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Explore Buffalo Building Profile: Kleinhans Music Hall

A Very Brief History of the Recent Acoustics of Kleinhans Music Hall

Explore Buffalo is fortunate to have an office in First Presbyterian Church with a magnificent view of Kleinhans Music Hall – a view which we hope to return to enjoy soon. This week’s Building Profile on Kleinhans is by Master Docent Denise Prince, and is based on her 2011 master’s thesis, KLEINHANS MUSIC HALL: A STUDY IN MODERN SOUND. For those who may like some additional “light reading,” the full 139-page thesis can be found at: buffaloah.com.

Did you know that for seventy-two years, from the time of its opening in 1940 until the summer of 2012, Kleinhans Music Hall’s main auditorium was completely covered in wall-to-wall carpet? Perhaps not an earth-shattering revelation, nevertheless, it is significant to those who care about room acoustics – especially given the fact that the original acoustical consultants specified carpet in the aisles only and not the entire floor.

Original acoustical consultants specified carpet in the aisles only and not the entire floor.

Charles Potwin, lead acoustical consultant during the construction of Kleinhans from 1938-1940, was surprised to see carpet under the seats when he arrived for the opening concert on October 12, 1940. In a letter dated three weeks later, he wrote that the wall-to-wall carpet was done “without our knowledge and without our recommendations.”  How could this happen? What affect did it have on the resonant acoustics of Kleinhans Music Hall?  Surprising to most Buffalonians, the acoustics of our beloved Music Hall have not been unanimously appreciated by all! In fact, Kleinhans management undertook an acoustical study in 2006 followed by steps to improve the acoustics of the hall.

They began with a simple fix designed to enhance the transmission of sound onstage for the performers: the heretofore raw wood of the platform was covered with a polyurethane-type coating. Next, as previously mentioned, the wall-to-wall carpet was removed and replaced with carpet in the aisles alone, as originally intended. Finally, a major renovation was undertaken in the summer of 2015 when some 400 seats were removed, and the seating was reconfigured with roomier chairs. All of these renovations were made with an aim to improve the resonance or liveness of the acoustics.

From this writer’s personal experience, I can say it was the removal of the carpet which made a significant difference in my perception of the sound in the hall. For example, the first concert I attended after the carpet was removed featured Beethoven’s 5th piano concerto, the “Emperor.”  The opening notes of the piano rang out so loud and clear, I felt that I was on stage standing right next to the noble instrument! Then the bass section came on so strongly I thought for a moment that their numbers had doubled (!) – but no – it was the same section as always, now amplified by the new configuration of the hall.

The next time you visit Kleinhans Music Hall (let’s pray it is sooner rather than later) recall the acoustical planning and the resulting “sound” of the space. It is certain that you will appreciate the experience.

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Also see Explore Buffalo Building Profiles:

Blessed Trinity Roman Catholic Church

First Presbyterian Church

Written by Explore Buffalo

Explore Buffalo

Explore Buffalo is a nonprofit organization with a mission of promoting Buffalo and Western New York history, architecture, and neighborhoods through quality education to learners of all ages. Explore Buffalo's volunteer docents lead a wide range of guided tours by foot, bike, bus, kayak, and boat to explore our city's history and architecture; in 2019, more than 25,000 people participated in an Explore Buffalo tour or program. Learn more at explorebuffalo.org

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