With piccolo’s piercing trills, trumpet’s penetrating drills, timpani’s thundering fills, orchestra’s tutti tuning, and patrons’ neglect of the intimate and considerate whisper, concert halls reach a colossal crescendo even before the downbeat.
Luigi Russolo’s Art of Noises? John Cage’s chance music? Acid Rock’s decibels?
We are seated before the concert and at intermission in a Bach-Beethoven-Brahms music-making tradition—we are, of course, at Symphony. Would you, though, ever believe it? No calm before a Beethoven storm as it were. No environmental prep for a Debussy naturescape.
Does anyone else, after having been seated, consider fleeing such din? Or, if she chooses to take a seat and tries to carry on a civil conversation, finds it necessary to raise her voice, sometimes to unspeakable levels? I am told that to bring the matter up will be to no avail. After all, several reasons can be given for not stopping the oft brutal assaults on the ear, never mind our sensitivities.
First, let us suppose that simply not enough practice space exists offstage for the mass of orchestral players required for typical symphonic outings. Second, unquestionably, not all musicians are still practicing their parts: they are warming up. A third possibility, in some cases, might be musicians needing to adjust to the acoustics of an unfamiliar space.
Are there other reasons?
Maybe it is we 21st century concertgoers who have learned the art of blocking out unwanted sound. I remember asking the repairman if the washing machine always made that certain thumping sound and being told, “Yes. But you’ll get used to it.” Having shelled out good money for the evening’s advertised music, it is difficult to imagine most of us as Russolo or Cage devotees stopping to listen, to enjoy, never mind, to be moved. If we did, the Musicians Union might then catch on, and then what?
Yet another piece of the puzzle at play—the late-comers lengthening the hullabaloo. Have you noticed those preconcert alerts (turn off cell phones and refrain from taking photos) at times being barely audible beneath the hall’s cacophony?
Who are these practitioners? We know who you are. From professional to community to school organizations, the plague has struck. One wonders why the ballet and the theater have not yet succumbed to often near deafening onstage run-throughs and warmups before their gathering audiences.
Is there any way to reset or, at the very least, retune what unluckily seems now a dilemma, a no way out? Here is an invitation to reflect on the matter. Or, before coming up with some suggestions, perhaps it better first to ask ourselves if we even care.
Can the music director of the BSO, for instance, direct his corps to march onto to the stage Berlin Philharmonic-style, ready for the downbeat?