Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Raise your hands in the air...

...or not.

Just came across this memento from our last SoCal tour (April 2009). It was discovered backstage at the beautiful Dore theater in Bakersfield.

It is, essentially, a guide for audience behavior, and it appeared on the back of a program for a Middle School concert (which took place at the same theater a few weeks before we were there). You can click the image for the full text, but briefly, here are some of the highlights:

A peaceful environment is necessary for the enjoyment of concert performances. [...]

Arrive on time and stay until the concert is over. [...]

Clapping is the only way to show appreciation to the musicians, not whistling or shouting.

Applaud only after the end of the piece, not between movements. If you are uncertain, be the second one to applaud. [...]

Please do not use flash photography during the performance, as it is a distraction to the musicians who are performing.

(Whoops -- that last one sounds familiar.)

I came close to incorporating this into my onstage patter for the Bakersfield show, but then thought better of it.

Context is important. Believe me: as a music teacher myself I totally get how a middle school audience would need an extra dose of "polite" in order to make it through a concert by a band of their peers.

But on my grumpier days, I tend to think that precepts like this are actually teaching kids something else altogether about what it means to be an audience. Here is my "translation":

There is an impenetrable wall (or at least a pretty sturdy museum-case glass) between an audience and the music it listens to. "The performer" is to "the audience" as "us" is to "them."

Music is much less about the body than it is about the mind.

Musicians are fragile. Catch them on the wrong night, and a few random lights can fuck everything up.

Music itself is fragile, like a hothouse flower.

Okay, so I'm exaggerating a little. Clearly some performances benefit from utter silence and propriety. And (despite my various anti-social proclivities) I'd never advocate for outright disrespect by an audience.

But I happen to think that whistling and shouting are not necessarily (or even usually) disrespectful in the context of a performance. And given the choice between respect-shown-through-audience-politeness, and respect-shown-through-actually-paying-musicians-for-their-work, I'd choose the latter, thank you very much. (I would also be willing to bet that the former variety of respect is much more commonly enforced, and assumed to be "good enough.")

In any case, the deeper issue here is whether music of any genre can truly grow, evolve, or thrive when it is being treated with kid gloves. This problem, of course, pertains to creativity and play in general -- if it's not at least a little messy, it's not likely to be very good.

(One more thought: I actually perform better when people are taking pics. I think of it as an inexpensive laser show.)

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By the way, did you know that the Industrial Jazz Group is currently going full speed ahead with our fall fundraiser, in support of our October tour? You can find out more, and contribute to the cause, here. Thank you!


Kris Tiner said...

Nice. I was wondering when you'd work this in. Still think it'd make a nice operatic transition piece. Maybe as a kinder, gentler sequel to Incident at Umbria.

Anonymous said...

Andrew- I couldn't agree with you more! I cringed every time my principal gave the "no cheering, whistling, etc." speech and yet marveled as talking amongst the audience was excepted. I feel so passionately about audience behavior that the first 2-3 of the general music classes I taught I'd spend a little time on audience behavior- and then enforce it the rest of the year during our listening exercises.

But I think you are right with the idea that music need not be treated with kid gloves. Even in a classical concert nothing kills the moment at the end of a piece by remembering you are not supposed to clap because there are still more movements to go. Music is absolutely physical and by denying that aspect the quality of the music is lessened.

Numinous said...

Talking with my friend at intermission of a recent performance of John Adams A Flowering Tree opera, we both lamented the "sit on your hands" approach to showing appreciation. I think, especially with classical (and some saintly jazz concerts by large institutional know who you are J@LC) this reverent, churchly vibe is a bit too stuffy and what turns casual and some not casual fans off. Have you ever clapped at the 'wrong spot' or heaven forbid, had a coughing attack? You'd thought Bernie Madoff came into the room! Actually I guess it isn't limited to classical, because I remember getting into it with an old lady behind me at a live taping of Prairie Home Companion at Town Hall a few years ago, because my wife whispered ONE question to me just BEFORE the show started!

I remember reading some article about tennis players and the TOTAL silence needed in the stands in order to perform, yet when players come to the US Open and the atmosphere in the stands is a little more, shall we say, "New York", the players don't fall apart. It actually makes things more fun and "interesting", as stated by some players. C'mon, if a college basketball player can make two free throws with 10,000 people waving at him to miss and questioning his manhood or ridiculing his GPA, then certainly Nadal or the Williams sister could stand someone coughing or whistling in the stands. And it is the same in music. Now I wouldn't want concerts degenerating into "Cameron crazies" disrespect and rudeness ("hey that was supposed to be a Bb!", "those aren't the changes", "is that music, what school did YOU fail from?!"), but I love it when someone truly (and honestly) feels the need to show appreciation at a moment of joy, whether it was at the end of the piece or not.

Andrew Durkin... said...

Thanks, all, for the comments!

I'll just summarize what I said over in Facebook-land (which you can all see, cuz we're all friends over there -- how I love the Internets!):

There's definitely a distinction between noisy reactions that are in the spirit of the music, and noisy reactions that are just rude. Obviously, I'm advocating for the former!

Part of my issue with this being from a middle school concert is this: how hard is it going to be for these kids to unlearn these attitudes?

It seems like allowing kids to be more vocal and demonstrative (again, in the spirit of the music, and not because, say, they want to have an unrelated conversation with their friends) would teach more of a sense of communal participation in music, instead of a distanced relationship with it. In other words: engagement!