Acoustics in Tropical Countries

Acoustics in Tropical Countries

Amphitheatre de Verdure, Kinshasa, Congo

Amphitheatre de Verdure, Kinshasa, Congo

Performance spaces are often taken for granted in first world countries like the United States where an audience can expect beautiful sounds and musicians can expect clear and elegant spaces to perform in. This however is generally not the case in developing third world countries where resources are often limited and the country does not have the economic means to construct elaborate performance environments.

Most developing countries will utilize their economic means to focus on problems that may seem more severe such as health care and political infrastructure. Examine the Democratic Republic of the Congo located in the continent of Africa for example.

This country is diverse in its people, culture, geography, languages, politics and more importantly, its economy. This has been declining since the late twentieth century, with the world’s 3rd lowest GDP per capita.

While there is a desire for music and the stage, such ideas are often dismissed due to corruption, lack of stability, and violent conflict within the country.

There are however, many sustainable ways that performance spaces can be created by understanding the basics of acoustics and how it works as well as knowledge of available resources and the natural climate. When applied to countries such as Congo, these principles can create flexible and ideal spaces for music in third world countries.

The design of a performance room itself is integral to the way that sound waves will bounce off of one another. First and foremost, concave roof structures should be avoided due to a focusing effect that it causes. Convex surfaces are preferred since they allow for a clear diffusion of sound. Similarly, fan shapes for musical halls should also be avoided because it prevents sound reinforcement with a lack of sound distribution. More ideal shapes would include a shoebox, stepped fan and reverse fan designs. A second note in room design is to refrain from creating two parallel reflective walls which result in echoes similar to what is seen in corridors where the sound tends to bounce around.

The back wall of any performance room is significant because of the way the sound waves will reflect off of it, causing possible echoes that may be unpleasant and unwanted. Generally, it is useful to place absorbing material on the back wall to help take away or minimize unwanted noise.

Materials. An interesting material that has recently come to the market is recycled cotton fiber. Essentially, this is the product of reusing Blue Jean material to create insulation that is both exceptional in sound absorption and can also aid with heat loss and gain in an environment. To further diminish undesirable echoes, another option is to generate a rumpled or splayed surface.

Like any other structures, ideal building materials for concert halls include wood, steel and masonry construction. However, building materials become an essential question when deciding not only the aesthetic, but also the functionality in a tropical country like Congo. In a tropical environment, many materials will begin to rot quickly and are often at the mercy of insects such as termites.

There are several solutions to these problems that can be both sustainable and efficient. Timber is likely to be a desirable material of choice in a tropical environment and can be treated with resins or oils to prevent termite infestation. Wood is also ideal when dealing with extremes of humidity as it will expand and contract. Another possible local material is the use of Bamboo. There are several possibilities with this material from panels to full scale construction in a region where it is readily available.

A material that is important to avoid and use as minimally as possible is plastic. The Congo has a major problem in dealing with plastic which can be seen in the polluted streets of the capital city Kinshasa where used water battles are thrown onto the streets and are seen collecting there. Plastic is extremely difficult to decompose and its usage must be discouraged.

However, the plastic bottles that are seen filling the streets can be utilized for insulation. This is an easy process that can be done by hand and it can pose as a major sustainable and economical solution.

Dynamic space. A concert hall is a dynamic space that is influenced by various acoustical factors that are indispensable in creating a successful space. At the same time, sustainable strategies must be well thought out when applying design principles and practices to a developing country.

Scaled for Community. Any new building in such an environment can have a major impact on the community. It is essential to always consider the scale of the community as well as any existing problems so that the building becomes an integral and productive aspect of the culture rather than a piece that adds to the waste.

Researched and written by Shreya Agarwal,
Class of 2016, Penn State University

Our Reply to Violence-Poverty

Young Choristers & Musicians in Kinshasa, Congo

Young Choristers & Musicians in Kinshasa, Congo

Tired of political corruption in developing countries?

Do you wish you could help the children and youth of these countries, but can’t because of feeling overwhelmed by the domination of this corruption?

OPERAnauts has a way. It is unconventional and it is grass-roots. It is about working with the community to produce opera — simple right? There are music festivals popping up all over the globe — an exciting way to engage the masses in the community and support art and culture. OPERAnauts wants to help youth by giving them a music festival, and we’re starting in the country where there is the greatest opportunity to make a difference: Congo.

In 2015, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) was rated #8 of the top 10 most violent countries and #2 of the top 10 poorest countries in the world.

The social issue that Congolese face is a cycle of violence-poverty. We could spend pages defining that term in a research paper for you, but now is not the time for complex language. What we need is plain speech and powerful action.

The start of the cycle is violence: murder and rape, followed by grief-stricken poverty, mental illness, post-traumatic stress disorder, loss of hope, smuggled weapons, and greed, thereby bringing more violence and perpetuating the cycle. By the wayside are strewn the cycle’s fallout: lack of education for children, lack of trash pick-up, lack of electricity, unsanitary conditions, burned villages, oil excavation in fishing lakes, malaria, chronic air pollution, unpaid workers in the mines and army, wrongful arrests, looting, inflation, and more.

OPERAnauts brings an opera intervention.

Remember the flash mob music events we used to see on YouTube? It’s like that, but longer. A community rallies together to produce beautiful collaborative art involving dancers, singers and other musicians, composers, directors, caterers, ticket-takers, security officials, lighting technicians, set builders, and carpenters.

At the performance, the individuals in the community can relax and enjoy, perhaps experience a cathartic moment with the story, or be brought to tears by the music. In all cases, the audience sees and hears and experiences something beautiful they have never experienced before or even thought possible in their country.

This will be our response to violence.

Music is all we have to hold onto, and all we need to change the world.

Featured 2015 Opera Fellows

Featured Fellow: Mireille Kinkina, soprano/youth chorus director


Mireille Kinkina photo2

MIREILLE KINKINA is a versatile soprano and chorister with the OSK. She achieved a music diploma with a vocal focus from the l’Institut National des Arts, and has been a Juniors’ Choir director since its inception in 2014; she is also a beginning pianist and aspiring harpist. However, she has reached a barrier in her Congolese-based musical development, having taken advantage of all available opportunities for artistic growth. To circumvent this obstacle, she is working to travel to New York so that she can partake in the immense wealth of music and culture found there and to continue her education within this environment. After she accomplishes this goal, she will return to her home in Kinshasa to educate others in music. With OPERAnauts, she will coach and direct the Street Boys’ Chorus, and carry on the message of empathy from the important perspective of a Congolese woman.

“J’aime la musique, ca me donne la force, l’espoir de vivre mais ici je suis bloque.” – MK

Mireille KINKINA


Featured Fellow: Guelor Ntela, cellist


Guelor Ntela photo#1

GEULOR NTELA is a Congolese musician, serving as the principal chair cellist for the OSK, as well as a teacher of stringed instruments to The Juniors and students within the Kinshasa community. He is currently completing his music diploma at the l’Institut National des Arts, after which he hopes to pursue a master’s degree in Cello Performance. However, his great challenge lies in the absence of a graduate music program in Congo, as well as his lack of a sufficiently equipped laptop computer to finish the song compositions necessary to graduate. As an OPERAnauts fellow, he hopes to overcome these barriers. He will play in the music ensemble and will continue to spread OPERAnauts’ message of hope through music to students and audiences throughout Kinshasa.

“Je suis un artiste d’enseignement oui, mais aussi un artiste interprète.” – GN


Featured Fellow: Vanza Vatick, director/playwright


Vanza Vatick
VANZA VATICK is a musician, actor, director, playwright, and a 2016 OPERAnauts Opera Fellow.This past November in a poor commune of the city-province Kinshasa, Vanza successfully directed, produced and performed the famous old comedy by Molière, Le Médecin malgré lui.

Poster Vanza Vatick performance

In the future, Vanza would like another shot at producing it. Next time, he said, he would find a better venue and add costumes, and lights. Given his musical talents, he could also add opera music, for instance, excerpts from the opéra-comique composed by Charles Gonoud, based on Le Médecin malgré lui.

During a recent conversation about joining OPERAnauts as an Opera Fellow, Vanza told us what motivated him to perform music and theatre:

Pour montrer notre passion au monde entier !! Dire au monde entier que la musique, le théâtre, l’Opéra peut aussi être un instrument pour régler nos différences !! Nos conflit pour bannir le raciseme !! Abolir la division !! Et surtout crier l’unité à tout le monde par nos chanson !!

Je voulais aussi que le monde entier le sache que pendant que nous progressions et prosperon avec nos talent !! Quelques part il ya des jeunes qui on besoin des gens pour faire sortir d’eux les talents qu’ils on.. . J’ai envi de fer parler tout les talents qui est en moi ainsi que celle de tous ceux que je vois.


Empathy refers to the ability to relate to another person’s pain vicariously, as if one has experienced that pain themselves. (Example:  He felt great empathy with the poor.)

The capacity for empathy is an action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another of either the past or present without having the feelings, thoughts, and experience fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner. (Merriam-Webster)

About the Empathy Quiz:

OPERAnauts would like to evaluate an empathy quiz as a tool for measuring the impact of music-making on an individual and their community.

Greater Good in Action for Meaningful Life has put together an on-line quiz. Their research suggests that “empathic people tend to be more generous and concerned with others’ welfare, and they also tend to have happier relationships and greater personal well-being. Empathy can also improve leadership ability and facilitate effective communication.”

They also note that research also suggests that people differ in the extent to which they experience empathy. So how empathic are you?

The quiz will help you find out. It draws from three scientifically validated scales that researchers have created to measure empathy: the Toronto Empathy Questionnaire, developed by Nathan Spreng and his colleagues; the Interpersonal Reactivity Index, developed by Mark Davis; and the Emotion Specific Empathy Questionnaire, developed by Sally Olderbak and her colleagues.

The quiz contains a total of 28 questions. Please answer them as honestly as possible–there are no right or wrong answers. The first 22 will be used to measure your level of empathy; the last six will be used by our research team to understand how empathy relates to factors like gender, birth order, and political orientation.

When you’re done, you’ll receive your empathy score, along with feedback interpreting this score.*

*The above material and quiz are found on the website:

Our Evaluation:

Part of our mission is to demonstrate that music-making increases a person’s capacity for empathy. We plan to collect students, and performing and teaching artists’ quiz scores before and after sessions of concentrated music-making.

If you have been selected and consented to participate in our evaluation of this empathy quiz tool, follow these steps.

  1. Take the Empathy Quiz on-line and record your score.
  2. Practice your instrument or voice for an hour everyday for one week.
  3. Take the Empathy Quiz again after one week, and record the score.
  4. Email both scores to

The featured image is of high school students who participated in the 2016-2017 #ReplywithMusic program. (Photo i.d.: Kai Gibson, Nick Kochmann, Alistair Dobson, Leo LaPlaca and Niccolo Bechtler at the amphitheater of Pettronello Gardens, NJ; Lex Kochmann, photographer)



ROCK THE CONGO — October 15th – December 10th
by Nicco Bechtler, Campaign Writer


OPERAnauts, Inc. is a Princeton-based non-profit organization that aims to use music to better the world, specifically the unfortunate situation currently unfolding in Congo. It was because of this fantastic goal that I decided to devote many hours over the past three months to helping OPERAnauts succeed.

In the beginning of October, we began to work on preparing an online crowd sourcing campaign to raise money for one of the organization’s targets: Allowing five of Congo’s best aspiring musicians to travel to the United States to be mentored on the opera “La Petite Carmen.” To do this, we set up a page on Indiegogo, an internet crowd funding site, and set to work creating a campaign. This included photography, video, text, and art, as well as constant updates required to provide visitors to the webpage with the latest information. My role in the project was to write. Language is something that has fascinated me from my early memories of reading Dr. Suess, so it seemed like a natural fit. The depth of literary finesse required to be an internet wordsmith proved to be quite a challenge, resulting in many nights staying up far past when I should have just to find that perfect phrasing for an update, but I enjoyed it all nonetheless. It wasn’t easy, but I learned some valuable information about myself as a student of English, as well as improving my writing and what I can accomplish with it.

When it was all said and done, we had both a visually and statistically brilliant campaign, which we called “Rock the Congo.” It was professional and sleek, but still retained the homegrown, “do it yourself” aesthetic that OPERAnauts has made its signature. True perfection may be unattainable, but for a small company run from a little town in central Jersey, we came as near to it as was in our power. When something needed to be fixed, we learned how, and did it. There was no outside help from graphic designers, or videographers, or any professional in a field other than music. We are a group of artists and students who, using only what was readily available to us, made an excellent project and raised a substantial amount of money to help Congolese musicians with their travels to the US and their English courses. Though we did not meet the extremely optimistic monetary goal we set at the campaign’s launch, as I will explain later, the definition of success in a crowd funding campaign is much more complicated than that. I feel that even without reaching the dollar amount we sought, the project was a great success, not just for me, but for the company as a whole and for everyone involved.

To view our campaign

When the project had ended and I was taking care of the “postmortem” analysis of what happened I had some time to consider what success really was in the context of a fundraiser versus what it meant to the company as a whole, as well as to me. To the campaign, missing the goal is the definition of failure, so in that sense, despite our best efforts, we did not succeed. For the whole organization, or for me, however, it was more complicated. To the company, it broadened the audience reached by many thousands of people and expanded the community to include a youth program and more volunteers who want to see the Congo assisted, as well as more Congolese Fellows who want to work with OPERAnauts. To me, it was more. I have gotten to know some truly fascinating people with unbelievable stories of overcoming impossible difficulties in Congo and learning to play instruments excellently. I have broadened my understanding of global issues, like hunger and the unceasing and intense brutality that has plagued Congo for decades. I know how hard it can be to run a nonprofit and what it really takes to write the campaigns that get donations coming in. It was an incredible challenge, but I took countless new experiences and understandings away from it and I’m extremely grateful for that opportunity.


Fact Sheet – Summary of Milestones

Fact Sheet – Summary of Milestones

May 2012: OPERAnauts project is approved for fiscal sponsorship with Fractured Atlas, a non-profit arts service organization in New York.

February 2013: Friends of OPERAnauts begin the fundraising effort with a series of small group dinners at a local restaurant. Guests enjoy live music mini-concerts by flamenco guitar and classical accordion soloists.

May 2013: OPERAnauts Program Director, Jean Claude Chiyuka is guest presenter at the screening of award-winning documentary “Kinshasa Symphony” at the Newark Museum of Art. The pre-screening reception is hosted by the Bank of America and guests enjoy live music by players of New Jersey Symphony Orchestra.

June 2013: High school junior, Vid Raturi gives a short presentation on violence in Congo (DRC) and with her parents hosts a fundraiser reception after a matinee performance of “Into the Woods” at McCarter Theatre.

August 2013: OPERAnauts principal performers are engaged in a Summer Opera Program at Monroe Village sponsored by the Springpoint Foundation. Opera cast members from Chicago, Edmonton, Raleigh, Wilmington, Princeton gathered for this week-long residency where senior residents attended open rehearsals, a concert performance, and a presentation on design.

August 2013: Thanks to 30 generous donors, OPERAnauts successfully accomplishes their first goal. The premiere of La Petite Carmen at Le Poisson Rouge, Bleecker Street, New York, and it streams live from the venue.

December 2013: OPERAnauts incorporate and register in New Jersey as a non-profit corporation with an advisory Board of Trustees.

March 2014 Thanks to our generous donors, Trinity Church staff and local sponsors – McCaffery’s, Adams Party Rental, Princeton Friends of Music and Princeton Community T.V. OPERAnauts successfully accomplishes their second goal. The premiere of FANDANGO! (music by Mozart) arranged for wind quintet by Craig Levesque. A marimba was added to the original music score to create a cultural bridge for children.

July 2014: OPERAnauts Youth is formed. A small group of high school students decide to organize after viewing a home screening of the documentary, “Kinshasa Symphony.” Their goals include raising awareness with their peers and parents about music-related issues in Congo.

October 2014: “Rock the Congo” Indiegogo Campaign Launch Party to raise funds towards the end goal, Carmen in Congo.

Group Opens Cultural Exchange with a Production

Group Opens Cultural Exchange with a Production

Where and when do the paths of a Congolese slum, Angelina Jolie, Mozart, opera, and a winner of two dozen international film festivals cross paths?

The answer is in Princeton this Saturday night. Philadelphia, Trenton and Princeton area residents are invited to attend an Italian wedding celebration on Saturday Evening, March 29 at 7:30 p.m. at Trinity Church, 33 Mercer Street in Princeton.

This celebration, featuring Mozart’s fun-filled opera, “ Fandango,” will be the local kick off event to a planned string of cultural exchange events in North America and Africa over the next three years. The events are designed to bring awareness and solutions to violence, poverty and abuse to African and American children through the intercultural exchange of film, dance music, and other forms of art expression. They are based on the principle that music and the arts are the international language.

The Saturday celebration is sponsored by OPERAnauts, a Princeton-based non-profit organization, which is one of the lead global participants. Five Congolese musicians will travel to Princeton to study OPERAnauts’ production of an opera so they can return to Congo to perform it there as part of the cultural exchange. Next spring, OPERAnauts will travel to Philadelpha to perform a French opera and later in the year, will also travel to Kinshasa, Congo, to perform the production.

Joy Bechtler, Founder and Executive Director of OPERAnauts and a Princeton resident, said “We are a tiny but very committed group, who believe in the possibility of music to change the world. And we believe our performance Saturday night will be the first of many to be transported and interpreted to foreign cultures. Human emotion, love, and the joy of music will be celebrated in any culture,” said Ms. Bechtler, who lived in Africa as a child, the daughter of an American physician and missionary. “We are excited about the possibility these events will encourage foundations, corporations and governments to fund programs to reduce poverty, violence and sickness of children.”

Fandango will be sung in Italian with English dialogue. The main character of the story is Cherubino, an adolescent with the feelings of jealousy, lust, and wild emotional angst, punctuated with lots of confusion. The production will be performed by five talented opera singers, a marimba and wind quartet and a children’s chorus.

The intercultural exchange will also include the internationally celebrated film “Kinshasa Symphony,” winner of more than two dozen film festival awards. The film, featured on CNN and CBS Sunday Morning, tells the story about the residents of Kinshasa, Congo who, without funds, musical instruments or musical ability, formed the only all Black symphony orchestra in all of Africa. Using instruments often mended with whatever they could find, including old bicycle parts, and dedicating their non-working hours to long daily practice, the film shows how love of music can create miracles.

Goodwill ambassador Jean Claude Chiyuka, who represents the Democratic Republic of Congo in promoting both OPERAnauts and the film as it makes its way around the globe. Angelina Jolie, in a visit to the film production site, has offered her assistance in promoting the intercultural exchange.

Wedding cupcakes and punch will be served after the performance.

Article written by Dennis Bowers

Purchase Tickets for FANDANGO!

    • Purchase tickets NOW for FANDANGO! the wedding of Figaro and Susanna (music by Mozart).


    • This single performance event is on

Saturday, March 29th at 7:30 pm (6:30/doors)

    in a church located at 33 Mercer Street, Princeton, New Jersey.
    • FANDANGO! is an adaptation of the opera

Le Nozze di Figaro

    • created for OPERAnauts by Joy Bechtler and arranged by composer, Craig Levesque for wind quintet and marimba. Wedding cake and punch complete the experience of the Performance and are included in the admission price. Tickets are $20/child, $35/adult, $100/family.


FANDANGO! music by Mozart

OPERAnauts, Inc.

So there are these Italian guys. They end up in Spain. They fall in and out of love and lust with local ladies. Jealousy. Passion. Adolescent angst. Emotions in three languages, punctuated with beautiful dances, and lots of confusion. Sound like a soap opera? It’s Mozart at his best. Performed by five talented opera singers, a childens’ chorus, a marimba and wind quintet to benefit OPERAnauts to Congo. For the opera buff or novice it’s an evening of dreams and promise.


Martin HargroveMartin Hargrove, lyric bass (Figaro) and Artistic Director of FANDANGO, has performed the roles of Colline in La Bohème with Center City Opera Theatre Opera Delaware & Jake in Porgy & Bess. He has also appeared with the Newark Symphony, & the Clifford Brown Jazz Festival.

Joy BechtlerJoy Bechtler, lyric soprano (la Contessa) has entertained audiences in concert and opera throughout the world. A convincing actress with an appealing and expressive voice, she has appeared with Opera Lanka, the Lanka Philharmonic, Opera Festival of New Jersey, and with Castel Opera Arts.

Brian Ming ChuAcclaimed by the Washington Post for his “sterling performances”, baritone Brian Ming Chu has established himself onstage and in recital as a dynamic interpreter of music from the Baroque to the 21st century. Mr. Chu has performed numerous roles with opera companies from Philadelphia to Dallas, including signature performances as Marcello in La Bohème, Leporello in Don Giovanni, and the title role in Rossini’s The Barber of Seville. As a resident artist with the Baltimore Opera he sang roles in Carmen, Lakmé, Salome, La scala di seta, Madama Butterfly and Shostakovich’s Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk.

Emily K. ByrneEmily K. Byrne is an “impressive vocalist” with a diverse range of performance credits. Ms. Byrne’s portrayal of The Mother in Long Leaf Opera’s production of Amahl and the Night Visitors and was hailed as “…the show’s unifying force in the vocal department.” Though originally from the greater Philadelphia area, Ms. Byrne has spent the last few years performing up and down the Eastern Seaboard. Ms. Byrne spent the last year working as a performing artist for The Prizery in South Boston, Virginia where she played Betty Jean Reynolds in The Marvelous Wonderettes as well as The Mother in Amahl and the Night Visitors.

Tracy SturgisSoprano, Tracy Sturgis, maintains an active performing schedule. She is currently on the roster of The Philadelphia Singers and performs regularly with both Children’s Opera Box and Delaware Valley Opera Company. She is also the soprano soloist at Trinity Episcopal Church in Swarthmore, PA. Most recently, Tracy performed Susanna in DVOC’s production of Le Nozze di Figaro.

What the Guests Had to Say

It was such a pleasure to be at the performance of La Petite Carmen and to witness this beautiful thing coming to life. It certainly seemed very polished to me! I wish you all the best as you take this project forward. –Amanda from New Jersey



Wow! Encroyable! Everyone did an absolutely amazing job! Please give my best regards to the entire cast! –Christopher from California



Opera in a club – what a fantastic idea! It was a wonderful experience to step into one of the venerable NYC clubs on Bleecker Street in the Village to see an opera. And what an opera! Bizet’s Carmen reduced to its essential musical and dramatic elements – with all those great arias and duets – beautifully performed by first-rate instrumentalists and singers in the intimate setting of a downtown club. Bravi to OPERAnauts! — Steven from New Jersey



I just wanted to let you know how much we enjoyed the opera. It was a great production. I’m so sorry more didn’t arrive to see it. The next time such an event occurs, I will double my marketing efforts. It was really worth seeing. Thanks for your efforts. — Jonathan from New Jersey



I have been meaning to write you! I want you to know how truly inspiring La Petite Carmen and Operanauts were to see in action this past weekend. I was so inspired, in fact, that I have been coming home from work and listening to opera music and singing along ever since. I know it was unnerving, intense, and emotionally draining at times, but what an amazing outcome you have to show for yourselves. The singing, the dancing, the costumes, the story telling, the emotion was all so mesmerizing and well thought out. And what grace YOU have to be feeling nearly defeated, and to sing so beautifully and powerfully, still. The song you sang alone in the audience with the blue spot light on you, I think it was “Je dis que rien ne m’épouvante”, made me cry both times I heard it. Truly, truly beautiful. — Sophie from Pennsylvania



I was very speechless when I saw your performance of La Petite Carmen on Live stream on the downstairs computer last night. I have to say that you did a wonderful job singing and playing Micaela at performance. I also thought that the whole crew did a wonderful job as well at the performance. – Amanda from North Carolina



I have been meaning to tell you how much I enjoyed Carmen! I did love it! YOU are all so talented!!! It was a delight! –Sue from New Jersey