Thursday, October 21, 2010

How to be the Audience

Hachoo! Cough! Thump! Hey, we must be at a performance at Benaroya Hall, Seattle's collecting place for folks with phlegm issues and slippery fingers. At a recent performance with pianist Andras Schiff, the sneezing, coughing and dropping of programs continued at a pace not unlike the musical term allegretto. Even at a moment of rest between movements, when there should have been silence to hear a pin drop, some schlub in the second tier of the auditorium made a throaty sneezing noise, as if competing with the Steinway on stage.

Benaroya Hall has been called a "perfect" performance hall in that the sound from any seat in the hall is precisely duplicated from the source. So, if the sound from the stage is so clear, the same must be true of the sound that emanates from the audience and reaches the stage, right? Place a world-renowned pianist on the stage who has memorized his entire program, a mix of Mendelssohn and Schumann, and add some sneezers and coughers and heavy-item droppers in various points throughout the 2,500 seat hall and the recipe would seem to call for disaster, yet Schiff showed no outer signs of distraction. The audience, however, took notice. I saw several members of the audience looking toward the offending cougher, directing them with their eyes to remove themselves from the hall. At the point when something was dropped on the floor and a heavy "thud" was heard, I jumped in my seat, as though startled from having something fall on me from above.

Why are there so many coughers and sneezers in Seattle and in Benaroya, in partcular? Is it something about our weather that causes us to have more phlegm? The definition for phlegm states that "it is a mucus secreted in the respiratory passages" but also can mean "sluggishness, calmness or apathy". While classical music is very soothing, a state of apathy or sluggishness is not what is strived for. 

Take my advice, please, and stay home with your cold and drink water to soothe your nasal passages instead of downing diuretic coffee to dry them up. And allow everyone to hear the music as it was intended.

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