Bob Hope came to Bangor many years ago to perform at the Bangor Auditorium. He had specifications for a dressing room that included a chair with a back that reclined and some other things — very reasonable for a big star. The comedian got what he asked for, and more: They put him in a locker room with all kinds of toilets.
For more than 55 years, the Bangor Auditorium has been a source of pride but also frustration for our community. Built big, but not built right, it clearly is no longer adequate for functions and performances such as the Ice Capades, the U.S. Army Band and our own Bangor Symphony Orchestra.
I have played the Bangor Auditorium with the BSO on many occasions, and every time we played there we said, “This will be the last time.” We haven’t played there very much in the past few years because it is just not adequate.
Certain events require a larger venue, but they also demand acceptable acoustics, and when it comes to acoustics, the auditorium is a discouraging flop. It is disappointing for the audience and frustrating for performers who work so hard to entertain the public.
One of the biggest performance events in the auditorium’s history was in 1960, when BSO conductor Peter Re led a performance of the Berlioz Requiem. It was the largest work that the BSO has ever performed and, to my knowledge, the only time this piece was played in the State of Maine.
I remember it like it was yesterday.
The requiem has six sets of tympani (kettle drums), four brass choirs were scattered around the auditorium, and we had 300 singers. It was a tremendous undertaking for our local orchestra. I know how I did my part. I rented a U-Haul and went around to all the schools, borrowed their tympani and later returned them.
It was a great experience. Even then, when the auditorium was all we had and all we knew, the acoustics were poor. We got by. But getting by is no longer acceptable.
Sure, you can drop curtains to give the appearance of a backdrop, but it does nothing to improve the quality of sound. Times have changed; audiences and performers are expecting and demanding much more. We need a better backstage, better lighting, better acoustics and a roof that doesn’t leak.
We can make that happen on May 4 when we vote “Yes” to build a new arena and convention center.
The Bangor Auditorium was a necessary community investment when it opened Oct. 1, 1955. For the past 55 years, Bangor businesses have benefited from its presence and have had the capacity to reinvest their energy and their tax dollars in this community. They have prospered, and have given back. Everything we do for ourselves repays us all. Communities are interrelated. We depend on each other. When we invest, we grow together.
It’s past time for Bangor to reinvest in itself at Bass Park. People prefer to come to Bangor at tournament time over any other city because Bangor has so much going for it. We have a sleeping tiger in the Bangor International Airport. We have stores, the mall and downtown museums. Bangor is a service center, a center for banking and finance and legal advice. Our medical centers provide health care to more than a quarter of a million people.
We can never be satisfied with the present. We should cherish our past and learn from our experiences. One thing the past has taught us is that we need to invest in ourselves if we are to grow and prosper as a community.
My vote for a new arena and convention center on May 4 will be an effort to provide better sound quality for audiences, entertainers and the BSO, the oldest continuously performing community orchestra in the United States. It will be a vote for a roof that doesn’t leak and for respectful, adequate dressing rooms.
But my vote also will express my confidence in my city and this region. It will be my endorsement of what we can become as a regional center for business, conventions and tourism. I want a community that appeals to its youth, shares their energy and offers our children the economic choice to stay here.
Bill Miller is a resident of Bangor, the owner of Miller Drug and a member of the Bangor Symphony Orchestra.