Concert Hall Projects Update: Nashville – Part 3

Next in the series of concert hall project follow-up articles is an examination of Nashville Symphony’s Schermerhorn Symphony Center as it was at the half way point of construction…


I thought it would be constructive if I could offer Adaptistration readers an opportunity to experience a virtual tour through a concert hall in the midst of construction. You’ll get to learn about a number of things that go into the planning and implementation of building an enormous structure like this as well as see how things have to be modified once the construction begins.

Along the way, you’ll also learn more about some of the individuals who contributed to Nashville’s Schermerhorn Symphony Center (SSC) project not to mention some of the more fascinating aspects of building such a unique structure…

In late April of 2005, Nashville’s new concert hall was slightly under budget and ahead of schedule. The Nashville managers decided that period of time would be well suited for a visit so I could see the inside of the sound chamber (another name used for the actual concert hall) before the internal scaffolding was put into place.

The building sits on a 435′ x 330′ lot donated by the city of Nashville and once the building is completed it will form the third point of a triangle between the Country Music Hall of Fame and the Gaylord Entertainment Center Arena with a large public park in the middle as depicted in the first picture to your left. In addition to the public park, the SSC will feature its own 125′ foot colonnade featuring a landscaped garden with fountain and will be open to the public It will also provide a café & coffee shop which will be open to Nashville tourists and foot traffic throughout the day. As of August, 2005 you can see the colonnade is in the process of being completed in the left side of the second picture on your left.

The tour began by entering through the west side of the building which faces the Country Music Hall of Fame. The music director’s suite will be on located on the ground floor just south of the colonnade looking west toward the Country Music Hall of Fame. It is adjacent to the backstage support area and will have entrance points to the west promenade facing the colonnade and backstage.

The tour was being led by Nashville Symphony president Alan Valentine (background, on the phone) and the newly appointed SSC executive director Ted DeeDee (foreground). Ted started off by telling the group about where they were in the construction process and creating a frame of reference regarding some of the interior features which were indistinguishable in their current state of assembly.

Ted is one of the first SSC managers hired by the Nashville Symphony. According to Alan, the organization is leaning as much as possible toward having all workers associated with the SSC be employees of the Nashville Symphony as opposed to utilizing contracted services. He said they want to exert as much control as possible regarding quality control measures and having employees as opposed to contracted labor is one way to help achieve consistent standards of quality.

The unique aspect of touring through a construction site in this stage was that we could see many of the infrastructure features which will be hidden once the interior framework is complete. For example, the entire building is wired with “smart” technology which will enable building managers to control all the electronic systems, including lights, HVAC, etc., remotely from anywhere in the world via an internet connection. Ted made sure to point out that they will have a very tight security system for their computer network.

One of the more fascinating features of any concert hall is how much effort is put into the acoustical design. One of the reasons a concert hall is referred to as a sound chamber is because it is literally a building within a building. In the case of the SSC the sound chamber has an independent foundation from the rest of the building; they are separated by a 2″ gap designed to reduce vibration from building systems not directly related to the sound chamber. You can see the 2″ gap in the picture to your left.

Although the sound gap isn’t a unique feature to the SSC, the building boasts a number of novel concepts for concert halls. For example, the concert hall floor will be comprised of modular seating allowing the hall to use standard graduated seating or a flat, ballroom style floor which will accommodate a wide variety of special events. The first 90 seats in the front rows can also be removed to accommodate a 60’x 18’stage extension. Each wagon of seats is conveyed under the hall via a motorized carriage system and it will only take 60 minutes to clear the entire floor. The picture to your right illustrates the two primary configurations and the motorized transportation in action.

Another advantage of having a flat main floor will be the ability to locate the custom built organ console anywhere on the stage or the main floor. The console will be connected to the system via Cat-5 and Cat-6 cables throughout several points on the main floor. This will allow the building to host organ recitals, master classes, and even weddings in a more intimate setting without worrying about filling up all 1,900 seats.

The SSC organ is being manufactured by Schoenstein & Co, San Francisco, CA. Alan said they were selected after conducting an international search to find which organ maker would work best and had the most experience making organs which will best suit the needs for their new hall.

As we continued toward the backstage facilities, I had an opportunity to talk with Derek Young, Nashville Symphony Board Member, pictured to your left. Derek was a delight to talk with and during our conversation I learned he used to work as a stand up comedian. I asked Derek how he got involved with the Nashville Symphony board.

“I’m a person that believes strongly in supporting the community and since I have such a love for music in general and admiration for Alan Valentine as a leader, I felt that the SSC will be a significant aspect of the city,” said Derek. “When Alan approached me to be on the board I said ‘if you’re looking for someone to make a positive impact and help insure that a wide array of the community understand what the symphony and this project is about then you can count me in’, and they did”.

I then asked Derek how he felt about being involved with a capital project like the SSC.

“Coming from St. Louis I was familiar with Powell Symphony Hall [the home of the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra]. Being a board member and a 15 year resident of the Nashville community, this is about the most phenomenal thing the city has undertaken related to the planning and forethought of culture, and the arts. Standing here in side the building you can already feel the quality of this project, I’m just so fired up about all of this.”

Derek was a good representative example of how any orchestra needs to cultivate sincere interest and excitement toward an end goal and a prolonged ideal to inspire current board members and attract new board talent. In the picture to your right, Alan Valentine and Derek Young are engaged in conversation about a facet of the building while standing in what will eventually become Alan’s new office on the top floor of the administrative office section (yes, the space just beyond Alan will be an outside balcony available from the office).

Part 4, the final installment in this series of Nashville Symphony concert hall articles, will conclude the virtual tour and consider some of the challenges which are patiently waiting for Nashville to arrive in the near future.

About Drew McManus

"I hear that every time you show up to work with an orchestra, people get fired." Those were the first words out of an executive's mouth after her board chair introduced us. That executive is now a dear colleague and friend but the day that consulting contract began with her orchestra, she was convinced I was a hatchet-man brought in by the board to clean house.

I understand where the trepidation comes from as a great deal of my consulting and technology provider work for arts organizations involves due diligence, separating fact from fiction, interpreting spin, as well as performance review and oversight. So yes, sometimes that work results in one or two individuals "aggressively embracing career change" but far more often than not, it reinforces and clarifies exactly what works and why.

In short, it doesn't matter if you know where all the bodies are buried if you can't keep your own clients out of the ground, and I'm fortunate enough to say that for more than 15 years, I've done exactly that for groups of all budget size from Qatar to Kathmandu.

For fun, I write a daily blog about the orchestra business, provide a platform for arts insiders to speak their mind, keep track of what people in this business get paid, help write a satirical cartoon about orchestra life, hack the arts, and love a good coffee drink.

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2 thoughts on “Concert Hall Projects Update: Nashville – Part 3”

  1. Great series of articles, so far! I like very much the amount of time that is being spent between musicians and management to make the hall a place as much for the orchestra as for the patrons. I had the pleasure of performing at Disney Hall in Los Angeles this past year, and the backstage areas, to my eyes, were phenomenal. It goes a long way towards organizational harmony when the workplace is pleasant. Here in Portland we are cursed with a hall with fair to middling audience acoustics, horrible on-stage acoustics, and completely non-existant backstage facilities. It has been joked that the primary tool for renovating our hall would be a couple sticks of dynamite!

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