All About The Schermerhorn Symphony Center Part 3

Following on the heels of Part 1 and Part 2 in this series examining the new Schermerhorn Symphony Center (SSC) in Nashville, TN, this installment will continue by examining the administration offices, education facilities, and one of the center’s more unique components, a fully equipped commercial kitchen…

How You Work Is Influenced By Where You Work

Nashville Symphony Administrative Offices
Nashville Symphony Administrative Offices

When discussing the administration offices inside the center, it’s important to distinguish between the administrative offices for the Nashville Symphony Orchestra and the administrative offices for the Schermerhorn Symphony Center. This segment focuses on the former as the building designers attempted to keep the entire symphony offices located in the same southeast corner of the building on two different floors, as illustrated in the diagram to your left (click to enlarge). The only exceptions to this rule are the music library, box office, and a few operational offices located next to the stage. The SSC offices are spread throughout the building but reside mostly in the bottom level.

With more than 25 personal offices and nearly double that space in cubicle and personal work areas. Add to that mix a large board room, meeting rooms, storage rooms, kitchens, copy rooms, and a reception area for each floor and the real estate claimed by symphonic administrative functions comprise a sizeable portion of the building.

The Nashville managers were kind enough to let me wander through the administrative offices on my own, talking to employees and taking pictures as I went. After completing my rounds through both levels of office space I noticed that although some executive offices were larger than others, none were designed to dwarf those of subordinate managers. In fact, the office for Alan Valentine, Nashville Symphony president and CEO, wasn’t the largest office in the two floor suite.

corner office
Corner Office

Although I didn’t take a tape measure to the rooms it seemed to me that Michael Buckland, Nashville Symphony’s V.P. of Marketing, had a larger office to accommodate a small meeting table and chairs, which you can see in the photograph to your left (click to enlarge). The only noticeable improvement in Alan’s office was the inclusion of a custom made floor to ceiling built-in cabinet and a private double glass door entrance to the Balcony Roof Terrace.


When I toured the construction site in September, 2005 Alan brought the group to a concrete slab and said, with a large smile, “this is where my office will be and I’ll be able to walk right out to an open terrace.” For those who know Alan, you’ll understand why the proximity to an outdoor space is something he is happy about. The photographs to your left show the space in September, 2005 and again in September, 2006 (click to enlarge). The construction crane in the background of the more recent photograph isn’t for the SSC; it’s for a new condo building going up to the south of the center.

Nashville_Administration_04Nashville_Administration_05Every private office in the administration suite had windows and the interior cubicle spaces had plenty of natural light coming in from nearby windows. Some private offices were constructed with an interior facing window to allow more natural light into the inner spaces located between windowless stretches of walls. The photographs to your left demonstrate what a typical private office looks like (click to enlarge), this one belongs to the symphony’s personnel manager, Anne Dickson.

Nashville_Administration_01Nashville_Administration_03Throughout every office there is a consistent décor, even between the offices and cubicle spaces. In the pictures to your left (click to large), Nashville Symphony Education and Community Engagement Manager, Michelle Lin, was good enough to pose for a picture in her workspace. On a related note, given the responses from many of the staffers and managers, I would have had an easier time trying to pull their teeth than getting them to pose for pictures. Keep this in mind – when you’re in the business of promoting a service based organization there’s no such thing as a bad picture.

Nashville_Administration_07Nashville_Administration_08The pictures to your left (click to enlarge) are of the other basic cubicle designs throughout the administration suite. In an effort to make it easier to get from level to another, the designers included a private spiral staircase between the two floors so workers don’t have to go out of the office suite to find a staircase. It’s difficult not to notice the very Ikeaesque motif running throughout both floors of the administration wing.

Nashville_Administration_10Nashville_Administration_11Alan's BootsThe only location this décor motif didn’t carry through was in the reception areas, pictured to your left (click to enlarge), and Alan Valentine’s office. At the same time, Alan’s office was devoid of furniture with the exception of some plastic moving boxes and the built-in cabinets. According to Alan, the rest of the furniture is not yet complete. In the meantime, he uses a folding table for a desk and the only item stored in the cabinets is a pair of black leather cowboy boots with the SSC’s iris design, a gift from the staff and musicians.

HPIM2472By the way, Alan did wear his new boots with his tuxedo at the opening night gala. Apparently, New York Times music critic Bernard Holland didn’t notice them because he was too busy being perturbed by the friezework outside the building, pictured to your left, that wasn’t Nashvillish enough for him (read his review from 9/11/06 for more info about that).

Nashville_Administration_13Nashville_Administration_14After talking to several staffers, one of the primary complaints they had in their old office was a lack of storage and kitchen space. The designers obviously took that into account as there are several dedicated storage rooms and a few kitchens spread throughout both floors of the office suite, examples of which are pictured to your left (click to enlarge). You’ve likely noticed a number of these pictures have blue painters tape and signs taped to doors. I was assured that these would all disappear in the coming weeks as the building crews complete the finish work.

The Curb Education Hall

Nashville Symphony Education CenterAlthough an education component was always on the SSC’s drawing table it wasn’t until successful businessman Mike Curb donated $3 million to the project for the purpose of establishing dedicated education facilities within the SSC. The end result is a tremendous facility that features dedicated storage space as well as enhanced multimedia capabilities and nearby bathrooms, illustrated in the diagram to your left (click to enlarge).

Education roomEducation roomThe suite consists of two smaller storage spaces and one large flexible space. It has its own unique décor and can accommodate traditional classroom activities as well as master classes and adult education events. It can hold up to 275 people in its lecture configuration but the SSC building management anticipates the room will be a popular rental space. The pictures to your left show the room in a lecture style configuration (click to enlarge). Note the large flat panel television screen facing the screens in the photograph to the near left. The symphony plans to use the space for preconcert talks and other special events that increase contact between artists and patrons.

Presentation equipmentSince the room has its own upright piano and is separated acoustically from the main hall but located only steps away from the chorus loft, the Nashville Symphony Chorus can use the room to warm-up and rehearse without worry that sound will bleed through into a live performance. The room can even be configured for table seating that will accommodate sit-down or buffet style meal service. During my time there they used the room to serve a buffet lunch following a press tour. In the picture to your left (click to enlarge), you can see a retractable lift which will soon house a digital projector that can be used for PowerPoint or other digital projections needs.

What Do You Get When You Combine A Gourmet Chef And An Orchestra?

Nashville Symphony Kitchen
Nashville Symphony Kitchen

If the SSC gets its way, they’ll have a really good idea that enhances the concert experience while simultaneously providing a steady revenue stream. Along with a bold concert hall, the SSC incorporated 3,000 square feet of kitchen space into their building. In the illustration to your left, you can see that the kitchen is one of the primary components of the entire lower floor (click to enlarge).

In fact, they employ a full time kitchen staff of 40 and have another 90+ food service employees on-call. Roger Keenan, SSC executive chef, took me on a tour of their facilities. Roger is pictured to your left (click to enlarge) posing alongside some of the kitchen’s top of the line equipment. Roger said the all of the corporate chefs are supplied by Dallas-based Culinaire International, which operates nearly 40 catering facilities across the country, including the Meyerson Center, home of the Dallas Symphony.

Roger Keenan, SSC executive chef
Roger Keenan, executive chef

“I was hired about four months ago but having this facility has been part of their plan the entire time,” said Roger. “The kitchen was basically preplanned but they did consult chefs in this region when they designed the food service aspects of the entire center. As a result of that work, everything was pretty much in place when I arrived.”

Since the kitchen is located in the basement of the building and isn’t always close to where the food needs to be served, the SSC has had to come up with some unique solutions to maintain the high quality control standards they’ve set for themselves.

“We’ve had to make some small adjustments and working out the logistics of being located in the basement, away from where much of the dining will take place, has been a large part of adjusting to this space,” said Roger. “But the inclusion of pantries on every level has been a big help. We’ve also put a great deal of our resources into equipment that optimizes our ability to get product to various parts of the building.”

Kitchen staff at workInstead of taking a wait-and-see approach, the SSC is taking their catering endeavor seriously. They employ an executive chef, sous chef, five cooks, four dishwashers, and 18 servers, all of which are full time. You can see many of those individuals hard at work on the prep line in the pictures to your left (click to enlarge). These shots were taken in the middle of the day before the gala opening concert.

“We’re set up to do a descent amount of volume in this location; we can do a seated dinner for up to 600 and a stand up reception for up to 1,500,” said Roger. “That’s a very good capacity for a 3,000 square foot kitchen and it’s a better capacity than many of the hotels and other meeting spaces in town.”

Storage lockerOne thing the SSC won’t have to worry about is having enough cold drinks. According to Roger, the building can produce an impressive amount of ice, no doubt an important design element in the south’s warmer climate. They also have several cold storage lockers, one of which is shown in the photograph to your left; it is fully stocked in anticipation of ongoing gala events (click to enlarge).

“For myself, this is the first symphonic environment I’ve worked in,” said Roger. “But I have to say that I’ve never seen a facility this size that has so many ice machines, we could probably supply Titan Stadium with the amount of ice we can produce so our patrons will never have to want to cold drinks.”

One unique aspect of the SSC’s design that directly influences how the kitchen operates is the is number of different size rooms they have available to rent,

“We can provide very different types of product to each [rental room] simultaneously,” said Roger. “That way, renters don’t have to worry about us not being able to provide what they want because someone else is here renting another room at the same time.”

As far as catering is concerned, the SSC likes to tell clients that if they want something it’s not a problem but since they maintain such a large staff of culinary professionals, they’re fully equipped to help them configure their menu to put out the best possible meal for their event.

Of course, one of the primary reasons the kitchen exists is to cater symphonic events. The SSC plans to serve sit down and buffet style dinners before each of their classical and pops series concerts. They want to become a comprehensive destination point where patrons can go for an entire evening’s entertainment. To Roger, this poses a special challenge.

“We’re going to do dinner service prior to any symphonic event and the type of series changes our menu almost every week,” said Roger.

Cabaret seatingNeedless to say, one of the most special aspects about the new concert hall is its one of a kind seating system which allows them to convert from sloped seating to a flat floor. The flat floor is capable of accommodating cabaret style seating as well as numerous buffet style service tables and bars. According to Roger, there are 550 seats on the floor for the cabaret configuration and they’ll offer a standard a la carte menu. The CAD drawing to your left shows how the concert hall will look for cabaret seating (click to enlarge).

Gala spreadBased on what I was able to sample during the four days I was there, the quality of food prepared by the kitchen is outstanding, especially the desserts. The picture to your left (click to enlarge) shows their high standards for service they plan to offer. This picture was from the post gala concert party the evening.

Given the versatility of the kitchen and the concert hall, I wonder if they’ll serve chicken strips for concerts anytime soon.

I couldn’t get through the interview with Chef Keenan without asking him if they have Nashville Symphony Board Chair Martha Ingram’s favorite recipes on file.

“We absolutely have Ms. Ingram’s favorite meals on file so we can prepare get what she enjoys whenever she desires,” said Roger with a large smile.

Executive chef's officeThey say you can tell a good manager by how messy their desk is. In the case of Chef Keenan, the desk in his private office is telling us that big things are afoot for the SSC’s culinary venture (click to enlarge).

I invite you to return tomorrow for Part 4 in this series where we’ll take a look at the musician facilities, back stage facilities, and some of the center’s miscellaneous features.

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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