Thoughts From Places: Distler Hall

Last Wednesday, for the first time since arriving at Tufts, I made my way over to Distler Hall to see an actual performance and not an orientation program. Despite my overall lack of understanding of the Spanish language, I was talked into going to Argentinean multi-instrumentalist and singer Clara Cantore’s concert. The leaflets highlighted dramatic achievements by a woman who is only a decade my senior. Her repertoire was stunning: from releasing three full-length albums to touring seven European countries to giving 22 shows just this past spring, it was clear that Cantore was the real deal and that the Department of Romance Languages had secured a serious performer for the crisp fall evening.

The earliest arrivals shuffled toward the back of the hall, taking seats well behind the coveted front row. As minutes passed, and the 7:30 p.m. show was on the verge of beginning, the entire frontal block of seats was left mostly unoccupied. Whispers of the show being the subject of an extra credit assignment floated around, and the lack of enthusiasm began to take root in a logical, yet upsetting, explanation. The giddy, voluntary nature of events like Oktoberfest or Polyhack, or even the fidgety vexation associated with mandatory O-Week events, provide a different level of energy. Having to write a short essay about an event that you otherwise would not have attended leaves room for shiftlessness.

Despite the tension, the concert went on as planned. The lyrics were exclusively in Spanish, and the friend I had tagged along with informed me oh-so matter-of-factly that the Argentinean dialect is more challenging to pick up on. Despite my incompetence with the language, several verses resonated, breaking past the barrier of language. In addition, Cantore’s occasional debriefing (sometimes including brief English summations) served not only to clarify the meaning of certain linguistic irregularities, but also to paint a vivid picture of the plight of the rural farmer. The grassroots political activism, combined with Argentinean folk chords often unheard in American songs, a powerful voice and radiant eagerness on Cantore’s part made the experience one to remember.

Despite the quality of the solo woman performance, about 15 minutes into the show, the crowd that once densely populated the back of the room began to thin. The extra credit assignment was only a single page, double-spaced — they had absorbed enough content to meet their word count minimums, and presumably, that was enough to warrant an exit. This left a bitter aftertaste in my mouth; perhaps the real plight that was on display was that of an artist. Years of work, raw talent and fervent passion were left to drift into the void of a constantly emptying room. Watching people get up and leave mid-show is easily a more painful ordeal than performing to a small, attentive, spirited crowd.

If the promise of extra credit was the only way to fill the room, there is a chance that Tufts is not ready to appreciate certain levels of artistic mastery.