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Posted on Sat, Feb 2, 2013 : 5:05 p.m.

Perfect acoustics celebrated as part of Hill Auditorium's 100th anniversary event Saturday

By Lisa Carolin

Editor's note: Scott Pfeiffer's name has been corrected in this article.

The University of Michigan's Hill Auditorium has long been celebrated for its superior acoustics. An audience gathered Saturday to mark the facility's centennial got a chance to see why.

Scott Pfeiffer, the lead consulting acoustician on Hill's 2004 renovation, first demonstrated the sweet spot of the stage (the center) to the audience with the help of a violinist. Then, with nothing to amplify his voice, he sang a verse of "Fly Me To the Moon." The audience burst into applause.

Pfeiffer's appearance was part of a collaboration between the University Musical Society and the Saturday Morning Physics series and part of a free, daylong celebration of the beloved venue's 100th birthday.

First on stage was James Kibbie, U-M professor of organ and co-chairman of the organ department, playing variations on "The Star-Spangled Banner."


Scott Pfeiffer speaks Saturday about the excellent acoustics at Hill Auditorium.

Lisa Carolin | For

Pfeiffer was introduced by UMS President Ken Fischer, who told the audience that filled the auditorium's main level, "Hill Auditorium has stood the test of time and still is as vital and important to our community as the day it first opened. It is a 'Big House' for the arts."

Pfeiffer said that one of the things that makes Hill Auditorium known world wide, "is that you can gather this many people (3,709) to see and hear an unamplified performance. You feel that an artist is closer to you acoustically than in almost any hall. It's important to be acoustically perfect."

He said that the 2004 restoration of the auditorium on North University Avenue succeeded in "making the sound warmer and more full frequency."

When asked what the best seat in the house is, Pfeiffer said that it is the front of the first balcony.

Esther R. Rubin of Ann Arbor, a long-time participant in Saturday Morning Physics, called Saturday's lecture "A cultural crossroad of physics and performing arts."

Nancy Sweet of Ann Arbor was happy to be part of the event, having first visited Hill as a child in 1957.

"When I was in sixth grade at Burns Park Elementary, my class came here and sang with the Philadelphia Symphony," she said.

Emma Mayhew attended the lecture for a different sort of class.

"This is for extra credit for my physics class at Community High School," she said, with her notebook in hand.

The University Musical Society hosted Saturday's events, which included self-guided tours about the history and architecture of Hill. Also, the documentary film "A Space for Music, A Seat for Everyone: 100 Years of UMS Performances in HIll Auditorium" made its world premiere.

The activities were scheduled to conclude with a reception from 4:30 to 5:30 p.m. at which visitors were invited to share their Hill Auditorium experiences.



Sun, Feb 3, 2013 : 6:39 p.m.

The Hill main floor was entirely filled (1300+ seats) for the first session yesterday, with a few people in the nominally closed mezzanine. In that session, and again in the afternoon, Scott Pfeiffer used an old demonstration by dropping a dime to the stage from a half inch off the stage. When he asked who had heard it, people all over, to the main floor back seats and to the outer aisles, raised hands. I heard the click clearly, from the left outside aisle 10 rows back, and again from the center section 3/4 of the way back. I couldn't get there to see the film, which will be on Detroit Public TV sometime around May 14. (DPTV helped, financially and otherwise, in making the film.) Ken Fischer repeated a quote from Valery Gergiev (head of the Mariinsky theatre/opera in St. Petersburg, principal conductor of the London SO, frequently brought by UMS to Ann Arbor with one orchestra or another): "There are three great concert halls in the world. My own Mariinsky Theatre, of course, Carnegie Hall, and Hill Auditorium in Ann Arbor." Ken did the Russian accent, which I haven't dared here. I recall that Cecilia Bartoli, before allowing herself to be booked into Hill, came to Ann Arbor and sang a few things to an empty house, that her manager, in the back of the upper balcony, could hear perfectly. There were also stories yesterday of pins dropped on the stage, also heard clearly up there. And the speaker's name is spelled Pfeiffer, according to the program. (This article still uses multiple versions.)

Nicholas Urfe

Sun, Feb 3, 2013 : 5:30 p.m.

It is an amazing venue. I was once in an empty Hill late at night with a friend. To test the acoustics, she retreated to the high seats. I took center stage. And while I did not propose marriage or profess my love, I did break wind. And it is true - it was heard in the most nether regions of the venue. Truly amazing.


Sun, Feb 3, 2013 : 9 a.m.

LOL, this article reminds me of when I was in the Michigan Youth Symphony and some of the kids in the symphony got in trouble for whispering during a performance rehearsal at Hill Auditorium. You really can hear everything on stage in the audience.


Sun, Feb 3, 2013 : 4:20 a.m.

How about a list of the most noteworthy musical performers,speakers, and events over the 100 years? Carole King was there in the 1970's, the Ann Arbor Symphony did Brahm's Requiem not too long ago, and the Ark has had excellent Folk Festivals there. We read that Martin Luther King was at Hill in the early 1960's, and we saw George McGovern in the 1970's, and Mike Wallace and Oliver Stone in the last ten years there.

Bob Needham

Mon, Feb 4, 2013 : 5:14 p.m.

Great idea. I think it's a tall order, since the information is probably not all in one place, given all the different organizations that have sponsored events there. But we will attempt to do this as part of our coverage of the 100th anniversary (which actually doesn't arrive until some time in May)


Sun, Feb 3, 2013 : 1:19 a.m.

James Pfieffer in the picture, and a Scott Pfieffer in the article? That's a lot of Pfieffers

Dog Guy

Sun, Feb 3, 2013 : 4:49 a.m.

Conrad Pfeiffer started his famous brewery on Mack Avenue in downtown Detroit in 1889. Pfeiffer Beer was especially popular with ladies because of the silent P.


Sat, Feb 2, 2013 : 10:56 p.m.

"Aditorium"? Come on, people, proofread before posting.

David Martel

Sun, Feb 3, 2013 : 5:10 a.m.

DBH - We apologize. the errors have been corrected. MR - The event was previewed on Tuesday January, 29.


Sun, Feb 3, 2013 : 12:09 a.m.

Also: variously throughout the text (and pic caption) I see "Scott Pfeiffer", "Pfeiffer", "Pfieffer", and "James Pfieffer"... hope he (whatever his name is?!) doesn't get an identity crisis after reading this article! And - I would have loved to see a "preview" feature on this event BEFORE it happened instead of reading the recap AFTER - I would have made an attempt to attend had I known! Bummer!