To Music Hall, A Love Letter
By Meghan Berneking
Cincinnati icon. Jewel in the Queen City’s crown. National Historic Landmark. Our beloved Music Hall has many designations, but to the resident companies she is, quite simply, “home.”
Music Hall first opened her doors in 1878. Designed by architect Samuel Hannaford (who also designed City Hall, the Cincinnati Observatory and other iconic city landmarks), much of the funds for the building were raised by the citizens of Cincinnati in what is widely considered to have been the nation’s first matching gift drive. That piece of her history, along with the fact that the building essentially served as the region’s convention center as recently as the 1960s, truly makes it Cincinnati’s own, with each resident staking a small piece of ownership.
Music Hall continues to be a community gathering space and entertainment venue, hosting scores of famous artists and several presidents, as well as weddings, dances, meetings and trade shows every year, in addition to hundreds of concerts and operas. In its storied history, performers who have graced its stages include Sergei Rachmaninoff, Aaron Copland, Leonard Bernstein, Duke Ellington, Miles Davis, Bruce Springsteen, Elton John, Frank Sinatra, Yo-Yo Ma, Lang Lang, BB King and countless others.
CSO and Pops musicians enjoy showing off their professional home. “I occasionally steal the opportunity to take an audience member or two out to my chair on stage to see things from a performer’s perspective,” said piccolo player Joan Voorhees. “Every time, their jaws drop in awe of the beauty, splendor and old world charm of the place. It is such a joy to share that with someone for the first time!”
“I love being able to show Music Hall to new-comers for the first time, and then to tell them that this is my ‘office!’” said Principal Timpanist Patrick Schleker. “Music Hall is a jewel for the city of Cincinnati; the planned improvements will make it an even better place to play, and a better venue for generations of Cincinnatians to come.”
Music Hall has also been an anchor for the surrounding Over-the-Rhine neighborhood for generations. While it has seen ups and downs through the decades, the recent revitalization of the area has in many ways depended on Music Hall’s continued bustle of activity. For instance, in a 2013 article discussing the enormous success of LUMENOCITY, Johnny Nevin wrote for The Huffington Post:
The [CSO]’s home, the impressive Music Hall, is located in the Over-the-Rhine neighborhood whose name still recalls that heritage. For more than a century, the orchestra has welcomed most of the world’s great conductors, and some of the greatest have served as its Music Director. It was the first orchestra to be broadcast to a national radio audience, and its recordings, which the Orchestra began making when it was only the third orchestra ever to do so, have sold millions of copies; but all of it put together would still never be enough to bring as many people together as the LUMENOCITY concerts did last summer.…To begin with, there has to be some place for all of them to go to, some place where people from all over the area can feel welcome, feel safe, and believe that they can have a great evening.
The article goes on to quote former Cincinnati Police Captain Gary Lee who credited the turning around of the neighborhood to the relationships between the people and entities of Over-the-Rhine, including Music Hall’s resident organizations.
The legacy of Music Hall is also engraved in the hearts of the hundreds of thousands of individuals who have come through its doors year after year.
Many CSO and Pops patrons, for example, cite Young People’s Concerts at Music Hall as their very first musical memory. Dozens of couples say “I do” in the building every year. Boisterous dances and receptions in the Ballroom bring friends and family to the heart of the city. CSO and Pops musicians have also reflected on what the hall has meant to them. “Music Hall is so much more than a concert hall; it is a home,” said Principal Oboist Dwight Parry. “Home to our musicians, to our staff and to this community of seasoned arts lovers and curious kids of all ages. We are a family and I’m proud of us for coming together to save Music Hall so that we may all call it home for many generations to come.”
Some musicians recall their first experiences at their professional home. “When I first stepped onto the Music Hall stage as concertmaster in 1998, I was incredibly honored, humbled and excited that I had the opportunity to perform in this amazing space every week,” said Concertmaster Timothy Lees. “To see that come full circle as plans to adapt and improve that space for performers and audiences of the future come to fruition is very personally and professionally gratifying. It speaks volumes about the Cincinnati arts community that individuals and organizations can come together to preserve such a beloved icon for our children, grandchildren and beyond.”
“The first time I saw the inside of Music Hall was at my audition. I fell in love instantly. The beauty and warmth of the hall made me a better player,” said violist Joanne Wojtowicz.
As Music Hall undergoes a long-awaited facelift in the coming months, its resident companies will continue the legacy of Cincinnati music-making at the Taft Theatre (CSO, Pops and May Festival) and the Aronoff Center for the Arts (Opera and Ballet). While these seasons will each have their own thrilling highlights, the return to a revitalized Music Hall in the fall of 2017 will be a truly historic moment for these organizations, as well as the city. While the hall will retain its historic character and elegance, its enhanced features will make it accessible and ready for generations to come, who will surely gaze upon Music Hall’s grand façade with the same awe and respect we do today.
Learn more about the future of Music Hall at cincinnatisymphony.org/musichall.