You'll never look at Music Hall the same way after this tour

What do those carved symbols really mean?

CINCINNATI -- It will be one long year or more before music and architecture lovers will be able to see the results of a $135 million renovation project going on inside Cincinnati's venerable Music Hall.

Where ardent fans of the 129-year-old hall might view its closure as a necessary evil, a painful separation of sorts, historic preservationist Thea Tjepkema views it as an opportunity.

The volunteer docent and board member of the Society for the Preservation of Music Hall -- who is the wife of Cincinnati Pops conductor John Morris Russell -- has witnessed thousands of people file into Music Hall with eyes focused on the front door and minds racing toward the performance they are about to experience.

Once inside, many people stop, look up and gawk for a few moments at the grand foyer's historic details. But, Tjepkema said, fewer view the building's exterior with much more than a glance as they approach its entrance on Elm Street.

Tjepkema thought these folks could use an eye opener. So she came up with a way to spread understanding of the hall and to perpetuate its status as Over-the-Rhine's historic focal point -- even though its doors are closed to the public.

She volunteered to create a 90-minute "Beyond the Bricks" tour, which the SPMH is offering on Thursday afternoons and Saturday mornings through Oct. 29. (Tours cost $20 and can be reserved at www.cincinnatiarts.org.)

Tjepkema greets participants in front of Music Hall and equips them with headsets tuned to her microphone. She then walks them around the building, teaching history and pointing out architectural details and sharing some of the changes planned for the hall's red and orange brick exterior. Her tours are packed with trivia and humor, and cover several other historical buildings, including Memorial Hall, on Music Hall's four-acre site.

Among other things, tourists learn what preceded Music Hall at Elm and 13th streets, which community leaders made it happen, how architect Samuel Hannaford won a competition to get the job and that the building is made of 4 million bricks, all but 200,000 from the region.

As a tease to the tour and without telling too much of what Tjepkema teaches, we've chosen to share nine images of Music Hall's architecture that you might have missed on your way in to see the symphony, the opera or a concert.

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