Rooms that have lots of resonance are great for singing in. Or are they? The first thing I always look for in a good workshop room is the size. It’s great if the room is two or three times bigger than it needs to be: if it’s a workshop for 30 people it needs to be a room that could hold between 60 – 90 people. Rooms with low flat ceilings are very difficult to hear in – I prefer rooms with arched ceilings as somehow it doesn’t seem to muddle the sound as much – or with high ceilings. Of course it’s lovely to sing in a very resonant room when you’re on your own as your voice carries and it feels effortless. However if you have lots of singers in the same room, especially if it’s not quite big enough, it can be impossible to hear on one side of the room what the other side of the room are singing, making for an experience that never quite gets beyond just singing the parts together at the same time. If you want to really hear each other and work on the quality of the sound then a less resonant, dry room is better: perhaps with a carpet over a wooden floor or with curtains on some walls.
Having said that, if I was choosing a room for a group of people who were new to singing I’d always go for a resonant room just because it can boost your confidence and stops you straining your voice.
Wood is a wonderful acoustic to sing in – a wooden floor is great – but with stone walls as well, probably too resonant. Stone floors are good but the acoustic can be too resonant if the walls are stone as well. Stone churches work at their best acoustically when they are full of people. So, to perform in a church to a large audience is often a wonderful acoustic. And of course that’s how they were designed to be.
A wooden floor with plasterboard walls and ceiling works really well, or a stone floor with plaster or wood walls and some curtaining. I’ve done workshops in a couple of rooms with slate floors and they’ve been quite difficult – it seems to have a very wet, slappy kind of acoustic that’s very jarring after a couple of hours singing.
And having said all that – you can’t always have the luxury of purely acoustic choice – there are of course many other factors that come into choosing the perfect room for a workshop: price, parking, access, kitchens, helpful janitors, light, heat, geography, comfy seating etc.