Editor’s note: This column by then-Arts & Entertainment Editor Charlie Langdon ran in the May 18, 1997, print edition of The Durango Herald.By Charlie Langdon
There are few experiences more satisfying than sharing an hour with a person on his or her first day at an exciting new job. I discovered this on a recent visit with Gary Penington, manager of the new Community Concert Hall at Fort Lewis College.
The visit was long anticipated, and longer delayed. The venue was for some time just a hole in the ground, and later a construction site that I had little inclination to pass through.
I was familiar with the plans, having studied the architect’s model of the hall that had been on display since the beginning of the $5 million fundraising effort. Also, I was aware that the hall and its adjoining complex were to be adorned with sculpture from many hands and paintings by Stanton Englehart. The prospects were exciting. Still, I was in no hurry.
As a result, I was almost too late for a preview, and much too late for my appointment with Penington a few days before Norman Krieger’s inaugural concert. However, Penington was gracious as I arrived, explaining that a brief chat had turned into a long meeting.
We entered the hall through a rear entrance. “This whole day has been an adrenaline rush,” he said. “At last my office is here. I can hardly believe it.”
We followed a newsprint paper path across hardwood flooring backstage, “This will be inspected tomorrow,” Penington said. “We’re keeping it as clean as possible.”
Beyond stage-right, we passed up a hall and into a small, comfortable room. “This is one of our three Green Rooms,” he said. “Notice the intercom, where we’ll alert the performers before they’re due on stage.” I resisted the impulse to announce, “Three minutes, Mr. Pavarotti.”
We passed further up the hall into the auditorium where I murmured, “Wow,” and caught my breath. The model hadn’t prepared me for the stunning vista where the shallow slant of the orchestra level climbs to the steep rake of the second, or “Plaza,” level, which in turn – is below the even steeper rake of the balcony.
We sat near the rear of the orchestra, while Penington related facts and figures concerning the hall’s handsome maple woodwork and how the orchestra pit could be lowered or raised in three and a half minutes. He described the state-of-the-art computerized lighting and sound systems, and how he was utilizing several volunteer technicians who were also local professionals eager to help out.
“This is going to be a real community hall,” Penington emphasized. “This will be the gateway between town and gown.”
As he talked, I became aware of the hall’s lively sound. I had never heard such bright acoustics. This was a hall with rare qualities. I said so to Penington, who agreed, adding that the venue would elevate performances – in quality and quantity – to the highest levels.
“Of course, we have a lot to learn. We’ll make mistakes. The next few months will be our shakedown cruise,” he said as we went for a look at his office.
In the office, he said. “Look. My phone’s hooked up!”
The phone rang. “Perfect,” he said. “A reporter’s on hand for my first call.”
He lifted the receiver, listened a moment and said, “Sir, I’m sorry, but I think you have the wrong number.” Hanging up, he smiled and said, “Well, here we go.”
The Krieger concert was a triumph. Englehart’s paintings are slated to be installed in the main lobby Monday. And Gary Penington is excited. He knows that for local audiences, the best is yet to come.
The late Charlie Langdon was the Herald’s Arts & Entertainment editor.