Digging Around In Nashville’s Basement

Back in September when the Schermerhorn Symphony Center opened to the public, the only part of the basement level that was easily accessible was the kitchen. The rest of the space was consumed with ad hoc storage, not yet finished, and generally inaccessible. Skip ahead four months to and some of the space is still being used as ad hoc storage but at least it is all accessible…

Now You See It, Now You Don’t

Some of the more intriguing spaces in the basement besides the full commercial kitchen are the immense amount of space required to store the concert hall floor chair wagons when they configure the hall for cabaret seating. As such, it is likely not very surprising to learn that they need the exact same amount of room to store the chair wagons as when they are out on the main floor of the concert hall. The floor plan to your left illustrates exactly where the chair wagon storage is located (click to enlarge).

The photo to your left (click to enlarge) shows a portion of the vast amount of space occupied by the Chair Wagon Storage, which is located directly below the main concert hall floor. The process is entirely automated and very simple and straightforward, although the building’s architect, David Schwarz, initially thought Nashville Symphony President & CEO, Alan Valentine, was more than a little ambitious when he presented the idea during the initial design stage.

The mechanized platform, shown in the photograph to your far left (click to enlarge) responsible for moving the chair wagons on and off the main floor serves multiple purposes; for example, it can serve as a stage extension. Nashville Symphony Director of Operations, Tim Lynch, said that although they haven’t needed the extension yet, they plan on using it. In fact, in order to facilitate as little manpower as necessary, they mechanized lift is even fitted with the same architectural facade (pictured to your near left, click to enlarge) that you find on the front of the main stage.

Pick A Piano, Any Piano

Located adjacent to the chair wagon storage, are the keyboard storage and voicing rooms. At the time I poked my head in, the three grand pianos, pictured to your far left (click to enlarge) were at the ready. In addition to those instruments they had several other smaller and specialty instruments around the room. Although the rooms are labeled as dedicated piano storage and voicing space on the floor plans, it was clear that some of the space was doubling as ad hoc storage as everything from Christmas wreaths to the SSC’s early scale model were stored away on large pallet shelving units.

Just outside the piano storage center, a notch in the hallway was serving as even more ad hoc storage to a large set of neatly stacked collapsible dining tables, which are pictured to your left (click to enlarge). Tim Lynch said that they are making some significant headway in working out exactly what needs to go where based on frequency of use, but it would take a few more months of operations to really get a good rhythm. Tim took a moment to point out one of the larger rooms currently being used for storage saying that they would like to set up that space as a dedicated shop capable of carrying out regular and specialty repairs and maintenance, all of which would allow the building to become even more self sufficient.

Overall, I walked away from the basement tour with the sense that the organization seemed to be making some positive headway toward establishing a pattern of maximum efficiency. Throughout the rest of the building, there weren’t many changes besides the numerous “homey” touches such as hanging photographs and art on the walls. Along those lines, it was pleasing to see that the organization is dedicating some focused effort on preserving and promoting their heritage. In the box office, the walls were adorned with jumbo size photos from the ticket tables and box office facilities dating back to the time of pearls and heels.

Learn From The Locals

After the concert, the symphony and orchestra committee joined together to throw a festive reception for their Cleveland guests. The event was catered by the SSC’s kitchen and based on my experiences with their dessert fare from last September; I was looking forward to sampling that evening’s offerings. Unfortunately, conversation and meeting new acquaintances kept me from the desserts for a good half hour and by the time I reached one of the serving tables, much of the food was gone.

Nevertheless, there were a handful of some white and dark chocolate truffles remaining (both variety were delicious) and plenty of white cake. The copious amounts of cake made me think twice but curiosity got the better of me and I ended up trying a slice. Unfortunately, it didn’t measure up to the truffles and my wife pointed out that she knew to avoid the cake because next to none of the musicians or managers from Nashville bothered having any and instead opted for the truffles and other confectionery treats.

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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