Hocking a Hooey at the Concert

Nov 02, 2009

We’ve all been there. Maybe it’s in the simplest, most affecting andante of a Mozart concerto. Maybe it’s right before Debussy’s faun languishes into ecstasy while the delicate ping of the crotale shimmers in the soft summer air. Maybe it’s in the hushed last minutes of Mahler’s Ninth, when the music is just barely breathing, the composer’s faltering heart struggling to beat, his soul’s transmigration from this earthly life teetering on the brink. The musicians are in rapt concentration. The pianissimos are as intimate as a whisper. The concert hall is transfixed.

And then, suddenly from somewhere in the back: “WHOARGGGHHAAAARRRAAAAAACK!!!”

Some cretin in a suit and tie in Row Q with his mind on autopilot has just let rip with a super sized hacker that is the audible equivalent of tossing a bag full of wet coffee grounds and broken eggshells at the Mona Lisa. Everyone in the hall hears it, musicians, conductor, the audience, even the ushers. You try to regain your composure. But it’s nearly impossible. Images of harsh punishment, of sentences handed down by hooded judges, of cruel executions with blunt instruments dance in your mind. You’d like to take this concert hall terrorist by the short hairs, strip him naked and hang him upside down from the loge for all to see and publicly rebuke.

The phenomenon of aggressive throat clearing in public settings is a subject best analyzed by behavioral psychologists. I myself think that much of the barking and hacking one hears at a concert is an unconscious expression of profound psychological discomfort, a discomfort brought on by feeling caught in a confined space with a large number of people all sharing emotions of extreme delicacy. The music expresses an intimacy that is simply too much for some audience members to tolerate in a public setting. They very likely are not even aware of their unease, but they reach out desperately for an emergency valve, an escape hatch from the confines of their deep feelings of internal discord. So the loud cough, most likely completely unconscious, is a way of saying “I can’t handle this, folks. You all may be crowding round Mahler’s deathbed for one final intimate confession. You may be letting Debussy whisper opium secrets into your ear. Perhaps you like being ravished by Takemitsu’s lush penumbras. BUT I AM OUTTA HERE!”

The other reading of the pathology of concert hall hacking says simply that people in a public place cannot bear a vacuum, and when a diminishing pianissimo in the hall goes below a certain minimum, the audience members will automatically compensate by contributing their own compensatory noise.

Concert coughing can be broken down in to several discrete categories. Herewith a rough itemizing:

1. THE IN-BETWEEN-MOVEMENT-PATTER: (This is sort of a classical music version of “The Wave” that sport fans love to do to distract themselves when their team is losing the game.) You know how it goes. A movement comes to a close. There is a general relaxing of the performers’ body language. Musicians adjust their stands. Maybe there’s a slight hint of retuning from the stage. It’s a moment of structural articulation. OK, but it’s also time for “The Patter.” That would be the light wave of ritualized coughing that spreads throughout the hall. This says, in effect, “I saved this all for now, so that I wouldn’t deface the music. Honest! I don’t really need to cough, but I just want you to know that I am such a well-trained and seasoned audience member that I know how to behave.” The conductor waits patiently for the patter to peter out. Time for the andante. Baton raised. Upbeat poised. BUT NO! One more ever so delicate “oo-ka oo-ka” from the first balcony adds one last discretionary coda to the coughing.

2. THE SOGGY-PHLEGM ANARCHIST HOOEY: This one can crop up at any point, being the result of a genuine biological condition. Guy in the next seat came to the concert with a chest cold in full bloom. Should have stayed home, of course. At the very least he has a civic responsibility to tamp down those gurgling, fruity eruptions originating deep inside his bacteria-infested lungs, but he doesn’t give a rat’s ass. Forget the music, friends. Just focus on staying out of the airborne toxic cloud that surrounds him and his unlucky neighbors.

3. THE NERVOUS TICKLE-IN-THE-THROAT BENCH ROCKER: This person is just too scattered to be at a concert. She checks her Blackberry between movements, causing a pale fluorescent glow to emerge from beneath her seat. She adjusts her body sixty-seven times before finding a comfortable position. She’s put on way too much cologne—“Down South” it’s called, the one that comes in that phallic salad-dressing bottle and is guaranteed to cause anyone in the same zip code to double over in anaphylactic shock. The cloud of suffocating scent surrounding her threatens to provoke spontaneous gasping among her neighbors. Now comes that fiendish little itch in the back of the esophagus. Her perfume is causing her and everyone in her vicinity to break out in uncontrollable croaking. All the seats in her row begin to creak and tremble, and since they’re all bolted to the floor together, they rock and roll in sympathetic vibration with her spasms. She rummages theatrically in her purse for a lozenge. You can’t really blame this person, but you wish she’d just take it outside into the lobby.
4. THE SHOT HEARD ROUND THE WORLD: This is usually launched by an unwilling spouse, more often than not a sixty year old man who would much rather be home watching ESPN. The wife bought season tickets without even telling him. Doesn’t know what he’s listening to and hasn’t opened a program book in twenty years. Only musical composition of substance he recognizes is “Light My Fire” by the Doors. Without question this person is genuinely bored to death and would give his right arm to be ANYWHERE else but here. Cannot stand another minute of it. Fires the only weapon he has. But it’s a good one, a forty-decibel howitzer of a dry hack loud enough to wake the dead. That’ll show these effete turd blossoms!

Have I forgotten more categories? Your contributions gratefully accepted.

Comments (40)

Drizzle
November 2, 2009

Perhaps a subcategory of no.4 would be the Screeze, a combination scream and sneeze. Although sneezes are reflexive and cannot always be prevented, Screezers take the sneeze to a whole new level, using a sneeze as an excuse to scream at the top of their lungs in a quiet concert hall. "AAAAAAA-CHOOOO!!!!!" someone cries like bloody murder from directly behind you, and until that "CHOOO!!!" comes you can only think that someone has been stabbed. It really gets your heart pounding.

JtM
November 2, 2009

There should definitely be a category for those individuals so "profoundly moved" by the music on stage that they feel the need to violently rock back and forth with the music (often accompanied by some sort of awkward conductor-imitating hand gestures). This often escalates to humming that is just loud enough that the people around can hear, and which is seldom in tune or in time with the performers.

Ryan
November 2, 2009

Though it's not coughing, there's always the one guy with a deadly chainsaw snore. Give me coughing any day, at least you know the person is conscious.

Leah Byland
November 2, 2009

Not so much a cough as another involuntary noise: I wish I didn't have to add this one, but there's always the guy that automatically yells "WHAT?!" when woken by some sudden, noisy brass/ his wife/ applause.

(I was witness to this once. Hopefully, it will never happen again.)

Paul Muller
November 3, 2009

Last time I visited the Chicago Symphony they had a huge bowl of cough drops in the lobby, free for the taking. Next to it was a big sign that said "Tonite's program is being recorded, kindly refrain from coughing." Good idea and it might have even been true about the recording.

A week ago I performed in a concert and had a tricky throat - didn't wanna take cold medicine or I might be too foggy to miss that big entrance (I play in the trumpet section). Was scared to death I would break out in a coughing fit during quiet spots in the Beethoven triple concerto, but survived OK. Distracting, though, especially during those 120 measure rests...

ST
November 3, 2009

How about the cinema goers who got stranded in a music hall instead? I was in a concert last Saturday, and I could hear interlocking chips munching behind me on both left and right ears while the violin was trilling away on the Lark's Ascending!

There was another time when I was watching Mozart's Le Nozze when a lady next to me just suddenly felt hungry and opened up a packet of chips and ate them!

Coughing is nothing compared to these!

Peio
November 3, 2009

I don't know about the cinema goers, but it's really annoying when they try to open the candy wrapper slowly trying to go unnoticed, but the effect is just the contrary! That everlasting constant unwrapping noise gets stuck in your head, and by the time it's gone, Mahler might have long gone to heaven.

Let me add another category:

@The first applause syndrome: The guy who needs to show off his knowledge ("oh yeah, I know better than anyone in the room!") by being the first one to clap even when the music is still fading out and the conductor hasn't lowered the baton.

Sometimes they even fail in their attempt to be the greatest smart-ass in the audience. I recently went to a Red Violin Concerto performance (by Slatkin and Bell), and these people irrupted just in the middle of the climax, when the whole orchestra stops to let Joshua do a beautiful long glissando. I couldn't hear a single note of it, because a whole section of the audience followed their applause and therefore ruining the whole experience.

LVBfan
November 3, 2009

Squeaky-chair-guy. His seat needed a little WD-40 and he realizes it, but still can't resist the little rump movement that causes the squeak. And can he save it for the great Adams fortissimo sequences? No. Only when it's quiet. (Admittedly, this happened to me only once -- at Davies -- but I'll always remember it.)

(Hey, I work for ESPN. I'll be at home watching a sports event and think, "I'd much rather be at the concert hall." But that's just me.)

Pedro Marques
November 3, 2009

Hilarious post!

It's just the same in Portugal. But I find that the more "knowledgeble" the public, the louder it is. I once saw a performance of Gesang der Junglinge before a very heterogeneous crowd (babies included) completely cough-free.

Ren
November 3, 2009

I'm going to be up front here: I always feel empathy for the coughers.
Has no one but me ever been there too? To have that bit of dust that flew in there, that is so irritating, that we wish we could be rid of but dammit don't cough, so you hold it in and the urge grows until your eyes are watering and the tiny coughs being to emerge and you start to choke and you are forced to slip out of the hall...when one good cough could've gotten rid of the particle and saved all the pain and torment and disruption.

Poor, misunderstood coughers.

Partick
November 3, 2009

Jazz musicians have put up with this since, well, forever.I never heard Charlie Parker unable to play because someone was hacking a lungie.Or The Duke not being able to continue because someone has to sneeze,or breathe. Or are certain musicians like golf pros, needing crypt like silence for their performance?C'mon ,folks, lighten up.

Paul Schleuse
November 3, 2009

A variant of No. 2: At Carnegie several years ago a poor woman tried so hard to suppress her cough that instead we in the upper balcony were treated to a stream of gulping, gagging, and near-sobbing. She finally left her seat and went into the stairwell, where her unfettered coughing sounded and resounded throughout the entire building. More to be pitied than scorned, I suppose—her heart was in the right place, after all.

Still and all, we have to remember that the quasi-religious silence we demand at concerts of Philharmonic Societies and their ilk is as much a nineteenth-century (OK, and early 20th) relic as white tie, tails, and the all-male orchestra (and its universal exception: the Lady Harpist). It demands a mindset that today's concertgoers assume only with effort, and that we should not adopt uncritically.

So by all means, control your cough, but consider what your silence (or your coughing) represents.

David Goldberg
November 3, 2009

I had thought that had seen/heard it all, but at a premiere of a work of mine in NYC, a woman walked in covered in metal jewelry. She had long dangling earrings and about thirty bangle things up and down each arm. So every slight move she made sounded like a drawer of loose silverware opening and closing.
Luckily my piece was third on the program and I was able to alert an usher who quieted her down!
My other pet peeve is noisy watches. Hearing a tic tic tic at 60 BPM during a slow quiet movement at 50 BPM drives me up a wall...

Chris
November 3, 2009

What do you think of whistling and yelling at the end of an incredible performance? I'm on the younger end of the age spectrum for an audience and it's fairly normal for the wind ensemble/band concerts I go to. I'm wondering if it's a generational thing.

Nigel Boon
November 3, 2009

So funny!

And yet, and yet...much as I sputter when they all splutter, I sympathise just a teeny tiny bit, because I have been there. Five minutes into the First Act Prelude to Parsifal I caught one of those dry, hideous frogs that scratch and scratch and just won't go away. Determined not to go out and miss the remaining one hour and fifty-five minutes of the act, I shuddered and wept and kept my mouth closed and my vocal cords silent - ever tried to do that in a dry-coughing fit? It took me ten minutes, was a physical nightmare but the disturbance was limited (maybe I'm just persuading myself that's true!) and I got back on track.

Actually, I blame kleenex for the current prevalence of open coughers and sneezers. Partially. Once upon a time there were (perhaps less than completely hygienic) handkerchieves in pockets, and they could be taken out to muffle coughs and blow noses gently. Then paper tissues got the upper hand - everyone uses them but no-one brings them to concerts, so coughs remain unmuffled and noses unblown. Progress!

Richard
November 3, 2009

Jesus Christ. I've been going to concerts all my life and I've been able to control myself. Why can't everyone else?
Also, as a matter of biology, I have a hard time sitting still. But somehow I manage the discipline to sit still and listen while at a concert.
I have to say the level of offense is different in different cities. New York has to be the worst. Coughing and eating are one thing, but when you pay $65 to have a pretty good balcony seat (which most of us can't do everyday), you dress appropriately and then you have to sit next to some idiot who is wearing a T-shirt and sneakers.
Decorum demands that if these people don't correct their behavior, it's up to you to be the one who communicates to them that they are being rude, inconsiderate, that they look like a slob, or simply that they are assholes.
I have a friend who is a pretty serious concert goer. Watching him deal with them is always funny. He often threatens to have them thrown out as if he has any authority to do so.
Frequently, the alternative of listening to a near perfect performance at home on a recording is preferable to spending money to hang out with these idiots.
However, there is a rare occasion when it goes down correctly. I went to a Mahler 9 at Carnegie with Eschenbach and the Philadelphia Orchestra. The performance was a tedious affair.
However, everything gave way to a feeling of acceptance at the end of the symphony (as tends to happen with this piece even at bad performances; I forgave and accepted Eschenbach for his sins) and he did the mandatory sitting there in silence for a good minute as the 2,500 people in the audience did too. During that minute, all of us in that room shared something truly profound. I'm grateful that for once it wasn't ruined by one of these troubled people.

Steve
November 3, 2009

Vigorous clapping at the end of the development section of the first movement of Mahler 2? These folks (Montreal Symphony Orchestra under Nagano) would not likely let a conductor get to the end of Mahler 9 let alone sit in rapt silence.

Heather Wastie
November 4, 2009

Thanks for your wonderul blog.
Thought you might like this extract from my poem Concert Etiquette:

Going to a concert
is a serious affair,
and if you do it wrong
some people love to tut and stare.
So let’s go to the concert hall
and try to find out more
from people in the audience
who’ve done it all before:

There’s money in my pocket,
it makes a lovely sound,
so I rattle my coins together
and everyone looks round.
But I can’t hear the music -
that woman’s gone to sleep;
she’s spoiling it by snoring
and my ticket wasn’t cheap!

I’ve got a bag of sweeties
with lovely noisy wrappers;
they’re crunchy and they’re chewy
and my jaws go like the clappers.
But I can’t hear the music -
there’s someone eating crisps!
They shouldn’t allow such noisy food;
it distracts the soloists.

I like to go to concerts.
I also like to cough
in all the quiet passages,
from Bach to Rachmaninov.
But I can’t hear the music -
there’s a man in the row behind
whose digital watch is beeping.
Does he think nobody minds?

extract from Concert Etiquette (from The Page-Turner's Dilemma, out soon)
© Heather Wastie
www.heatherwastie.co.uk

Heather Wastie
November 4, 2009

Re my comment above. Your blog is of course wonderful not wonderul. Anyone who knows me will be aware of how careful I usually am, whether that's with spelling, typing or coughing into my hankie.

zcr
November 4, 2009

Well, I have had to go through Turangalila symphony sitting next to an old fat gentleman breathing as if in the middle of a stroke, and apparently not enjoying the music... in the breaks between the movements he commented the music ("Bullshit!") and fortunately left after 6th movement...
And even worse was a 5 years old child taken by his mother to a concert of Stockhausen's music... the child got bored and started moving and chatting, and the mother did not warned him - she simply joined him... so they played there and chatted and laughed... they have ruined the concert.

Music somehow started to be so ubiquitous and omnipresent, that it is considered mere background by many, something not worth concentrating on... many people not only cannot just sit and listen, it simply does not come to their minds that is the way to deal with it.

Partick
November 4, 2009

" New York has to be the worst. Coughing and eating are one thing, but when you pay $65 to have a pretty good balcony seat (which most of us can't do everyday), you dress appropriately and then you have to sit next to some idiot who is wearing a T-shirt and sneakers.
Decorum demands that if these people don't correct their behavior, it's up to you to be the one who communicates to them that they are being rude, inconsiderate, that they look like a slob, or simply that they are assholes. "

I think you need to take a deep breath, and probably and enema

chaucer
November 4, 2009

Not only are there the folks sitting in front of you who jump to their feet like applauding automatons before the conductor has even lowered his/her baton, but then there is the self-appointed 'conductor' seated close by who, oblivious to all, 'conducts' from his seat.

Sam
November 5, 2009

If applauding was allowed between movements (perhaps just after non-slow movements where applause is historically appropriate), the applause would cover up the hack-hack-hacking.

And applause is for the audience as well as the performers. It's a psychological strain to sit there and be emoted at without any response or participation. I read about how at the premiere of Beethoven's 9th, the audience clapped appreciately at the unexpected timpani entrances in the scherzo. I think that would be nice.

You could even indicate where applause is and is not appropriate, in the program. Perhaps some period-instrument orchestra could try this; call it "period applause."

TheYoungerSquire
November 5, 2009

Okay, long story: involves Tchaik 6, a bassoonist, and a horn player with an extremely disturbing sneeze (approximate rendering: BAH!!! - fortississimo). The NZSO was touring aforementioned work, and on one night, the first bassoonist developed an apocalyptic bubble: reputedly it sounded like Tchaikovsky being sung by a basso profundo, through a straw, into a glutinous liquid of some sort. Naturally, first bassoonist is traumatised. At the next performance, he was on stage half an hour early making sure there were absolutely no bubbles, bubble-mix, damp spots or spit-valves anywhere near his instrument. (Many potentional ciggies perished that night!) So, concert starts; double bass fifths, opening note of bassoon solo...
and what happens?
That's right.
BAHH!!!

They had to start again.
True story!

And along true story lines, when the Wellingon Youth Orchestra played the same piece recently, we got past the end of the third movement without anyone clapping!! But Kiwi audiences generally do what they're told (though apparently Segerstam's Symphony no. whatever was actually boooed! So gutted I missed it...)

And does anyone here know Loriot's Hustensymphonie??!! It's topically perfect!

A Prior
November 7, 2009

Totally Agreed! I find it so selfish when people do that, and more, I’ve even witnesed people ANSWERING, yes ANSWERING their cell-phone during a performance of Rimsky-Korsakov’s The Snow Maiden. I think that the ritual of in=between movement coughing is one that is hard to get rid of, but I know one conductor, who I will not name publicly, who certainly has fired musicians for coughing, and gives such a glare to any cougher in the audience that they wish they REALLY hadn’t. IT WORKS! Thanks for writing!

StockC
November 9, 2009

This is truly an exceptional article with many well-written comments.

However, I'm surprised that no one has featured the Discharge of the Rearward-facing Howitzer, occasionally done in multiple volleys. Yet for all its cacophony, it can be preferable to its well-camouflaged silent cousin with a sickening aroma that overcomes everyone within a five-seat radius.

Compared to this, I'd put up with the armchair conductor anytime.

Jason McCool
November 9, 2009

An interesting and entertaining post, and I think it touches on lots of hot-button issues related to modern concert presentation. What's the best way to present to the public music which we believe in, music which seems to "deserve" the respect of silence and rapt attention?

All this reminds me of Keith Jarrett, who actually has lectured his audiences on his "need" for them to remain silent during his focused improvisational concerts. He's actually been known to walk out if he feels coughing gets too excessive!

http://www.bit.ly/4v9iIi

Jarrett makes the point, and it seems our author might agree (as do I!) that much of coughing is done deliberately out of nervousness or, worse, the "ESPN-types" wanting to publicly express some sort of manly dissatisfaction with all the sensitivity. Jarrett has stated he can tell the difference between a medically induced cough and a "protest" one - as a stage actor myself I feel the same. (Haha, this reminds me of a pre-concert speech my former teacher Michael Cain gave at a jazz concert at Eastman years ago - "These students are working really hard on something, and letting you in to their process - if you're the 'storming out' type, please storm out now, rather than once the music has begun!")

Plus, like orchestra concerts, Jarrett tends to get lots of "high-roller" types - people who go because they've been told it's an "event," but really have no idea what the expectations are. And I do think although all classical concerts demand an enormous amount of focus, that Jarrett's music, wholly improvised on the spot, perhaps represents a special case of "interaction with the muse," if I may be momentarily purple.

Then again, I also repel at anything that turns audiences away from the concert hall, and I think this fussy, stodgy, over-reverent attitude which tries to eliminate all extraneous noises of the "uninitiated" is absolutely guilty of this. Could you imagine shushing people at a Radiohead concert? No, and whether we like it or not, this is the audience classical music is competing for, and I think anything we can do to unbutton the formality of these events might break up some of what seem some very accurate accusations of elitism. Of course, this is problematic as "the attraction of elitism" seems to be the sole motivation keeping some wealthy, stodgy, funder types coming to the halls in the first place! But call me crazy.

Ultimately I like the model where people applaud when they are moved to, as was the case with the performance of Haydn's "Creation" at RFH detailed in the Jarrett link. I think the point is that we want to share and celebrate this music with as many people as possible, and sharing an musical experience communally inherently presents an element of risk and imperfection.

Cheers,
J. McCool
http://www.jazzandliberalpolitics.wordpress.com

allbetsareoff
November 9, 2009

It's an underappreciated fact that minor chords, played quietly, provoke coughing. The adagio of the Schumann Second Symphony is especially potent.

Vincent Ellin
November 18, 2009

I remember an incident where a couple had a full blown argument in the hall during the concert. No ushers came to escourt them out, or at the least to keep them quiet. The main subject at intermission was what the argument was about, not the music. They even spoiled it for us performers too.

G. P. Skratz
November 19, 2009

The price of democracy is to suffer fools. & the price of audience is to collaborate with them. We have marauding medieval teenagers galloping through the streets of Florence & Rome & lassoing the arms off statues to thank for all the armlessness in our art history books. John Cage knew that silence isn't silent & suggested we embrace the chaos--which, happily, we're doing right here, where there's more hilarity than scolding.

Al Evans
December 2, 2009

Uhhmm ... where I come from (and I'm not telling) the expression is "hocked a loogie".

But then, where I come from, I've never heard (or read) the term "anaphylactic", so maybe I'm just culturally deprived.

Rob
May 15, 2010

I know this is an incredibly unpopular idea, but I don't mind applause between movements. Beethoven himself preferred it; using it as a gauge to judge which parts of his works his audience preferred or did not. As a performer, I don't mind the opportunity to stop after, say, a grueling ten-minute movement of solo Bach. There are some cases however, that making the movements so disjointed could cause unjustifiable harm to a work. But left to the performers discretion, a practical use of attacca leading to proceeding movements might be occasionally necessary.

John Kelly
August 23, 2010

It depends where you are. A concert at the Concertgebouw and you're unlikely to hear much in the way of coughing, a musically knowledgeable audience with a passion for their orchestra and the building. In Prague, almost utter silence, even though it's Ma Vlast - again........at the Proms, 6000 people can fill the Albert Hall and listen to The Lark Ascending and you can hear on the radio that it sounds as if there is no-one in the audience until the applause (and cheering) at the end.
Then there's my current domicile, New York. Like most American audiences, New Yorkers are only too happy to applaud during the last note of Walkure, and to "shotgun" while Butterfly is having Un Bel Di. I actually saw Riccardo Muti turn round and stare into the audience as he continued to beat time after a particularly obnoxious "explosion cough" during a NYPO programme last season. Saw Abbado do it too when a cellphone rang and rang - and rang at Carnegie during Mahler 9 some years ago.
Japan - utter silence, as in NO coughing. Listen to any NHK broadcast.
American audiences just suck when it comes to this, and get all defensive when anyone mentions it. It's apparently "their living room" since they paid to be there.
Stokowski had his players burst into coughing and leave during the Farewell Symphony back in the 1930s. Nothing's changed.

John Kelly
August 23, 2010

Forgot to add that during a Met performance of Parsifal some years ago, Jon Vickers, apparently royally pissed off at the persistent coughing barked out into the audience during a break in his part "Shut Up with your damn coughing".

We need a little more of that.

Eduardo Fernandez
February 7, 2011

I have almost never managed to finish a Bach Sarabande without somebody coughing or making some kind of noise. Same for the ending of Britten's "Nocturnal". I agree that it is because of unconscious discomfort. Some things are hard to face, and some music puts us face to face with them!
Wonderful blog and wonderful posts! And I have been a fan since the first time I heard the recording of "Nixon in China". Thank you, Mr. Adams!

Laurent Vuillard
February 23, 2011

It's very much a cultural thing, in Germany the public is much quieter (incl. coughing) than anywhere else in Europe.

Anthony Prickett
May 30, 2011

I've actually had to cough badly at a concert once. The day before I had been in bed all day with terrible aches all over and without a hope of being able to make it. But the day of the event, I felt absolutely fine. The piece, luckily, was Honegger's Pacific 231, and I only had to cough during the absolutely loudest sections. The lady next to me proceeded to give me a cough drop, which at the time I was worried about because that would make it even more embarassing the NEXT time I had to cough, but (luckily) I never did. The performance by the SF Youth Orchestra of Britten's Young Person's Guide turned out to be one of the greatest performances I had ever been to, and am very happy to have gone, even if I was suffering all the way through Webern's Im Sommerwind (this can be interpreted in multiple ways).

Peter Pankhurst
February 2, 2012

Settling down to enjoy the overture to what promised to be an excellent performance of Fidelio, we were interrupted by two old ducks coming down the row. Having finally seated and settled themselves thry listened to what remained of the overture and as soon as the singing began remarked loudly "This isn't My Fair Lady", got up, squeezed back down the aisle, and left us all distracted, irritable and (at least for me) unable to enjoy the rest of the night. I might well have preferred a cougher.

LPonti
February 16, 2012

Absolute classic recorded example...Glenn Gould's performance of the Brahms 1st Concerto with Bernstein. I had to hear it cause of all the ruckus his interpretation had caused. Well, the uproar shouldn't have been over the tempo, but the outrageous audience behavior! Don't know if we have remastering technology to thank for an earful of hacking, but the throaty distractions made listening all but impossible. Still, it was worth the purchase to hear Bernstein's introductory disclaimer.

Philip Davies
February 7, 2013

Thank-you Mr. Adams for such a forthright (and amusing!) condemnation of excessive coughing in the concert hall or music theatre. When a distinguished musician and composer like yourself is moved to such an indignant outburst at the lack of consideration for fellow-members of the audience and performers alike, which such bad manners exhibits, it consoles concert- and opera-goers like me for the number of times that insensitive and ill-bred twerps - of all ages - have generally behaved in public as if they were on their own sofa back at
home in front of the telly, having shamelessly transferred their private habits into the space that I have paid to share with them. Such obnoxious behaviour includes, alas, not only coughing, but also intemperate bouts of fidgeting, as well as of copious and noisy eating and drinking (British theatres in general now actively encourage this swinish behaviour, and consequently often resemble 'greasy-spoon' cafe's but without the amenity of tables). Then again the excess of cheap (or expensive) scent, complained of by another respondent to your item, is only balanced by the stained, rumpled and unwashed aspect of some audience members, in numbers increasing too rapidly even to be accounted for by growing austerity: I refuse to believe in the existence of such amazing numbers of musically-literate dossers and street-dwellers, even admitting that financial adversity is now making inroads upon the standards of the middle classes. I suspect this dressing-down code is more likely inspired by a long history of progressive liberal ideology in British acculturation which has left many people so afraid of seeming 'elitist' that they are congenitally averse to topping it above anything that you or I might just as instinctively scrape off the bottom of our shoes. And despite the plentiful supply of eat-an'-swill with which they surround themselves in the restricted under-seat space - which creates a precarious series of possible accidents to further upset their neighbours' mental equilibrium, and thus receptivity to the more harmonious manifestations at hand - these ungovernably selfish fools still seem to need to make frequent, precipitate and clumping exits and equally demonstrative returning entries in order perhaps to supplement their siege rations, or for toilet breaks whose frequency indicates an utter want of toilet training in infancy. Such incontinent behaviour is highly reminiscent of the continuous unsettling hyper-activity of too many of the youngest members of the audience, who - to be fair - have been taken to the theatre under the parental assumption that all public space is strictly analogous to a municipal play area for their precious darlings. This is not to speak of those who arrive late and waste no further time in settling down to continue the aimless yet urgent conversation they have been sustaining all their lives in order to avoid the realisation, which haunts them in the wee small hours when Universal Silence rules, that their paltry existence is unsustainable without the prattling inconsequence of their chintz and crochet - or (as it may be without prejudice towards any age) their mechanically twittering - souls. Nothing can be done (though the therapeutic effect, at least, of a basilisk glare, or of the sharp and venomous 'shush' that ambushes the offender from out of the enveloping and anonymous darkness, are not to be despised, especially if the nerves are particularly highly-strung). Human beings are indeed a mixed bunch - which usually means that they sort very ill together - particularly when they have gathered apparently for the sole purpose of expiring noisily from an interesting selection of terminally serious bronchial conditions. (A specialist in the field might have a really pleasant evening. Were he musically inclined, he could even amuse himself by forming a choir of coughers, thus providing a more creative, less disruptive outlet for their expressive urges. Naturally, this would give rise to instrumentalists habitually attending such concerts and disrupting them with musical interjections.) Honestly, I've sat amongst some audiences that are only a little less suitable to be allowed into a theatre or concert Hall than a stampeding, snorting, reeking mob of buffalo! Especially the sort that stomp in late and tread on your toes with their stilettoed trotters without giving you any chance to leap out of their way as they bear down on their seat on the far side of the row just as the programme is getting under way. Actually, most people I meet on a cultural night out are very nice and personable. But the other kind, rather like terrorists, have an effect quite out of proportion to their insignificant numbers amongst the crowd. Perhaps snipers could be discreetly stationed about the auditorium to discourage them (with silencers, of course)? I hope my Swiftian whimsy here can be excused, without resort to humourless notions of some all-enveloping 'correctness' to stifle such harmless comment, and suffocate a good, old-fashioned indignant rant - as if it were some virulent cough, to be trapped and killed in a cotton hankie. Humour is certainly catching, the effects having contributed much to human evolution. I feel I have laughed my annoyances away - like coughing or sneezing to clear the head.

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