Printer-friendly version weekend vote: The last time I had to cough at a classical concert, I...

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Published: December 5, 2014 at 8:16 PM [UTC]

Chances are, if you've ever been to a live classical concert, you've experienced that excruciating moment when you are overcome with the need cough during the the most hushed, still moment in the music. What did you do?

kyung-wha chung

You may have heard what happened in London, at Kyung-Wha Chung's big come-back recital at Royal Festival Hall. After the first movement of Mozart’s G Major Sonata K379, apparently a good number of people had to cough.

"Exasperated by an avalanche of adult coughing between movements, Chung calmly upbraided some parents for bringing along a young child who dared to cough too," wrote Erica Jeal of The Guardian.

"'Maybe bring her back when she’s older.'" Time critic Anna Picard quoted Chung saying to the parents. Picard added, "With one shrivelling put-down, a tetchy atmosphere turned toxic."

This must have really touched a nerve, as it made headlines all over the place: the BBC, The Telegraph, The Daily Mail, and Norman Lebrecht.

Well I wasn't there, but it sounds like an extremely tense situation: the soloist, 66, stressed by such a high-pressure concert, and a hall full of Londoners with colds, holding their breath and popping cough drops in their not-always-successful efforts to stifle their coughs.

What happened the last time you had to cough in the concert hall? And what are your thoughts on the situation that led to Chung's frustration?

Posted on December 5, 2014 at 8:41 PM
I was there and people continued to cough for a minute or more while Chung was trying to play the next mvt for at least 3 times without success. I could understand her frustration. And also, there was a few people who coughed quite often, don't know if that was the same child that Chung turned her direction to though.
From Gregory Lawrence
Posted on December 5, 2014 at 9:49 PM
It seems very odd to me that an artist of Ms. Chung's stature would not expect to have his or her performance interrupted by the occasional cough from the audience... and even more so in the Winter month December, where one would expect more of the audience would have colds, etc. I can't imagine the child was coughing to annoy Ms. Chung. I feel Ms. Chung should have thanked the parents for bringing their child to hear her...
Surely during her many years of playing concerts throughout the world, Ms. Chung has had this happen before... I am guessing it was her way of dealing with the stress? Just a guess on my part. I have always loved her playing... but I will say, I would now be a bit less inclined to attend one of her performances... still, if she comes to town, I'll be there, hmmmm, with my bag of Vicks cough drops, unwrapped prior to downbeat, of course :) Greg Lawrence
Posted on December 5, 2014 at 10:30 PM
These haughty "artists" need a comeuppance. It's a live concert for chrissakes! Scat happens--even when it ain't jazz!

She takes herself way too seriously, methinks.

Who the hell wants to go to a concert if this is the thankyou you get for spending $100 for the "privilege." The artists with this attitude have it backwards. They play at the pleasure of the audience--not the other way around!

Posted on December 5, 2014 at 10:35 PM
Im afraid I wouldnt be at her concert. the future of classical music is in the hands of our children, and she has just given us all an example of exactly what not to do! how likely is it that the child in this story will want to go to another concert again...and how many of us with children will now think twice, in case we are humiliated in public. it was the soundlessness of any empty hall she wanted...through her actions, she may just achieve that in future.
From Laurie Niles
Posted on December 5, 2014 at 10:44 PM
Okay, everyone who was berated by the soloist needs to tell me the story, or maybe it was this one!

About the KWC concert, I'm wondering, if it was such a mass cough-in, could the venue be to blame? Do they need to install a humidifier at Royal Festival Hall perhaps? Was it a particularly cold day during which the heat was going full-tilt?

From Sue Buttram
Posted on December 5, 2014 at 10:50 PM
It seems like I often have a cold when I have tickets to a concert. I'm always ready with a tissue and an open cough drop but I can't always stifle the cough. I would be unhappy to be on the receiving end of a tirade by a professional musician and would probably lose interest in the concert.
Posted on December 6, 2014 at 1:32 AM
It takes a lifetime to build a reputation-and only a few seconds to destroy one.

I'm a violinist and I'll surely learn from this mistake of this world class performer.

I suggest forgiveness. Forgive the stressed out frustrated performer, forgiveness for the child who coughed-and forgiveness to the media for thrashing this artist.

If you've ever know a performer of such stature, you can verify that such talent takes a lifetime commitment. Time spent alone with the violin is time spent away from social situations. This all makes sense if you consider the context of each involved.

From Francesca Rizzardi
Posted on December 6, 2014 at 3:10 AM
There is something about the air at concert halls that makes me cough. But one time I was getting over bronchitis and was doing fine until I got into the concert hall. It was a solo performance by Murray Perahia and the concert was so popular that chairs were also set up on the risers behind him. We were seated there. I couldn't keep from coughing, and at the end of a movement, I fled the concert hall, in front of everyone! The hall seating was bowl shaped with doors at the top in back, and I went to a doorway and stood inside listening, so I could step back into the hallway if I had to cough. Not long after I left, Perahia stopped playing and told the audience that if they didn't stop coughing, he would end the concert. After that experience, I started taking a small bottle of water with me to sip when my throat got dry.
Posted on December 6, 2014 at 4:21 AM
I could care less about who's coughing, or not coughing. Looking at that picture, all I can think is "That woman really is 66 years old?" If berating audience members made me look that young, I would do it every time I stepped on a stage, and I would make sure I stepped onto one often!!!
From Dorothy Barth
Posted on December 6, 2014 at 4:38 AM
I cough quite frequently (though, amazingly, less so when playing the violin)-- not cold-related, but I have a sensitivity to various irritants. This October for my birthday, my husband purchased excellent seats for a Joshua Bell recital in Santa Barbara. Terrified that I might cough, I consumed at least a half dozen cough drops and didn't cough once. However, I was especially disturbed when the couple next to me decided that it was OK to have a running commentary during the recital. I overcame my non-confrontational nature and managed, by body language, to get them to stifle themselves. Happily, they left after intermission, leaving us to enjoy the concert in peace.
From Paul Deck
Posted on December 6, 2014 at 4:59 AM
So a famous violinist cracked and scolded a child for coughing. It's a little off-putting, but it's not the end of the world. Would it be fair to say that this particular senior-citizen violinist can still play circles around all of us arm-chair blogosphere commentators put together?
Posted on December 6, 2014 at 11:34 AM
Last time I tried to suppress a cough during a concert, it caused me to toot instead. However, the sound turned out to be virtually indistinguishable from that of a french horn, and harmonized well with the horn part, so I'm pretty sure no one was offended, even on the off chance they realized that this note didn't come from the horn section.
Posted on December 6, 2014 at 12:50 PM
It seems Ms Chung has aged but not matured. The audience pays her not the other way round. We must all not just tolerate, but embrace audiences including their coughs, applause, boo's and occasional hissy fits without comment. If you can't do this don't play.
From marjory lange
Posted on December 6, 2014 at 1:12 PM
As bad as it is/may be to cough as an audience member, THE WORST experience I ever had was an unexpected coughing seizure when I was in the orchestra, during the cadenza on a piano concerto. NO cough drop, NO way to leave quietly, NO way to control the cough. I finally sat there breathing into my sleeve so I could get some moisture into my throat. It helped--but if I had been in some venues, it would have been too-little-too-late.

From Mark Roberts
Posted on December 6, 2014 at 2:52 PM
it is not only coughing, last monday I was in a concert in the the wigmore where someone behind me was making chewing noises...
Posted on December 6, 2014 at 4:06 PM
There are already enough things putting off children from becoming involved with classical music - e.g., cost of concerts, cost of music lessons, snobbery, etc - this woman has just added another one. If I was that child, I would never want to come to a classical music concert again. That woman should be ashamed of herself!
From Jacob Jessen
Posted on December 6, 2014 at 9:10 PM
Your questionnaire does miss an obvious option: attempt to get out of the concert hall.
Being brought up from childhood in a Cathedral/Boys' Choir I have acquired a practical coughing discipline: If an upcoming coughing would seem completely irresistible, cover your mouth behind your sleeve and staccato-cough sotto voce in minute bursts until it has subsided.
Now, half a century later, as a listener to concerts I can still apply this technique - if, at all - being overcome by that urge which still would seem hyper-nervous.
It would be a matter of discipline and technique that even young children, let alone adults could learn, wouldn't it?
Making concert coughing a matter of principle would seem a case lost.
Posted on December 6, 2014 at 10:27 PM
Christopher Seaman, Conductor Laureate of the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra, used to show the audience before a concert what to do if they had to cough or sneeze. He would demonstrate how to hold the inside bend of your elbow or forearm tightly against your mouth and cough into your sleeve. Give it a try. It's amazing how effective this is!
From William Bickerstaff
Posted on December 7, 2014 at 10:51 AM
Being a jazz violinist, I am used to folks coughing, laughing and enjoying their lives as I perform. "Hot clubs" are my favorite venue.

Coughing during a performance is not an issue with me. C'est la vie!

Posted on December 7, 2014 at 9:41 PM
If you feel you may cough but still in need for listening that music so much that you can`t just simply stay home or go back home if you left already, you listen standing beside the door, ready to exit.

Anyway, when you attend the concert only for the sake of the music, not for the social event, and respect fully the performance, your body functions differently and somehow the cough urge is suppressed or at least diminished.

Posted on December 8, 2014 at 3:16 AM
I have a recurring cough that will not be denied and that for which we have been unable to find the cause. I have coughed into my sleeve, I have coughed into my coat folded into several layers, used cough drops, major prescription cough suppressant, swigged water from my ever handy water bottle, quietly blew my nose during a loud section, and more. I try to hold until a loud section or break between movements or pieces - doesn't always work.

I have had this cough occur while at concerts, while participating in concerts - and have at this point (still trying to find the causes) just had to accept that I have to try to do it quietly - mute the cough.

BUT the best coughing made me feel better. While attending a concert listening to a major string quartet, the guest second violin (regular violin 2 had a major injury) had a coughing fit. She continued to cough several times and the quartet continued to play and she didn't seem to miss a beat -

Seems coughing happens to us all.

Barbara - Colorado

Posted on December 8, 2014 at 3:26 AM
Coughing in between movements so common I feel is unreasonable to accuse the child. Incessant coughing during movements can affect concentration I agree. But I suspect the child did not do it on purpose.

From Sarah Skreko
Posted on December 8, 2014 at 6:59 PM
Which is a more appealing prospect: a concert where everyone in the hall hears every single note, but the audience members are straining to the point of pain to make sure they don't let out a single cough or sneeze and feel miserably ashamed and shunned if they do happen to slip up, or a concert where the audience members do their best to cough quietly, but the spirit of kindness and camaraderie prevails, and no one need feel horribly guilty for being a human being even if it means a note or two is lost? I know which one I'd pick.
From Charlie Gibbs
Posted on December 9, 2014 at 11:22 PM
There's one option that wasn't on the list: cough during a loud passage, where it's less likely to be heard. But even then, you should try to cover it up. I've developed the habit of catching my prodigious sneezes in my elbow, not just during concerts but all the time. I do this primarily for sanitary reasons but it's also very effective at muffling the sound.

Why, oh why, do the worst offenders wait for a quiet spot in the performance before letting fly? And to make matters worse, many of them don't even try to cover it up, but just blast away at a volume that would rival the brass section. Sometimes I wonder whether every concert has a "designated cougher", someone charged with the task of generating explosive coughs at the worst possible times.

As for myself, on the rare occasion where I feel an urge to cough, I can usually swallow a little saliva to soothe my throat and eliminate the need to cough. It's just as effective as cough drops, which usually come wrapped in that crinkly plastic that makes just as distracting a noise when you unwrap them. (Why couldn't they use a soft plastic instead?)

I try to remain as quiet as possible not because it's some sort of Victorian ritual, but out of courtesy for my fellow audience members.

Yes, stopping a performance to castigate an audience member might be a little extreme. But c'mon, admit it, wouldn't you be tempted - just a little bit - do to the same if someone was being really disruptive? Some people really do need to be educated in basic courtesy.

There might be nicer ways to do it, though - like this, for instance.

From Philip Voll
Posted on December 11, 2014 at 12:10 AM
This is just my personal view.
I have never noticed any musicality in Kung Wa Chung's performances, and violinists with her technical ability number in 10's of 1000's, so why would I pay money and bother to take the trouble to hear her when I can gain more by using the time to practice!?
I rather save the $ to hear a really extraordinary violinist-musician!
Besides, Chung showed lack of historic knowledge of concerts of the "music" of the period of compositions she performed.
Audience should be entitled to a full refund dince she was a) unprofessional in three counts, and b) out of line and rude.

I am sure I am the only one who will never go to her concerts in my life or give her another chance to change my mind about her abilities as a qualified concert violinist.

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