Let me set the scene for you. I am taking my seat in beautiful Symphony Center, the home of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. The program features Baroque concerti performed by Pinchas Zukerman and Stephanie Jeong, and is bookended by two Mozart masterpieces. I’m excited! I’ve never heard Zukerman live before and am looking forward to this experience.
Leaning in, I watch the CSO musicians warming up. TAP, TAP. I am poked by someone behind me. “Excuse me, do you have trouble seeing or something?” An older woman asks, a tetchy edge to her voice. “Nope!” I reply. “Then lean back in your seat because I have trouble seeing when you’re so far forward.” “Oh, sorry about that” I reply, and make sure the small of my back reaches the end of my seat. A bit surprised since this has not happened to me before, but I decide it’s no big deal. The first half of the program goes by, performed beautifully by all on stage. It cramps my style to try and sit in one position for the concert, but I’m doing my best.
Tetchy lady’s friend mutters darkly during intermission, “My friend Prissy [name changed to honor privacy] had this exact problem at the theatre last week. Could hardly see the stage.”
Mozart’s Symphony No. 39 begins the second half, and it’s glorious. The music swirls with energy and life, and each movement is concluding with a resonant chord that one can savor even after the musicians put their instruments down. I get a TAP TAP from the woman behind me at some point, perhaps 3rd movement, and I try to remember to lean back again. The last movement commences, and the violins are nailing it (it’s devilish to play) and I nod my head enthusiastically in admiration and in time with the rhythmic drive of this exuberant finale. The program ends and the CSO receives a well-deserved ovation. While I’m getting ready to leave I receive a final TAP TAP from the lady behind me, whom at this point is seriously aggravating me, and we have a little confab.
“Don’t you realize when you lean forward and move your head [she lolls her head about grotesquely] around that I can hardly see the stage? I could hardly see the timpanist half the time! Is this your regular seat?” I’m on the receiving end of a rather withering condemnation from this patron. “I’m sorry about this; I come here two or three times a month and have never had this problem before,” I reply. “Is this your regular seat!?” she demands again. “No, I usually move around this section. I’ve never had this problem before, but I’m sorry I impaired your view today.”
This dialogue is absolutely accurate because it’s the sort of thing you replay over and over in your head, wishing you could have said something cooler, or more witty at the time. I think this woman’s behavior was pretty shocking for numerous reasons, listed here in no special order. Hopefully I’m not projecting too much.
Other issues I found (less objective): she needed an unimpeded view to enjoy the concert (you hear best when your eyes are closed, actually!), and she was territorial about her seat area. On a lighter note, she was, in my opinion, also misguided in her fascination with the timpani, especially since this was a Mozart symphony.
Now, some concessions.
Ok, that’s it from me.
Some excuses I’ve concocted for her rude behavior:
But in all seriousness, I’m so glad that it was me who was on the receiving end of her behavior rather than a newbie, because that sort of attitude would have scared me off from attending another performance.
I think concertgoers should absolutely be allowed to lean in their seat to catch every nuance in the music. I think bobbing your head in time to the music is great! It’s catchy, this classical music stuff! A topic for another blog is applause between movements. I think this is fine, except at the end of slow or intimate moments. When your outward appreciation of the music is curtailed and derided by others it makes for an awkward and unpleasant experience. Classical music is dying, we hear all the time. I don’t believe this, but I do think some of the unfortunate and hurtful stereotypes associated with classical music are grounded in truth. Stuffy and snobby beliefs about concert etiquette are something we’re obviously still dealing with, and I hope these can fade away, ASAP.
All right, vent complete, thank you much for sticking with me here.
I’d love to hear your stories, positive or negative, about recent experiences as an audience member in the comments below!
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