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PSO bass player mixed intensity, fun

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Ron Cantelm, 64, of Mt. Lebanon, died Sunday, Nov. 17, 2013.

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Wednesday, Nov. 20, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

As a big man onstage at Heinz Hall with a double bass just slightly taller than he was, Ronald Cantelm dwarfed Denise Albensi, a 5-foot-tall teacher from McKeesport ushering and working the Green Room there to earn a little money while taking in music and dance.

“He was a great, big guy. ... He almost didn't fit in our house, it seemed,” said Denise Cantelm, 59, who met Ronald at the venue and married him in 1986. “He was the ‘Great Bear,' and our son was his ‘cub.' ”

Ronald Cantelm, formerly of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, died suddenly on Sunday in his Mt. Lebanon home. He was 64.

Born and raised in an Italian family in Philadelphia, Mr. Cantelm started learning piano at a young age from his grandfather, a musician, and his grandmother, a piano teacher. His parents encouraged him to practice at any time of day, and he would apply a laser-like focus to his music, said Norman Cantelm, Mr. Cantelm's youngest brother. A third brother, Larry, now 61 and living in California, played drums with Mr. Cantelm in a rock-and-roll band called “Just Men,” which would practice in the family's basement while Norman Cantelm sat on the steps and watched.

“In a three-bedroom house, there were five children — I shared a bedroom with my brothers — but he was able to saw away on that double bass whenever he wanted,” said Norman Cantelm, 56, of Fort Lauderdale.

Mr. Cantelm applied that intensity and drive to whatever captured his interest, be it camping, canoeing, skiing or food, Norman Cantelm said. He'd retell stories of his adventures or discuss good meals they'd shared, as if they were legendary.

“His excitement just made everything more fun,” Norman Cantelm said. “His highs were so high.”

Mr. Cantelm graduated from the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia and played for two years with the New Orleans Symphony. He joined the PSO in 1975 at 25 and retired in 2012.

Before his health declined, Denise Cantelm said her husband was an active bicyclist, tennis player, golfer, fisherman and horseback rider, often sharing activities with their son, Vincent Cantelm, 23, of Morgantown, W.Va.

“I would never have had any of the opportunities I did if not for him,” Denise Cantelm said.

Mr. Cantelm was predeceased by his father, Jennaro. In addition to his wife, son and brothers, he is survived by his mother, Norma, 81, and his sisters Louise, 54, and Roxanne, 52, all of Havertown, Delaware County.

A Mass of Christian Burial will be celebrated at 10 a.m. Wednesday in St. Bernard Parish in Mt. Lebanon, with interment to follow in Queen of Heaven Cemetery in Peters. Memorial donations can be made to the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia.

Matthew Santoni is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-380-5625 or

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