Quiet in the Stalls Please!
Extraneous noise at concerts -
coughing, unwrapping sweets, rustling programmes,
aids, talking - is the bane of the performer,
and the concert-goer. In her latest book Sleeping in
, pianist and writer Susan Tomes devotes
a whole chapter to the subject of coughing and
audience noise in general
(she wittily calls the chapter 'Bullfrogs')
and the blogosphere was alive with
exclamations and hand-wringing not long
ago when violinist Kyung Wah Chung berated the parents of
a young child
who coughed during her recent
concert at London's Southbank Centre.
The popularity of smartphones has added another irritant to concerts - people taking photographs,
filming and texting during the performance: a couple of years ago
I watched most of the second half of
a concert by Yuja Wang through the video app
of someone's iPhone. The illuminated screen can be
disturbing to other concert-goers, and if you are
texting or browsing the internet during a performance,
it suggests you are not concentrating fully on
the music, which is just plain discourteous to the
musicians who have spent hours upon unpaid hours
in rehearsal to bring this wonderful music to you.
A curious dichotomy exists in the world of live
classical music concerts. Tradition and concert
etiquette dictate that we sit in hushed reverence during the performance, stifle coughing and generally
attempt to be extremely quiet. This enables us to concentrate on the music and avoids unnecessary
distractions for the performers. Yet, as John Cage proved
in his work 4'33"
, in a concert hall there is no
such thing as "absolute silence" - for people are living, breathing, moving..... For performers, the sound
of the audience can be extremely helpful, and most of us who perform actively enjoy the sense of the
audience listening and engaging with the music (I also really like that "collective sigh" that seems to
come at the end of a fine performance, before the applause, almost like a giant cat uncurling and
stretching). It undoubtedly adds to the excitement of a live performance and reminds us that the music
we play is intended to be shared with others. I love being at, or giving a concert where one has a strong
sense of the audience listening very carefully in an atmosphere of combined concentration.
Of course, people can't help coughing (go to a concert in London in the winter, and there is often a
cacophony of raucous coughing and nose-blowing), or moving in their seats, or turning the pages of the
programme, but whispering and talking, tapping away or filming on a smartphone, or fidgeting is just
plain rude in my opinion.
Audiences behaving badly
Susan Tomes on the subject of coughing
Coughing and the Art of Concert Etiquette
Frances Wilson is a London-based pianist, piano teacher,
concert reviewer and blogger on music and pianism as
The Cross-Eyed Pianist.
She is a reviewer for international concert and
opera listings and review site Bachtrack.com, and
contributes art and exhibition reviews to US-based culture and art site
She writes a regular column on aspects of piano playing for
‘Pianist’ magazine’s online content,
and contributes guest articles to a number of classical
music and music education websites around the world,
including Clavier Companion and The Sampler,
the blog of SoundandMusic.org,
the UK charity for new music.
Frances is Artistic Director of the South London Concert Series,
an innovative concert concept which gives talented amateur
musicians the opportunity to perform alongside young and
emerging professional and semi-professional artists in the
same formal concert setting
Read more on her blog: www.crosseyedpianist.com