Monday Musings: The perennial problem of thoughtless audiences
When people tell me that they have stopped going to performances because of audience distractions, I always try to argue that the value of live music-making is still so high that it's worth putting up with the occasional burst of boorish behavior. I am beginning to doubt myself.
The nonsense I witnessed turned this concert into something, well, disconcerting. Time and again, my ears were forced to choose between the profundity of Mahler's "Resurrection" Symphony and ...
the crackling of a plastic bag that contained something of such interest to the woman in front of me that she reached for it every few minutes -- all the way through a nearly 90-minute performance.
When she wasn't doing that, she was opening and closing and dropping her program book. Or squirming in her seat. Or nudging her husband and pointing up to the vocal soloist located stage-left above the orchestra. (Amazingly, she made the effort to muffle her frequent sneezes, but one credit didn't erase all those debits.)
People turning to stare at her didn't deter her in the slightest, as you can imagine. Those who become a menace at performances invariably exude a combination of oblivion and entitlement.
Consider the several cases of concert-desertion during the Mahler. These folks departed at will as the music was being played, no matter how many others in their rows were disrupted in the process. And, as I mentioned in my review, one guy waited to leave until one of the most glorious moments in the finale of the "Resurrection" (talk about The Rapture!) -- only to calmly stroll back and plow back to his seat very shortly after.
Anyone capable of missing even 10 seconds of that transcendent vocal/orchestral passage needs therapy -- and an usher barring his return.
Are we getting ruder? Are too many people attending performances just because it's something they do, not something they deeply desire? Is there anything that can be done to change the behavior?
Announcements about turning off cell phones are routinely made (not, usually, at the BSO's Meyerhoff concerts, where such eruptions are commonplace), so would it help if pre-performance admonishments about bad manners were also delivered?
If we could keep away all the people who have no real interest in the music, how full would the concert halls or opera houses be?
It seems so obvious that people should be able to behave as long as they are in the room -- and that, if they want to flee, they should do so at the least damaging moment and in the least annoying manner as possible. It seems so obvious that people should cover their mouths when coughing.
It also seems so obvious that a live performance should be quite unlike anything you are used to at home (no matter how great a sound system you have), and that the differences include no talking, no eating or drinking, no rustling, no jangling (women wearing 350 bracelets on each arm are a particular pet peeve of mine), no wandering in and out.
It should just involve old-fashioned, fully concentrated listening in a communal environment with like-minded worshipers at the altar of art and culture.
Is that really, really too much to ask?
SUN STAFF PHOTO OF AN AUDIENCE AT MEYERHOFF HALL MAKING THE ONLY NOISE AN AUDIENCE SHOULD EVER MAKE: APPLAUSE