Carleton College's student newspaper since 1877

The Carletonian

The Carletonian

The Carletonian

Concert Etiquette

<rnegie Hall with 2,804 rapt music lovers is certainly a thrill second to none. As a New York City resident and professional performing musician, concert-going is a way of life—from both sides of the footlights. Several years ago there was a most memorable recital with famed Russian mezzo-soprano Olga Borodina and pianist and Director of the Metropolitan Opera James Levine which began with beguiling singing soon to be interrupted by the predictable cell phone chiming from the balcony. An irate listener screamed, “Turn off the [expletive deleted] cell phone.” The offender obliged. Three minutes later another peel rang out followed by, “I thought I told you to shut off the [expletive deleted] cell phone.” To which a third annoyed and knowledgeable audience member responded, “And while we’re at it, would you please stop applauding between each song?” At that point the artists on stage stopped and gazed upward at the balcony, aghast at the riot that appeared to be erupting. New Yorkers tend to voice their intolerance of poor concert-going etiquette vociferously—not surprisingly when you may be paying upwards of $150 per seat.

To hear the world renowned Takács Quartet in a resplendent concert in Carleton’s own Concert Hall on January 10 was a privilege for all who attended. The intimacy of our hall coupled with the right price (free) and featuring a late Beethoven Quartet would not happen in New York City. But maybe we need to rethink our good fortune. As members of the Carleton family, are we entitled to exhibit the rude, self-indulgent and insensitive behavior witnessed that evening? Does participating in elite intellectual pursuit in our liberal arts “bubble” give any of us the right to infringe on the collective enjoyment and stimulation experienced in a concert setting?

As the music unfolded drawing many of us deeper and deeper into the rarefied realm of Beethoven’s psyche, it was frequently disturbed by audience noise (and not just the expected occasional cough.) Backpacks were flung noisily on empty chairs, programs rustled, chatting (presumably about the beauty of the music) was overheard, and a man near me kept writing in a small notebook and blatantly tearing out the pages as he filled them. (A grocery list? A review of the music?) And of course several people exited the hall early crawling over their neighbors who themselves might have been among those who arrived late conspicuously searching for an empty seat.

I watched with embarrassment as the second violinist waited patiently for the audience to quiet down so we could savor the pianissimo solo he was about to deliver. He eventually gave up, obviously dismayed, and began amidst coughing and audible squirming.

The worst offenses I have observed on previous occasions included something akin to “heavy petting” by two lovebirds, texting, doing homework, and waving to late arriving friends. (And if you would like to know the limits of audience arrogance, I once played a concert, thankfully not at Carleton, in which the entire audience was treated to the slurping sounds of a baby being nursed on the back row. I didn’t hear it on stage, but later was amused to learn that this blessed event seemed, for many, to be the highlight of my concert!)

So what should we do? Impose a fine on late comers or those exiting early? Issue a collective loud “shhh” to those disturbing our concentration? Have the stage manager deliver a stern mini-lecture on concert etiquette before each and every concert (or print it in bold type in the program?) Ask the offenders to buy both performers and audience alike a drink afterward as atonement for their rudeness?

Or perhaps we could just rise above our own self interests and self indulgent behavior and give ourselves over to the mystery and magic of great musical Art, shared in the unique setting of a concert hall filled with music lovers who wish to get beyond the predictable tedium and routine of daily life. Perhaps if we all subscribe to the notion stated so eloquently by the great pianist Alfred Brendel that “music is painted on a canvass of silence,” we would remind ourselves to listen more carefully and indulge others who are there for exactly the same reason. After all our outer ear observes by hearing; our inner ear can then listen to the inspiration feeding our mind, spirit, and soul. As an artist and also a dedicated Carleton professor, my soul needs feeding frequently. I am sure yours does too!

-Professor Kenneth Huber is a Senior Lecturer in Piano

Leave a Comment
More to Discover

Comments (0)

All The Carletonian Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *