Noisy audience?

September 17, 2011 at 08:46 PM ·

Sometimes I have to play at an opening or reception. Usually the audience listens to the music and the speeches, but sometimes they talk like in a bar. Of course that has to do with the setup - if the audience is sitting in rows, no problem. But if there are bare tables and drinks it's different.

Well-educated people wait until the program is over. But what can be done with the others? I don't want to tell them to shut up, but I don't want to waste my music as well. Any ideas?

Replies (22)

September 17, 2011 at 09:15 PM ·

Well, if it's some kind of reception - and I've done loads of them - you have to accept the fact that it's not a concert; it's background music. You just have to learn to concentrate and tune them out. There will usually be a few people who will come close, and listen appreciatively for a while. But most will eat, drink and socialize - and that's what such an event is for - unless I'm not getting what you mean by the situations you're describing. Indeed for what I have in mind, I believe that Mozart Haydn, and even early Beethoven wrote some of their serenades, divertisments, etc. for somewhat analagous occasions. Imagine them shutting up royalty!

September 17, 2011 at 09:26 PM ·

If you don't want to hear talking while you're playing, don't take gigs where alcohol and food is served.  Anything that says "reception" is probably going to be loud.

On the other hand, if people are not really paying such close attention, it gives you a chance to try out a few experimental things and gauge their reactions -- contemporary or avant-garde works, for example.

September 17, 2011 at 10:50 PM ·

Take the money and run.

These are just  money gigs ,think of them as paid rehearsals

September 18, 2011 at 12:59 AM ·

 The venue is not a concert hall.  People come to receptions for lots of reasons, but (sadly) the music is rarely one of them.  I concur with the posters who suggest (1) try things you are not quite sure of and (2) take the money, smile, and count it good.  You are an entertainer in those situations--no, not even that, you are part of the entertainment.

September 18, 2011 at 01:35 AM ·

waht charles saiys.


September 18, 2011 at 01:52 AM ·

After years of wedding gigs I barely play them anymore. I find performing with noisy chit chat exhausting. Of course people talk loud because they have to talk over the music. The musicians amp it up to hear each other!

This summer I threw a party and hired a qtet to play. It was the first time I had ever been on "the other side". Yes there was noisy chit chat and the qtet kept playing. The most amazing part of it all??? The music really added a special touch to the event. Without it the ambience would have been pretty dry.

Smiles! Diane

September 18, 2011 at 03:35 AM ·

Have you considered a Tazer? Not sure how many darts they come with or the duration of the battery life but you might look into one. I suspect you would have a quiet, captive audience after the first shot.

September 18, 2011 at 07:07 AM ·

Thanks so far. I am quite familiar to the "take the money and run" attitude. But my special problem is this: I have to play at some of these receptions as a teacher at the municipal music school. And, as it's a part of the job, I don't get paid. Me and my partner only get a bottle of wine and a thank you. But most of the audience talks even during the speeches, where they use a microphone. And I sit there without amplification. I won't carry all my amplifiers with me when it's a unpaid job. If they would keep quiet, they could easily hear the music. There are only two or three short pieces between the speeches, no background music.

I  am not sure if it would be ok to adress the audience "we will now play for you, but therefore we need silence".

September 18, 2011 at 10:33 AM ·

At the other end of the "playing for a noisy audience" scale is the quiet up-market gentility of the Tea Rooms in Bath's Grand Pump Room (Bath is a 2-millennia old town in Somerset, England). The resident Pump Room Trio is believed to be the oldest resident ensemble in Europe, since sometime in the 18th century. The standard is extremely high – one of the two alternating violinists performed the Elgar vc with my orchestra some years ago – and a position in the Trio is very much sought after.

September 18, 2011 at 10:55 AM ·

As others have said, you are just background music providing a nice atmosphere for the occasion. When our quartet do these, I take it as a compliment if some of the gathering do come over and just listening. Sometimes they even applaud! As far as I'm concerned, we enjoy playing together, and we're getting paid for something we enjoy anyway. And it's a lot less pressure than a concert - we have been known to read new things during the gig.

September 18, 2011 at 06:21 PM ·

 I suggest you use these opportunities as a chance to get private gigs.  Be sure to carry business cards with you, have some out by you in a nice card stand so the audience members can take one while you are playing.  I understand that you are frustrated because of the noise and because you are not paid for these events, but you should not let these opportunities go to waste. 

I'm also going to take issue with your use of, "Well-educated people wait until the program is over"...I hope you are not oozing this condescending attitude while you are performing because the audience will pick it up.



September 19, 2011 at 12:52 PM ·

The occasion is not about you; not intended to be. If someone wants to be giving a home concert, they will bill it as such. Sit really close to each other to help you hear each other, choose not to play your most subtle pieces, smile & have fun. Or smile like you're having fun. A quartet w/attitude leads to the host hiring a (cheaper) dj next time out.

September 19, 2011 at 01:18 PM ·

Most of the comments may be helpful for beginners in the trade, but they don't answer my question. I try to put it a little bit more specific: In a reception where the audience is supposed to listen to speeches and an few musical contributions, how can I politely tell the the people that the inofficial part (that with the drinks and the snacks) has not yet begun? This should be the part of the host (the mayor of the town), but he has his mike, and doesn't know the difference between background music and a artist's contribution. If he knew it, my problem wouldn't occur, but I was hoping I wouldn't have to adress him directly.

September 19, 2011 at 02:04 PM ·

 Short answer; you can't.  You could ask  a musically knowledgeable friend who also knows the mayor to say something, but otherwise, there's not much you can do.  "Artistic contributions" covers a vast territory--is it a musical fund raiser?  maybe it wasn't publicized clearly.  

But if you want to keep on the good side of a bunch of potential patrons, you need to--as you seem VERY aware!--tread softly, and keep a good face on it.

And, believe me, it's not just 'beginners' who have to cope with inattentive audiences; that's a bit disingenuous of you.

September 19, 2011 at 02:16 PM ·

Your more recent comment reminds me of the service that was held for the young people who were murdered in Norway.  At that service there was a violin performance as part of the proceedings.  During the performance there was perfect silence.  But that was an extremely formal affair, presided over by royalty and televised worldwide.

The kinds of events you're talking about are going to have a certain number of people, always, whose primary objective is to get to the bar, get a drink, and tuck into the capanes straight off, all the while chatting up a comrade or flirting with the ladies.

Why are you doing these gigs if you don't like them?  If you have to do it to make ends meet, then I agree with a previous post that you should play their game and pass around your business cards to get even more of the same kinds of gigs.  You'll be more marketable if you seem content and unflappable, and less marketable if you seem irritated by the clientele.

September 19, 2011 at 04:39 PM ·

I was asking for help in a very specific situation, no advice how to get jobs or how to behave there. Sorry if I haven't been clear or my english isn't precise enough, but sometimes people don't really read what is written.

I will talk to the organizers to solve the problem. Thanks.

September 20, 2011 at 12:16 PM ·

Tobias, it may be you who is failing to read.

In a nutshell, the problem is not with the audience. It is with what you expect from them.

If you try to control the audience, it will be one more strike against fuddy-duddy music and traditional instruments, one more argument that we're stuck-up snobs, and one more reason for people to prefer rock bands or a DJ. Is that really what you want?

September 20, 2011 at 12:30 PM ·

 When you talk to the organizers, be sure to tell them that it's all about you. I'm sure they will understand. 

September 20, 2011 at 01:47 PM ·

Tobias, you wrote, "I have to play at some of these receptions as a teacher at the municipal music school. And, as it's a part of the job, I don't get paid. Me and my partner only get a bottle of wine and a thank you."

If this is why you are there, because you are expected to be, then I think it may help if you consider that this "gig" is just part of the cost of doing business. In any kind of work, there is a "cost of doing business" factor. If you accept that point of view, it may be much easier to smile and do the best you can with it.

And I do agree with many who have suggested that you be sure to smile. In spite of its drawbacks, this kind of situation really is an opportunity to network. And you never, ever, ever, ever know who is a great networking source. It may be someone you (and even they) never expect it to be.

In any case, it's not worth getting an ulcer over.

Hope that helps.

September 20, 2011 at 03:27 PM ·

 Tell 'em to shut up.

September 20, 2011 at 07:24 PM ·

Well, finally the problem is solved. I have been discussing it today with my music school principal, and he agreed that this reoccuring situation needs to be cleared. We'll simply ask the mayor to announce musical contributions in a way so the audience understands that the music is meant to be listened to, not as background entertainment. "And now, please enjoy listening to..." or so. He just doesn't have the idea himself, but it's no question that this is his interest, too.

I'm a little bit confused. I thought I had made it clear that I'm talking about a situation where things have gone wrong. Most of you gave me (good) advice how to run a typical reception, but of course I know that already, having done that stuff for decades. Maybe it's my english, or maybe there is a cultural difference and in America there are no receptions or openings where the audience listens like in a concert or a church service. Here in Germany there are, and most hosts make sure the bucks they spend on the music are not wasted. Usually it's clear whether I am booked as an artist or as an entertainer. Anyway, I found out how to avoid a similar situation, and thanks again for the help.

PS: no danger of an ulcer. I'm enjoying the bottle of wine ;-)

September 20, 2011 at 08:12 PM ·

 I'm glad you got it sorted out, Tobias, and I think your original post was a bit misleading--receptions and openings  in the US are not ever treated as concerts or recitals, by any stretch.  We sometimes have a venue where the ensemble plays for an audience seated at tables with food/drinks, but that's not usually called a reception--it's a 'pops style' concert.  Difference in terminology--always good for all of us to learn the pitfalls we may encounter in another culture.  I encountered the sort of occasion you describe in Mexico, and it was startling for me, not used to having people with drinks actually listen as they conversed.

Hope the resolution works out.

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