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A newsletter for Member Schools of Marist Schools Australia

 

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20/06/2012: Australia

 

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Dear Members of the Marist Family.

As a Principal, I was involved with the design of a couple of large multi-purpose halls.  Heavily involved.  From a distance 

I have also observed critically the building of some others.  There’s more than a little of the frustrated architect in 

me. Quite a lot, actually. I’m the kind of person who can’t go into a building or onto a campus without immediately  redesigning the whole thing in my head.  

One of my particular concerns with big school halls is always how the acoustics will work.  I have other concerns, of course, for such buildings: the style of lighting, the fittings, the floors, the colours, the building lines, the general ambience.  But acoustics are right up there because they will define so much of the experience for users of the space. 

The inclusion of a top-drawer acoustics consultant on the design team is an essential for me.  It’s all about the quality of sound.  What do you want to hear really well?  Which sounds would you like to amplify? Which ones to resonate? 

Which ones to soften?  Which ones to disappear altogether? Which to be clear and true?  Usually, there are competing aims, such as the desire to reverberate and reward the vibrancy of congregational singing in a liturgy, against the wish to deaden the annoying bouncing of the basketballs or the screech of gym shoes in court games.  I have learned that it is quite possible to achieve a “both-and” solution, and not be left with an “either-or” one, but it does take some imagination and decision. 

What acoustic engineering do we build into our schools?  I mean this in a spiritual sense.  Let me ask a more pointed question: do our school “acoustics” allow us, as staff and students, to hear the voice of God in our school contexts? How well?  Is it lost or conflicted amidst other “noise”?  Can it be heard only faintly?  Or is it too loud and perhaps distorted? We and our students live in environments of sensory busyness.  We make them like that.  Even while in bed, we leave the mobile on.  Yet Pope Benedict reminded pilgrims recently that to hear God speak to us we need to have both “interior” and “exterior” silence.  He spoke of the “principle of silence” in prayer:  “Only in silence can the Word find a place to dwell in us.”  

Many of our schools have invested considerable resources into creating chapels or prayer spaces.  Typically, they are calm and beautiful oases – warm, inviting, quiet, well sited and well used. Most importantly, they are open.  I find that there is nothing as symbolically closed as the locked door of a chapel or church.  It’s as if to say, “We’re not doing God just now. That’s for another time of the week.”

Beyond these sacred spaces, what kinds of physical or figurative silence do we foster in schools, with a view to helping the voice of God to be heard?  Some schools have commissioned wonderful works art which give people reason to pause and to reflect. This year alone there are, for example, two new sculptures of St Marcellin in Australian Marist schools.

Most schools have given much thought to the symbolism of their reception foyers. Many have ways of honouring and hearing the Scriptures, for example at Assembly. Some schools have quiet times built into their daily timetables or lesson structures.  Others have practices that ensure things such as the harshness of the PA system or the crowdedness of stairwells are minimised or at least humanised. Usually, briefings and meetings give time for a prayer that is well  prepared and not just something perfunctory or rushed.  We have many ways.  Which is great, because God has much to say.

It is well, nonetheless, that we sometimes step back – like a good acoustics engineer would do for a hall – to do some sound-testing and to evaluate the overall design.  Is it working for us?  Are sounds we want to be heard getting lost or smothered?  Can the Gospel be heard here?

 

Brother Michael Green  fms
NATIONAL DIRECTOR

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