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Secrets of the Meyerson: The Sound

by Anne Bothwell 5 Sep 2014 8:00 AM

The Secrets of the Meyerson continues with a look at who crafted the concert hall’s acoustics….and how they did it.



Visit to raise and lower the Meyerson’s acoustic canopy. Photo: Dane Walters

Listen to the report that aired on KERA FM


Spectacular acoustics. That was the holy grail for the designers of the Meyerson Symphony Center. KERA’s Art & Seek is taking a behind-the-scenes look at the building’s 25-year history in a series called Secrets of the Meyerson. Today, Jerome Weeks reports on KERA FM that setting out to replicate the sound of great concert halls built a century ago was a serious gamble.

Architect I.M. Pei and acoustician Russell Johnson designed the building, and in an unusual move, they were hired as equals. Not surprisingly, they quarreled. But those disagreements were,  observers say, a classic case of creative tension.

In the end, they got so much right in the looks and sound of the building, says Nicholas Edward, an acoustics expert who worked with Johnson.

Edward and Johnson had some unconventional ideas about acoustic design, like the reverberation chamber that runs around the top of the Meyerson’s auditorium. Sound floats into the reverb chamber, bounces around, and goes back into the hall, giving it the warmth it’s famous for.

And it was Edwards who designed the auditorium’s shape.  The great old halls were built like shoeboxes. The Meyerson is more rounded than that, but it has the same effect. It helps reflect sound from the sides and the back to the listener’s ears.

You can hear the podcast of Art & Seek’s Jerome Weeks and music historian Laurie Shulman discussing the Meyerson’s history with Krys Boyd on THINK. And you can raise and lower the Meyerson’s acoustic canopy, open and close the reverberation chamber doors, and watch the Meyerson “dance” in the Sound chapter at Art&Seek’s interactive website,