6/30/08

An American Symptom?

Puppies and kittens are amusing. Shiny things are amusing. Water-fountains are amusing. Automated phone messaging machines are amusing. But, editorials written by whiney, American symphony-goers are not amusing.

I have been a subscriber to the National Symphony Orchestra for more than 10 years, and I've been going to many other performances at the Kennedy Center ever since coming to Washington 44 years ago. But I am not going to renew our NSO subscription this year.

Why? Oh right, you’re going to tell us. Go on, then.

· No, it's not because the Music Center at Strathmore is more convenient by car and Metro.

What? You’d prefer there be a helicopter pad on the roof? A zip line from Bethesda?

· No, it's not because parking at the Kennedy Center costs $17.

Yikes.

· And no, it's not because the acoustics at the Kennedy Center are sub-par.

Well, why, then?

It's because of coughing.

Coughing...really? Coughing is the reason you no longer want to spend $507.50 per subscription, per year? Really?

Yes, coughing has become so pervasive at Kennedy Center performances that one wonders why people should even go out to listen to live music or theater.

Logic reduction alert!

Coughing at Kennedy Center => Don’t go to Carnegie Hall

Enough attention paid to hyperbole, already. Explain yourself!

It was so bad during the exquisitely soft and delicate final movement of Mahler's Third Symphony during an October 2007 concert that I wrote a letter of complaint to the NSO.

For the most part I am in favor of strong letters of complaint, but not in this case. That’s just insensitive. What if you had to cough? Would it be perfectly acceptable for someone tell you to leave--after all, you spent $507.50 for your premium seat?

I was not alone in voicing that concern: NSO music director Leonard Slatkin was so upset by the coughing that evening that he commented on it during the performance.

What a dick!

And the next day, Post critic Tim Page wrote about it in his review: "Alas, many in the audience coughed through much of the last movement last night."


But did the coughing stop him from enjoying the concert? Perhaps, only momentarily. Just saying, if you were a John Cage fan, you wouldn’t have a problem with coughing, or laughing, or noise beyond the doors, or even cellphones.

In my first letter I suggested that the NSO and the Kennedy Center do some research into the cause of this excessive, disruptive, mood-breaking hacking.

Again, just saying, but coughing is probably related to sickness or smoking or something. You really want them to research the matter, instead of providing you with the best music and performances possible, with your $507.50?

How have other concert halls dealt with this problem? Do they issue edicts? Do they make cough drops available in the lobby?

Vote “none of the above,” Brewster.

During a recent trip to Europe, I heard little if any coughing during symphonic concerts in the gilded, glittering concert halls of Prague, Vienna and Budapest.

That’s the equivalent of saying, “I went whale-watching three times and didn’t see any whales.”

Are Hungarians immune to the sniffles?

No. Are you?

Fun facts: In Hungary, there are 9,930,915 people and only 32 McDonald’s. This gives us a ratio of 1 Ronnie Mac per 310,341 Hungarians.

In the Untied States, there are 303,824,646 people and 13,381 McDonald’s. This gives us a ratio of 1 MacDo per 22,606 Americans.

What was that about the sniffles, again?

Do Austrians rarely have sinus problems?

Doubtful. But they do have a fairly comprehensive healthcare system.

Do Czechs check their coughs at the cloakroom?

You mean, like farting into a jar?

Hardly. It must be that those audiences are aware of the disrupting, incommoding effect of coughing on the tranquil mood created by the pianissimo passages of a composition.

That is, if they assume—remember what they say about people who assume things?—that all pianissimos are tranquil.*

The managers of concert halls and theaters have been inveighing for some time against the electronic and mechanical noisemakers of our age, including pagers, alarm watches and the most recent curse, cellphones.

If you mean by recent, “within the last 15 years,” here’s something even newer for you to expunge.

Why hasn't the Kennedy Center urged its patrons to silence the natural noisemakers all concertgoers carry to every concert: their larynxes?


While we’re at it, why don’t we staple everyone’s lips, plug noses with Crazy Glue and sew assholes shut with dental floss? And why stop there? Why don’t we cut off people’s hands (you don’t want spasmodic clapping)? Or how about restricting the types shoe soles that can be worn inside the hall? Ooh! I know! All program notes should be printed on cloth.

And because the NSO refuses to do any of this, you’re not going to plop-down $507.50 for a subscription anymore?

My wife and I will miss seeing the familiar faces of National Symphony Orchestra members who almost seem like family to us after all the years of harmony.

Oh sorry. $1015.

We will miss the exquisite musical moments we've heard so often in recent years under Maestro Slatkin. We will miss the exciting responsiveness of the orchestra that we heard when it was under the direction of its new principal conductor, Ivan Fischer.


“Hey, honey. Remember how the NSO was so responsive?”

“Yeah. It was exciting, the responsiveness. There was too much coughing, though.”

But we will not miss sitting in the Kennedy Center trying to listen to a concert through all the wheezing, hacking and, yes, coughing.

Isn’t hacking another word for coughing?

*I have an idea for my next composition: an opera about prison life, where inmates lovingly, but quietly, sing sweet nothings to each other at night.
-

17 comments:

Sator Arepo said...

Yeah. Not amused.

As a person with awful allergies, I reckon I should never be allowed to attend a live concert, ever, ever again.

People cough at concerts...to be deliberately rude? Because they can help it if they decided to?

Gustav said...

Sorry guys, I'm with the reviewer on this one. He was commenting on his own personal satisfaction at the concert, which is totally a legit discussion. And frankly, I agree with his point. Coughing at concerts has ruined (and I don't overstate) more than one concert I've been to. I equate people who continually cough throughout a performance to someone who'd bring a baby that would start to cry. "What, should I be forced to hire a sitter just so I can go to the symphony/movies?" they'll cry. Yes. There is an expectation of quite in the audience of a classical music concert and if you can't make it through a piece without disruption then you should excuse yourself until you can. I'm sorry if allergies are your reason, but it really doesn't matter why you're loud and annoying, just that you are. If you're talking too loud, rustling your program, your cell phone goes off, or you like to kick my seat, you're interrupting the socially agreed upon expectation of silence during a concert. It is not unreasonable for me to expect quiet.

Gustav said...

Sorry guys, I'm with the reviewer on this one. He was commenting on his own personal satisfaction at the concert, which is totally a legit discussion. And frankly, I agree with his point. Coughing at concerts has ruined (and I don't overstate) more than one concert I've been to. I equate people who continually cough throughout a performance to someone who'd bring a baby that would start to cry. "What, should I be forced to hire a sitter just so I can go to the symphony/movies?" they'll cry. Yes. There is an expectation of quite in the audience of a classical music concert and if you can't make it through a piece without disruption then you should excuse yourself until you can. I'm sorry if allergies are your reason, but it really doesn't matter why you're loud and annoying, just that you are. If you're talking too loud, rustling your program, your cell phone goes off, or you like to kick my seat, you're interrupting the socially agreed upon expectation of silence during a concert. It is not unreasonable for me to expect quiet.

Sator Arepo said...

Way to double post, Gustav.

Seriously though, if I'm coughing chronically I'll stay home/leave. Seems like it's the accumulation of little noises that pissed this particular person off so much.

Meh, maybe I'm wrong.

Gustav said...

A little coughing is, of course, expected and quite tolerable. But, from personal experience, some people don't understand when that crosses over into extreme.

And yes, there are some people who are hyper-sensative and quick to complain. They are certain to annoy after the concert.

Don't worry, SA, I won't complain at your coughing--I'll just role my eyes in quiet contempt when you're not looking ;-).

Sorry for the double post, but, whatever, I do what I want.

Empiricus said...

The reviewer is totally allowed his opinion, no doubt.

It's with his logic that I have a problem. I mean, he's not willing to shell out another $1050 because people cough? Then he writes the NSO to do something about it? Then he writes the Wash. Post to, I don't know, sell his idea to others? Pianissimo equals tranquil? Hacking is different from coughing?

I don't know, but something smells fishy.

Empiricus said...

And it might be (gasp) Americans, in general. Ask George Carlin (R.I.P.).

anzu said...

Ha ha ha. I blogged about this a while back. The coughing usually doesn't bother me too much, if it isn't excessive, but that particular night at the SF Symphony, it was really bad. It was literally cough cough every few minutes.

In fact, every time I have been to the SF Symphony (which, granted, is only like 3 times this year), the coughing frequency seemed a bit high.

By contrast, at the SF Opera, which I've been to twice in the past two weeks (which is more than I've been in the past three years!), the coughing was minimal, both in the orchestra (e.g. rich concertgoers) and balcony/standing room sections (except a really loud sneeze during a hushed section, but sneezes are involuntary, right?)

They also have different clapping etiquette as well, but that's off-topic I guess.

I'd imagine that the same set of people go to SF Symphony and SF Opera, so I don't understand the discrepant coughing frequencies, though ultimately, it's not a deal breaker for me.

Your (erstwhile) favorite reviewer had an interesting article about concertgoer behavior history back in Februaryish.

In general, I agree that people are a bit too uptight about the clapping/coughing, etc. ettiquette. However, people should try as hard as possible to not cough during really hushed sections of the music, imo. Oh, and they should never ever snore during a concert. I mean for f's sake, if you are too tired/bored to last through an entire concert, please go home. I'll take the coughing over the snoring anytime.

Aaron said...

If I could go to concerts by zipline, I would totally put up with a lot of coughing, and go more frequently. Also, that would save on parking, which sounds kind of outrageous at the NSO.

Lisa Hirsch said...

> different clapping etiquette at SF Opera

If you mean the applause after every last damn aria in Ariodante, that is unique in my experience of SF Opera, which means nearly every production since 1995.

anzu said...

Is it really unique? I'm not a frequent opera-goer, but I've been to (the other) two operas in the past two weeks, and at both operas, there was clapping (fully deserved for Lucia) after every aria! Actually, less so for Das Rheingold, but certainly for Lucia. Several people even screamed "bravo" each time. The audience reminded me more of jazz audiences.

Maybe non-frequent opera-goers of my ilk are out there in droves (though I only started clapping "between movements" after people kept doing it. . .) this summer?

Lisa Hirsch said...

Wow.

I haven't been to Lucia yet, will probably see the last performance. Applause in the middle of Rheingold is extremely unusual; there aren't any logical pauses in which to applaud.

Sator Arepo said...

Bay Area Bloggers...taking over...

Lisa Hirsch said...

We're trying.

Empiricus said...

Miss Mussel adds her two cents...

Components of a Winning Complaint Letter

Empiricus said...

May I also remind y'all of this letter to the editor:

Spreading Joy from Heaven Above

Perhaps one of the worst letters, ever.

Anonymous said...

I can understand where the writer is coming from. I live in a city, IN CANADA (so it's not just America), and EVERY single concert I go to is filled with rude people who just seem to cough for no reason. I KNOW there cannot be THAT many people in the ENTIRE audience who have a cold, or allergies.

And the fact is, they don't even try to be polite about it. At least try to stifle the cough, or try to cough when there is a loud portion of the piece - not during a quiet piano solo.

The last concert I went to was shameful. Anton Kuerti was playing a solo piece and the entire audience decided to cough during it. A multitude of people disrupted his beautiful playing, and probably distracted him, and I was embarrassed to be a member of that audience.

I just can't stand it. Grown adults should be able to grasp some concept of manners, and if you, as a grown adult, can't sit quietly for a couple of hours, then you shouldn't even go to the show.