The Sound of Music


The Holly Drive building, dignified and modern and acoustically wonderful,  is harmonious from your eyes to your ears.


Beau Edwardson, director of Events & Production Services, and his team will keep the building's accoustics fine-tuned. Photo credit: Aimee Blodgett/USF News


By Barbara Melendez

USF News


TAMPA, Fla. (Mar. 24, 2011) – The University of South Florida’s monument to the love of music has a new address on Holly Drive. And it’s instantly clear that music matters at USF’s new School of Music – inside and out. 


The building is dignified and modern in its external aspects.  Immediately delighting the eye in the lobby areas are striking murals commissioned from noted artist Janaina Tschäpe, and the architectural details throughout the building are clean and understated – soothing even.


Distractions are few. This place is all about sound.


A near audible collective “ahhhh” flows through every hallway, office, practice hall and even the instrument storage rooms. The reverberation of every musical note produced by voices and all other instruments has been carefully taken into account down to the angle and texture of the walls and the soundproofing to prevent competing sounds from clashing. The very air is processed in a way that won’t interfere with the sound of music. 


All the elements of state-of-the-art acoustical wizardry have been marshaled to provide the experience every music lover has dreamed of. The building was designed by Hanbury Evans Wright Vlattas, the principal architects for the project and Performance Architecture provided consulting architects for the performance and music teaching spaces.


One space in particular – the main concert hall – is the place where audiences will connect with performers in the most formal of the various settings. It boasts acoustic designer Charles Bonner’s heaviest “cloud” – the signature ingredient in his sound control mix.


The cloud is a vertically adjustable acoustical ceiling reflector system that seems to float above the performers. Every time one of the cloud’s white panels is adjusted, the air volume above the performers is changed and when configured properly can essentially make a large hall sound like a small one. This kind of intimacy is most desirable for small ensembles, soloists, chamber music and small chorale groups. 


“The results are really remarkable for a hall of this size,” said Bonner, who works for BAi of Austin, Texas, consultants in acoustics and audio visual projects. “I was spellbound by the rehearsals, particularly for the orchestra and chorus, but for all ensembles. I believe we have achieved a landmark hall. Verbal descriptions pale in comparison to hearing music.”


Audiences will find that the slope of the floor gives them optimum lines of direct sound from every seat.


“This optimizes musical clarity for everyone in front of the artists,” Bonner said. 


The shape of the hall itself is a modified “shoe box” though box is a little misleading. There are very few straight lines. The side walls are slightly elliptical to ensure that the timing of acoustic reflections to the audience occur at exactly the right time sequence for optimum acoustical presence.


Then the ceiling height provides the necessary volume – measured in cubic feet – to achieve the longest possible reverberation time. In this hall the range of values is adjustable from 2.4 to 1.6 seconds.


“We achieve this range by the adjustable acoustical curtain systems at the upper and lower side walls and behind the performers,” Bonner explained. “The mix of reverberant and direct sound is the best possible both for reverberation and clarity. The noise generated by the air delivery systems is beneath the threshold of hearing, as close to zero as possible. This provides the widest possible musical dynamic range, permitting the best audibility of the softest musical sounds.”


It falls to Beau Edwardson, director of Events & Production Services, and his team to make sure all of the adjustable elements are attuned just right. Having worked in many venues beyond USF’s campus, he has found that theatrical performance spaces have to be all things to all people – but this concert hall is strictly all about music – instrumental and/or vocal. 


“Every time I walk in this concert hall, I smile,” Edwardson said. “Right down to the last light hung in place and focused and the speakers plugged in, it has all come together beautifully. From what I’ve heard so far, everyone who uses this space is going to enjoy the overall experience. We cater to each event and the hall transforms itself to suit the artists.”


Full color control for lighting that is show specific permits Edwardson’s staff to bring emotion to the music with special lighting through a state-of-the-art computer-based control console.


Furthermore, projector systems in the main concert hall and some of the classrooms facilitate live streaming to allow professors and students to play along with other professors and students in remote locations.


Edwardson sums it up perfectly: “This building truly is a gift for all who love music, students, faculty, performers and audiences. It’s a wow. It’s a dream.”


Although the formal School of Music Ribbon Cutting Ceremony begins at 10 a.m. Mar. 31, the Steinway Piano Series featuring Enrico Elisi takes place, Sunday, Mar. 27 in the School of Music Recital Hall. For a full schedule of inaugural events, click here or visit and check the School of Music calendar often for free and affordable concerts.


Barbara Melendez can be reached at 813-974-4563.