It’s a technological marvel that not only celebrates all the disciplines taught at the College of Piping and Celtic Performing Arts of Canada, but represents the next chapter of cranking up the quality as well as the volume in Summerside, Prince Edward Island.
Behind seemingly insignificant or merely decorative details – from the curves in the ceiling that create a visual cloudlike beauty that float above 300 red cascading chairs leading to the stage – is meticulous planning that assembled the Celtic Performing Arts Centre into a world-class acoustic reality for the city.
Jay Perry, owner of Points East Audio and technical director at the Centre, acknowledged before the new engineering marvel was even built, “Computer aided auditioning technology was used to move around the space virtually, and with some degree of accuracy, predict how sounds would react.”
Surface areas were changed during the design stage from the overhead acoustic panels, tapered side walls, and the acoustic slat wall at the back of the auditorium, to effectively absorb and reflect sound back to the audience.
In other venues the dynamic range of the pipes produce a muddy sound, but in this high-tech ‘invented’ facility even the most complicated rhythms are “refined and real” according to well-known Canadian bagpiper and composer Bruce Gandy. He performed at the Centre in April of this year.
“As I blew up the pipe, I was immediately given wonderful harmonic feedback from the floor and surroundings. As I circled around the floor finding my way, it became evident that there were no hot and cold spots on the stage and the pipes seem to vibrate wonderfully no matter where you were positioned,” chimed Gandy.
Long-time College of Piping supporter, lecturer, best-selling author, inventor, as well as television and radio host, Doug Hall said the Centre is a game changer in sound.
“When you hear the bagpipes here there is no noise or clutter on top. The sound is amazing. There’s nowhere else on the planet where you can hear the bagpipes as good as you can here.” Hall stressed, “If you don’t like this, never listen to the pipes again because the difference is truly amazing.”
The stage itself is designed to utilize all the College disciplines from the pipes, drums, Highland dance, and step dance. There’s even some give to the floor, enabling the world champion dancers to spring into the air while adding to the animated ambiance for the audience.
Even the light fixtures go beyond making sure the audience can see the stage, although that’s important. Lights enhance the mood and atmosphere, establish a time or location, and create shadows across the cast or even play with a theme.
Lights, stage and sound were effectively used in the recent summer production called Great Scot! The spectacular production was written and directed by multiple Gemini and Canadian Screen Award winner Shelagh O’Brien.
“My goal was to celebrate the Celtic Arts that are being taught at the College of Piping, raise the bar theatrically and give people an experience that makes them want to return again and again, while at the same time fundraising for the Centre,” remarked O’Brien.
O’Brien, along with the help of a world-class team, cherry picked local performers to seamlessly transport the audience through time and place with military precision dancing, silky smooth Celtic harmonies, storytelling and enchanting musical numbers that all celebrated and injected life into the Centre.
Hall, in partnership with the P.E.I. Liquor Control Commission, helped get the audience into the spirit of the Scottish production by raising a wee dram of his new Double Gold Medal whiskey – a first in Canada whiskey tasting opportunity.
Over the past year his products have won top awards including a unanimous choice Double Gold at the San Francisco World Spirits Championship and a 95 rating in the Ultimate Spirits Challenge. Hall plans to partner with distillers and brewers across the Island to bring his whiskey from Cincinnati, Ohio, to the province next year.
“A significant percentage of profits from each bottle sold from the proposed P.E.I. partnership will go to support the College of Piping because it makes a huge difference in children’s lives. It’s a real cultural and musical treasure,” observed Hall, the founder and chairman of the Eureka! Ranch and Brain Brew Custom Whiskey.
He declared, “The new Centre is amazing – it is a professional theatrical experience of world-class quality. And, the new theatre’s computer designed acoustics elevate the sound from the pipes and drums to an acoustic experience that rivals even the Symphony Hall in Boston.”
Hall has been a summer resident on Prince Edward Island for 51 years. As a thank you to the province he and his wife Debbie sponsor a Pipe Band Scholarship program at the College of Piping that enables all Island youth aged 8 to 18 to take bagpiping or drumming in group lessons at no cost.
To date, the couple have provided support for over 50,000 lessons. Signups for the fall session of lessons are available now.
However, the opulent multi-purpose Centre is not just intended for students of the College. It can cater to weddings, business, conferences or social gatherings. Half the seats are retractable too, allowing the floor to expand, so productions can range from colossal to intimate throughout the year.
For more information on the College of Piping and the new Celtic Performing Arts Centre that opened on Wednesday, July 11, with the summer production Great Scot, visit www.collegeofpiping.com.