Glad to hear that audiences aren't that way all across the world. I, of course, wouldn't know. I speak from the limited vantage point of a (frustrated) small-town Midwestern American; I have had very little experience with knowledgable audiences. Hence I am glad to hear that not everyone succumbs to so-called "bad behavior". Complaining about concertgoers' shenanigans is a delicate, difficult balance between being too fussy or prissy and upholding our precious standards... But for those of us who go to concerts for the music, it is amazing how much an audience can add to or detract from our enjoyment of a performance.
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Before yesterday, I hadn’t quite realized how badly an audience could ruin a performance, but after hearing my fellow townspeople’s noisy shenanigans last night, I was awakened to harsh reality. The experience got me thinking about concert etiquette, and why people never seem to follow it, or indeed, even be aware of it. For instance…
1. Why do people clap between movements? I understand the plight of new concertgoers; they have no idea what’s going on, and it seems only natural to show your appreciation during silence. Even I, one of the most vocal anti-applause-between-movements activists that the world has ever known, fell victim to ignorance several times when I first began going to symphonies and recitals. But why do the people who I see at concerts all the time keep doing it? Don’t they see the polite and wary glares from the performers? Why don’t they get the message that they should probably just keep still?
2. Why do so many people leave concerts at intermission? This is a huge pet peeve of mine. If you can’t attend the whole concert, then just don’t bother, unless there are special circumstances (and I mean SPECIAL) involved. I can’t imagine how crushing it would be to be a performer coming out onstage, glance happily out at the audience, and suddenly realize, crestfallen, that half of them have mysteriously vanished.
3. And if people DO stay past intermission, why do so many of them rush out of the auditorium as soon as the final chords are struck, as if gold has just been discovered in the lobby? Why can't they spend five minutes applauding and thanking the performers for their hard work? Are they anxious to get home in time for the evening news? To avoid traffic jams? Is there some kind of federation of classical music post-concert racers that I haven’t been invited to join? Maybe they feel they’ve already done their part, since they were all clapping between movements anyhow. I don’t know.
4a. Why do people always read or drop their programs during the quiet parts? I suppose the answer to this is “people drop them all the time; it’s only that you hear it during the quiet parts”. But alas, this warrants question 4b –
4b. Why do people drop their programs so often, period? Let’s be candid. Is it really that difficult to hold onto a program? Is it really so hard to silently fold a piece of paper in half and tuck it between the chair cushion and the armrest? Why don't more people do it, then?
5. Why do people think they’re clever when they whisper to the person sitting next to them at concerts? New flash: everyone can usually hear what you’re saying, and it’s rarely as clever as you think it is! I once went to an incredible piano recital where the gifted soloist gave a Schumann lullaby for an encore. His playing was sending me into ecstasy, it was so delicately phrased, so poetically played, so thoughtfully planned and executed. I was “wallowing in rapture”, to quote Glinka, when, during the beautiful closing notes, a man in the front row chuckled to his wife, “He’s trying to put us all to sleep!” And for some reason, the whole thing was spoiled after that.
5. Why do people get the urge to apply strong scents to themselves whenever they go to concerts? I confess that I wear perfume, but only a little tiny dabble on my wrist that fades before I’m even done with my pre-concert dinner – certainly nothing as strong or as pungent as some people wear. I have sat next to concertgoers who have smelled like wine, like beer, like salty food, like fake flowers, like strong perfume, like stale cologne – and the list goes on and on. Moral Of The Story: an odorless audience member is a desirable audience member. Perfume, cologne, and other odors (intentionally applied or otherwise) should not an intense olfactory experience for your fellow ticket-holder.
I guess I’m an old prune, but I had to vent to people who understand. I feel much better now. In fact, I might even go and practice for my recital this weekend. I hope nobody wears perfume or rustles their programs during my solo, or I might just stab somebody with my bow. ;)
Cheers for tonight.
Violinist Frank Almond tells the life story of the 1715 Lipinski Strad in his new recording, "A Violin's Life."
Emily Hogstad is from Eau Claire, Wisconsin. Biography
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