Finding the Sound by Ted Nelson, CSO Cellist

While I was in graduate school, there was a violinist in the local orchestra (one of the “big five”) who was famous among the students. He had chosen as his instrument a beautiful Stradivarius, and because the Strad is a very expensive violin his mode of transportation was a 15-year-old Honda Civic. Rather than settle for a mediocre instrument, he played the Strad and economized in other areas of his life.

Musicians are all about sound. I searched for four years to find the cello I play now, and I happily would have continued the search for years more if necessary. We are intimate with our instruments in so many ways; we practice and perform on them for hours every week; we know every ounce of weight, every scratch and repair; and we know when the weather is changing based on how easily we can tune.

The room in which we perform affects us and our instruments intimately, too. More than just providing a resonating chamber for the sound we make, the space around us affects how our instruments respond and speak. My cello sounds and plays differently if my endpin is resting on a hardwood floor or soft wood or carpet or tile. The surface on which a timpani drum sits changes how the instrument resonates. The wall behind our horn section changes the feedback a horn player receives through the bell and mouthpiece. And the timing of reflections off the walls surrounding us changes not just how we hear and respond to the rest of the Orchestra, but how our instruments vibrate and how we hear ourselves.

So when the musicians of the CSO were approached to provide input on the acoustical renovation of Music Hall, we jumped at the chance to represent the Orchestra. We were closely involved in the selection of the acoustical firm designing the renovation, and we have met with them regularly. We played in various configurations on the Springer Auditorium stage as the acousticians listened and even reconfigured the shell and stage while we played to test theories and investigate potential changes to the Hall.

It is important for the musicians of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra to be involved in the acoustical renovation because, even though we each play our own instruments, when we all play together the Orchestra has an instrument, too—Music Hall. We are thrilled to be so engaged in this process and can’t wait for the grand re-opening of Music Hall, when we can all experience with greater impact and power the sound and music that we love to make for you.

Ted Nelson currently holds the Kenneth & Norita Aplin and Stanley Ragle Chair for cello.