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Facts About Nashville's Schermerhorn Symphony Center

Named in honor of the late Maestro Kenneth Schermerhorn, who led the Grammy Award-winning Nashville Symphony for 22 years,

The Schermerhorn Symphony Center Nashville, Tennessee

The Schermerhorn Symphony Center Nashville, Tennessee

The First Time Ever I Heard Your Sound

Nashville, Tennessee, is not just about country music, although the best is undoubtedly here. You'll find all genres of music in this town, including some of the best jazz, pop, world, and magnificent classical music.

Named in honor of the late Maestro Kenneth Schermerhorn, who led the Grammy Award-winning Nashville Symphony for 22 years, Schermerhorn Symphony Center is the home of the Nashville Symphony.

Located in downtown Nashville's SoBro neighborhood, it sits across from the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum.

I remember the first time I heard the magical sounds streaming from this symphony orchestra. Seated comfortably on the second balcony, I could feel the musical colors passing through my very presence. The sounds radiating from the orchestra were magnetizing. I'd take up residence in this magnificent concert hall if it were possible.

The music radiating from every angle of the building filled me with chills. It seemed that my complete array of emotions had found their home. I was being kissed by a rainbow, nurtured with every note. "It doesn't get any better than this," I whispered to myself.

The Grammy Award-Winning Nashville Symphony—A beautiful evening at the Nashville Symphony. (February 2017)

The Grammy Award-Winning Nashville Symphony—A beautiful evening at the Nashville Symphony. (February 2017)

How Our Ears Catch Musical Sounds

As humans, we can zero in on sounds coming from nearly every direction. That little tab of flesh that juts out at the opening of the ear canal (the tragus) catches sound and guides it toward the eardrum.

We localize musical tones less well than other sounds. But as good as we humans are at localizing sounds, owls are better. They are nature's champion localizers.

So what does this have to do with a concert hall? Everything. In a concert hall, reverberations reach your ears from all directions. You localize each of these. The sounds that arrive directly from the stage are usually the loudest, so you tend to experience music coming from that spot.

But infinite echoes, some too subtle to distinguish and some too pronounced, turn what would be a clash of sound into an embrace.

In this environment, music surrounds us as it transforms us.

Colors of music captivate our emotions—without a variety of color in music, it would be like a painting using only one color.

Colors of music captivate our emotions—without a variety of color in music, it would be like a painting using only one color.

How To Develop Active Listening

To help you enjoy your musical experience, begin to take a more active role in listening. This may take some practice, but it will be well worth it. Listed below are suggestions for active listening:

  • Listen for patterns of tension and release. This is the simplest and most enjoyable way to develop and deepen your appreciation for music—especially the classical form.
  • Be aware of techniques such as rhythmic variation
  • Listen for key changes within the music.
  • Concentrate on the path of motion, stillness, melodic highs, and lows, leading to the raising of musical expectations and fulfillment.
  • Think about music in terms of fire, water, air, and earth. Nature will take you on a beautiful journey. I think of "earth" with Beethoven or Brahms, "fire" by Stravinsky, "water" from Debussy and Ravel, and Mozart and Bach are the supreme expression of "air".
Schirmerhorn Symphony Center—a lovely evening in Nashville waiting for the symphony to begin.

Schirmerhorn Symphony Center—a lovely evening in Nashville waiting for the symphony to begin.

Why Construct a Concert Hall?

The reason for a concert hall is all about sound and how quickly it loses intensity as it fans outward in all directions. By the time an orchestra's sound travels from stage to front row, its energy spreads to an area of 300 square yards or so; by the back row of a large hall, it would stretch to 30,000 square yards if there were no walls to contain the sound.

The concert hall is a musical instrument, which may shock you. Though it makes no sound of its own, it becomes an extension by reverberating sounds and absorbing frequencies. Therefore, the acoustics of a hall is crucial to conducting sound.

One of the most innovative features of the Schermerhorn Symphony Center is a convertible seating system designed to give the hall unique versatility. The orchestra level seating can be transformed from rows of theater-style seating to a 5,700-square-foot hardwood ballroom floor, typically used for cabaret-style events such as pops and jazz concerts.

And get this! A unique motorized system lowers rows of seats into a special storage space below the surface of the ballroom floor. This convertible system gives the concert hall great flexibility for numerous types of events throughout the year.

The video below shows more.

A Pioneer of Acoustics

One of the earliest pioneers in the field of acoustics was Harvard University’s, Wallace Sabine. His research and studies of reverberation and attenuation continue to influence acousticians to this day.

The Three Kinds of Sound in a Concert Hall

Acousticians distinguish between three kinds of sound in a concert hall:

  1. Direct sound which comes straight to you from the stage.
  2. Early sound comes from the first reflections to reach your ear, generally from the ceiling or sidewalls.
  3. Reverberation gradually builds and decays as sound waves ricochet off every surface.

The indirect energy sound and early sound together should exceed reverberated sound—the less reverberation a room offers, the more definition it has. However, too much definition produces a dry sound, so a balance is sought. The dilemma for the acoustician is that a room is ideal for one kind of music but can be awful for another.

Who Was Schermerhorn?

I wanted to know who this man was and why the Nashville Symphony Center bears his name. I found the following facts about this brilliant conductor:

  • Kenneth Schermerhorn was musical director and conductor of the Nashville Symphony and held this prestigious position from 1983 until his death on April 18, 2005.
  • The name Schermerhorn is Dutch. It comes from an area in northern Holland known as the Schermermeer.
  • While in school, he studied three instruments: clarinet, violin, and trumpet.
  • At age 17, he was accepted into the New England Conservatory of Music and graduated in 1950 with honors.
  • He went on to play the trumpet with the Boston Symphony Orchestra, the Kansas City Philharmonic, and other orchestras.
  • The U.S. Army drafted Schermerhorn, and in 1953 he became a conductor for the U.S. Seventh Army Symphony Orchestra and received the Harry Cohen International Music Award for young conductors. He was noticed for his ability and talent for conducting.
  • He studied and played under the great conductor Leonard Bernstein at Tanglewood.
  • Later in his life, he worked again with Bernstein as assistant conductor of the New York Symphony.
  • He was music director of the American Ballet and conducted several ballets with Baryshnikov.
  • The television production of The Nutcracker, starring Baryshnikov, was also conducted by Schermerhorn.
  • Between 1984 and 1988, he was the director of the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra, helping to improve its quality.
  • On April 18, 2005, Schermerhorn died at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tennessee.

What Does It Take to Be a Musical Conductor?

What does it take to conduct a large group of musicians all playing different instruments? It goes way beyond standing on a raised podium and waving a baton in the air. It's much more involved than it may appear. Take a look at some of the following requirements expected from the musical conductor:

  • Interpret the music as the composer created it, which means the conductor must have a thorough knowledge of both the composer and his work.
  • Communicate with musicians through hand gestures or a baton. He sets the tempo and shapes the music.
  • Provide rehearsals and instruction to all orchestra musicians.
  • Select the works to be performed.
  • Act as publicity manager.
  • Make decisions and promotes the arts.
  • Convey interpretation to the musical score bringing life to the music.

Much more can be said involving the conductor and the tireless hours he works.

Arch lighting in the Schirmerhorn Symphony Center

Arch lighting in the Schirmerhorn Symphony Center

Historical Facts of Interest

  • Groundbreaking for the Symphony Center took place on December 3, 2003.
  • The grand opening was September 9, 2006.
  • Project cost: 123.5 million.
  • Dimensions: 197,000 square feet.
  • The classic façade features 26,000 pieces of Indiana limestone, South Dakota granite and marble, 302 windows, and 36,500 square feet of copper roofing.
  • A varied ceiling height, rising from 51 feet over the stage to 61 feet over the orchestra floor, enhances sound clarity for performers and the audience.
  • The hall features 1,844 seats distributed over three levels.
  • A special choral loft sits behind the stage for 132 chorus members.
  • The performance platform accommodates 115 musicians.
  • The hall also features a custom-built concert organ comprised of 47 voices, 64 ranks, and 3,568 pipes with three 32-foot stops.
The custom-built concert organ. The pipes behind the stage are those that are visable. There are others throughout the hall.

The custom-built concert organ. The pipes behind the stage are those that are visable. There are others throughout the hall.

The Interior Shape of an Auditorium Influences Acoustics

Acoustically speaking, the interior shape of an auditorium plays a key role, and designers have experimented with almost everything imaginable, including fan-shaped, reverse fan, shoebox, and circular rooms.

Sounds leap from a concert hall stand and zig-zag around as if in a giant three-dimensional pinball machine.

Schirmerhorn Symphony Center Location

History of Nashville Symphony Music Directors

Giancarlo Guerrero2009Present

Leonard Slatkin



Kenneth Schermerhorn



Michael Charry



Thor Johnson



Willis Page



Willis Page



William Strickland



Nashville Flood Destroys Symphony Instruments

On May 1 and 2, 2010, areas of Tennessee were hit hard with torrential rains. My son and I were living in Nashville, where the Cumberland River crested at 51.86 feet. I still remember this downpour and the extensive damage that occurred.

The flooding took its toll, with twenty-one deaths recorded in Tennessee. Of the ten dead in Davidson County, "four victims were found in their homes, two were in cars, and four were outdoors."

Floods killed six people in northern Mississippi, and four deaths were reported in Kentucky. In Nashville, the floods entered the Schermerhorn Symphony Center basement destroying and damaging a massive inventory of instruments. Among these were two Steinway concert grand pianos and one organ valued at 2.5 million.

My son Randy Hunt is a Luthier (builds and repairs double bass instruments). He spent long hours working on the restoration of the orchestra's double basses.

On June 22, 2010, a benefit concert called "Nashville Rising" was held at Bridgestone Arena to raise money for Middle Tennessee flood relief efforts. The concert raised over $2.2 million for flood relief efforts.

“Beethoven tells you what it's like to be Beethoven and Mozart tells you what it's like to be human. Bach tells you what it's like to be the universe.”

— Douglas Adams

Music brings us to ecstasy. Music brings us peace. Where words fail, music speaks.

— Hans Christian Andersen


This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2017 Audrey Hunt


Audrey Hunt (author) from Pahrump NV on August 19, 2017:


Thank you for taking time to read my hub. Yes, this was indeed a beautiful experience. Music heals and inspires. I'm so grateful for that.

Audrey Hunt (author) from Pahrump NV on July 11, 2017:

Hi Sha

Attending the Nashville Symphony is such a special occasion for me. I go as often as I can but it's never often enough. How great it would be if one day you and I could go together. Thanks my friend.

Shauna L Bowling from Central Florida on July 10, 2017:

What an amazing place, Audrey! The way it's laid out and with only 1,800+ seats, it seems to be a very intimate setting. I'm sure you were in your glory when you attended.

Audrey Hunt (author) from Pahrump NV on July 05, 2017:


I enjoy most kinds of music but the combined sounds of a symphony orchestra thrills me through my entire being. IT is Gods music...universal love spiritually combined.

THank you my friend for your kindness. MAy music play peace within your soul.

Audrey Hunt (author) from Pahrump NV on July 02, 2017:


Gaining confidence with your singing voice is path to self expression...healthy expression. I'm thrilled that you've shared this. If you do come to Nashville you must meet with me. What a slice of joy that would be. Thank you.

Paula on June 30, 2017:

Oh heck, Audrey....I'd be as happy as a kitten with a ball of yarn, just sitting in the shade with you, sharing coffee & cookies, gabbing & laughing the day away! You're so interesting, sweet and multi-talented, I wouldn't even need a live orchestra! (although music is always a wonderful addition to any visit! I would love to just listen to you sing!!

As a child I dreamed I would be a Broadway Star! I would sing and dance (ballet) and entertain the world,. Then I realized I sound like a frog and I'm clumsy as an ox!....But since I could laugh at myself and be happy anyway....I decided I would make others laugh too!

We each have our special gifts to share and shame on us if we don't spread the joy!!......True talent is finding the beauty in everything & everyone we see.....sharing our love and spreading happiness......once we have that figured out, the rest just happens!!........Have a safe 4th! Hugs, Paula.

Audrey Hunt (author) from Pahrump NV on June 30, 2017:

Dear Paula,

Your appreciation for the symphony is absolutely marvelous. I love it! Buffalo Symphony is amazing from what I hear. I'd love to be attending a concert with you dear friend. Thank you for your means everything to me. I wish you all good things.


DDE on June 30, 2017:

The photos are stunning! A unique hub and you shared from the heart. Facts about a place I had not been to and would like to one day.

Audrey Hunt (author) from Pahrump NV on June 27, 2017:

Dear Dora

Yes, the organ pipes are quite amazing. I heard these pipes come to life at one time attending the Nashville symphony. The organist was a young man and absolutely spectacular! Thank you for your visit.


You must come to visit Nashville and allow me to treat you to a night of musical wonder. I would love to share a night at the symphony with one of my favorite hub friends.

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on June 27, 2017:

This was a fabulous article Audrey. I have never been to Nashville but if ever traveling that way would love to take in a symphony in that beautiful building. The video showing the transformation inside of that hall was fascinating.

We have the Houston Symphony Orchestra here and for years we had regular season tickets.

Your description of music in an orchestra hall as being kissed by a rainbow and being nurtured by every note was beautiful!

Audrey Hunt (author) from Pahrump NV on June 25, 2017:

Hi Ann

What a great analogy! I've never thought of he properties of sound in this way. So glad you've shared this. Thank you!

Hello Martie

How are you my friend? Love your comments and wish you and could attend the symphony together. Wow. I'd really be in heaven!

Audrey Hunt (author) from Pahrump NV on June 24, 2017:

Hi Linda

I do so enjoy introducing interesting facts about music and those things associated with music to others. So much to learn and know. I also think we develop a bigger appreciation for musical sounds as we seek to broaden our scope. Thank you so much!

Audrey Hunt (author) from Pahrump NV on June 24, 2017:

Dear Mar

Your mother and you must have had an unforgettable time here in Nashville. I feel I know her through your book and what a marvelous woman and influence she was on you. Thank you for your appreciation of Randy's hard work at restoring some of the instruments destroyed at the time of the flood.

Music is have a beautiful appreciation for this form of art. But are a beautiful, compassionate person.

Sending sparkles of love and joy,


Audrey Hunt (author) from Pahrump NV on June 24, 2017:

HI Mary. So nice to know you like the section on training ourselves to listen to music. I enjoyed writing about this magnificent symphony center including the elements about sound. Thanks for your comments.

manatita44 from london on June 24, 2017:

Lovely ending quotes. I like them. Schermerhorn seemed an interesting man. Quite brilliant, in fact and he seemed to have conducted for some time. We had a Haridas Olivier Grieff, I believe, in our Centre for some years until just before he passed.

I have been to a few symphonies and indeed we hold one at the end of every Sri Chinmoy Celebrations in NY twice a Year. Our travelling Orchestra, Songs of The Soul ensemble, are all talented musicians. Have a great Saturday.

Audrey Hunt (author) from Pahrump NV on June 22, 2017:


I really am so very grateful for my love of music, instilled by my mother, and for the privilege of being both a teacher and entertainer. Thank you Mike for your kind and loyal support.

Patricia Scott from North Central Florida on June 21, 2017:

It seems that music finds a way to lift our spirits like almost nothing else can. Thank you for taking us on this journey....I have not been there but would love to some day. Music is a HUGE part of my takes me to another place and I have learned to use the voice for singing that I thought was not so great....I hope that doesn't sound immodest...I certainly don't mean it that way....I have just learned to be unafraid to express my joy through song. Thank you for sharing your musical knowledge with us. Angels are on the way to you this morning ps

Genna East from Massachusetts, USA on June 10, 2017:

There is so much to like about this beautiful article: Interesting background info on conductor, Kenneth Schermerhorn, how the concert hall is actually a musical instrument, and more. I especially loved how the colors of music can captivate our emotions. "Without a variety of color in music it would be like a painting using only one color. So well done, Audrey. :-)

Suzie from Carson City on June 05, 2017:

You always give us a fabulous article...fascinating, educational & always musical! I've been fortunate to attend many symphony performances, all of them breathtaking. Right here we have the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra.

My favorite evening of music was several years ago, I attended a spectacular Ballet accompanied by the Balalikan Orchestra.....I still think about it.

Thanks as always, beautiful lady! Peace, Paula

Ruby Jean Richert from Southern Illinois on June 05, 2017:

Audrey, your love of music shines in this beautiful piece of historic inspiration. I have never been to a live symphony, I would love to attend. You are certainly blessed to live in Nashville where country and the opera are celebrated. Thank you for sharing....

Dora Weithers from The Caribbean on June 05, 2017:

Everything about the Symphony Center is superb, but those organ pipes are enthralling even without hearing them. You did a wonderful job describing moods and sounds. Great read!

Audrey Hunt (author) from Pahrump NV on June 04, 2017:

Hi Bill. Thanks for your approval on my hub. Your feedback is important to me. I haven't watched "The Voice" for sometime. I once followed this show regularly. I rarely take time out to watch television anymore. I'm writing a book. :)



Martie Coetser from South Africa on June 04, 2017:

What a beautiful building! Absolutely nothing can beat the awesomeness of sitting in a concert hall and listening to the sound of a live symphony or symphonic orchestra.

Excellent hub, Audrey!

Ann Carr from SW England on June 04, 2017:

This gives us superb detail of how we listen and interpret music, as well as background information about the building, the orchestra, and much, much more.

It reminded me of how we listen to the music of language; we have to be attuned to pitch, intonation and rhythm. If we listen carefully to all of that we can reproduce a foreign language to varying degrees, depending on our aptitude.

Great piece, Audrey!


Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on June 03, 2017:

There are lots of interesting and educational facts in this article, Audrey. Thank you for sharing them!

Maria Jordan from Jeffersonville PA on June 03, 2017:

Dear Audrey,

Mom and I celebrated her 75th birthday in Nashville in 2002.

I would have loved to have attended the Schermerhorn Symphony Center and will need to add to my bucket list.

How inspiring to know that Randy worked so tirelessly on the restoration of the orchestra's double basses after the 2010 Nashville floods.

Thanks for this informative and inspirational piece. Love, Maria

Audrey Hunt (author) from Pahrump NV on June 02, 2017:

Thanks Flourish. So glad you could confirm my description and feelings for this incredible orchestra and the hall itself. Regardless of where one sits there is a clear view of the stage and the acoustics are first class.

Enjoy your day.

Mary Wickison from USA on June 02, 2017:

I have only been to Nashville once and sadly that was before this was built.

I would love to visit again and experience it first hand. There is nothing like live music to really appreciate a piece.

I had no idea about the different types of sound taken into account in the construction. I love your suggestions for training oneself for listening.

mckbirdbks from Emerald Wells, Just off the crossroads,Texas on June 02, 2017:

Hello Audrey - It must be wonderful to be immersed in the world of music. It has carried you on clouds.

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on June 02, 2017:

What a cool article, so full of history and points of interest...great photos...this article has it all, and it was written by a pro in the field of music.

Hey, do you watch "The Voice?" Just curious what you thought of Lauren Duski from this last season. I personally thought she should have won it all.



FlourishAnyway from USA on June 02, 2017:

I've had the pleasure of attending an event here and it is just as lovely as you describe. What an articulate description and rich articl.le.