Fed up with people making noise at classical shows

Last night I heard Vladimir Feltsman perform Chopin's Ballades at the Perelman Theater in Philadelphia's Kimmel Center. My excitement was building as my favorite part of the first Ballade approached. Immediately before the key was struck, someone sneezed. It was at that moment that I asked myself, "What the hell am I doing here? I have this at home, recorded by three different pianists." Throughout the performance were the sounds of coughing, sneezing moving in one's seat, dropping of programs, and talking.

I know this is the chance you take when attending live classical concerts and I LOVE hearing live music, but frankly I'm sick of it. I'm sick of paying money for traveling and the ticket itself just to be annoyed for two hours. Last Tuesday night a ringing cell phone disrupted a performance by the New York Philharmonic to the point where the conductor actually stopped the orchestra half way through Mahler's Ninth and addressed the moron who wouldn't shut it off.

Once, DURING A PERFORMANCE, someone got out of their seat, walked up to the stage and began "conducting the orchestra" with an imaginary baton.

As I said, I love attending live music, but when things like this happen, I'm ready to just stay home and save myself the aggravation.

Sorry, just had to vent.
Welcome to this forum Mr. Kieth Jarrett, It is nice having someone of your talent join us on these forums. As for the noise, I can't help much but do try to be very quiet in live concerts myself.
Hey Davt, you could at least spell K E I T H correctly...the last time I went to see a movie in a theater there were two teenage girls talking non stop behind us...I turned around and said loudly, " Girls, this is NOT your living room, this is a public theater!" I received a round of applause, sat down and continued to watch the movie with the babbling nincompoops sitting in silence behind me.
You, sir, have opened a can of worms. In Indianapolis, we have over the last few years had a steady increase in people clapping at the end of each movement. If that is not bad enough, we had people applauding twice during a minuet and trio, prompted by the musicians pausing ever so briefly between the minuet and the trio, and then again between the trio and repeat of the minuet.
We all want to see more people who are not die hard classical fans attend concerts, but please people. There is such a thing as concert etiquette. If you don’t know what is going on, just be quiet.
Then there was the fellow that apparently brought his lunch in a paper bag, and made quite a racket getting into his bag of chips.
Embarrassing, distressing, frustrating. Some people can find a way to ruin anything.
1/10/12 Lincoln Center, The NY Philharmonic: During Mahler's Ninth Symphony, Conductor Alan Gilbert said" we'll wait" and stopped the performance until an audience member's cell phone's alarm was shut off.
I feel your pain. At a recent performance of Brahms' 2nd, a guy behind me's phone rang. He 1] answered like a *&^%$ idiot and 2] proceeded to confirm a doctor's appointment for the next day. It took EVERY ounce of strength for me not to climb over my seat and beat the living daylights out of him. Instead, I clinched my jaw and prayed that God would smite him with some horrible, painful affliction (or that his doctor would at least diagnose him with a dreadful disease).
All of you people unwilling to beat the snot out of someone who deserves it, tough. Take back the world. Quit whining.
Let me add to Brownfan's can of worms the tendency of audiences at both classical concerts and theater performances to reward every performance, whether ordinary, good or great, with a standing ovation.

I don't condemn anyone who sneezes or coughs (unless they have come to the concert ill). It happens to all of us.

But between the cellphones and other boorish behavior, I agree with the original post -- I find myself going to live performances less and less, in favor of sitting in my own comfortable chair, with an excellent stereo system, rather than going down to the concert hall. And I am confident that this is not a good thing.
I feel your pain, Devilboy. Unfortunately, the behavior you cite is another example of the general coarsening of our society (along with sloppy dress in public, folks wearing baseball caps while dining in restaurants, etc). Perhaps we'll come full circle: back in the day of Haydn and Mozart, concert attendees chatted during performances, consumed food and beverages packed for the occasion, etc. But - - - as i understand it - - - at least they dressed well.
Rdavwhitaker, I've seen the same thing. Standing O's for pedestrian performances week after week. CEO's who fire music directors who resist programing Beethoven every week in hopes of drawing in huge numbers of newbies so they can clap after every measure. I cancelled my subscription to the ISO. I've got a half a dozen performances of the War horses by the best orchestras in the world. I can get my Beethoven at home. It is most certainly not a good thing when people like me decide to go elsewhere for music.
Davt: It's about the RESPECT that one should give to the composer, the musicians, the audience and most importantly, the MUSIC itself. One thing I've noticed attending around twenty concerts a season for seven years is this: MOST, not all, but most of the audience is made up of older people. Not middle-aged, but older. Look, I'm not saying that only older people make noise at shows, but let's be real, it's an ocean of gray and white at classical concerts. Maybe the older generation has a difficult time being silent? Coughing, sneezing, dropping things, etc. I can't believe I just wrote that but hey, it is what it is.
If its a cough or sneeze you guys need to quit being snobs, especially to the elderly because its not their fault they are older and in poorer health. You guys are the type that gives classical the arrogant pretentious label many attach to the art. Phones, conversations are open game but in a way claps in wrong areas shows 2 things its hard to get mad about, it means appreaciation and growth and with that we can hope strengthening the number of fans, something really needed.
If it bugs you people can sneeze (you do know you cant predict that right) or that people at times may cough then stay home.
We expect people to be perfectly quiet at classical concerts, but not at other types of music peformances. Where did this come from? Has it always been that way. In some Jazz performances they applaude after every solo, and that is annoying. There were some pretty rowdy and indifferent audiences in AMADEUS. I wonder if that was historical correct?
I think its just American arrogance. In Europe they celebrate the joy of Classical and I dont think the same strict "code" is there. IMO Classical in America is much more considered an upper crust activity and that crowd is just too often arrogant.
Maybe I just want to hear the music. I expect the Dawg pound or the black hole to be an anything goes venue. What is OK in a football stadium isn't necessarily OK elsewhere. Most places have expectations with respect to appropriate behavior. There are things you just don't do in church. There are things you don't do in a concert hall. I don't think think that is arrogance, I think it is common sense. Alas, common sense is not always so common.
Its arrogance when folks complain about a sneeze, and lets not pretend some of those women dont where horrible and over used perfume that can make people sneeze to begin with. Its entirely possible a man looks disgustedly backwards at the sneeze yet it was caused by his own wifes perfume.
Speaking of conductors reacting to audience noise, there is another great story about a conductor, I forget who, who when a cell went off in the front row of the audience, he turned around and said to the guy - "That's probably my wife, tell her I'm busy right now." It got a huge laugh and applause.

Most orchestras now pass out cough drops free, by the way, so at least there is that. Many, including mine, are struggling with these issues of etiquette, noise, dress, etc. They are tough questions. How do you educate the audience and/or attract younger audience members without intimidating them or insulting their intelligence?

Someone asked about the historical basis - historically, it was only the very rich who could afford say opera tickets, and they talked through the entire thing - opera in Italy in the 18th and 19th centuries was a social event - people would attend literally every single night, talking the whole way through, greatly annoying the very few who actually wanted to listen to the music. Much like movie theaters today, in fact quite a bit worse.
What is wrong with having the Master of Ceremonies or whomever greats the crowd gently mention that for everyones enjoyment please observe the following procedures of ettiquet...? List three or four no-nos and most will get the point that being quiet and not disturbing the performance is called for.

People spend good money to attend and they should be rewarded for keeping the arts well attended. Everyone wins, it just takes a little common sense from the sponsors and the artists to train the uninformed. This can be done with tact and dignity. It should be printed on the program !

As an aside why not keep a plastic squirt gun in your pocket and shoot the offenders on the spot. It is not illegal and you will not go to jail for wetting and inconsiderate boob!
Yes, before every concert I've been to, the Master of Ceremonies, Program Director or whoever, asks the audience for the obvious: shut off cell phones, take candy out of the wrapper, etc. Apparently not everyone listens.

Brownsfan sees my point perfectly. It's not arrogance, it's common sense. There are actions which are acceptable in some places, not in others.

Chadnliz: American arrogance? Seriously? I'm an arrogant American because I believe the music and the PAYING audience members deserve the respect of silence during a piece of music? When I went to Pantera concerts, I was screaming and moshing with the rest of them. When I hear Barber's Adagio for strings I shut the hell up. I have common sense. I guess that makes me an arrogant American.
Now that I think more about it, it's not ONLY about having common sense. It's about the emotions felt during an event. If one goes to a rock concert, the material itself suggests that one gets out of their seat, screams and shouts, claps hands or dances in the isle. I think the emotions Beethoven was feeling when writing the Moonlight Sonata demanded silence and attention. When listening to that, how do you not sit still?
People go to performances of classical music for a variety of reasons. Many of us are very serious about music and Devilboy's comment regarding the emotional investment is right on target. We are fully absorbed by the music on an emotional and intellectual level. People making unnecessary noise at a concert is pretty much like people making a racket in a library where people are trying to read or study. It just simply distracts and detracts from the experience, and at its extreme, a single offender can ruin the experience for hundreds of people. My wife and I have decided not to attend on nights when one of us had a cold, for fear that we could not properly control our coughing. For the record, my wife does not wear perfume, for those who might have been wondering about that. We are middle age, and have been attending concerts since our youth. My attitude and expectations about appropriate concert etiquette have not fundamentally changed since I was in my twenties. My wife and I are not snobs. We just love the music.

I remember the overwhelming emotions associated with my first concert experiences of The Swan of Tuonela, Janacek's Sinfonietta, and the Rite of Spring. The right of Spring was ruined by a CEO who decided it would be good to stage a bunch of people hooting and hollering with cat calls in an effort to emulate the first performance in Paris. I was not amused or entertained. The experience was ruined, and I can't get that one back.

For other people, attending a symphony concert is just a diversion, perhaps a guy who is trying to find something different to do for an evening with his overly perfumed wife. Its just something to do. That is great, and I certainly welcome those folks. Please, just don't ruin it for others.

There are two types of distractions, those that can be controlled and those that can't.

....Coughing and sneezing; hard to imagine somebody would do that on purpose. When you have a large group of people it is inevitable that somebody will cough or sneeze. It is just something you have to endure.

....cell phones, talking, etc. are controllable and unforgivable. The lady that sits in front of me at the symphony brings a very bright LED flashlight and reads the program during the performance. It is very annoying.

The cell phone incident even made CNN:

Cell phones are getting out of hand. My wife, daughter and I were at an Appleby's a couple of weeks ago and two young ladies (not teens) at the table behind me were carrying on a conversation on a cell phone WITH IT ON SPEAKERPHONE.

It was alluded to above but most classical performance audiences are older and, theoretically, more susceptible to illness. Yes, it's aggravating but, like it or not, this is the demographic that is keeping the orchestras in business.

I have allergies and I find perfume as irritating as cigarette smoke. I may be biased but I think all fragrances should be illegal (like that's ever gonna happen!). I've learned to take an allergy tablet before going to places likely to be full of irritating fragrances.

Also, concert etiquette has to be learned. The best way to do that is to start taking our kids to concerts early and teach them.
When YOU pay for everyones tickets, then maybe they should be quiet. If not stay home. I love inviting my redneck friends to the Opera, then sit about 6 rows behind them, and wait for one of them to bellow out "let's hear some Hank"!
If one cough or a sneeze "ruins" a concert than you have way more issues than the accidental human functions you complain about. If its a natural human function its understandable and forgivable, if its a phone, a conversation or other issues of pure choice then those should be dealt with.
How enjoyable can a concert be for a person who has to spent the entire time trying to stifle coughs and sneezes. Sort of hard to concentrate and get into the performance. I think children should attend classical concerts.
Rok2id, just about every big orchestra in the country does quite a lot of children's concerts. Education is a big part of most orchestra's mission statements. My orchestra, like many, gets a fairly large grant from the state to tour specifically with children's concerts. Often there is not an accompanying evening show, as that is more expensive. Usually good concert behavior is stressed, though sometimes the conductor or presenter likes to get the kids all fired up, too, so they think that classical music can be cool.
First, cough and sneezing can be controled in many though not all cases but you must be determined to do it. And second, you should know how to cough and sneeze as quietly as possible. Most people just make no effort to do it.
I think, that conductors who stop performance or pay any attention at all because of a ringing phone make mistakes. They should continue no matter what, that would re-enforce the power of music not give the power to idiots.
Bad manners are annoying anywhere, be it concert hall or McDonald's.

The cast/orchestra can get there own back. In the early 50's an aged uncle of mine was at a show in London, in his Sunday best outfit. It was a comedy by the crazy gang, a famous clown/slapstick group of artists. He was laughing in the wrong place, talking, generally making a nuisance of himself. The cast told him off, but he went on, so they emptied a bucket of distemper, thats very liquid paint, all over him.

So there is your answer, strategic buckets of paint around the auditorium, for the audience to use on anyone coughing or sneezing. What you do to anyone with a mobile phone that goes off, I don't know. Flogging is to good for them.
Every seat should be wired into a master panel controlled by the conductor.

Make some noise- low voltage alert
More noise- a nice strong tingle
Obnoxious and persistent noise- Taser level jolt

Everything captured on DVD for sale outside of the concert hall after the performance.
Keep the riffraff out? But that would create so many empty seats it might affect the acoustics.
This thread is funny and tragic at the same time. I believe that our society is more rude in general than, let's say, just one generation ago. For myself, I find that as I get older background noise is more bothersome. When I was twenty is was easy to ignore the idiots who were talking during a performance. Not so much now.

I am fortunate that I have been able to attend many classical and opera performances in Europe over the years, and I will say that while there is still a big difference in attitude between American and European audiences, even the the Europeans are complaining about the same issues.

There has to be a line, but where to draw it and who is the decider? I was once at an opera performance in L.A., La Trav as I recall. A few seats down from me was an elderly gentleman who was having obvious and audible problems controlling his flatulence. It was annoying, but everyone seemed to understand and took it in stride.

In another instance (also in L.A.), we were at a matinee performance of Die Walkure (big mistake on both counts) and some young lady (wearing a little cowgirl hat), sitting next to my daughter, decided that it was up to her to join Brunnhilde and help summon the Valkyries. Loudly and off key. Needless to say, after the performance I tried to politely inform her that this was not acceptable and that the attendees paid (a lot) of money to hear the cast; not her. Her reply was that she always sang along at concerts (it is apparently expected in the country western genre), and that she felt that she was perfectly within her rights as an LAOC subscriber (!).
Only thing ruder is when an outing of old church ladies inevitably has to bogart my joint.
David, your Uncle should have thrown tomato's at them...Without taking them out of the can first.
"Wow, alot of assholes like Classical lol"

Well since only a small percentage of people like classical, that means most assholes like other genres.
They dont complain about how a sneeze ruins the whole show. If a sneeze or a cough ruins your night, you are likely a pretty miserable person.
That's funny - I've heard audiophiles go on forever about how their system is so resolving they can hear a cough in the audience or someone drop something in the studio. The cough becomes more important than the music. Or the squeak of Art Blakey's hihat or the creaking of the clasical guitar player's chair. Nobody's ever satisfied.
In keeping with the OP's point, more and more people think class is something that they skipped in school. Be it a night at the orchestra, watching a movie, or even attending a funeral or cemetery, class and dignity seem to have taken a back seat to more selfish ways of expression. Common courtesy used to be the bar set for comporting oneself but now its so low that even a knuckle dragger can miss it.
The cough or sneeze can be annoying. Is it that difficult to control a body function for 60-75 minutes before intermission! Of the close to 100 concerts me and my wife have attended I can't recall either of us having an issue. Are only issue was the lackluster conducting(Neeme Jarvi) and performance of the DSO!
Let's talk about something that really matters: Neeme Jarvi, lackluster?!?!. What music was he conducting? Jarvi is one of the greatest living conductors.
I must agree with Frogman. I have heard Maestro Jarvi conduct a lot of concerts, and have never heard a lackluster performance with him at the podium. The man lives music, and has a special ability to get the orchestra to bring out the most of the emotion in a work.

I am sympathetic to the OP's complaint in some respects. I am far less tolerant of the people who leave their cell phones on (that's plain carelessness or something worse) than the coughs and sneezes, which happen. And I have been fortunate not to experience some of the things some of the other posters have mentioned. However, orchestras do need to expand their audience base, and along with that comes a need to reach and educate a new audience. I agree that parents teaching their children is a big part of it, and it also helps to have the program notes, or the conductor or concert host, inform the audience of proper concert behavior or even warning the audience that they may be tempted to applaud at a point, but to hold back because it's not quite the end of the piece (such as the end of the third movement of the Tchaikovsky 6th, or where you're dealing with a solist-particularly a high-strung one--who wants to keep his/her concentration). But if the audience applauds at the end of a movement before the end of the piece, hey, let's live with it. We're making more people aware of this art form. They can and ultimately will learn the manners, let's not chase them out of the hall. This is not an exclusive club, you know; the more people we expose to classical music and the classical music concert experience, the better our chances to have fine orchestras to listen to in the future.
Rcprince. You are correct, we all want to see expansion of audience, and I don't think anyone seriously wants them run out of the hall, electrocuted, or doused with a bucket of paint. Sneezing and coughing, while annoying, is actually decreasing now that smoking is becoming less common.

In Indianapolis there is an announcement to turn of cell phones, pagers, watch alarms etc, before the concerts. In contrast, while there is considerable hand wringing over the applause problem, I have yet to hear or see any guidance given on applause, apart from one episode several years ago where the conductor made it very clear there should be no applause during Mozart's Requiem. I thought about applauding his announcement, but thought better of it. You are correct in suggesting that proper etiquite needs to be explained. People are not going to figure this out by themselves.
The fact we or anyone is bitching about noise at concerts we attend shows you we have it pretty damn good, grow up guys, it could be worse!