Saturday, 31 May 2008

City Lights and Stars and Concert Etiquette

A WARM EVENING, MAY 30TH, people are climbing into a yellow school bus that will take them to Burritt on the Mountain (a house and grounds overlooking Huntsville, AL, now a museum) for a concert in Huntsville's annual City Lights and Stars series. The heat of the valley below is suffocating, but Monte Sano is cool and the concert-goers look pleased to be outside as they set up their lawn chairs and spread blankets over the very bright, slightly damp grass.

On this night, William Kanengeiser, one of the founding members of the LAGQ, is playing guitar. He plays two pieces by Fernando Sor, Mozart's Sonata #11 (K. 331) which he has adapted for classical guitar, and several shorter contemporary pieces. His playing is warm, matter-of-fact, and technically brilliant, and as the sun sets over Huntsville and the lights of the city shimmer below, the music seems to waft over the landscape, quiet, thoughtful, and expressive. . .

Cut to image of small children running about and making noise, their parents displaying varying levels of concern, or of people clapping between movements of a sonata.

Both of these things I consider to be in very poor taste. The latter, for the obvious reason that it disrupts the performer. The former, because it disrupts the audience as well.

My worry is that the children in question are neither learning to appreciate music nor to show proper concert etiquette if they are thinking about everything except the music. Are they not listening? I was fascinated by music as a small child. . . I never thought to make noise during a performance, or even while hearing a recording-- I was too interested to do so.

Tastes and preferences. Short attention spans. These are the explanations I can imagine I would hear. . . and I do not entirely dispute them. However, such things can be refined and focussed fairly easily. Perhaps it would be clever to tell the child a few things he should listen for while at the concert, or ask him to draw what the music makes him think about (even if it is something mundane, at least he will be listening, quietly occupied, and not terribly bored). Perhaps the charming setting should have been explored beforehand. Anything would have been better than allowing such behavior and then having to say "Ok, don't play with that anymore!"

The guide-dog sitting beside the girl nearest me seemed very interested in the concert, quiet and calm, but attentive. What does it say about one's competence as a parent if one's child cannot behave more politely (and thoughtfully!) than a dog?

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