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Nontraditional venues keep the arts alive

Lorna Brunelle, owner of the Wood School of Performing Arts.

Debee Tlumacki for The Boston Globe

Lorna Brunelle, owner of the Wood School of Performing Arts.

If you were to walk into the Thomas Crane Public Library in Quincy at this very moment, you would undoubtedly be struck by the silent and stately building’s magnificent floor-to-ceiling woodwork, stained-glass windows, and graceful lighting.

But at certain other times, the space emanates the beautiful and rich tones of cellos, guitars, flutes, drums, and harmonizing voices. For nearly 20 years the historic building has hosted concerts of every flavor, from classical, to jazz, to folk — even pop favorites.

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“We are really gifted to live in a region that has so much high-caliber talent,” said the library’s assistant director and events coordinator, Clayton Cheever. “Finding ways that it can be appreciated and made available to folks that maybe otherwise wouldn’t be exposed to it is a rewarding experience.”

There is, of course, something to be enjoyed in traditional performance halls with their grand, gilded architecture and plush seating, but all across the region — from Marlborough to Quincy to Watertown — there are classical plays, elegant music, and sumptuous dancing in the most pleasantly unexpected places.

A few local options include Ventress Memorial Library in Marshfield, which offers regular concerts on weekends; the James Library and Center for the Arts in Norwell, whose picturesque Victorian building hosts anything from concert series, to classes, to art shows; and movies and concerts at Fort Revere in Hull in the summer.

Meanwhile, the Thomas Crane Public Library, dating to 1882 and designed by architect Henry Hobson Richardson, puts on a July Thursday night concert series on the lawn and indoor concerts during the winter and spring on Sunday afternoons. Drawing anywhere from 80 to 120 people, performers have included cellist Luis Leguia, guitarist-flute duo Mark Leighton and Peter Bloom, and a Beatles cover band. An open mike group also meets there regularly.

But why music at the library?

It fits in with its main priorities, according to Cheever, some of which include providing engaging and enjoyable cultural and recreational experiences, stimulating imagination, and satisfying curiosity.

“If we can attract somebody to the library to hear music, then they can discover everything else we have to offer,” he said.

For its spring and summer concerts, the Newburyport Chamber Music Festival transforms its city’s historic structures into intimate performance spaces.

“We love being able to use these smaller spaces,” said executive director Jane Niebling. “There’s no stage separating the musician from the audience. If you’re trying to present chamber music, the closer you can get people to the music, the action, the more exciting and engaging an experience it’s going to be for them.”

Its venues include St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, founded in 1711 (as well as a “stunning” Gothic chapel in its churchyard, according to Niebling); the 1835 Custom House Maritime Museum; the Newburyport Public Library, built in 1777; and the privately owned 1850 Farwell Clay Carriage House. The group also plays outdoor concerts and open rehearsals in various locations throughout the city.

“That’s part of what we do, is put music into different spaces,” said Niebling. “Newburyport is all about architecture. There really aren’t any spaces that aren’t interesting, and that don’t have a personality. By moving around, we keep reintroducing people to these personalities, and try to make them as active as possible.”

Down the coast in Salem, Rockafellas restaurant puts on a Latin dance party, taught by Greg Coles, every Wednesday night.

Meanwhile, on a recent evening in Watertown, a slipper-clad audience of several dozen clapped, smiled, and bobbed their heads along to the rollicking folk show put on by two fiddlers, a guitarist, and a dancer. Afterwards, they mingled and enjoyed dessert with the players, known as 4tet.

It was indeed a cozy venue: They were not on a stage or in a club, but instead in the parlor of a home, participating in an underground niche known as “house concerts.”

It is just as it sounds. People open up their homes to professional touring musicians, then invite friends, colleagues, and others in the community to come and enjoy (with suggested donations, 100 percent of which go to the players).

Guests are “exposed to some very high-caliber professional musicians in an intimate setting,” said Jeff Boudreau of Arlington, who has organized more than 100 house concerts at various locations since 2007.

“Artists who come to this series generally don’t play at other commercial venues in the Boston area,” he said.

In addition to providing that unique experience for locals, the concept allows musicians to essentially perform live rehearsals and try out newer material; they are also given a night of lodging, and can make anywhere from $500 to $1,000 from donations, Boudreau said. In his series, presented through “notloB Parlour Concerts,” Boudreau has brought in musicians such as the Montreal-based Bombadils, the Tattletale Saints of New Zealand, and 10 String Symphony of Nashville, among numerous others.

The current home that hosts the concerts, which belongs to Boudreau’s house concert co-organizer, can hold 40-plus music lovers, and audience members exchange their outdoor shoes for slippers and bring desserts to share.

“The best feedback I get is the returns,” said Boudreau. “Filling the available seats is becoming easier and easier with every concert.”

To the south, another more public venue is bringing life to its community in a different way.

In Middleborough, a 100-plus-year-old space was recently transformed to The Alley Theatre, an extension of the adjacent Burt Wood School of Performing Arts.

It derives its name from both its history and its location: It was a bowling alley 103 years ago, according to owner Lorna Brunelle, and accessing it today requires a walk down a chicly-lit, metropolitan alley. Since opening in 2010, it has hosted an amalgam of events, including its own theater shows and those of Theatre One Productions and Nemasket River Productions, as well as movie screenings (most recently the documentary “The Bridgewater Triangle”), and stand-up from Lenny Clarke and Steve Sweeney. Other events have included art shows, artist and wellness fairs, author signings, lectures, charity fund-raisers, pageants, dance lessons, magic, private and political functions, and even a “living zoo” during school vacation.

“It’s a little quaint space in Middleborough — until you walk in you don’t realize how cool a space it is, or the high-end acts we pull in,” said Brunelle. “We’re all in it together. We’re trying to keep theater alive, trying to keep entertainment alive.”

Taryn Plumb can be reached at tarynplumb1@gmail.com.
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