The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: How do the flu and classical music mix? What can be done now that the flu season is peaking here and in the concert hall. How should musicians and presenters deal with a sick and coughing audience?

January 15, 2014
6 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

As I remarked in blog posts of the past three days, the winter intermission is coming to an end with a recital at Arbco housing by the Madison-based Metropolitan Opera mezzo-soprano Kitt Reuter-Foss, with a concert this coming Friday by the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra and with performances of Medieval and Renaissance English music by Eliza’s Toyes on Saturday and Sunday .

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2014/01/12/classical-music-madison-and-metropolitan-opera-mezzo-kitt-reuter-foss-will-perform-a-song-journey-next-saturday-to-benefit-the-piano-restoration-at-arboretum-cohousing/

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2014/01/13/classical-music-the-wisconsin-chamber-orchestra-kicks-off-the-second-half-of-this-concert-season-with-a-performance-this-friday-night-of-orchestral-music-by-mozart-and-bruckner-and-a-guitar-concerto/

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2014/01/14/classical-music-the-early-music-group-elizas-toyes-celebrates-winter-with-medieval-and-renaissance-british-vocal-music/

So it is undeniable: The second half of the concert season is picking up.

So, unfortunately, is the flu season, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control.

Here is a link to a report on NBC-TV about how many states gave started to report serious cases of flu, including deaths, in the majority of states. And there is no sign of a let up. In fact, predictions are for it to get worse — including right here in Wisconsin.

http://www.nbc-2.com/story/24417052/flu-season-may-be-heading-toward-peak#.UtLEoXmKMds

So when you add in a major spike in flu cases to public events held in public spaces — like, say, concerts – you have a volatile and even dangerous risky mix.

BDDS Playhouse audience

Even in healthy times, The Ear finds it bad enough to sit next or near a chronic cougher — whether from allergies, sinus problems or illness — who simply will not leave the hall to hack but prefers instead to fight it out in the hall and ruin much of the music for others.

Coughers at concerts

But right now those same people are not just annoying. They pose public health risks.

One obvious solution is for people who feel ill to stay home. PLEASE. But that may be hard to do when you pay out big money for tickets and don’t want to lose out on the investment or the beauty of the music.

Some presenters offer free cough drops, which some audience members love to unwrap during the slow movement. But a lot of listeners apparently don’t avail themselves of them — or of taking cough medicine before the concert and during intermission.

Perhaps the YouTube video at the bottom about how to use how you breathe to stop coughing can help.

It might also be good if more performing arts organizations offered rebates or switches on tickets for people who need to cancel to protect their own health and the health of others – including, let us not forget, the musicians or performers themselves.

I wonder how realistic that solution is and how many presenters do offer or would offer such a deal for th eska elf public health. If they don’t, they should.

Recently, The New York Times ran a combined story-column, part humorous and self-deprecating and part serious, by Corinna da Fonseca-Wollheim about how musicians deal with coughing. Her examples included famous conductors (such as Michael Tilson Thomas, below top, when he conducted the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and instrumentalists (including pianist Andras Schiff, below bottom in a photo by Robert Torres, when he performed a monster concert of Johann Sebastian Bach‘s “Goldberg” Variations and Ludwig van Beethoven‘s “Diabelli” Variations back-to-back in Boston and then went on to play an encore) dealt with coughers in the audience.

Michael Tilson Thomas Hiroyuki Ito for NY TImes

Andras Schiff. Credit Robert Torres

I remember a concert years ago at the Wisconsin Union Theater during which pianist Alfred Brendel suddenly stopped playing and chastised the audience for spoiling his music with coughing and noise. He then started over again and – miracle of miracles – the audience was indeed quieter.

If many coughers can keep quiet when asked, why can’t they do so on their own? Silence is part of good concert etiquette.

Anyway here is the amusing yet totally serious Times story about how the performers themselves deal with coughing audiences:

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/01/01/arts/music/maestro-at-work-hold-that-cough.html

Is there more than can be done?

One world-famous musician thinks so.

And so does The Ear.

Tune in tomorrow.

 

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