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Memorial H.S. musical director Steven HempelMasque Sound Upgrades Memorial H.S. to Pro System

WEST NEW YORK, NJ: Each spring for the past twelve years, Memorial High School chemistry teacher and long-time theatre-buff Steven Hempel has directed the schools’ annual musical production. Carousel, Guys And Dolls, Pajama Game… the list reads like a ‘Best of The Tony Awards’ salute. However, through all those stellar productions, Hempel has constantly wrestled with one nagging problem – flawed audio.

Memorial H.S. production of “How To Succeed?“We’ve cast terrific kids, brought in a professional New York choreographer, managed to make do with existing lighting, and designed excellent sets and costumes,? Hempel says. “The one issue we’ve never been able to solve has been our sound system. For years our school AV Director tinkered with the old board and tried to eliminate hums, buzzes and static crackles. We even upgraded our microphones after I’d seen the Broadway production of Miss Saigon and noticed the performers wearing wireless mics in their hair. But nothing seemed to work.?

Two years ago the school was advised that the problem lay in the antiquated mixing board. Funds were allotted for a 24 channel ATC console, but not even that investment produced the desired results. “Audio is the absolute heart of any production,? Hempel says. “Audiences can be extremely forgiving about production snafu’s, missed steps, flubbed lines, or set doors that fail to open, but when they can’t hear the kids sing, or if static muffles their lines, it’s a real shame.?

Last year while attending a Broadway musical Hempel found Masque Sound credited for audio production in the Playbill. Inspired, he Googled their www.masquesound.com, website, and learned that not only had this 70+ year-old-company handled the sound for shows ranging from the original Oklahoma to Les Mis and The Lion King, they’re based in East Rutherford, not far from Memorial H.S. Hempel fired off an email requesting an assessment of the school’s current system and a proposal for correcting the problems.

Courtney Klimson, director of Masque’s HOW/Installation division, had a fast and reassuring response. In the spring of 2007 she coordinated a diagnostic tour by company audio specialist Paul Klimson. A veteran live-sound and recording engineer, he quickly discovered an ancient wiring problem which, when corrected, immediately eliminated that nagging buzz. Klimson’s report revealed that the school had received its full money’s worth from their original and now outdated system. But, while most of the components were unsalvageable, a couple of the main amps still had a useful life expectancy.

Masque’s proposal recommended a pair of EAW KF 300 speakers, DBX 231 Graphic EQ, and Drive Rack, new floor pockets, new Shure mics (to replace units damaged by extensive use), an assortment of miscellaneous cable and mult, as well as a Middle Atlantic Rack, set-up with professional side-by-side components and toped off by a custom-built Masque console case which simplified storage issues, eliminated the need for equipment carts from the AV office, and created new gear functionality while enhancing the security of the system. In addition to the wiring fix and new gear package, Paul Klimson provided Hempel and his AV team (3 teachers and 6 students) with a full-day of training on the new system.

“It was extremely gratifying to hear the audience reaction to our new system when it premiered at our Spring production of How To Succeed in Business Without Really Trying,? Steve Hempel says, “this year our show sounded as good as it looked.?

“High schools represent an untapped market for our services,? says Masque Sound co-principal Geoff Shearing. “Many young people who decide to pursue a ‘life in the theater’ get their first taste of the realities of this world at the high school level. Not just the kids who dream about performing, but the techies who may not even have been aware of what it takes to put a show up and keep it running.

“Beyond that,? Shearing continues, “thanks to regular attendance at Broadway productions, today’s audiences are all familiar with high quality wireless sound. They know when something doesn’t sound right. Clear, noise-free systems will greatly enhance their appreciation of the school productions they attend and participate in. Memorial High School represents the first of what we hope will be a series of upgrades to schools throughout the country. Steve Hempel’s decision to approach a pro live sound company to clear up his school’s audio problems may strike a chord with many other school drama and AV department heads. Professional advice is available and affordable, and they should take advantage of the opportunity.?


Photo 1. Memorial H.S. production of How To Succeed In Business Without Really

Photo 2. Steve Hempel has directed Memorial H.S. musical productions since 1996.

Credit photos by Geoff Shearing

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