, was the first coffee hour after the installation. You could actually have a normal conversation!”

An empty parish hall with acoustic tiles on the ceiling
The parish hall at St. Andrew’s by the Sea with its new acoustic tiles


People around tables in a church hall
A crowd talking comfortably in St. Columba’s parish hall