Designing Acoustic Excellence for Student Success Within a Vineyard-Style Learning Environment

  |  April 10, 2024

Nestled within the campus at Brigham Young University is the newly constructed School of Music building, a strong representation of the university’s dedication to musical education. At its core is a groundbreaking feature: a 1,000-seat vineyard-style concert hall, the first of its kind in the Mountain West region. Departing from traditional layouts, this space offers a unique configuration that encourages students and educators to explore sound and sight in new ways. With superior acoustics and a closer connection between performers and audience, musical passion can flourish into defined skills for the next generation of BYU, a community that takes pride in bringing people together through music.

The vineyard-style setting presents myriad benefits toward achieving acoustic excellence. Unlike traditional layouts, this circular, tiered seating arrangement ensures a more uniform distribution of sound throughout the space, resulting in enhanced clarity and resonance that allows the listeners to perceive the nuances of the music with remarkable precision. This characteristic is particularly beneficial for aspiring musicians, as they can better discern the intricacies of various instruments, vocal techniques, and ensemble dynamics. With this innovative design, vineyard-style concert halls like the one at BYU provide an unparalleled environment for musical appreciation and performance.

Audience seating around the performance platform offers unique visual and sonic perspectives

The audience’s close proximity to the performers fosters a sense of intimacy and immersion, further enriching the overall learning experience. Students can closely observe the musicians from all sides, witnessing their body language, facial expressions, and techniques in real-time. This visual connection leads to a deeper appreciation of the physical aspects of musicianship, such as proper posture, breathing techniques, and instrument handling. This intimate setting encourages active participation and interaction between students and instructors at BYU, where practical learning is a key part of the music program. Educators can easily engage with the audience, providing feedback, answering questions, and fostering discussions about musical concepts and performances.

The vineyard-style design inspires creativity and innovation in musical performances and educational programs, with a flexible layout that allows for various staging and performance configurations, encouraging instructors and students to explore alternative approaches to musical expression and presentation. Implementing a mechanized system of electric, moveable risers creates a space that can be arranged so that seats behind the stage can also be used for the chorus, with no temporary risers needed.

The Jaffe Holden team welcomed the opportunity to design acoustic elements on par with world-class concert halls and bring them to the higher-education level in order to provide the students at BYU with a professional-grade learning environment. The room’s focal point is a floating acoustic canopy over the stage, complemented by innovative lighting technology, rigging, and catwalks to access technology including speakers, microphones, and video display screens.

This canopy serves several essential purposes in an acoustical music setting. First, it improves the ability of musicians to accurately hear themselves in a blending chamber of sonority, lyricism, and vibrancy, which fosters clear and honest communication between musicians and sections of the ensemble while simultaneously building their confidence in performing. It projects and distributes an intimate, authentic sound to the audience with improved tonality, creating the pure, crystalline, and ethereal acoustics that BYU desired for this crown jewel of their new music building. Finally, the canopy enhances the energy exchange between the audience and musicians, with a palpable connection that can be felt from every seat in the house.

One of many BYU ensembles rehearses in the hall for the first time


The angled and articulated wood side walls foster a rich, resonant bass sound, sustained reverberation, and consistent, uniform sound distribution. The warmth of the wood also reduces any harsh glare or negative sheen that might occur. Adjustable acoustic banners surround the room on all four walls and throughout the upper volume of the hall. These banners are motorized with Jaffe Holden-defined presets that are user-tunable for a broad range of performance types, utilizing the extensive AV technology and projection systems. Using this technology, the hall can be tuned from a range of over three seconds of organ reverberation time (RT) to less than 1.5 seconds RT for lecture hall acoustic standards. These acoustic elements, coupled with inaudible HVAC noise and absolute sound isolation from all adjacent music spaces, come together to form the paragon of acoustic perfection that is the new concert hall at Brigham Young University. While the space is currently open and in use, a new, large organ is currently being built by Orgues Létourneau in Saint-Hyacinthe, QC and will be installed behind the stage this summer, serving as the finishing touch.

The design of this concert hall was a collaborative effort between Jaffe Holden, BYU, HKS Architects, and Theatre Projects Consultants which ultimately led to an engaging and dynamic space that offers numerous benefits including enhanced acoustics, visual connectivity, active engagement, and opportunities for collaborative learning and creative exploration. By embracing this unique setting, aspiring musicians can immerse themselves in a rich and multifaceted educational experience, fostering their artistic growth and appreciation for the art of music.

Take a virtual tour and hear the range of sounds from the various organs currently on hand at BYU!


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