Five years after expanding their sanctuary's choir loft, parishioners at Grace Episcopal Church in Alexandria, Va. are enjoying an expanded music program that has added a new dimension to their services and special events. Located at 3601 Russell Road in the city's Mt. Ida neighborhood, this remodeling project by Alexandria-based Cole & Denny Architects is designed to fit within context of the church's historic sanctuary.
The loft's square footage was enlarged by 30 percent to accommodate more choristers, musical instruments, and a 3 manual & pedal 38-rank DiGennaro-Hart pipe organ. The expanded loft extends out over the sanctuary's main entryway, its stained oak construction and wrought-iron rail design fitting seamlessly into the rustic wood and stone architecture of the church's Gothic-style interior.
According to Jeff Aaron, director of parish operations, this elevated platform now holds 35 to 40 persons, up from a "tight 25", and allows greater flexibility for arrangement of singers and musicians. "It's hard to tell the expanded section was not part of the original structure," Aaron adds.
The loft also expands sight lines for communication between choristers and conductor.
"We are better able to see each other," says music director Richard Newman. "As a result, I now have more flexibility with musical arrangements and choristers during special services." Newman adds that additional balcony space, along with a new open railing, allows the organ to project more "tonal transparency" for the sanctuary, which provides the congregation with a better listening experience.
Originally designed in 1948 by Alexandria native Milton L. Grigg, the current sanctuary is home for a parish that dates back to 1855 when it spun off from the city's historic Christ Church. Directly above and behind the original loft is a large stained glass window depicting the parish's 160-year history from its original Old Town location. Even with an expanded loft, parishioners are still afforded an unobstructed view of this unique image.
"As a vibrant and growing parish, our sanctuary needed room for an expanded music program," says Father Bob Mahm, Grace Episcopal's Rector. Our upgraded loft which adds a new dynamic to our services, and fits beautifully within our existing architecture."