Mardak/Vandenberg Building Shines During Pandemic

by Ron Oshima

Did you know that most of the rehearsal spaces in the newly named Mardak/Vandenberg building at the Milwaukee Youth Arts Center (MYAC) are built with non-parallel walls? This was intentional to create a cleaner and less “muddy” sound for our musicians by reducing the flutter echo that would happen with reflective parallel walls. “The constant ringing reverberation that remains after the direct sound has stopped is flutter echo. Try clapping your hands in an empty hallway. That’s flutter echo.”1

Non-parallel walls are just one of many acoustic design features included in MYSO’s rehearsal spaces for musicians. When the building was originally renovated in 2004, world-class acoustician Rick Talaske from Chicago was hired to optimize the acoustics for our building. Mr. Talaske was also retained to design the acoustics for the 2021 renovation of the Garden Level as well as fine-tune the acoustics of some of our existing rehearsal spaces. What surprises people is Rick’s passion and enthusiastic advocacy for both performers and audience members.

Other acoustic enhancements built into the Mardak/Vandenberg building that you may not know about include:

  • double-wall insulation installed to create sound isolation between adjacent rehearsal spaces.
  • sprung floors in some of our larger rehearsal spaces to absorb the bounce of dancers’ steps also facilitate the travel of bass tones through the floors and across the room so everyone in an ensemble can better hear one another.
  • sound reflecting panels installed in the ceilings of our larger rehearsal spaces which aim the sound in different directions so that a musician at one end of the orchestra can hear a musician at the other end.
  • oversized air ducts put in to avoid excess noise due to turbulence and not interfere with the music.

Ironically, the initial investment in the oversized air ducts combined with the high ceilings and the installation of a Needlepoint bipolar ionization device in our ventilation system allowed MYSO to stay open during the height of the pandemic. The oversized air ducts easily let more air be flushed through the building and let us safely remain open—something many other youth orchestras in the country were not able to do.

Good room acoustics also enhance music education. When MYSO moved to our current building in January 2005, Steven Rindt, former music director of Sinfonia noted, “The musicians could now clearly hear themselves better, whether it was intonation, dynamics, articulations, or hearing their sounds come together, and they learned so much faster. It made it so much easier and enjoyable to teach the kids in the new space.”

Ravenna Helson, cello instructor for our Progressions program, says the impact of moving to our new building was huge. “We now had dedicated studios to conduct master classes for Progressions students, and that created a strong sense of community for them.”

The Mardak/Vandenberg building is a crown jewel for our community, thanks to the vision of major donors who funded the 2004 renovation, chief among them the late Dick Burke, founder of Trek Bicycle, and the leaders of MYSO and First Stage at that time, Fran Richman and Rob Goodman, respectively. The capstone contribution by Keith Mardak and Mary Vandenberg to fund our recent renovation in 2021, adding more than a dozen new rehearsal spaces in the Garden Level, and much more, expands this legacy. Thank you to all our donors for the unique treasure you have passed on to our community to benefit future generations.

1From, May 2015, “What is Flutter Echo?”

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