Sounds of the Sacred

USFer wins $20K to study Jerusalem’s holy places

By ARVIN TEMKAR, USF NEWS Posted Tue, 10/03/2017 - 09:38

As a bass vocalist in the USF’s classical choir, Andrew Wilson ’17 has performed in sacred spaces like Mission Santa Clara and the church of The Immaculata at the University of San Diego. Each building, he noticed, has its own unique sound — a set of reverberations and resonances that, when reflecting an orator’s voice or a choir’s harmonies, can leave a listener in awe. 

It got the architecture and community design major wondering: How do architectural acoustics influence the worship experience? Do good acoustics create feelings of congregational unity? Were ancient religious buildings built with a sense of acoustics? These are some of the questions Wilson is setting out to studying in Jerusalem next year. 

Wilson is the 2017 winner of the $20,000 Haas/Koshland Memorial Award, provided by the Jewish Community Federation & Endowment Fund to support a year of personal or professional development in Israel. He’ll be using the grant to study the acoustics of sacred buildings in Jerusalem, collecting quantitative acoustic data as well as interviewing congregants about their experiences. He also plans on documenting the architecture through photography and drawing.

“My interest in doing this study is finding the connections between religious practice and architecture,” he says.

Designing a music school for kids

Wilson became interested in acoustics while designing a project in Professor Seth Wachtel’s Community Design Outreach class in fall 2016. The class collaborated with Los Angeles-based music-education nonprofit Playing for Change to design a community center and music school for children in Tintale, Nepal. The design considered construction materials and room shapes to optimize music, and the project ultimately led him to an internship with acoustical consultancy firm Charles M. Salter Associates — where he looked for ways to reduce outside noise filtering into office spaces. 

Among the reasons Wilson chose USF, he says, were its Jesuit values and the opportunity to work closely with professors like Wachtel and others. 

“I wanted a liberal arts education, but you can get that anywhere. Studying in the Jesuit tradition of cura personalis — care for the whole self — made my experience at USF so much more meaningful,” he says. “And my personal relationships with my professors have lasted since the day I met them. I think that’s something you can only get at USF.”

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