The rich history of Highland Park United Methodist Park (Dallas) dates to 1916, when Southern Methodist University deeded part of its campus for a place of worship. Since that time, HPUMC has grown to one of the largest United Methodist congregations in the country, with more than 12,000 members. The 800-seat sanctuary serves as the church’s primary worship space for a broad range of users – from traditional Sunday services to the highly acclaimed Tower Arts Series.
In 2006, Kirkegaard was engaged to evaluate the sanctuary’s acoustics, and work with John Brown of Dallas-based Selzer Associates to plan a renovation of the Texas Historic Landmark. Working with David Davidson, HPUMC’s Director of Music and Arts and Director of the Dallas Symphony Chorus, the project team developed a comprehensive plan to upgrade the sanctuary’s acoustics and prepare for a new organ by Dobson Pipe Organ Builders of Lake City, Iowa (Opus 87.) Davidson’s artistic vision laid the foundation for the project – strengthening the acoustics of the room so that musical performance could shine in this beloved space.
Of paramount importance to the renovation was improving the natural sound of the sanctuary while maintaining clarity of the spoken word. Shortly after the sanctuary’s opening in the 1920s, horsehair batts were applied to the ceiling to aid speech intelligibility, though at a cost to the room’s support of choral, organ, and orchestral sound. A 1970s-era renovation upgraded elements of the building, but the room was in strong need of acoustic and architectural repair.
The comprehensive focus of the project included removal of absorptive ceiling materials, renovating the chancel and choral areas, re-raking the balcony to improve sightlines, upgrading air conditioning to handle scorching Texas summers, and completely redesigning the room’s Audio-Video systems in an architecturally sensitive manner. Increasing the job’s complexity was a requirement that the sanctuary remain open throughout the renovation. The team would have to structure work around Sunday services to allow uninterrupted use of the church’s primary worship space.
The Kirkegaard team worked extensively with Selzer Associates and systems integrator Clair Brothers to integrate processed column loudspeakers inside pilasters flanking the chancel and nave. An additional set of column loudspeakers serves the balcony area, while passive units provide light fold-back to the Choir. Loudspeakers concealed in the high roof beams bring the sound of the Church’s magnificent 48-bell Carillon into the room.
The results of the project have been a stunning success. Reverberation and room response of the sanctuary were significantly increased, while the new AV system provides exceptional clarity and state-of-the-art reinforcement invisible to the architecture of the room. Additional cooling capacity and green energy management have improved comfort and energy efficiency without raising noise levels. All of this pays compliment to the magnificent new organ that inhabits the space.
Sadly, David Davidson passed away shortly before the project’s completion. We at Kirkegaard all mourn his passing – a true gentleman, phenomenally talented musician, and good friend. All those who worked with David were energized by his passion, direction, and talent; his work always elevated the efforts of those around him. We believe that the renovation of Highland Park United Methodist Church provides a fitting memorial to David; a new organ and room sound which reflect his lifelong passion for music.