Obituary: Ronald Cantelm / PSO bass player gave everything a 100 percent effort

Sept. 21, 1949 - Nov. 17, 2013

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Ronald Cantelm was committed to it. It didn't really matter what the "it" was -- Mr. Cantelm would sink his teeth into whatever object captured his deep attention.

Consider the double bass. After a childhood playing piano and rock guitar, Mr. Cantelm took up the instrument in high school. His brother recalled hearing Mr. Cantelm practice day and night, with his "laser focus."

"It was crazy the way he sawed away on that bass. It was incredible," said Norm Cantelm.

His hard work paid off, and he matriculated at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, one of the world's top conservatories. Mr. Cantelm, who died Sunday at the age of 64, was in the New Orleans Symphony before joining the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, where he played in the bass section for 37 years until his 2012 retirement.

But it wasn't just the bass. Mr. Cantelm was an outdoorsman, a stringed instrument repairer, a food lover, a traveler, a chess player.

"It wouldn't have to be anything epic," said Norm Cantelm.

But sometimes it was. A PSO program announcing Mr. Cantelm's retirement described his work handcrafting conducting batons. His clients included former PSO music directors Lorin Maazel and Andre Previn.

"I remember him talking about having to get the stick part of it perfectly round and perfectly balanced," said Betsy Heston, the PSO's assistant principal bassist.

Ms. Heston, who lives in Mt. Lebanon, carpooled to Heinz Hall with Mr. Cantelm for several years. Anecdotally, when he left the New Orleans Symphony, Ms. Heston took his spot before she, too, joined the PSO.

"I used to tease Ron that I was following him across the country," she said.

And he offered her tips for her first big solo with the PSO, advice she still heeds.

"He said, 'Don't do it like a girl.' He said, 'Use two fingers, and use your whole arm,' " she said.

Norm Cantelm said his brother would often end up more passionate about activities than the person who suggested them in the first place.

"Whatever the opposite of [Attention Deficit Disorder] is, is whatever he was," said Norm Cantelm.

Although Norm was a Boy Scout and the president of his college's canoe club, he found his brother to be an equally committed partner in outdoor activities. He recalled a weekend they spent in Ohiopyle, rowing and camping down the Youghiogheny River.

"He was incredibly stoked over that whole weekend that we spent," he said.

Of course, that wasn't the case for just one weekend.

"He would be 100 percent, 1,000 percent into whatever activity he was doing at that time," said Norm.

He is survived by his wife, Denise, his son, Vincent, his mother, Norma, and siblings Louise Lowey and Larry, Norm and Roxanne Cantelm.

Arrangements were by Laughlin Memorial Chapel, 222 Washington Road, Mt. Lebanon.


Elizabeth Bloom: ebloom@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1750.

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