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Should badly behaving audience members be fined? [Poll]

February 24, 2011 |  1:48 pm

Clapping We all know him. The early clapper. There seems to be one at every concert. Just as the music ends, or indeed sometimes even before the final note is sounded, inevitably, someone dives in like an overexcited seal and ruins the mood. It's a pet peeve of many a fan of classical music.

Tom Service, a music writer for the Guardian has his panties in a bunch about another concert-going archetype that ruined his post-Berlin Phil Mahler 3 cuddle: the premature "Bravi!" shouter. 

In Service's words, "There is no greater musical violence an audience member can commit than to scar this unique moment, when time seems to stop still at the end of a great performance, with a selfish, solo shout. And then there's the ludicrous pretentiousness of using the Italian plural form, 'bravi', as if to show [everyone] that he's clever enough to know the correct endings of Italian adjectives ..." 

Service goes on to suggest that these people should be fined.

The irony of all this is, of course, that audience behavior has improved immeasurably since we've had access to recorded music. So now hearing a pristine version seems to have made us hyper-sensitive to every sniffle, cough or crinkle.

In Service's defense, an ill-timed shout or clap can immediately dissipate the energy an ensemble has spent the last 90 minutes creating.  On the other hand, part of that energy was created by experiencing the music along with 2,500 other people -- program shuffling, texting and, yes, shouting, notwithstanding.

What's the worst audience behavior you've encountered and how much are you willing to put up with in exchange for the privilege of hearing live music?  How do Los Angeles audiences compare with other cities'?

Let us know in the comments section and take our poll.


Give classical music a hand. Or don't?

-- Marcia Adair


Photo credit: Associated Press

Comments () | Archives (4)

Hummers Be Banned! I had to sit through Puccini's Madame Butterfly ($285 seats) next to a woman who would not stop humming loudly through all of the arias. The rabid clappers are irritating too, but not nearly so bad as the hummers.

I'm not usually a commenter, but I found your poll categories somewhat lacking when I went to vote (after popping my eyes back into their sockets, that is). I won't even go into how self-involved and crazy I think this call for a fine is.

While no one likes to have the spell of a fine performance broken, I cannot understand the call to fine offenders or ban anyone from said performance. One cannot expect everyone to adhere to (or even to KNOW) proper concert etiquette--it's simply not realistic, especially given all of the "outreach" that ensembles are trying to do to save classical music from the eternal impending doom of philistinism/The Biebs. Don't we want people who are less familiar with concert etiquette to attend concerts? To grow to love classical music? I move my head to the music sometimes, and I'm a professional classical musician with lots of concert-going experience. Perhaps we should allow people to react to the ways that the music has moved them.

If you want sonic perfection and complete stillness, go home and turn on your overpriced sound system. Sit in a darkened room, alone, and enjoy that perfection. But if you want to experience music making at its collaborative and experiential best, go to a live performance. Go in the winter when it will be rife with snifflers, sneezers, and wheezers. Go when the last-chair violist's bow is being cranky in the middle of your favorite passage. Go in the summer to a concert in the park where BELIEVE IT OR NOT you are out of doors, surrounded by birds and cars and noisy cell-phone talkers.

I know, I know. I'm a dirty classical music hippie, and maybe if I had paid $500 for my status-symbol symphony seats instead of $50 for nosebleeds, I would understand. But that's another issue altogether.

I wrote about this recently on my own blog, decrying the use of etiquette to keep classical music such an insular pursuit. The notion that people such as the person about which Tom Service complains should be fined is utterly irrational and can only be explained through animus or some ulterior motive. You can read my entire thoghts on the matter here: http://killingclassicalmusic.com/post/3504834970/using-etiquette-to-keep-classical-music-insular


Speaking of "audience behaving badly", sometimes it does so on this blog (daring to cite actual evidence in its disagreement with the critic) and then the comments section gets closed - see the Vienna Philharmonic review from February 28 this year. However, some of the comments there need to be challenged and unfortunately there is no better place to do this than here.
A commenter named "john clemons" surprised just about everyone by saying: "It should be kept in mind [he is apparently out of his] that the inclusion of many underqualified women in many American orchestras have had a negative effect on the quality of the performances of these orchestras." Others asked him for evidence but obviously in vain because there isn't any. As all knowledgeable people know, most major American orchestras these days are in fact playing considerably better then they did around 1950 and before, when they had hardly any women as their members, and one of the main reasons for it is the fact that these orchestras became much more inclusive.
Then another commenter, this one named "Michael", accused countless others of "real racism" and "hypocrisy", no less, because, according to him, there are no blacks in most American orchestras and never more than two in "extremely rare" cases. Unlike some, we can only talk about what we know and we do know that our local band called Los Angeles Philharmonic includes not one or two but FOUR full-time permanent members who happen to be black - wonderful musicians all of them. And this is typical of most major American orchestras.
But that is not even the main issue when we talk about the Vienna Philharmonic. The problem, at least for me, is not what we see on stage but the fact that they are so blatantly exclusive in their hiring policy. Until about 15 years ago, they refused to include anyone but white males. After relaxing the sexist part a little bit, they now grudgingly allowed a few women in and, lo and behold, the orchestra has not fallen apart and, according to most of their fans, their sound is just as "special". Unfortunately, their racist attitudes still rule the day. It is eventually going to inevitably change for the better of course, when they finally realize that they miss out on some of the finest musicians around, but alas, it will probably happen later rather than sooner. As one Viennese resident (it may have been Gustav Mahler but my memory is not certain about that) reportedly quipped over a century ago: "When the end of the world comes, I want to be in Vienna - because everything arrives here several decades later than anywhere else on the planet!".


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