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Series: Opera Houses and Armories

We typically associate town bands with outdoor events. But when the occasion or the weather required, bands could also be found indoors, often in Iowa's ubiquitous opera houses.

In The Opera Houses of Iowa, authors George Glenn and Richard Poole estimate there were as many as 1200 opera houses in Iowa in the early decades of the 20th-century. In the larger towns, these opera houses might be ornate venues with raked floors and balcony seating. In smaller towns, however, opera houses were often multi-purpose spaces with a small stage at one end and moveable seating set out on a level floor. Frequently, the theater space was located on second floor of the building, with the ground level being leased out as commercial space.

Opera houses were typically owned by wealthy individuals or by groups of civic-minded investors who rented out their facility for any number of functions that included including touring theatrical and vaudeville shows, local "home-talent" plays, banquets and receptions, church services and - at time when many public schools had no auditorium - school graduations and other events. Ironically, actual opera was rarely performed in the "opera house." Rather, the name seems to have been employed as a euphemism for "theater", a term which carried many negative connotations for righteous citizens who were dubious of the moral character of actors and their work.

Whereas a band's outdoor performances were generally free to the public (often due to the subsidy of a local commercial club or group of subscribers), admission was generally charged for bands' opera house performances. These performances were usually billed as fundraisers for the band. But opera house performances also entailed special expenses - most notably rental of the hall. Newspaper accounts frequently make note of whether or not a ticketed band concert was able to meet its expenses.

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