‘We must save it’: Publication seeks to record city’s artistic history | News

CLAREMONT — A planned written publication of recorded oral histories aims to capture Claremont’s rich history as a thriving center for music and the performing arts, as the town prepares to celebrate the 125th anniversary of its landmark opera house.

A collaboration of residents and city officials, as part of the Claremont Opera House’s 125th anniversary celebration in June, is turning 40-year-old recorded stories and memories of Claremont’s cultural entertainment into a written publication, which will be released the same month in print and e-book formats.

The recordings were part of the Claremont Oral History Project, a collaborative project started as part of the city’s bicentennial celebration in 1976.

Between 1976 and 1980, organizers of the Oral History Project recorded 44 interviews with 52 Claremont residents, who shared their personal stories and experiences of their life in Claremont over time.

The interviewees were carefully selected to understand “a broad cross-section” of the city’s diverse population, from its ethnicities to its religious affiliations, said Colin Sanborn, librarian at the Fiske Free Library in Claremont.

The stories and collective subjects of this project spanned several decades and included memories of the Spanish flu pandemic, the era of prohibition, the two world wars, the 1927 flood and the 1938 hurricane, a said Sanborn. Interviewees discussed topics ranging from the various mills and churches in the city, to vaudeville, the railroad system and ethnic diversity.

The project’s goal of reflecting breadth and diversity was both “who was interviewing but also what was happening in the city,” Sanborn said.

These recordings were released as cassettes, along with a printed index of abstracts, although the library also made them available on compact disc.

The anniversary committee – whose members include representatives from the Claremont Opera House, Claremont Business Development, Fiske Free Library, Claremont Historical Society and the Off Broad Street Players – plans to publish written accounts of 10 of the interviews , which focus specifically on the music of Claremont. , performing arts and cinema in the 20th century.

“Listening to these recordings, I was stunned by the amount of content that no one knows anything about,” said Felicia Brych Dalke, President of Claremont Opera House.

The committee received a $9,600 grant on Thursday from New Hampshire Humanities, a Concord-based nonprofit, which will fund the cost of writing narratives for the recordings.

Dalke said the committee is looking for sponsors to help fund the cost of publishing the books.

The recordings detail a level of significance to Claremont as a living arts destination that few residents can realize today, Dalke said.

During the 1920s and 1930s, for example, Claremont was a regular performance venue for pop and jazz legends like Rude Vallee, Cab Calloway and Duke Ellington as they toured through New England, said Dalke, while Claremont’s dance pavilions, especially Pine Grove Park and Roseland, brought people from all over the area.

At one time, Claremont had five movie theaters, which offered vaudeville shows as well as silent movies.

Most importantly, the oral histories illustrate the historical ebbs and flows of the music and arts industry, which Dalke says is important for the community to understand when considering the present and future of the arts.

During the 1960s, for example, the Claremont Opera House was on the verge of permanent extinction, Dalke said.

The emergence of television took a financial hit to the opera house, as well as movie theaters, according to records. The opera house had also suffered a loss of use when Stevens High School built its auditorium, which moved high school graduation ceremonies from the opera house to Stevens, as well as many concerts.

In 1963, the Claremont City Council ordered the opera house closed due to the state of the opera house and its lack of funds to maintain the building.

Some Claremont residents and businesses “even suggested leveling it,” Dalke said.

The Claremont Opera House was arguably saved thanks to the efforts of former mayor Marion Phillips, who brought in consultants from Dartmouth College’s Hopkins Center for the Arts to assess the opera house.

Hopkins’ consultants were very impressed with the Opera House in its architecture, scenic design and acoustics and “essentially verified that it was a building worth saving”, Dalke said.

“I don’t want us to go through another period where we’re closed,” Dalke said.

Just as cyclical ebbs and flows are common historically, today’s live entertainment undergoes a similar cycle today, Dalke said. The pandemic, along with the evolution of live streaming, is keeping more people at home.

Changing habits and ways of entertainment are pushing performing arts venues like the Claremont Opera House to creatively reinvent their business model.

“Live shows are an important part of our culture and we need to save it,” Dalke said.

Dalke is encouraged by the city’s future for live music and the arts, especially downtown. In addition to Amplified Arts, a performing arts venue on Pleasant Street, the Opera House, and the Claremont Makerspace, the West Claremont Center for Music and Arts is developing a three-level performing arts center and entrepreneurial center at 56 Opera House Square.

Contributors to the publication see additional educational opportunities through these written accounts, including historical lectures, performed dramatizations, or walking tours.

More information will be announced about events planned in the coming months, including a re-enactment of the building’s inauguration in June. For more information on the 125th anniversary or to help sponsor the effort, please contact [email protected]

Jacob L. Thornton