Corbett Tower prior to the 2016-2017 Renovation
The original tracery windows were uncovered and restored in Music Hall's revitalization
When Music Hall was built, the room now known as Corbett Tower was first named Dexter Hall, honoring Julius Dexter.
Dexter was a civic leader, well-known financier, and chair of the Music Hall building committee. His fortune primarily came from the family whiskey business.
A doorway connected Dexter Hall with the Auditorium, and refreshments were served in Dexter during the half-hour intermissions of May Festival Concerts. It was a time to socialize and be seen in your finest apparel.
For More than Just Refreshments
Right after the structure opened, the American Social Science Association held its convention in Dexter Hall. Meetings that followed spanned a variety of organizations, clubs and concerns, and in the evenings, Dexter Hall could be rented for parties with dancing into the wee hours of the night.
Dexter Hall was originally designated as a place for music recitals. Theodore Thomas conducted chamber concerts in that room, and both local and national artists performed, often to a packed house. Two of the earliest performances in Dexter Hall were by the Tennesseeans, an African American chorus from Central College in Nashville.
Once the north and south wings were completed, Dexter Hall was used during Expositions for themed exhibits. Primarily, though, the space was occupied by the newly formed College of Music. For years, students climbed all those stairs, to the very top above the foyer, for recitals, performances and exams, until their own Concert Hall - the Odeon - was built in 1884.
Remodeling Dexter Hall
In 1880, Dexter Hall was converted into a little opera house, modeled after one in New York City.
1884: Music Hall and the Courthouse Riot
Angry citizens met in Music Hall on March 28, nearly ten thousand in number when those that couldn't fit were also counted. These people were outraged that a jury handed down a verdict of manslaughter for what was deemed a clear case of murder. The mob left Music Hall and headed for the jail and the Courthouse.
While the riot, shootings and courthouse fire were blocks away and continued for days. On March 30, National Guard troops entered the city and quelled the turmoil. A large force of the militia - between 700 and 800 men - moved into Music Hall, effectively shutting down all use of the rooms inside the structure. Along with their arms, the troops brought three or four heavy cannon inside the structure. Also, city firemen were stationed around Music Hall, ready in case a fire would break out. Troops were sent home on a staggered basis, starting April 4, and extending into the following week.
In the early 1950s, this area of Music Hall was used for radio and television studios, both for the College of Music and for the first broadcasts of WCET.
SPMH historian and preservationist Thea Tjepkema researched the room and found the original ceiling was 21 feet high. A drop ceiling was installed during the 1968-71 renovation to accommodate air conditioning ducts.
Removal of the drop ceiling and wall board during the 2016-17 renovation revealed original stenciling believed to have been done in the late 1800s.
Unfortunately the condition of the walls and stenciling prevented restoration of the design.
So, with funding from SPMH, EverGreene, a company that specializes in architectural arts, determined the original colors. Stencils were made of the patterns and the design was recreated in the room, restoring the elegance of the original hall.
Corbett Tower is named for J. Ralph and Patricia Corbett, long-time arts patrons and supporters of Music Hall.