Monday, October 6, 2003

Historical exhibit: Cues concerts

Few buildings in Cincinnati have hosted as much local history as Music Hall, yet it took 125 years for some of that beloved hall's own history to be put on display there. This weekend, in this 125th anniversary year of the grand opening and Ohio's Bicentennial year, an inaugural selection from Music Hall's archives will go on exhibit just in time for weekend Bicentennial concerts by Erich Kunzel and the Cincinnati Pops Orchestra.

Among the historic photographs and exhibit documents from Music Hall's earliest days under construction is a recent discovery - a brief, hand-written note dated Jan. 27, 1876 from Ohio state Sen. Joshua H. Bates to an official of the newly formed Cincinnati Music Hall Association:

"The House has just passed the Springer Hall bill," Bates wrote.

Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra violist Robert Howes found the note in some cardboard boxes at the Society for the Preservation of Music Hall's offices. Howes, who has made an avocation of researching the history of concert halls, believes Music Hall's great benefactor Reuben Springer and other contributors must have discovered in the course of trying to incorporate that Ohio law had not provided for a non-profit corporation devoted to music. Thus the need to pass a "Springer Hall bill," which not only put all Ohio concert halls that followed on a sound legal basis but also authorized incorporating symphony orchestras and other arts groups throughout the state. It was surely one of the earliest statutes of its kind in the United States.

The Springer Hall bill amended Ohio's law to include corporations for such additional purposes as "the preservation and exhibition of works of art" and "encouraging and cultivating a taste for music."

The amendment was enacted April 11, 1876, and two years later, in May 1878, Music Hall opened with a dazzling May Festival. As exhibit documents show, Music Hall founders "fast-tracked" construction.

The Society for the Preservation of Music Hall is partnering with Cincinnati Historical Society at the Museum Center to prepare the Music Hall exhibits and keep them fresh and changing every few months. Howes has agreed to serve as archivist documenting the selections. The exhibit space will be located on the southwest corner of the second-floor balcony overlooking the foyer.

The inaugural exhibit, starting this weekend, also includes records of that construction-era dilemma - Music Hall's bones. The concert hall was built on the site of Cincinnati's common burial grounds. Construction unearthed human remains, and heated squabbles ensued with the city and Health Department before the bones were finally and properly hauled away and construction could proceed. Some things never change.

The memorabilia are a fascinating addition to Music Hall's attractions, and a timely roll-out for the Bicentennial.

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