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Tonbridge School provides audio education with Yamaha QL console

One of the highest-profile installations of Yamaha’s recently launched QL digital consoles in an educational setting is at Tonbridge School in Kent.

One of the highest-profile installations of Yamaha’s recently launched QL digital consoles in an educational setting is at Tonbridge School in Kent. This is just one educational establishment that has found that the consoles’ flexible facilities and ease of use give students excellent training for a job in the entertainment industry.

Established in 1553, Tonbridge is an independent day and boarding school for boys aged 13-18. The school still occupies its original site, albeit with many new buildings constructed over the centuries. One of the more recent is the EM Forster Theatre, built in 2000 and named after the famed novelist and Old Tonbridgian. When another former pupil, James Mitchell, took up the post of chief technician last year, one of his first priorities was to upgrade the 370-capacity theatre’s audio system.

Drama, theatre and technical live production are key parts of the school curriculum, with a big musical staged every year alongside a Shakespeare or straight play, an annual school band competition and other productions. The theatre also acts as a receiving house for a range of external theatre groups and other live entertainment.

All technical production and stage management duties for school productions is carried out by the boys, under the supervision of Mitchell and his staff colleagues, so he was keen to give them a system which would be of genuine benefit to their education.

“We had an old analogue console with no outboard and the PA system wasn’t very good, so I wanted to do a full overhaul,” he said. “It was really limiting what we could do and, most importantly, what we could teach. I felt that digital was the only way forward.”

Having looked at a lot of mixing consoles, Mitchell had chosen Yamaha and was ideally looking at a point somewhere between the LS9 and CL system. As luck would have it, while he was looking, the QL system was launched in precisely that place.

“I had decided on Yamaha because the consoles are an industry standard. From the teaching perspective we needed one that would set the boys up in the best possible place for a career in the real world, but it also had to meet the needs of visiting theatre groups,” he said. “QL came along at exactly the right time. It was within our budget and, overall, was the best solution for what we needed.”

Installed by Kent-based Lighting Logic, another reason that the QL5 was ideally suited to the school was its local i/o, meaning it could slot seamlessly into the theatre’s existing infrastructure, until the funds are available to add R-series i/o units on a Dante network.

“The local i/o meant that we could afford all the advantages of the QL5’s mixing technology, processing and the excellent user interface, but we didn’t have to spend a lot more money than we had available for remote i/o units as well,” said Mitchell.

“Originally we had 12 analogue stage inputs. We have since added another 12 which has improved things and have now got the outputs running over Dante to the controller for the new PA. In due course we would like to add R-series i/o units, but in the meantime the QL5 is making an enormous difference.”

Both staff and the boys have found learning the console very intuitive and, once the school’s end of Christmas term production of Cabaret is complete, Mitchell is looking forward to examining the console’s facilities in-depth.

“We are still quite new to it, but we can navigate through the desk with ease and the boys are picking it up very quickly. It’s always difficult to teach the console in the hectic run-up to a production, because that always takes priority,” he says.

“However, we’ve already done a multi-track recording of one of our band nights so, once things calm down in the new year, we will be able to use the recording to do live teaching on it without a show being in the theatre. That’s an incredibly useful function for us in the education sector.

“All in all, the QL5 has been the perfect match for what we need. It’s going to be really exciting as we get the chance to explore it fully.”