All About The Schermerhorn Symphony Center Part 6

The final article in this series examining Nashville’s new Schermerhorn Symphony Center (SSC) will explore the donor’s lounge, board room, green room, and inside the concert hall…

Yes, This Is Where You’ll Find The Money

Nashville_Green_Room_MapAlthough I wouldn’t call the SSC’s public and performance space opulent by any means, there are a few rooms where that word aptly applies: the donor’s lounge, board room, and green room. Located strategically on the same level as the Founder’s Box seats, all three rooms are lavishly appointed and equipped with their own pantry and bar supply. However, the rooms aren’t necessarily closed affairs; in addition to serving in their traditional capacity, the organization plans to offer all three rooms for rental events.

Green Room
Green Room

The least lavish among these rooms is the green room, pictured to your left. Although it’s half the size of the donor’s lounge, the room can still fit a few dozen people comfortably. If that isn’t quite enough room, the donor’s lounge is adjacently located via a set of large double doors. Perhaps as a nod to more of the everyman approach, the walls are painted the same shade of green that’s found throughout much of the building.

Donor’s lounge
Donor’s lounge

Without a doubt, the most lavish among these rooms is the donor’s lounge, which features numerous antique furniture pieces, wood paneled walls, intricate inlay among the hardwood floors, and wooden columns. As a woodworker by hobby, I thought the room was a tasteful blend of wealth and comfort.

Another view of the donor’s lounge
Donor’s lounge

However, make no mistake; this room was built to be used by individuals of means while they aren’t seated in their box seats. Many of the antique pieces in the lounge and the green room, such as the exquisite burl veneer cabinet in the photograph to your near left, were donated as a special gift from one of the board members; as such, it was not part of the original construction budget and didn’t require funds to be diverted from another of the building’s components.

Board room
Board room

The last of the special purpose rooms is the board room. According to principal architect, David M. Schwarz, this room was one of the more difficult rooms to complete as there was a bit of dilemma in deciding how they should finish the walls. Eventually, David said they decided to cover the walls in the same fabric they used for the concert hall seats and then went with a painted white finish for most of the other surfaces, as illustrated in the photograph to your left. The framed photos along the wall are of past and current board chairs.

Board room
Board room

The meeting table and matching credenza, pictured to your left, were custom built pieces that were assembled only a day before the Gala opening. According to Nashville Symphony president & CEO Alan Valentine, they will likely be unable to conduct full board meetings in this room as their board has grown to a size that is larger than the room can accommodate. Nevertheless, he says they still plan to get quite a bit of use from the room for executive board meetings as well as other board committee meetings.

A Space That Stays With You

I took the time to sit in nearly 30 different seats over three performances and two rehearsals throughout the four days I was in Nashville. As such, I came to the conclusion that there are only a handful of few seats that offer a lopsided sound, and those were all located next to the wall in the rear balconies. Otherwise, the majority of seats offered good to excellent sound along with a wide variety of viewpoints.

Free standing chairs
Free standing chairs

The seats themselves come in two flavors: detached arm chairs and attached theater style seats. The photograph to your left illustrates what the arm chairs look like. I found these to be comfortable with the exception that the chair’s arms are lower than where my forearms naturally rested. As such, I had to slouch in order to use them which in turn hurt my back. In the end, I just folded my arms to remain comfortable. Naturally, your experience will differ as everyone is built differently.

Another aspect about the chairs is that anything which can be moved can also make noise and that was a concern I initially had going into the hall. At first, I assumed that free moving chairs with a wood to wood contact point might lead to a noisy concert experience but I’m pleased to say that I never noticed the sound of wood scraping across wood during any of the performances I attended.

Theater Style Chairs
Theater style seats

The theater style seats, pictured in the photograph to your left, are located on the main floor and the rear balconies. I found that all of these seats I sampled were very comfortable, much more so than the arm chairs. The spacing between rows was enough to allow me to cross my legs without trouble (at 170 lbs. and standing 5’11” tall, I have an amazing average build average build) and the arm rests were at a comfortable height; the padding was just thick enough to be comfortable but not “bouncy”.

The only issue I had with these seats was with those located on the main floor. Actually, the problem had nothing to do with the seats so much as getting in and out of each row. As you can see in the picture from the previous paragraph, there’s a sharp downward angle to the floor at the end of the row. Unfortunately, the wooden floor is built so well that the wooden strips effectively camouflage that dip and I nearly tripped on three separate occasions due to not noticing the drop. After the second event, I started watching other patrons as they exited the rows and I noticed that more than half of them experienced the same problem. For elderly patrons, this might develop into a serious issue. Hopefully, the folks at SSC will implement some appropriate measures to help patrons notice that drop.

A Room With A View

Although the hall offers all of the typical views most concertgoers are accustomed to, the Laura Tuner Concert Hall offers a number of unique visual treats. One of the most extraordinary vantage points is the view from the lodge level seats directly behind each side of the main stage.

Right in the action
As close to onstage as it gets
As close to onstage as it gets

If you’ve ever wondered what it feels and sounds like to be on stage as a musician, then you can’t pay enough for this seat. There’s only one on each side that really captures the spirit of being on stage and the seat on the east side of the hall is better as it sits right behind the last stand of 1st violins, as illustrated in the diagram to your far left. I captured the image to your right while seated in the east side seat during one of the orchestra’s rehearsals. This photograph is without any optical or digital zoom, meaning this is exactly what you see if you’re in this seat. It’s so close that you can actually read the violinist’s music (although please, even if you can read music, they won’t appreciate it if you hum along with their part).

Choral loft seat view
View from the choral loft seats

Another unique vantage point can be found in any one of the choral seats located directly behind the orchestra. These seats will be made available for concerts that do not use chorus. The photograph to your left depicts the vantage point from on of the choral seats behind the low brass section. Another bonus for these seats is they not only provide the listener with a fantastic vantage point but they offer equally impressive sound. Among all the seats I experienced, I would rate the choral seats among the top 5% in the entire hall.

Cabaret seating
Cabaret seating

When the main hall is configured in the cabaret style seating, patrons are offered an even different vantage point. The photograph to your left shows how the hall looks from one of the antiphonal balconies above the choir loft. This is from the post-Gala concert celebration while the orchestra performed a series of Strauss waltzes before a live rock band finished out the rest of the evening.

Stage Goes Up, Stage Goes Down

One final aspect of the concert hall worth noting is the use of multiple hydraulic lifts to adjust the height for different components of the stage. Most concert halls use risers to accomplish this task but setting and striking the stage is a time consuming process. Instead, Nashville designed a hydraulic lift system to automate this task. I took a picture of the work crews performing some final inspections of the system so you can see just how big of a hydraulic lift system this is.

Hydraulic stage lifts
Hydraulic stage lifts

The system is also easy to use; they can even make adjustments while musicians are on stage. In the photograph to your left, you can see the inspector going over the system while members of the trumpet section are waiting for a rehearsal to begin (you can see their legs in the gap between the bottom of the lift and main stage).

In addition to providing a different sound and stage configuration for the players, it also offers an opportunity for listeners to see members of the orchestra that may otherwise be blocked when they are all seated on the same level.

Hard Work Pays Off. Literally.

Toward the end of writing this series of articles, I contacted Nashville Symphony Director of Media Relations, Christy Crytzer, to see if the organization has had any large, unexpected donations since they opened the hall. She said that since the building has opened up the development department has received three new six-figure gifts and four new five-figure gifts. Furthermore, the development staff has not been actively fundraising for the building’s capital campaign so these donors decided to give after experiencing the building and a concert first hand.

And that’s really what it’s all about. Putting together a solid business plan forged from the sincere input of all institutional stakeholders and bringing in the community on a variety of levels to deliver a building that would be the envy of any performing arts organization. In short, success is its own best selling point.

At this stage, that’s exactly what the Nashville Symphony has, a successful new building. Now, the next step in the process is to prove to the business, and to their community, that they can sustain the institution and avoid financial distress while simultaneously supporting the artistic growth they desire.

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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1 thought on “All About The Schermerhorn Symphony Center Part 6”

  1. I just toured SSC last in early January ’06. I appreciate its overall design qualities (with the exception of floorplans), but the execution/workmanship is, to me as a native Chicagoan, “typical Southern carelessness.” Look closely at the paint work, the edges of some marble work and the plasterwork and caulking throughout its interior… very sloppy. I could do a better job myself, and I’m not even a “paint-man”…

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