Posts Live from Van Cliburn International Piano Competition: Plumbing – The Sublime to the Ridiculous

Posts Live from Van Cliburn International Piano Competition

With just five hours remaining before the Cliburn Competition final round begins, I want to turn from pianists and music to a topic of vital concern to every female concert-goer ─ bathrooms.

Fort Worth’s Bass Performance Hall is an admirable venue: lovely to look at, comfortable, with great acoustics. But even the most beautiful performing arts facility can shortchange women when it comes to bathrooms, so I faced my first trip to this necessity with the usual nagging concern that I might not complete my visit in time for the next competitor to perform.

My spirits lifted a little when I saw no line snaking out the door. I entered a nicely appointed anteroom where a few relaxed-looking women were touching up their lipstick and combing their hair. Still no line.

I turned the corner into the bathroom proper. A gleaming double row of stalls, doors invitingly ajar, stretched into the far distance, almost to a vanishing point. I was momentarily dazzled, convinced that there must be a mirror at the end of the room creating this effect, but it was not an illusion. Joy! Heavenly radiance! Elysium! This was the chorus in Beethoven’s 9th Symphony rendered in pristine porcelain, rosy marble and artful tile!

The Bass Women’s Restroom in all its glory. Photo by Ann McLaughlin

If the Bass ladies’ room is the plumbing equivalent of the Ode to Joy, to what masterpiece might we compare the ladies’ room in the Duane Smith Auditorium? I suggest P.D.Q. Bach’s Sonata for Left Handed Sewer Flute, a practical (well, impractical) joke played on the woman of Los Alamos over and over for decades.

Every season, at least one Los Alamos Concert Association board meeting devolves into a cathartic group rant about the shortcomings of this deplorable facility. The four cramped stalls guarantee a long line for our usual audience of between 300 and 600 attendees. On the occasions when we sell all 900 seats, the situation reaches critical mass. Intermission length is always totally dependent on the status of that line.

When one gains entry at last to the bathroom, the dingy fixtures, floors, and mirrors cast a pall that even a glimpse of the goal cannot overcome. The stoic women in that line remind me of Soviet-era housewives queuing up in the faint hope that a prized commodity (like, say, toilet paper) might still be available when their turns come.

The struggle to manoeuver in and out of the tight space between wall and stall is annoying and must be infuriating for women using walkers or wheelchairs.

I’ll spare you comments regarding ventilation.

Finally, what can we make of the architect who thought it would be a fine idea to have the bathroom doors open almost directly into the performance space? Flushing is not compatible with any music with the possible exception of that sewer flute sonata.

The Smith Auditorium is scheduled for renovation after upgrades to the Middle School and Aspen Elementary. Let’s begin lobbying now for bathrooms worthy of the exceptionally fine women of Los Alamos.

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