Project Profile: Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist

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The Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist has been the seat of the Catholic Archdiocese of Milwaukee for 150 years, and its outward appearance has changed very little in that time. Listed in the National Register of Historical Places, this Milwaukee landmark was rededicated in 2002 after undergoing a complete restoration to preserve its beauty.

Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist
Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist

Audio Package

The Cathedral’s audio system was included in the 2002 renovation, but its coverage was insufficient. Parishioners complained they couldn’t hear well and there were signs of system failure.

In 2013, the Cathedral assembled an audio task force to address the spotty sound coverage and determine the cause. David Hosbach of DSH Audio Visions, who has consulted for the Cathedral for over a decade, was tasked to consult and design a new audio system that would provide the proper coverage. Hosbach conducted testing, which concluded that major components of the existing system were failing. He found that loudspeaker placement issues were the cause of gaps in coverage; and he discovered that at many times during the Mass the priest was at the opposite side of the Cathedral from the loudspeakers, causing strange echo situations.

The project was spec’d in April of 2014. Clearwing Systems Integration was invited to bid, and ultimately acquired the project.

Clearwing Systems Integration installed a total of six Tannoy Q-Flex digitally steerable column arrays to cover the nave. Q-Flex 64s cover the full length of the nave from the apse area, one of the first installations of its kind in the United States. Eight Tannoy VLS passive column speakers fill in behind the columns out of the pattern of the mains, and provide monitor coverage of the apse area.

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“The layout of the Cathedral is quite unique,” says Mike Jonas, Project Manager for Clearwing Systems Integration. “Rather than being located in the apse, the altar is located in the middle of the nave. This creates seating reminiscent of theatre-in-the-round.” So the six Q-Flex speakers were arranged to provide some degree of source realism throughout the space.

The Cathedral is adorned with marble and terrazzo, so it was essential that the sound system remained unobtrusive. “The Cathedral staff were concerned with how the nave was going to look with speakers on every column,” says Hosbach. “The footprints of the Q-Flex and VLS are smaller than most of the other products like them, making them an excellent choice for this installation.” To further obscure the arrays, each speaker was custom painted so that they blend into the columns on which they are mounted. All wiring was hidden in the columns, and nothing was used that would detract from the beauty of the space.

While it took some time for the parishioners to become accustomed to source realism audio, the sound quality in the Cathedral has been greatly improved. “We learned there is a perception when you see a speaker, you expect to hear sound from that speaker,” says Tom Laabs, Director of Administration and Development at the Cathedral. “We compromised slightly on pure source realism. After some adjustments, people thought it was phenomenal.”

Video Package

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When Tom Laabs joined the Cathedral, he proposed expanding the scope of the project to include video. “Video is how we want to communicate out,” says Laabs. “There’s a tradition of broadcasting Midnight Mass on local television, and with modern technology, there’s an opportunity to further our mission and reach even more of our community through live streaming.”

DSH-Audio Visions designed and Clearwing Systems Integration installed a full video package consisting of six Vaddio PTZ cameras; four are mounted inside of the Cathedral, one is mounted in the atrium, and the last is equipped with a tripod to be deployed as needed throughout the nave. A full video suite was installed, including the PTZ camera controller, preview monitors, individual records for each camera, a video switcher, and an HD-SDI/Fiber Optic Matrix switcher for distribution of the video feed throughout the building and out to broadcast trucks for live events. Mass can be live-streamed to the Cathedral’s YouTube channel, thanks to full streaming capability.

Scott Eakins, Director of Liturgy for the Cathedral, is most hands-on with the new video system. Eakins’ knowledge of the liturgy allows him remain ahead of the shots, knowing what should be highlighted and when. Clearwing provided training on the system, followed with on-site instruction tailored specifically to the Cathedral. Clearwing staff worked with Eakins during Mass, giving him the opportunity to learn hands-on how to best apply the system in a real-life scenario. “I’ve learned a lot in the last few months,” says Eakins.

New Vehicles for Evangelization

The Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist’s new audio and video systems were completed in time for the Cathedral’s annual Midnight Mass, which was broadcasted live. The new system is a vast improvement upon the previous one, and it has delighted both the Cathedral and its congregation.

“We’re set up using Clearwing as a partner going forward,” says Tom Laabs. “The use of this kind of technology is where we’re moving. Now we’re positioned with a new way to communicate.”

Scott Eakins agrees, “The technology we’ve added is a vehicle for evangelization. We’re able to reach those who might not be able to get to church or might not be able to receive our message otherwise.”

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