Celebration Church International, Harare, receives a comprehensive audio systems upgrade from Stage Audio Works
Harare, Zimbabwe, August 2022 – Celebration Ministries is one of the most powerful and far-reaching Christian organisations in Zimbabwe and across Southern Africa. Founded in 1982 by Pastors Tom and Bonnie Deuschle with just six people in their living room, today Celebration Ministries numbers over 80 churches worldwide. With a stated mission to ‘transform lives and reform nations,’ the organisation has strong humanitarian roots and is as dedicated to peoples’ physical needs for food, medical care, housing and education as it is to their spiritual welfare.
The headquarters of Celebration Church International is a magnificent building in Borrowdale, Harare, called Celebration Centre. Finally opened in 2004 after a marathon 14-year build process, Celebration Centre is now a significant Zimbabwean landmark. Stage Audio Works has recently completed a comprehensive audio systems upgrade for the main 3,800-seat auditorium based on a d&b PA system and Yamaha consoles with Dante networking.
The decision to upgrade their audio systems was taken in 2019 just before the COVID pandemic. Pastor Bonnie Deuschle, who leads the praise and worship teams, and is the driving force behind Celebration’s famous 300-voice choir, was becoming increasingly frustrated by the limitations of the old system. “If the voice of the word of God is not amplified, people won’t hear it,” she says. Consequently, the decision was made to upgrade. However, as Pastor Tom explains, the ‘who’ was every bit as important as the ‘what’.
“We looked at three providers,” he recalls. “Ultimately, we chose Stage Audio Works not because of price – overall they were more expensive than the others – but because of their willingness to work with us and solve problems. If I could boil it down to one thing, it would be the relationship: the relationship was more important to Stage Audio Works than the transaction, and we really appreciate that.”
Nevertheless, relationships aside, the technology had to work and provide the experience that Celebration Church was looking for. Stage Audio Works’ Technical Director, Nathan Ihlenfeldt, takes up the story: “The brief was to provide a high-end audio system that covers all the seats in the main auditorium. One of the biggest considerations was the choir which plays an extremely important part of the worship at Celebration Church. This informed a lot of our design decisions. The main challenge was to provide sufficient gain before feedback for the choir, particularly as the music at Celebration is quite loud and contemporary, but with a significant choral element which is typically associated with softer musical genres.”
Ihlenfeldt dealt with that by specifying d&b Y-series as L/R main arrays with an A-series centre array. All the subs were flown, with an end-fire sub array of 21Ss in the centre and flown arrays of 27As behind the main L/R arrays. “We needed a centre array because during worship services there tends to be a lot of people gathering right in front of the stage, so the centre array acts as a flown downfill for that specific area. It also helps us gain more accurate vocal and speech localisation,” he notes. “We opted for A-Series because we didn’t need to cover the same distance as the main arrays, and a traditional line array solution rather than the augmented array would have required more boxes to do the same job. A-Series offered us a visually discreet solution that sits just above the proscenium and doesn’t interfere with sight lines.”
The main system is supplemented with 44S front fills embedded into the stairs at the front of the stage, Y7P point source balcony delays and 5S under-balcony delays.
“We were allowed to choose the right microphones for the choir, and we landed on high quality Neumann microphones for this. The balance of microphones for the band are Sennheiser. The cardioid subs are flown to optimise the directivity of the PA system and keep energy off the stage and away from all of those highly sensitive microphones!” observes Ihlenfeldt. “We also initiated a move away from wedges to Livemix in-ear monitoring systems where possible to help keep bleed off the stage.”
Another key element of the audio system upgrade was the provision of three Yamaha CL3 consoles for FoH, monitors and broadcast respectively. “We especially wanted to provide a solution for Celebration to have a quality live stream,” explains Ihlenfeldt. “Until now they’d never had the infrastructure to support this, so we provided a dedicated broadcast console.” Yamaha is the go-to console brand for Stage Audio Works, but not just because they are the authorised sales partner. “Even if we didn’t distribute them, we’d use them anyway simply because they are absolutely rock-solid; even in remote areas with dubious power supply, they just work!” remarks Ihlenfeldt. “For stability, reliability and ease of use, they tick all the boxes.”
Celebration Church’s technical manager, Harris Machingura, is delighted with the system upgrade. “It makes life easy both for the technical staff and the choir,” he says. “Things flow effortlessly now. Without the worry of the issues they were facing previously, the technical staff have more creative space to explore new things. It’s made a big difference to our worship. We also know that we can rely on Stage Audio Works for excellent support which is very important.”
Pastor Tom agrees. “Stage Audio Works have outdone themselves, and we’re delighted with everything so far – their timeliness, their willingness to take responsibility and their desire to make our experience a good experience. I think that we now have the kind of sound that the building deserves, that the people deserve, and that brings honour to God the way we want it to.”