Sound Waves: A Physics of Music class explores why Weill Hall works the way it does

weillhall.pngClassical music lovers may bask in this superb sound of the music played in Weill Hall at the Green Music Center and not need to know why it performs the way it does. But physics of music students in Professor Michieal Jones' class have developed a different understanding that often leads to a greater appreciation of music at its highest level.

"When classical music is performed in Weill Hall it sounds like it its intended to sound," says Jones who used various rooms of the Green Center, particularly Weill Hall, in demonstrations of the basic concepts discussed in his class.

Jones compared Weill Hall to the similar appearing "Great Hall" in Vienna (Musikverein), usually said to be the world's finest for music of the classical period. This hall has been well studied and acoustical illustrations are easily obtainable for measurement and comparison.


"There is very little difference between the two halls (Weill and Musikverin) other than the decoration, and they function almost identically," he says. "Composers, conductors, performers and orchestras expect classical music to be performed in halls like these."

The excellent acoustics of Weil Hall not only allow for a clear illustration of the nature of sound, but also to explain how to control acoustics for a specific goal, says Jones.

Jones used the rooms at the Green Music Center to illustrate the ideas of standing waves, reflection, absorption, exponential decay, timbre, tonal coloration, and multiple aspects of human sound perception.

Since Weill Hall had not been completed the semester the class was held, and access was difficult because of the ongoing construction, they made preliminary measurements. "But we were able to show the students how real and more detailed measurements would proceed," he said.

"We were fortunate enough to have music majors on the stage playing beautifully and the rest of the students moved from section to section of the hall listening," he said. "As for the student experience, I told them they could leave after an hour, but none did."

"In the end we had to chase the students out which is not a problem I normally have. They were not just learning but also building an appreciation."

A detailed acoustical workup of the hall has not been performed, but Jones hopes to use this as a physics project for his undergraduate students in the future.

-Jean Wasp

ABOVE, Interiors of Weill Hall at Sonoma State University (top) and the "Great Hall" of Vienna (Musikverein) (bottom) finished in 1870 and still considered one of the finest halls of it size in the world today for classical music. Its architect, Theophil Hansen, created this masterpiece before the science of acoustics emerged in the 20th century. There is very little difference between the halls other than the decoration, and they function almost identically.

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