Picture gallery: Acoustic testing at Saffron Hall – “the biggest and best musical venue between London and Birmingham”

The hall, full including orchestra

The hall, full including orchestra - Credit: Archant

ACOUSTIC testing of Saffron Hall, “the biggest and best musical venue between London and Birmingham”, has been taking place this week. The Reporter was there to witness the occasion...

School orchestra plays

School orchestra plays - Credit: Archant

The amazing 730-seat facility at the County High School has cost more than £10 million and is now close to completion.

There is no doubt, it is a stunning venue and it is hard to believe there is another state school in the country that can boast anything that comes close to it.

Before entering Saffron Hall, visitors will walk through the new reception area. It’s sharp-edged, specious and modern. This is an area that will double as a school reception and also the entrance hall for the public going to the venue.

The hall itself is cavernous. Even with the retractable seating out, there is a feeling of space and comfort. Students filled every seat and there was a buzz of excitement.

Paul Gillieron, partner at Gillieron Scott Acoustic Design Ltd had the job of creating an acoustic environment that would be suitable for a myriad of artistic performances from theatre to ballet, right up to a full orchestral performance.

Outside, the loud chatter of pupils filtered in. His first demonstration was dramatic. Standing between the audience and the stage, he had to raise his voice to be heard above the din. He asked for the entrance doors to be closed.

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A hush descended, the voices could no longer be heard.

Mr Gillieron explained that acoustics wasn’t just about the sounds within the hall, but also keeping out the external sounds as well.

“With concert halls, it’s not just about getting acoustics right, it’s also about keeping the outside noise out,” he explained. “You don’t want to be sitting there, enjoying your favourite part of a classical work to have it interrupted by a revving car or people shouting outside.

“What we have here is the biggest and best acoustic quality venue between London and Birmingham.”

But how about the way sound carries through the hall? His wife had suggested he prove that it was so quiet that you could hear a pin drop. But could you? He admitted he wasn’t sure everyone would be able to hear a single pin, so he held aloft a 40mm nail.

Everyone held their breath. The nail fell to the wooden floor. The noise of steel against wood was heard by everyone in the hall, from the front row to the people seated in the mezzanine.

“How about a small safety pin?” Mr Gillieron asked. He repeated the experiment. The most delicate, tiny noise carried once again to every seat in the auditorium.

He revealed his pride at being involved with such a unique project and said: “It has been a great privilege to have worked on this building and a great opportunity for you as a town to have it.”

John Hartley, headteacher of the County High, similarly, is thrilled with the new hall.

“We are very excited and delighted to have the hall. I can’t think of any other comprehensive school that can boast such a splendid facility,” he said.

“There are high standards of music and acting in the school and the new hall will do justice to our talented students.

“It is also intended for both professional and amateur productions and it is hoped that national companies will be persuaded to perform here. It will enhance the cultural life of Saffron Walden and the surrounding area.”

He also revealed the plans to launch a post-16 musical academy, with the first students studying in September 2014. To join, students must be able to prove that they have already achieved a high level of musical ability as well as good academic abilities.

The academy will be included in the school’s prospectus being published later this year.

The hall itself has cost more than £10 million, 90 per cent funded by the Yellow Car Charitable Trust, and Mr Hartley added: “We are incredibly grateful for the enormously generous gift.

“Without it we would not have this amazing facility.”

Saffron Hall is scheduled to be officially open this November.