Often, the halls where I’ve encountered the most incredible musical performances have been pretty utilitarian. Some were cramped, others had questionable acoustics or sight lines, and many were bland to the eye. Something, quite simply, was missing.
The big auditorium at Indiana University comes to mind or the related high school where the weekly Saturday night operas were presented or my hometown’s Memorial Hall and National Cash Register Company’s venue. (NCR’s back in the day before naming rights.) Even Philharmonic Hall in Manhattan, as it was known then, or Chicago’s.
Here are ten I remember quite differently, with fondness.
Music Hall, Cincinnati. The acoustics up in the second balcony, where I usually sat, were crisp and clear. The two-tier Italianate horseshoe balcony looked timeless. And the proscenium was encased in a lacework of small golden lights. Yes, it was a large hall and still is, even after some judicious trimming. Home of the Cincinnati Symphony, as well as the opera and May Festival. My favorite of all time.
Musical Arts Center, Bloomington, Indiana. Designed primarily as an opera house, it has some of the best technical support for creative stagecraft in the New World, and acoustics to match. It’s a small theater by American standards, a plus for the singers and audience alike, and its three-tier balcony makes you feel like you’re onstage when it comes to observing the action. The hall’s still flexible for orchestral and ballet performances by the world-acclaimed Jacobs School of Music students and faculty and guests.
Sanders Theater, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts. It’s like an indoor version of Shakespeare’s Globe, with plenty of glowing wood all around. It’s a small stage, although the Boston Symphony used to play there in its early days. For us, it’s the home of the Boston Revels’ Christmas productions, first and foremost.
The Meyerhoff, Baltimore. Opened in 1982 in the Mount Vernon neighborhood, the hall is a delight that includes clean sight lines throughout the auditorium and wonderful spaces for audiences before, after, and during intermissions. When I lived just up the street, folks in the know were still lamenting the orchestra’s move from the Lyric Opera House a block away, but I never had an opportunity for comparison.
Symphony Hall, Boston. For many, this is the ideal hall, rich in history. Two-thirds the size of Cincinnati’s, its acoustics are often praised, but I sense it’s a case of the sound onstage, where musicians can hear each other with ease, versus what’s heard in the audience. (Carnegie Hall in Manhattan is a similar situation.) I’m hoping to get back, maybe taking the train down for a Friday afternoon BSO concert.
Jordan Hall, New England Conservatory, Boston. Having undergone an expensive restoration, it’s a jewel of a historic concert hall. Just the right size for performers and audience alike.
Severance Hall, Cleveland. It’s like being encased in pearls, the best I can explain it. The orchestra’s summer home, the Blossom Music Center, has a similar feel, except it’s in glowing wood and open on all sides – I’ve always heard the concerts while sitting on blankets on the sloping hillside.
The Peristyle, Toledo Museum of Art, Ohio. The open space is more like an Italian garden without the greens. The idea of attending concerts in an art museum leads to other memories, especially Dayton’s delightful hall with tapestries on the wall or Manchester, New Hampshire’s, before the additions.
Akron Civic Theater, Ohio. A wonderful example of preserving an old movie house.
Music Hall, Portsmouth, New Hampshire. A small horse-shoe balcony type house built in 1878 for vaudeville and lovingly restored, it’s home to everything from live music and dance to lectures to classic movies and the Met’s Live-in-HD series.
Let me add honorable mentions to Mechanics Hall in Worcester, Massachusetts, and Faneuil Hall in Boston. I’ve been inside both and am impressed but have yet to hear a live performance in them.
Although I’ve concentrated a lot on the hippie end of the counterculture revolution, I’m not that conversant in many of its more recent manifestations.
Considering the events in my novel Nearly Canaan, when Joshua and Jaya settle into a place unlike anything they would have imagined, out in the desert on the other side of the mountains from Seattle, I see I need to pay attention, especially since grunge entered the scene just a little later.
Here are ten points.
Sometimes called the Seattle Sound, grunge was a blend of punk and heavy metal revolving around the local independent record label Sub Pop and featuring a distorted electric guitar sound. (I’ll let others define both punk and metal.) And then it took off into the ’90s and mainstream.
The lyrics are typically angst filled of a socially alienated sort. Apparently, we could do a Tendrils right there.
Kurt Cobain’s suicide in 1994 likely played into its demise.
Its mundane, everyday style of clothing sharply contrasted to punk’s mohawks, leather, and chains. It also featured Doc Martens boots, wool flannel plaid shirts, and thermal underwear befitting the Pacific Northwest.
It was seen as anti-consumerist. The less you spent, the cooler you were. Cobain’s widow Courtney Love was the embodiment of the thrift-shop philosophy.
Males, especially, had unkempt hair.
Espresso, beer, and heroin have been cited as its three main drugs.
It led to a distinctive graphic design based on “lo fi” or low fidelity imagery, with intentionally murky lettering, photography, and collage enhanced by desktop publishing and digital image processing on Macintosh computers.
The appearance of ‘zines, often of a literary sort, blossomed as an off-shoot of this. I’ve appeared as a poet in many of them, mostly photocopied and stapled.
Some see the movement as introducing non-binary sexual awareness to the wider culture.
Can’t help thinking this sounds like hippie on a downer trip to me.
Dover Friends Meeting is presenting a free evening of song, scripture, and reflection on the essence and intention of Sanctuary as we seek to build and sustain unity in our leading to offer mercy and love to those in need.
The hour-and-a-half celebration takes place Saturday, March 13, from 7:30 to 9 p.m., and you are welcome to join with us via Zoom.
For years, our community of faith has enjoyed an annual Arts & Letters gathering around this time each winter, an event where we could enjoy the wide range of artistic abilities among us, both amateur and professional, by Friends of all ages. Visual arts and crafts, dramatic readings, original poetry and prose, dance, video productions, gymnastics, even self-defense, and of course music have all been abundant. And this year, as a consequence of Covid, the occasion is taking yet another turn, one with a theme and a venue that will allow folks from all around the world to meet with us in our little corner of seacoast New Hampshire. I already know of one song written especially for this occasion.
Remember, it’s free, but registration is required. Click here!
Think of the names of bands and singers having a food tag. (Will Red Hot Chili Peppers or Smashing Pumpkins get your thoughts bubbling?)
Throughout my novel What’s Left, her uncle Barney has rock playing prominently in the restaurant kitchen. Does this provide a good counterpoint to his thoughts and actions? Do you find it amusing? Annoying? Confusing?
Who would you like to add to the food-themed playlist?
Frankly, I can do without all of the secular holiday music, or at least most of it. I want something less contrived and commercial. Even Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker score wears thin.
I’m not entirely insensitive, though. Here are ten I enjoy singing, especially in a choir.
People, Look East: this 1928 Advent carol by Eleanor Farjeon is a joyous accompaniment when making preparations ahead of Christmas.
In the Bleak Midwinter: I want to think of this as a plaintive folksong, but the words are by Christina Rossetti and the music’s by English master Gustav Holst. It catches the blue side of the approaching winter, but also the hope and comfort to be found therein.
Once in Royal David’s City: If you can, go for the fully celebrative midnight mass with a full pipe organ and all five verses sung in the Anglican style that alternates soft and loud.
There Are Angels Hovering Round: It’s an old call-and-response hymn that seems to have hundreds of verses, if you want to keep going. There’s no escaping the sense of togetherness when you’re singing.
Fairest and Brightest (Star of the East): I first heard this in a recording by Kentucky folksinger Jean Ritchie, but it also works in formal arrangements. The text is a protest song befitting the suffering classes of the story.
Nouvelle Agreable: by Swiss composer Jean-Georges Nageli, the bouncy music almost sounds like Mozart though even Native Americans near the Arctic will sing and dance to it, too. (Check it out on YouTube.)
La Valse Cadienne de Noel: words and music by Jeannette V. Aguillard. What, you don’t waltz during the Twelve Days of Christmas?
Traveler’s Carol: A traditional Catalan carol of coming together for the holiday. We use English by Susan Cooper in an arrangement by George Emlen.
The Coventry Carol: a haunting sense of Herod’s slaughter of the innocents and of the crucifixion to come infuse this lullaby.
The Old Year is Dying: a cheerful Welsh piece to welcome the New Year. Again, New Year’s Day falls in the Twelve Days.
How is it the young Figaro, in “The Barber of Seville,” is so worldly-wise, especially in the ways of attracting women, while a few years later, in the “Marriage of Figaro,” he’s so confounded by the Count’s moves toward his own beloved? And, oh, yes – what happened to all that business savvy?
Well, it was a French theater comedy series originally. One obviously without a continuity editor.
I’ll give the author, Beaumarchais, some slack, since he was busy on many other fronts. And give him lots of credit for knowing how to cut satirically to the quick.