By Leyla Shokoohe
Matt Zory is in the pocket. That’s a common phrase in the music world. The gist of it is being in a groove, striking a rhythm, hitting a stride.
Zory, assistant principal bassist with the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, is also a talented photographer. This winter, his second book of photographs will be published. Titled “Through the Lens: The Remaking of Cincinnati’s Music Hall,” the subject is the place where he spends most of his working days.
“People often ask what the correlation is, because a lot of musicians do photography,” said Zory. “I wonder if there’s a correlation in balance and rhythm and visual arts and music. Maybe that’s the overlap. Balance and rhythm.”
(For more on the Music Hall restoration, see our article MUSIC HALL: Reclaiming beauty from the inside out)
Serious about the bass
A native of Long Island, New York, Zory picked up the bass in sixth grade. His junior high music teacher and mentor, bassist Charlie Brockner, eventually married Zory’s sister, so the bass is part of the family.
After high school, Zory studied at Eastman School of Music before settling in New York City. In a bit of a detour, he worked as a bartender, cab driver and stagehand at Radio City Music Hall, playing sporadically.
“I got serious about the bass when I was about 28. I met Orin O’Brien, who was the first woman to play in the Phil (New York Philharmonic), and she became my bass teacher,” said Zory. “She took me under her wing. She was my next mentor, and really taught me how to play the bass on a professional level.”
Zory was in the city 10 years, working with New York City Ballet, New York City Opera and the Metropolitan Opera, before he began auditioning for orchestra positions. He was principal bass in San Diego for three years before joining the CSO in 1993.
“(The CSO) is known to be a friendly place, and it’s known for its positive relationship between management and musician,” said Zory. “It’s known as a team organization, I think. And actually people come here, and it’s like, ‘Wow, this is a friendly bunch,’ and it is.”
Zory settled in, eventually meeting his wife, Shelly Reese, in one of those meet-cute scenarios almost exclusively seen in romantic comedies.
“It was her dog really,” Zory said. “I used to go run (both lived in East Hyde Park), and I’d stop to play with her dog, and one day she stopped and said, ‘Who are you?’ I worked hard to woo that woman.”
Marriage and two teenage daughters (Isabel and Elaina) later, it’s evident Zory’s family is important to him. His daughters are not, he said, “snarky teenagers.” The four of them hike together (every winter, they visit Hocking Hills), cook together, have family movie nights.
A keen eye
Family sent Zory down the photography path. While a senior in high school, his older brother, Ross, took him to the darkroom at Stonybrook University. It was a bonding moment.
“I would look at pictures a lot, but I never was a photographer. But then my brother died in 2010. And I could not come out of the funk at all. I was buried,” said Zory. “My wife said to me, ‘You’ve always been into photography. Why don’t you get a good camera? Why don’t you get a hobby?’ ”
Zory asked fellow CSO musician Ixi Chen for the name of her photography teacher, local photographer Michael Wilson.
“I tracked him down and said, ‘I’m looking for a mentor. Will you (teach me)?’ ” said Zory. “I really kind of forced myself on him.”
The two met, and a fine friendship blossomed, Wilson said.
“I could see he had a really keen eye and sensibility. I think that has almost been his challenge is finding what it is he cares most about. He is very, very capable of making beautiful pictures from a wide variety of genres. … I think that’s been the blessing and curse for Matt.”
Zory said when they met, Wilson looked at his body of work and noticed the photographs had no people.
“He said, ‘Do you ever walk by somebody on the street and your eyes just catch each other just for the split second that you walk by? Act on that moment of shared humanity.’ And so I did,” said Zory.
He self-published a book of portraits, “The Other Side of Music Hall,” documenting the surrounding Over-the-Rhine neighborhood and its inhabitants.
His current project came to him while rehearsing at Music Hall.
“I did a portrait of the neighborhood, these people who would never have been in Music Hall, and now I’m ironically doing a portrait of the interior of Music Hall,” said Zory. “It’s about these men and women at work in the hall, and many of these people have never been in the hall. It’s not a stretch that there’s an overlap with these two projects.”
Zory bounced his idea of documenting the renovation off Chris Pinelo, CSO’s vice president of communications, and got the go-ahead from administration, Messer Construction and 3CDC.
“Matt is not only a world-class musician, but also an extraordinary photographer and is in a position to offer a unique perspective on this historic renovation,” said Pinelo. “The images he’s captured really tell the story and highlight the care and craftsmanship that have gone into the Music Hall project.”
The CSO will resume performances at the venue in October. The book and the Music Hall renovation are both entering their final stages this month.
“The book for me has been light and shadow where the men and women are involved, said Zory. “That’s the hook for me.”
Information on the book: matthewzory.com/through-the-lens