There’s Nothing Rougher Than a Genteel Crowd

It’s springtime, which means that across America, crowds are filling auditoriums with the sound of their voices, yelling loudly–sometimes angrily–as they watch young people crash into each other.  I’m not talking about the NBA Playoffs.  I’m referring to spring dance recitals.

I was introduced to the rough and tumble world of youth dance recitals nearly two decades ago, and yet the memory is still painful.  My wife, who taught introductory ballet, thought it might be fun if I brought our two sons to watch the end-of-season extravaganza, in which children (mainly girls) dress up and dance to songs from Disney movies.  Thematic unity among music, costumes and dance is not required, nor even encouraged.

At the last minute my wife asked if we would change seats with a woman whose failing vision made it difficult for her to see the stage.  As we stood up to do so the lights went down, causing momentary disorientation as our eyes adjusted to the dark.  We moved hesitantly up the aisle and across a row of seats, and as the curtain went up we heard the tender expression of a mother’s love.

“Sit down, fer Christ sake!” a woman yelled at us, her video camera rolling.

“Get out of the way, you idiot!” another screamed.

I don’t want to sound judgmental, but the crowd at a Marvelous Marvin Hagler fight I once attended seemed decorous by contrast.


“No way.  I ain’t goin’ to no youth dance recital.”

 

The incident recalled another encounter with the madness of genteel crowds I experienced at a recital by Gustav Leonhardt, world-renowned keyboard player, at Harvard.  Leonhardt was to perform on a specially re-constructed 18th century harpsichord, but it was a cold night and the heating system in the concert hall–only slightly newer than the harpsichord–wasn’t working well.  Leonhardt came out and announced that he was sorry but the cold temperature made the instrument unplayable and he would perform instead on a modern instrument.


Gustav Leonhardt:  “Why don’t you come up here and say that, punk?”

 

A fellow came in after this announcement and sat listening for a while, growing more agitated by the moment.  Finally, after Leonhardt had performed three pieces on the newer keyboard, the man stood up and yelled “PLAY THE F _ _ KING CLAVICHORD!”  Then, to everyone’s relief, he stormed out.

boston1
Classical music fight, Boston Pops

 

And I’m sure you recall the incident in 2007 when a fight broke out between two well-dressed audience members at a Boston Pops concert.  It seems one guy was talking and another guy asked him to please be quiet.  Let me tell you, at a classical music performance, them’s fighting words.


“Fer christ sake–this ain’t the goddamn Symphony!”

 

I don’t know what it is that makes crowds at hoity-toity events lose their cool, but I have a theory.  It’s all the excuse-me-pardon-me-oh-I’m-so-sorry sheen they put on their personalities when they get all dolled up to go out.  Unlike spectators at, say, a Boston Bruins game, among whom it is considered the height of pretension to tuck in one’s jersey.  The more refined the spectators, the more easily they snap.  Fans at baseball games may yell “Kill the umpire!”, but this is a critical judgment, not a call to arms.

Maybe if classical concert-goers would let go with a “Kill the conductor!” every now and then, we could all listen to the effing clavichord in peace.

Available in Kindle format on amazon.com as part of the collection “The Genteel Crowd: It’s So Much More Fun Being Vulgar.”

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