Backstage at the concert hall


The Joseph Meyerhoff Symphony Hall when musicians of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra aren’t performing or rehearsing.


During our tour, Christopher Williams, principal percussion and assistant principal timpani, took a moment to show us his instruments.

Sit in the symphony hall as the lights go down. The violinists and cellists take up their bows. Light flashes off the brass of the French horns and the trumpets. The eyes of the musicians are on the conductor, waiting for her to begin.

And then in a profound moment, the silence is filled with music. And it’s magic. I take my position as a member of the audience very seriously — taking in all the music and marveling at the magic.

But recently I had the opportunity to take a look behind the magic: backstage at the Meyerhoff Symphony Hall where the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra performs.


Looks sort of like a doorbell to me. It’s really a tuning bell is tuned to  A 440. Musicians use it to tune their instruments before going on stage.

I stood on stage — even took a turn at the podium imagining the musicians with their eyes on me. Even with an empty stage and empty auditorium it was pretty awesome.

Then with a handful of music lovers, I slipped through the door where musicians prepare and wait for the moment they take the stage.

Did you know?

  • There’s a tuning bell just inside the door to the symphony hall for musicians to tune their instruments to. It plays an A, officially A440.
  • The grand piano has its own elevator to raise the instrument from the lower level to the stage.
  • It takes two people working full time to keep track of all the musical scores.
  • The music librarians hand mark every score for every musician.
  • Even the violinists’ bowing is marked on those scores — it’s no coincidence they all bow up in a beautiful unison.

I’ve been to hear the BSO since my visit backstage. Knowing a little more about what goes on behind the scenes made the magic even greater.

Ⓒ Text and photos Mary K. Tilghman


The music library captivated me. So many scores, including this one for an upcoming  performance of the Michael Giacchino score of “Star Trek.”