It must be insignificant for them but for musicians like us, it is quite frustrating.
The above quote is used by permission of the writer, Chetan Rane. He wrote that when I told him about my experience with an audience member yesterday.
Chetan is a student of mine, and is principal oboist of California Youth Symphony. Yesterday I had the joy of hearing him play. He made wonderful music, and had significant solos in Strauss’s Don Juan and the Gershwin/Bennett Porgy and Bess: A Symphonic Picture. Bravo, Chetan! In addition Torrey Guan, another student of mine, is principal second oboe. What a joy it is to hear my students play, and play so well.
The entire orchestra was in fine form. The concertmaster was wonderfully musical. I was highly impressed with her musicality and maturity! I didn’t know it until intermission, but she is the daughter of a colleague, Debra Fong. There were solos in numerous sections. The orchestra members should all be very proud, as should their conductor Leo Eylar.
(You knew that was coming, right?)
Similar to far too many concerts, I was dismayed.
I don’t mind the occasional child making noise. They are, I’m sure, there to see and hear their sibling(s). I can deal. But here’s what happened this time:
I was downstairs for the first work. When it was done I had to be the “applause encourager” which isn’t unusual for me: people are so unsure if a work is done they are afraid to clap. I figure someone has to let them know! This is one place where I believe we’ve done people a disservice: we’ve discouraged applause at the “inappropriate” times so strongly now everyone seems afraid to clap at all! Too bad.
Next up was Don Juan, and because I couldn’t see the oboe section from my downstairs chair I quickly raced up to the balcony as they were setting up. Making it in plenty of time, I still sat in the back at the very end of a row so as not to be disruptive. The orchestra began and, to my surprise, I could have sworn a couple of men were yakking away. I glanced around and couldn’t figure out where the heck the sound was coming from. I also couldn’t figure out why men would be speaking in such an energetic sort of way. Then it hit me: it was the woman sitting next to me! She had ear buds in, and she was listening to a game! Seriously! She just hadn’t plugged the ear buds all the way into her phone so we in the audience were blessed with the noise. Once it hit me I leaned over and whispered, “Is that YOU!?” She rapidly fixed things (keeping her ear buds in, mind you), and I, without even thinking, also said, “Unbelievable!”
Because it WAS unbelievable.
I realize that at least one person out in the classical music world thinks people should behave like they did in Mozart’s time, applauding during pieces if they like something, talking, eating and all. But even he would have to admit there were no cell phones in Mozart’s time, and no one would be playing a sport within hearing.
I am astounded at the woman’s rudeness. I’m dismayed that, odds are, she came to listen to her child or children and yet deemed a game more important. I’m annoyed that she didn’t just sit in the lobby and listen. If she was going to compliment her child on a great performance she was going to have to lie and pretend she listened, so why not pretend to listen where she wouldn’t be bothering those of us who were actually there to listen?!
Of course there were also camera flashes, people recording the event on their iPads or phones, and the occasional person who would get up and leave during a work. All these things are distracting and unfair to the students.
Audiences can be wonderful. We need them. We really do. But rudeness? I’m fed up with it. I fear that our gadgets are making us more and more rude.
Finally, what I find it most distressing is that these younger musicians experience this sort of behavior. Give these hard working people the attention they deserve. Please.