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June 1, 2009

Handel Choir director Melinda O'Neal makes case for Parkway Theater renovation

Earlier this month, word came that the city of Baltimore is seeking a developer to restore the Parkway, a 1,100-seat theater on North Avenue built in 1915. Melinda O'Neal, artistic director and conductor of the Handel Choir of Baltimore sees the Parkway as a potential boon to local arts groups, provided that the renovation aims for a more practical eating capacity. Here's her guest blog posting on the subject:

In the several years I've been a Baltimore resident, it has become clear to me that the city lacks an adequate, mid-size live concert venue. Renovating the Parkway Theatre as a 450-to-750-seat venue suitable for film, dance, opera and live orchestral and choral-orchestral performance would be a significant step forward. Independent, civic performance organizations such as Handel Choir of Baltimore would be first in line in a flash - and I know others are very interested. My view: Build it, and we will come.

Of academic concert venues such as Falvey Hall at Maryland Institute College of Art (520 seats), Kraushaar Auditorium at Goucher College (975 seats), Peabody Conservatory's Friedberg Hall (700 seats) and Towson University's Kaplan Hall (520 seats), there are various significant drawbacks, such as lack of acoustical hells, inadequate dressing rooms and backstage areas, or too-small stage areas. Often, they may be ...

unavailable to outside organizations (understandably, since they exist primarily for students). Note that two of these four venues are in the county.

Of the independent halls in the city, the Hippodrome (2,280 seats), the Meyerhoff (2,443) and the Lyric (2,564) are all are out of range due to cost and audience capacity. Gordon Center, the only independent, mid-size concert venue in the area (550 seats), is excellent in layout and acoustical design. But it is in Owings Mills, at least a 25-minute drive from the city.

Small and mid-size Baltimore performing organizations, desiring the relative intimacy of a mid-size hall but requiring enough seats to operate within a viable financial model, most often perform in churches, although they are nonsectarian, civic organizations. Handel Choir is profoundly grateful for the hospitality of the many churches that graciously host our concerts, but we recognize this is not always a comfortable fit.That said, acoustics in many of Baltimore's fine churches for live, non-reinforced sound performance are excellent.

Renovation of Parkway Theatre, with its central location in a district clearly on the upswing, would be a substantially positive step forward for a city vibrant with musical arts of many styles and constituencies.

Yes, build it. Provide reasonable parking access and good acoustics. Arts organizations, audiences, businesses and residents will come.

Melinda O'Neal

Artistic director and conductor of the Handel Choir of Baltimore


Posted by Tim Smith at 5:46 AM | | Comments (4)


This sounds FANTASTIC! I hope it happens!

I suspect many others will share that wish. TIM

I am in complete agreement. A medium size theater available to different groups in North Avenue will further develop the “art zone” anchored by the Charles and Everyman Theaters. If would provide a much needed space for chamber, choral and other music groups. It would be incredible to have a new/old theater/concert venue! I hope city officials are listening!

I'll second that. TIM

As a long-time proponent and "cheerleader" for the restoration of the Parkway I likewise am excited at the prospects of this actually coming to fruition. Ms. O'Neal makes a compelling case [developers please note!] when she correctly observes the scarcity of performance venues of this size within easy access of the City's population. On with the show!
The Parkway Theatre - "An idea whose time has come."
Help make it happen!

Amen. TIM

Hi Tim,
Thanks for posting my recent comment. I have been googling in vain in an attempt to find or access Ms. O'Neil's blog. Can you provide an actual link to it? Thanks. JRG

I don't recall that she was doing a blog, and I don't see mention of one on the choir's site ( or her own site ( If I find something, I'll let you know. TIM

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About Tim Smith
Born and raised in Washington, D.C., I couldn't help but develop a keen interest in politics, but music, theater and visual art also proved great attractions. Music became my main focus after high school. I thought about being a cocktail pianist, but I hated taking requests, so I studied music history instead, earning a B.A. in that field from Eisenhower College (Seneca Falls, N.Y.) and an M.A. from Occidental College (Los Angeles). I then landed in journalism. After freelancing for the Washington Post and others, I was classical music critic for the Sun-Sentinel in South Florida, where I also contributed to NPR. I've written for the New York Times, BBC Music Magazine and other publications, and I'm a longtime contributor to Opera News. My book, The NPR Curious Listener's Guide to Classical Music (Perigee, 2002), can be found on the most discerning remainder racks.

I joined the Baltimore Sun as classical music critic in 2000 and, in 2009, also became theater critic, giving me the opportunity to annoy a whole new audience. In 2010, my original Clef Notes blog expanded to encompass a theatrical component -- how could I resist calling it Drama Queens? I hope you'll find both sides of this blog coin worth exploring and reacting to; your own comments are always welcome and valued (well, most of them, at least).

Think of this as your open-all-hours, cyber green room, where there's always a performer or performance to discuss, some news to digest, or maybe just a little good gossip to share.
Note: Tim Smith now writes about the fine arts at This blog will be kept in place as an archive for an indefinite period. Please visit the new location to get the latest Mid-Atlantic arts coverage.
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