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COMPUTATIONAL FLUID DYNAMICS COMES TO THE CONCERT HALL PART 1

CONCERT VENUES ARE reopening, thankfully, through efforts including widespread vaccination. Enhancing this pandemic mitigation, science has demonstrated the effects of airborne transmission. It turns out that swapping orchestral seating and other changes in concert halls can reduce aerosol transmissions by 100-fold. 

Here in Parts 1 and 2 today and tomorrow are tidbits on this. Today, we’ll address traditional seating of an orchestra. Tomorrow in Part 2, we’ll see how computational fluid dynamics can make concert venues safer for one and all.

This isn’t the first time that the topic has appeared here at SimanaitisSays. Back in September 2020, “Science Goes Deutsche Pop” focused on circulation of air (and aerosols) in the spectator area. Today and tomorrow, we’ll focus on the performers rather than the audience.

Image from Classic FM, March 22, 2019.

Classic Orchestral Seating. Maddy Shaw Roberts at ClassicFM, March 22, 2019, describes, “When we think of the ‘traditional’ layout of an orchestra, we think of the violins directly to the left of the conductor and the violas in the centre, with the woodwind and then the percussion behind them. Then, the cellos and double basses are usually placed to the right of the conductor, with the brass section behind them. Loud wind together at the back, quieter strings together at the front—seems logical, right?”

“Well,” Maddy says, “until around 100 years ago, this format didn’t exist.” 

Before the 20th century, the second violins sat opposite the first violins, not behind them as they do today. This enhanced the antiphonal “conversational” style of strings answering each other, as was typical in 18th and 19th century musical composition.

Also, it was not atypical for the conductor to face toward the audience, not the orchestra. 

Today’s Orchestral Seating. Maddy notes, “But then in the early-mid 20th century, Leopold Stokowski came along and changed the game. Best known for conducting the Philadelphia Orchestra, Stokowski thought the previous layout didn’t provide the best sound projection, so he radically experimented with different seating plans.” 

What evolved is a typical seating arrangement in use today.

Image from franspianostudion.me.

Tomorrow in Part 2, computational fluid dynamics will suggest a game of musical chairs beneficial to one and all. ds 

© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2021  

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