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The Sheldon Concert Hall & Art Galleries Marks 100 Years

The Sheldon Concert Hall opened its doors in 1912 under the name "Sheldon Memorial." photo by Ursula Ruhl (click for larger version)
September 26, 2012
"Acoustics Found Perfect."

So read a headline in the St. Louis Globe-Democrat the day after The Sheldon debuted its first ever musical event.

That was in 1912. This year marks the 100th anniversary of the building, which was built by noted architect Louis C. Spiering and christened the Sheldon Memorial. Spiering, who is most well known locally for his work on the 1904 World's Fair, was a faculty member with the school of architecture at Washington University at the time.

Commissioned by the Ethical Society of St. Louis, which occupied the space until 1964, the building and a relatively new addition are now home to the Sheldon Concert Hall and Art Galleries.

Paul Reuter, executive director of The Sheldon, stands in the concert hall before “Theme and Variation,” art glass windows designed by Rodney Winfield. photo by Diana Linsley (click for larger version)
The Sheldon is located at 3648 Washington Blvd. in the Grand Center Arts District, surrounded by gems such as the Fox Theatre, Powell Symphony Hall and the Pulitzer Foundation for the Arts. It pre-dates most of its neighbors by at least a decade.

"Great music has been a long tradition here. One of the secrets is the intimacy of the hall," said Paul Reuter, executive director of The Sheldon. He noted that the space seats just 712 people.

"For a music lover, The Sheldon is a great, great place to work," he said. "Our whole staff is very proud to be part of this tradition."

Accolades from visiting artists give credence to the "acoustically perfect" reputation The Sheldon has earned. One in particular, from opera great Jessye Norman, stands out for Reuter. The singer called one day from Salzburg, Austria, to proclaim The Sheldon her favorite place to play in the world.

Classical composer and conductor Lukas Foss said the legendary acoustics and rich heritage of The Sheldon are much like Carnegie Hall; and soprano Lesley Garrett likened The Sheldon experience to "performing in the middle of a Stradivarius."

"This hall sings itself," raved country music legend Emmylou Harris. "It doesn't get any better than this!"

Ethical Society Origins

Third Floor Assembly Hall, The Sheldon, c. 1913, photograph by Sid Whiting, collection of The Sheldon Arts Foundation Archives. This space is now used as The Sheldon’s Green Room. (click for larger version)
The Sheldon Memorial building was named for Walter Sheldon, founder of the St. Louis branch of the Ethical Society. Walter Sheldon died in 1907. When the Ethical Society needed to vacate its space in downtown St. Louis, Walter Sheldon's widow Anna gave a monetary gift to the society for the construction of a new home. It opened in October 1912 as the Sheldon Memorial.

After relocating to St. Louis County in 1964, the Ethical Society continued to use the Sheldon Memorial space for concerts and social programs. Two different gospel churches made use of it from the early 1970s until 1984, when music lover Eugene Golden, a lawyer from California, purchased the building and began its restoration.

The non-profit Sheldon Arts Foundation, formed in 1988, purchased The Sheldon in 1991 and continues to support the venue. Improvements include the 1998 addition of the Sheldon Art Galleries space. In 1999, the third floor of the addition became the Louis Spiering Room ballroom.

Five new stained glass windows, designed by Rodney Winfield and installed in 2006 by Emil Frei & Sons, complement several original windows in the concert hall.

"There's something about this space that makes you relax and focus on the important things," said Reuter. "We're pleased to have hosted and often collaborated on many important St. Louis events. There's a tradition of caring here for all of St. Louis that goes back to the Ethical Society days."

In May, the Sheldon Arts Foundation launched a $10.5 million capital campaign. The funds will be used for repairs and improvements over the next 10 years. An endowment fund will also be built to ensure continued music and visual arts programming.

In addition, a special endowment will support the acquisition of the Hartenberger World Music Instrument Collection.

100th Anniversary

Louis Clemens Spiering (1874-1912), architect of The Sheldon, 1904, collection of the Sheldon Arts Foundation Archives, gift of Wilma Guyot. (click for larger version)
There is a full schedule of events planned to celebrate The Sheldon's 100th anniversary, at the concert hall, art galleries and beyond.

"Because we've declared this whole season the 100th anniversary season, the festivities continue now through spring 2013," said Reuter.

There will be pop-up concerts performed by small ensembles throughout the region. The concerts, dubbed "Sheldon Music-To-Go," are funded by PNC Arts Alive.

"These pop-up concerts will be held in places like Citygarden, food courts, public parks, gazebos and farmers' markets on both sides of the river," said Reuter.

Patrons listen to the sounds of The Rileys at a recent concert at The Sheldon. The space has drawn praise from musicians for its near-perfect acoustics. photo by Ursula Ruhl (click for larger version)
In addition, The Sheldon Art Galleries has commissioned four photojournalists to shoot images for a new book, "100 Moments," set to debut at the holidays. Three writers will contribute text describing the Ethical Society years, the middle years, and the modern history of The Sheldon.

The highlight of the celebration is the anniversary concert, set for Thursday, Oct. 11, at 8 p.m. The Sheldon has commissioned "This Past Present," a 40-minute composition by Peter Martin, featuring a poem by Howard Nemerov and an all-star ensemble.

Key elements from the past will also be incorporated into the event. A musical piece composed by Reuter will be performed by the St. Louis Children's Choirs and Grammy Award-winning soprano Christine Brewer.

At the opening of The Sheldon in 1912, a children's choir performed an anthem written by Percival Chubb, who followed Walter Sheldon as leader of the Ethical Society. Reuter's composition incorporates words from the original anthem, as well as a quote by Walter Sheldon that is inscribed on a plaque that hangs in The Sheldon's Green Room.

Tickets for the 100th anniversary concert begin at $25; visit thesheldon.org for more information.

To learn more about The Sheldon, visit "The Sheldon: A Rich History," an exhibition on display Oct. 5 through Feb. 2 at The Sheldon Art Galleries.

For more information about The Sheldon's capital campaign, 100th anniversary year events and more, visit www.thesheldon.org.

"This Present Past" featuring a poem by Howard Nemerov

This Present Past

The tulip's cup falls open helplessly,

The redbud's petals are already dust,

The trees are dropping all their various dreck

Pertaining to generation; once again

The spring has gone, as we complain it does

Year after year, before we had the time

To take it in.

But brief as flowering

Has always been, our power to attend

Is briefer by far, and intermittent, too.

We look at the iris, say how beautiful,

And look no more, nor watch the fail and fall

Of its bruised flags. So runs the world away,

As blown about upon the rainy wind

The keys of the maple's kingdom copter down.

Text by Percival Chubb (from the 1912 anthem):

Spirit of Truth, we raise to thee

This temple built in trust and hope

That, nurtured here, our lives may be

Of finer strain and ampler scope.

Cause of the Right, be here a shrine

Where Justice may her ways make plain,

And Freedom's face with courage shine

Against her foes of Greed and Gain.

Fire of Fellowship, may ye

Set glowing in each heart and mind

Faith in the brotherhood to be,

And Love embracing all mankind.

Text by Walter Sheldon (from the Walter Sheldon plaque):

It is good to have lived and loved and labored.

It is good to be missed from the ranks while the march is going on.

It is good to have worked with all our energy at our command;

And it is good to rest when that work is done.

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