When the Saratoga Federated Church decided to renovate its worship sanctuary and upgrade the audio and video systems, the church’s Renovation Team––Bruce McFarling, Larry Hester, Marguerite McAfee, Jerry Bruce, and Pastor of Worship and Music Kevin Friesen––was guided by a vision of “classic beauty with modern functionality.”
Located close to Los Gatos and San Jose in the affluent Western part of the Silicon Valley, Saratoga Federated is an inter-denominational church with 1400 members, many who are CEOs and presidents of high technology “dot.com” companies. Founded in 1920, the church has continued to grow and evolve, but its audio and video capabilities had lagged behind, especially given the church’s techno-centric location.
As Pastor Friesen puts it, “we were woefully behind the curve before this upgrade and very much needed to bring everything up to speed.” The thought behind Friesen’s vision was to focus on flexibility and functionality above all.
“We didn’t have the freedom to go ‘total theater’ or ‘total concert hall,’” he recalls. “We needed something that would let us do as much as possible. On any given Sunday, we’ll have a band going one hour, then a pipe organ, a fifteen piece orchestra and forty voice choir the next moment.”
Determined to end up with a system that would accommodate everything from bands with amplified instruments to a carillon ensemble, public speakers, traditional church music and everything in between as part of the rebuild, Friesen approached the A/V integrator, Curtis Kelly of Delicate Electronic Sales in Camarillo, California with a comprehensive wish list.
Conceptually, the church wanted to move things forward in a modern, edgy direction with amplified music and video presentations consistent with the tastes of younger members, without alienating members of the congregation involved with creating technology on a daily basis.
As Kevin explains, “I came here six years ago from the central valley around Sacramento where it’s very agricultural and a different context altogether. The interesting thing here is that even though the members are part of an industry that creates technology, they aren’t that enamored of it, especially with something as important to them as their church.
“They didn’t want the new audio and video technology to be showy––they deal with that Monday through Saturday. The whole idea of unobtrusive classic form is really important to the members. They want a church to feel like a church. They wanted it to be about the experience, not the gadgets.”
In terms of the costs, Friesen’s enthusiasm for the AV proposal was somewhat dampened by a significant bottom line number, but it led to the creation of a practical phase-by-phase “pay as you go” approach to the project that proved to have many advantages besides distributing the total over time.
“It was somewhat financially motivated,” Friesen explains, “but it was also goal and scale-driven. It was close to four years ago that I called Curtis out here and told him where we would like to be some day. He gave me this substantial $200,000 number just for the audio, so we decided to do the project step by step knowing that if we couldn’t get to everything right away, we’d get to it later on in the process. As it turned out, because of the advantages of the process in terms of upgrading the technology while managing the costs, we were able to do the whole job for that amount.
“So we bought the (Crest X8) mixing board two years ago, and it has served us in both our original sanctuary and in the new renovated facility. So when we designed our stage, we decided to add the floor pockets and all the inputs at that point, and just chip away at our list. By the time we got to the final phase, we didn’t have nearly as much to do and the project didn’t even grow on us from the original plan.
“We also had the time to upgrade the speakers and other components as we went along,” Friesen adds, “because the technology is always improving and we were able to keep everything at the same level of value and quality as everything evolved. Most important, we were better able to manage the project, and the coordination of all the elements worked out really well because all of us had lived with it for so long. We were making very specific decisions about each phase instead of worrying about all of the decisions each step of the way.”
The actual A/V upgrade plan was straightforward yet the new systems had to work seamlessly with the church’s original audio system so there were no interruptions for services and community functions, and the installation had to time out perfectly with the final renovation of the sanctuary.
Starting with the installation of power and power distribution, it was determined that the Delicate Integration team, Project Manager Kelly, Tony Caraffa (Audio Technician-Installer), John Turbett (Video Engineer-Installer) and Kirk Peot (A/V Technician-Installation Utility), would then add stage floor pockets with inputs, monitoring, Internet, VGA computers and network jacks for (Aviom) in-ear monitoring prior to laying in the system infrastructure. They would then proceed to the stage reconstruction ending with the final build out of the worship sanctuary.
In terms of specific equipment choices for power and power distribution, Lab Gruppen amplification was used with a Middle Atlantic USR sequencing power distribution system.
For loudspeakers, actually the last part of the project after the final sanctuary rebuild, three Martin Audio W8LMs mini line array enclosures and two W8LMD mini downfill speakers were hung as a center cluster above the stage. As Kelly explains, “The speakers fit perfectly in that space. The bottom box hits the first row perfectly just as the top box hits the back row. It works really well and sounds great.”
Adds Friesen, “The loudspeakers were the last part of the project. Our sound room had always been in a closet for lack of a better word, so as part of the sanctuary rebuild, we created a balcony that can seat 70 and a sound pod for the room.”
The balcony delay system consists of three Martin W2 speakers; two for the congregation in the balcony and one a tuned reference speaker for the FOH mix position. Martin Audio precisely matched all of the loudspeakers to the interior designer’s color specification.
Asked about the results, Friesen notes, “the speakers are fantastic and the coverage we get is great. The audio is significantly better now and even more noticeable because we were coming from something that was pretty sub-par.”
In terms of video, Friesen points out that “we were looking for something that would give us expanded capability with modern functionality, yet not be too overbearing. So the screens go away when they need to. We had to put them in front of the pipe chambers––we have an 18-rank Aeolian Skinner pipe organ and we’re expanding to 21 ranks when we’re all done––so they couldn’t block the sound.
To solve the problem, Kelly used two Stewart Cine-Perf FP screens over the organ bays that exert minimal impact on the pipes, so that the majestic sound of the classic organ is not adversely affected when the screens are lowered. Two Eiki LC-X71 5500 lumen multimedia projectors provide the visuals. An “expandable” ETC lighting system completed the visual scheme with a theatrical console that interfaces with the sanctuary’s Lutron architectural lighting system for even more flexibility in enhancing and modifying presentations.
The church video screens are used to display words for the hymns and songs, and video clips from movies to demonstrate points being made in weekly sermons. They have also been used for visiting speakers with PowerPoint presentations and for video montages during funerals and other special occasions.
With the recently completed A/V system in place, Saratoga Federated can now handle an expanded “modern yet traditional” Church music program along with guest artists and speakers with transparent functionality.
As Friesen describes it, “Given the modern functionality, it works well within the sanctuary as a very clean, discrete high tech system that can do everything we need to do without being obvious about it. It’s just seamless, it functions.”
The system is functional and, just as importantly, easy to use. As Kelly explains: “The way we set up the system with BSS London Soundweb, it can be run automatically. Just push a button, and you have wireless mics and a CD player at your disposal using the touch panel. Touch another button, and the whole system is available.”
Asked about the church’s reaction to the upgrade, Kelly echoes Pastor Friesen’s sentiments, “They’re really happy about it. The way we built and planned it proved to be a real value for them in the short term and the long haul. It looks good and sounds great for both the spoken word and musical rep roduction.”