The Volume of a String Quartet – Brides and grooms (as well as corporate clients) often ask us whether the Manor House String Quartet will be loud enough for their event and the answer to this often depends on the size of room and number of guests present.
When considering hiring a string quartet, If the reception drinks are to be held outside then guests are likely to be dispersed, often forming individual groups so there aren’t going to be any issues of projection in this situation. There may be up to 150 guests present yet both the string duo and quartet would still be able to be heard by those who wanted to appreciate their music. If however the weather isn’t conducive to outside reception drinks and everyone is contained within an inside room or area then it can be a different matter. As the volume of talking increases due to the amount of sound (including the sound of the musicians) and a couple of glasses of champagne (!), it becomes increasingly difficult to project and in this scenario 100 guests could render the sound of the quartet muted. Modern i-phones often contain a decibel counter as one of it’s features and I remember a couple of occasions where a member of the group has tested this out in a particularly noisy reception, only to find that the background levels of noise in the room read in excess of 90 decibels before we had even started playing.
The same considerations apply to the wedding breakfast but here guests are divided into tables of (usually) up to 10 people so this naturally means conversation never reaches the levels of a reception drinks situation. Nevertheless, as every one is more spread out it may be that the string quartet or string duo may only be heard in their corner of the room. If space allows, it is a good idea to get the venue to place chairs for the musicians at opposite sides of the room, allowing them to swap over halfway through their set of music.
The other important consideration is the acoustics of a given room. Carpet and the canvas of a marquee have the effect of deadening the sound of any musician. Marble floors and glass have the opposite effect of amplifying the sounds. Unfortunately venues don’t seem to consider this and there are a couple of beautiful venues that we play at regularly who really need to dampen their rooms with rugs/tapestries as the level of noise becomes unbearable when guests compete to be heard. The best acoustics we have encountered are in the dining room of Queen’s College at the University of Oxford where acoustic panels are designed to allow unamplified speaking to project effortlessly from one end of the hall to the other.
In a handful of venues (particularly some converted barns) their are balconies that allow the musicians to be raised above the guests. This is the perfect scenario and in these venues the music can always be heard, irrespective of the number of people talking in the room at any one time. Another excellent feature is a raised dais which again can afford the musicians the chance to be heard. Remember that the musicians can always decrease the volume of their playing but can’t increase their sound infinitely (like an amplifier!)
And that brings me onto the final question: what if you would like live music for a conference dinner of say 300 guests? Well this would definitely require amplification and it would be worth inquiring as to whether your venue can supply this.
So in conclusion, a string quartet can potentially project with up to 150 guests present but if all the guests are in a single room then it depends on the layout and acoustics of that room as to whether the music will be heard properly. Above 150 guests and the musicians would need to be raised in some way (preferably on a balcony or gallery of some kind) but in the absence of this then bring out the microphones, speakers and mixing desk!