The Sala della Musica and Acoustic Mapping Project

(Our tour is now over, but I will continue posting for the next few days with more photos and recaps of our time in Venice.)

On the morning of our second day in Venice, Women’s Voices Chorus went “behind the scenes” in a tour of a lesser-known, but musically fascinating, locale: the Ospedaletto of Santa Maria dei Derelitti. The Ospedaletto was a charitable institution famous for its tradition of instructing orphan girls in music. We visited both the church and the Sala della Musica, the sites of the girls’ sacred and secular performances.

Painting in the Sala della Musica

Painting in the Sala della Musica with the orphan girls represented by muses surrounding the figure of Apollo. The girl on the right holding a ring is actually holding a Venetian cookie of a variety that’s still sold today.

In the Sala della Musica, the girls would sing from an upper gallery behind a “chastity screen” while potential patrons (or potential husbands) would listen to them in the chamber below while enjoying chocolate, tobacco, and other delicacies. Renowned Venetian composers such as Niccola Porpora were affiliated with the Ospedaletto and wrote music specifically for the girls.

Some Women's Voices Chorus members visit the upper gallery in the Sala della Musica

Some Women’s Voices Chorus members visit the upper gallery in the Sala della Musica

The view that the musicians would have had from behind the screen in the Sala della Musica

The view that the musicians would have had from behind the screen in the Sala della Musica

Our visit to the Venetian Ospedaletto was not only an interesting musical tourism destination: we were also helping out an interdisciplinary research project at Duke University. The Acoustic Mapping Project is organized by professors and graduate students from the disciplines of Art History, Computer Science, Physics, and Visual and Media Studies, and it involves using software to create digital models of acoustic spaces. Through computer modeling of the acoustics of a space, special software allows a recording to be processed so that it sounds as though it was performed in a particular room. For instance, singers could be recorded in a room at Duke University, and that recording could then be made to sound exactly as if they were singing in the Sala della Musica in Venice.

The unique shape and properties of the Ospedaletto Sala della Musica made it an interesting subject for this research project. While Women’s Voices Chorus visited, we made a recording of eight members singing selections from Niccola Porpora’s Magnificat in the gallery to compare with a similar recording that those same singers made at Duke, and a researcher took laser measurements of the space to enable more accurate digital mapping.

We were excited both to see this historically-interesting  venue and to help expand the boundaries of acoustic technology. In the next few days, keep an eye out on this site for a recording of WVC members singing in the Ospedaletto, as well as more photos and reminiscences from our performances and tours in Venice!

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