Friday, February 20, 2009

Prelude to "Symphonic Stetsons"

In an earlier post (12 February) I promised reports on two musical events which I mentioned I'd shortly be attending. One was the Grand Ole Opry and the other Riders in the Sky with the Nashville Symphony. My Opry visit is duly reported in my posting of 15 Feb. But before I take you to the other, let me share the magnificent prelude that primed me for this event of "Symphonic Stetsons"!

Going to the Opry would've been sufficient primer, since the Riders are cast members of the world's oldest continuously-broadcast live radio show. Ignoring this factor, on Wednesday afternoon I went on the free tour of the venue, Schermerhorn Symphony Center. Keep in mind, dear reader, that in the mid-nineties I'd been a tour guide for the Grand Ole Opry House. I love that building, respect its heritage and was impressed with its features (such as being the world's largest broadcast studio). But even the Opry House pales in comparison with Schermerhorn!

The orchestra hall, built just a few years ago in this very Century, was named after the late Conductor of the Nashville Symphony, Kenneth Schermerhorn, who alas! passed away suddenly just before it opened for performances. I remember my first look at the building, back in June of last year. I was quite impressed with its classical architectural details, such as the frieze in the gable upheld by columns over the main entrance, and the monumental stairway up to that entrance. I'd remarked back then to my wife Ellen that I didn't remember such a beautiful classical building there, just a block from the new home of the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum and two blocks from the Sommet Center (Nashville's largest roofed arena). When she replied that it was a symphony hall and brand new I was even more impressed -- especially that it looked like it'd "been there forever"!

Now that I was touring the Schermerhorn Symphony Center interior, I was impressed all over again. There's lots of marble, and the tour guide told us it was from four countries. Plenty of rich woodwork is to be seen, too: some Tennessee hickory but much more dark russet wood from Brazil or Africa. Dominant colors are white (including the columns, the style of which is based on ancient Egyptian and is called "Schermerhorn column style"), dark brown and russet (the woodwork), silver (handrails and other metal fixtures) and green.

Every performance venue has a gathering room backstage for the performers which is called the "green room". Not all are really painted or decorated in that color (such as the one backstage in the Grand Ole Opry House). But THIS green room is really green - VERY green!

Next to that room is Allen Walter Watson Sr. Founders Hall, a reception room of all wood, the dark wood from Africa that is found in various places elsewhere in the building. The "Schermerhorn style" columns and pilasters are here, but also in that rich-looking wood. I delighted in a couple of tables in the hall, the top surfaces of which displayed amazing intricate parquetry, such as a couple of tables I remembered from the Steves Homestead back in San Antonio.

The piéce de résistance of the Schermerhorn Center is the main performance hall itself. When we walked in it was set up cabaret-style for the upcoming pops concert. That is, much of it was a level floor (well below the stage) filled with tables and chairs. Three of the four walls of this "shoebox-design" hall have tri-level seating, those on the sides being box seats. The fourth side, behind the stage, has a grand pipe organ and seating that will seat the concert choir if they're with the orchestra, but otherwise is additional seating offering a direct view down onto the orchestra. In the highest level of the hall, while we were in there, they were drawing up cloth panels that will deaden the louder sound of the pops and jazz concerts (they're kept down for classical music performances, which are not amplified in any way).

But our tour guide blew me away when he told us how for the classical concerts all that we saw below us in this, the Laura Turner Concert Hall, disappears and in its place are row after row of theatre seats, going down from the back of the hall to below the stage lip. An intricate hydraulic system takes these rows of theatre seats and hides them! I'll definitely have to return some time when the hall is set up for a classical performance to see that arrangement!

Art details in the architecture of this structure tend to express either items of Tennessee (e.g. the State Flower, the iris, is seen everywhere) or items of musical notation (e.g. shelves held up by treble-clef brackets). To boot, there are sculptures and statuary outside the building. These include a white larger-than-life flautist in pure white stone and a "Recording Angel" in a golden metal. I was very impressed with this building, and when I left the tour I could hardly wait 'til the next evening's performance! (Too bad I forgot to bring the ticket with me, so that I could have located my seat.)

At choir practice at Eastwood Christian Church (Disciples) that evening, Pastor Jay Hartley invited me on behalf of his wife Dawn, who had supplied me with the ticket, to have supper with the family and then go with her to the concert. Dawn plays bassoon in the orchestra. Dear reader, you will know (if you've read much of either of my two blogs) that I never turn down a dinner invitation! I was there "with bells on"!

The Hartleys live in the ECC parsonage, next door to the church. This handy arrangement used to be typical of churches in this country, but isn't typical any more. So the Hartleys have a good deal here at ECC, particularly since the parsonage appears to be a fine, well-kept home.

When I walked in younger son John was practicing violin. He was told to move the practice out of the living room. When I protested that I'd enjoy listening if he stayed, I was assured that he'd still be audible. Which turned out to be true. And at various times John, who was wearing his Cub Scout shirt, bro't the violin out again and performed for me. (Dawn later told me her son likes to perform for folks.)

Other Hartley children are daughter Jocelyn and "Chief" Joseph. He's called that because he's the oldest. At once I knew the nickname would help me keep the two boys' names separate, since I went to college (undergrad) in the Palouse Country, part of the homeland of the historic Chief Joseph's tribe. The "young'uns" were rather active, but that didn't bother me a bit; it awoke fond memories of when the two Graham children were that age!

Main course for this supper was meatloaf, one of my favorite dishes and one I rarely get to eat. In fact, I told the Hartleys that whenever we Grahams would go to Cracker Barrel for dinner I was always ordering either the meatloaf or liver and onions -- despite knowing that the Barrel had a variety of scrumptious plates. This evening's dessert was a delicious brownie a la mode.

Then Dawn and I left for the concert, where she'd be playing bassoon in the orchestra behind Riders in the Sky, and I'd be in the audience enjoying a rich musical adventure in a rich architectural setting!

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