Is just any space an adequate performance space?
In a word, no.
Last Thursday, I trekked south to Maryville to catch mezzo-soprano Amanda Ingram at the Hot Summer Nights series at the Blount County Library, intending to review the performance on this blog. Her hometown popularity was evident as there seemed to be perhaps 200 people or so crammed into the area around the “Reading Rotunda” on chairs that had been placed wherever possible. Ms. Ingram has a delightful voice, but I’m certain I would have enjoyed the performance more if I had actually been able to see her while she sang. What with seating scattered around, and the architecture of the space (there are two massive columns blocking the sightline of most), this was a horrible attempt to shoe horn a performance into a totally inappropriate space. Not only did this not do justice to her performance, it possibly was detrimental to it. There was some electronic reinforcement, but that, too, was laughably tinny and subject to feedback. And although there was plenty of applause for Ms. Ingram, I also heard a lot of grumbling from those who weren’t happy at all staring at other attendees and wondering what Ms. Ingram looked like.
I completely support the idea of libraries staging music programs, and I’ve attended many great ones in a variety of spaces, some odd, and some traditional. However, when hometown pride shoves a performance into a space that is inadequate for the purpose, no one really comes out ahead–not the performers, and certainly not the audience.