Sixteenth century Venetian churchgoers may have been the first to appreciate music heard in stereo, according to an article in National Geographic Magazine. Architectural analyses reveal that the Basilica of San Marco may have been designed with an eye towards acoustics that rival modern concert halls. The church’s galleries seem to have been intentionally built to capture and reverberate distinct harmonies from musicians and choirs performing in different areas of the church. Stereo sound — a favorite tool used by film produces for decades to immerse audience members in movie action — works by projecting audio waves from two distinct points of reference, giving listeners a sense of depth and movement in music that is absent when all of the sound originates from a single source, whether it be a speaker or a 16th century venetian choir.
Interestingly, researchers say the effect at San Marco has gone largely unnoticed because the church is rarely full during religious celebrations as it would have been 400 years ago. Without the full participation of the congregation harmonizing with the choir, the stereo effect loses its power. I wonder how many churches today are failing to live up to their potential because they are unable to harness the gifts of their entire congregations? Even with a full house, it takes the blending of voices with different perspectives to create a rich atmosphere of worship that fully honors the Architect’s design of what a living church could be like.