Coughing in a concert

December 5, 2014 at 01:48 AM ·

Replies (50)

December 5, 2014 at 02:54 AM · This seems over the top to me. There were plenty of people coughing, it reads like people were trying to get it out of the way in between movements. If the child were talking, I would understand the outburst, but coughing? If it was a persistent cough that went on throughout the piece, I would think a performer would ask if the child was okay. No one who pays good money for a concert has the intention of impeding the performer in any way, I know that I am very self-conscious regarding any extraneous noise I happen to make. I think Chung may have been upset that her performance contained obvious errors and projected her misdirected frustration on to the easiest target around, a child. I've done this surrounding my performance(not to a child) before I realized I was upset with myself, not my undeserving targets. It was nice to read that she is normally very supportive of children experiencing classical music. Oh well, we're all human and we all lose it. It's fortunate our missteps are not usually so public...

December 5, 2014 at 03:15 AM · If an audience member needs to be asked to leave, that suggests a rather extraordinary circumstance, but the way to do it is to excuse yourself from the stage and ask the stage manager to get an usher to deal with it discreetly as possible. Then you get out there and play your violin.

December 5, 2014 at 08:17 AM · That's a violinist that goes on my no-go list. According to the news there was no more coughing than usual in December, picking on a child is low.

December 5, 2014 at 10:16 AM · 66 is a bit of a sadly early age for someone to start going funny, but it can happen at any age.

December 5, 2014 at 12:35 PM · How do you stop coughing in a concert? - a deliberately ambiguous question, btw. Here is a BBC article about the problem:

December 5, 2014 at 01:10 PM · This is rather sad, as I am an great admirer of Ms Chung. I am the same age as her, and even at my abysmally lower level, I am aware of more noisy audiences: whispering, chatting, fidgeting, cell-phones, etc, not to mention clicking cameras with flash right in the eyes. Performing is a high-stress activity at best, and moreso in a "comeback" situation.

When I simply cannot avoid coughing, I was brought up to stifle the cough as best as possible, hand, scarf etc. I'm sure Ms Chung could hear the difference between a restrained or un-restrained cough. Did she pick onthe child, or his/her family?.....

December 5, 2014 at 02:09 PM · Can I do this?

Maybe it's time to put mics and speakers in larger halls.

December 5, 2014 at 02:24 PM · Of course this was not okay. But forgive her. She is a human being with nerves. Certainly not an easy concert for her, having been announced on lifesize posters as "The Legend Returns". Kudos to her for her London comeback at an age of 66 after a hiatus of more than 10 years. It seems she already relaxed during the concert. And it appears the attending audience certainly forgave her and she thanked with 4 encores. Go on, Ms. Chung, with best wishes of many including myself! You are a great example for will power and determination in combination with unique talent.

December 5, 2014 at 03:52 PM · One alternative is to perform Igudesman's "Pig-Flu polka" and invite the audience to contribute:

December 5, 2014 at 03:57 PM · In all the concerts I've played in throughout my life (must run into several hundreds) I cannot recollect any significant coughs from the orchestra, but from the audience - yes, many.

But see how this admirable fellow deals with an interruption from a member of the audience that could well have thrown some other performers.

December 5, 2014 at 04:18 PM · But I do, Trevor. Adrenaline prevents coughing but it can also do the opposite, particularly in slow movements with veeeeery long pp strokes. I remember two chamber orchestra concerts (both times I had a not so terrible cold) when I nearly fainted trying to suppress coughing during slow movements. Possibly my worst concert experiences ever. I know colleagues who had similar experiences.

December 5, 2014 at 04:39 PM · Chung could maybe make amends by finding out who the child was and offering them a violin lesson or a subscription to the concert series where the offense allegedly occurred. Years ago I think some tennis star pegged a ball boy in a fit of anger but then offered to hit some with him.

December 5, 2014 at 04:56 PM · Whatever happened to ushers?

Someone needs to be managing an audience. It shouldn't be the performer/s.

Patrons really should be prepared to remove themselves - but obviously they don't...

In that case, disruptive patrons should be quietly ushered out...the issue dealt with...and then they may return to their seats during intermission, or at any convenient time if possible, if the issue has resolved.

It's not unmanageable. And's a pet peeve of mine...

December 5, 2014 at 05:13 PM · Hard to know, not being in the audience, exactly how disruptive it was. Tis the season for coughs and colds, so it's a little inevitable. It's interesting to me that it was all about a child coughing, not over a child misbehaving (crying, talking, disrupting, etc.) or an adult allowing his or her cell phone to blare. Hard to control it, if you really have to cough. Of course, if you have influenza, you should stay home, but I'm not sure that was the case!

December 5, 2014 at 08:34 PM · Who brings a sick child to a concert?

That said, despite my personal observation that audience manners have deteriorated significantly over the last decade or so, I have also observed young children (around ages 8-10) at recitals and concerts be perfectly quiet, still, and most attentive to the music, sometimes completely putting older, misbehaving audience members to shame.

Maybe for every coughing (and perhaps, as has been claimed elsewhere on the internet, clapping along to the piece and giggling) child with parents that really need calling out, there are also well-behaved children with lovely manners that go unacknowledged.

December 5, 2014 at 10:33 PM · I was at the concert. It was certainly the concert with the highest cough rating between the movement I have ever attended - one person after another - for like a minute or so, with some particular people cough quite often. Ms.Chung tried to begin the movement for at least 3 times without success and the audience was laughing on the circumstance...

I don't like that she spoke that to the child's parents but I understand her frustration very well.

I was also irritated several Koreans attend the concert to see their nation's superstar but behaved poorly, taking some pics and videos, some even used the flashlight! the most annoying thing is the digital watch that beeb now and then ... can't people just turn that off?

December 5, 2014 at 11:12 PM · What about tooting? What's the proper protocol?

December 6, 2014 at 02:51 AM · Just like in an elevator,always glance sharply at a nearby individual, then eyes front. Unless it's at a rock concert; the lighter has more than one use.

December 6, 2014 at 04:33 PM · Jazz pianist Keith Jarrett is one of the worst for this.

Here is him stopping the concert and giving a lecture. You can hear the audience turn against him:

December 7, 2014 at 01:59 PM · When exactly did the audience decide it's okay for the audience to be rude?

I'm actually quite surprised at the vitriol directed towards the performer.

And again...what ever happened to Ushers?

I remember I know they existed...

December 7, 2014 at 02:24 PM · I might imagine that the audience contained many

of Mc Chung's fans, and brought their children and granchildren to hear theis muse.

But do many listeners appreciate that coughs, as well as rustling cough-drop papers, crinkling prorammes, reflex cameras etc. impinge on the very frequencies to which the player is listening so intently?

December 7, 2014 at 02:28 PM · If the audience is that noisy...the children and grandchildren won't be able to hear anything either...

December 7, 2014 at 03:38 PM · I think Ms Chung should realize who the customer is.....

December 7, 2014 at 05:10 PM · A couple of years ago Andreas Wagener, a Professor of Economics, published this little study about this phenomenon.

Indispensable read when you talk about concert coughing!

December 7, 2014 at 06:54 PM · "I think Ms Chung should realize who the customer is....."

...and maybe she considers that each "customer" should help to allow other "customers" get their money's worth!

Anyway, a live performance is not a product, it is a precious moment of exchange, not to be treated lightly.

December 7, 2014 at 10:12 PM · When I pay go to a classical music concert I reasonably expect to be able to enjoy that concert. If the person besides me spoils the concert by being disruptive... maybe they should refund me? Is that what it would take to get individuals to behave responsibly?

If I go to rock concert...I don't expect my fellow concert goers to sit quietly or to not make a sound. It is a different venue. I can behave appropriately at different venues. It is not a difficult concept.

While I think it is important to expose kids to music along with a host of other activities I do not think they need to be taken to an event before they are old enough to appreciate that event. Nor do I think a child takes precedence over an adult at an adult event.

December 8, 2014 at 01:00 AM · I know Kyung Wha Chung. We are both the same age and studied with the same teacher, Galamian. She worked very hard and deserved every honor bestowed on her. She clearly out-played Pinchas Zuckerman in the Levintritt competition which I heard, but was only allowed to share first prize honors with z since Isaac Stern was pushing him. She gave me some good advice about my career and I appreciate that. She is an honorable and good person, not to say an excellent artist. I have not been in touch with her for years.

December 8, 2014 at 01:14 PM · This is a tough call, and it was especially interesting to read the post by the person who was actually at the concert.

When I perform, I try to tune things like this out to the extent that I can. If I can't, I'd try to make my point with a touch of humor. In the summer, I participated in a performance of the Mozart Clarinet Quintet - not the easiest thing to put together with 5 people who had never played together before and on about 2 and a half rehearsals at a busy festival. So we were not without our individual and collective concerns. But we began with the 2nd violinist insisting that we first play "Happy Birthday" to the violist. Then, when we were about to start for real, somebody's cell phone went off. With a smile, I wagged a finger in the direction that I heard it and said "don't do that!" But it was clearly in the style of the old joke, "doctor, says the patient, it hurts when I do this. Says the doctor, don't do that." Immediately after I said that, the violist chimed in "but it was in the right key!" "That's true!" said I. Then we really began, with a much looser and freer feeling than we otherwise would have had, which was shared by the audience, and the performance went very well.

BTW, at some concert halls, as soon as you enter to get your program, they also offer you cough drops.

December 8, 2014 at 03:59 PM · She was absolutely in the wrong. Coughing is involuntary. It's not remotely comparable to other disruptive concert behaviors like talking, texting, candy unwrapping and so forth.

Neither do you have to be sick to cough. Once when I was in St. Petersburg at a small recital at the Rimsky-Korsakov apartment, I was struck with a fit of uncontrollable, very loud coughing. I wasn't sick, but St. Petersburg is very dusty. I excused myself from the room and the pianist actually stopped and asked me why I'd gone into the hallway. When I explained that I had a cough, she told me in no uncertain terms to come back into the hall and enjoy the music! I appreciated that so much. I will never forget that kindness, and I was a musician myself in college. Imagine if this little girl had never been to classical concert before, and the memories and associations she'll now have.

I do think that if the coughing is prolonged, the polite thing to do is excuse yourself from the room until it stops. But no one should be shunned for an involuntary function, much less scolded from the stage! I'm embarrassed that this even happened.

December 8, 2014 at 04:34 PM · I do understand, Sarah, but while I can play the piano with background noise, the violin is quite another matter. And I am dismayed by the number of folks who don't bother to stifle coughs at all, let alone teach their children to do so.

Yes, I have children, and yes I've gone deep red holding back a cough while playing..

I see no account so far of the tone of Ms Chung's remarks, nor the frequency of the coughing fits. So I withold judgement.

December 8, 2014 at 04:41 PM · Well, the NYT critic in the original article says that her tone was pretty acid. And her comment was to bring the child back when she was older, as though only young children are subject to coughing.

As Paul said, it's inappropriate for a performer to berate the audience from the stage. It makes the performer look unprofessional at best and petty and vindictive at worst, with this example falling on the "worst" side. If it's absolutely necessary to ask someone to leave, that's the usher's job.

December 8, 2014 at 08:42 PM · Perhaps I'm too influenced by the Aubrey/Maturin series, but I'd have challenged the child's parents to a duel.

December 8, 2014 at 09:02 PM · But what if the father turned out to be Scaramouche? Or Chevalier de St. George? Or the mother, captain of the women's Olympic fencing team? That's why it's good to locate the exits of a theater! ;-)

December 8, 2014 at 11:54 PM · For background and context, just found this nice Youtube leading up to that concert:

December 8, 2014 at 11:59 PM · I attended a student recital, where the performer was known to be a bit dramatic heard a couple people cough during a piece and had on hand a bowl of cough drops, which she promptly threw into the audience. Luckily I was standing at the door and avoided any possible injuries, but never seen an audience look so battered by intermission. Hardly anybody returned after that break.

What's this have to do with the scolding? Pretty much nothing, other than just be glad you weren't pelted by the performer and got off with a simple scolding. ;-P

December 9, 2014 at 12:08 AM · That is so ridiculous, John. That student would have failed instantly had I been the teacher, and we would have had very serious words.

I have no idea why anyone would think it's okay to treat their audiences this way.

December 9, 2014 at 01:46 AM · Sarah, back a few posts, are you sure it wasn't the Rimsky that caused the cough?

December 9, 2014 at 04:22 AM · Oh no worries, Sarah. They were kicked out of the school the next day after word got around and reached the Dean and a couple news rags.

December 9, 2014 at 03:15 PM · What about laughing at a concert? A family member and I got an excruciating fit of repressed giggles when we read the program notes about a particular composer claiming to have been inspired by the works of John Cage.

We tried to quell it but the first, uh, "note" got me biting my fingers (literally) to not burst out laughing. It took several minutes to subside and was not, in retrospect, a fun experience at all!

December 10, 2014 at 03:45 AM · Dimitri, this can be worse than needing to cough. Some of my fiercest efforts at suppression were required during my childhood, when my sister would make various silent in-jokes during church. Then we would both try not to laugh, but in doing so, we would somehow only increase the hilarity, making it more difficult not to break out in giggles, which made it all funnier, etc.

December 10, 2014 at 03:52 AM · Raphael, thank you for that what a nice video. The pressure was just so high, I can't even imagine it.

December 10, 2014 at 02:13 PM · Glad to do so. And thanks for putting it into a more immediately accessible form!

Speaking of laughing at a concert, any Seinfeld fans remember the Pez candy incident?

I'm not proud of this, but I was a kid when my father once took me to a concert-in-the-park, with the NY Philharmonic playing the Shostakovich 5th. This piece has more than its share of bombast. But during a pianissimo passage, a man in front of me - how shall I say this? - displayed a personal source of natural gas, and did so fortissimo and sforzando! I - remember I was a kid - laughed out loud. Very shortly thereafter, the poor man got up and left, never to hear that the symphony ends on a triumphant note! Well, we're all human, in all kinds of ways!

December 10, 2014 at 03:31 PM · Laurie, you asked for it..! :-) According to the program notes, the composer claimed to have chosen to have relatively little influence over the how the piece came out in the end.

Which is understandable, considering that it employed, among other charming moments, bows banging on the music stand. Each bow and each stand makes for new and exciting variables, correct? In fact the composer did not specify the make of either.

After the performance I went on stage to see the score. The annotation "Da Capo: or maybe not" was a tell-tale, but by then the damage had been done.

December 10, 2014 at 08:04 PM · Coughing is a very useful resource (by audience, orchestra, or soloist) as it can cover up some bad intonation/and /or wrong notes. The BBC add it to their recordings frequently to do just that. Especially the Proms which are often pretty dire ...

December 11, 2014 at 03:16 PM · At the theater in town, the ushers offer cough drops with silent wrappers and also there are bowls of the coughdrops in the aisle on the way to the seats.

December 13, 2014 at 03:19 AM · And this:

BTW, I went to Mannes at the same time as her pianist brother, Myung-Hun (sp?). I didn't get to know him well, but was struck by not only his pianistic talent and musicianship, but also by his very strong and positive stage presence.

October 18, 2016 at 09:03 PM · I have two peeves about coughing. The first is timing. It seems that people want to wait until the quietest parts of the music, where a cough would be most disruptive. Second, few people make any effort to stifle the cough; if anything, they seem to maximize it.

I've become quite good at suppressing coughs. Usually, directing a little saliva to the back of my throat and swallowing will eliminate the tickle before it goes any further. There have been only one or two instances where I simply could not make the urge go away. In such cases, I'll do my best to muffle it, putting my face down in my lap if necessary. If possible, I'll hold off until a loud passage, so that any noise I do make is drowned out by the music.

Being lost in the music is a wonderful experience, and anyone who disrupts this - by any means - is doing a very rude thing. Imagine if you were taking a good long stretch and someone poked you in the stomach. That's just not nice - and it's not necessary.

October 20, 2016 at 07:16 PM · Here's my list of the top 10 worst things that an audience can do during a musical performance:

Number 10: Cough.

Number 9: Sing along with the music.

Number 8: Bark like a dog.

Number 7: Make faces.

Number 6: Get up and walk out.

Number 5: Text.

Number 4: Meow like a cat.

Number 3: Eat an apple.

Number 2: Drool.

Number 1: Be heard to say, "Mischa plays it better."

October 20, 2016 at 07:24 PM · Sander, where is "unwrap a cough drop"?

October 20, 2016 at 09:32 PM · Good point. And why, oh why are candies and cough drops wrapped in the crinkliest plastic available? It's impossible to unwrap them without making a disruptive noise. On a very few occasions I've found candies in a soft plastic bag that you can open without noise. But maybe those cost a tenth of a cent more to make...

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