What not to say when talking to the audience

When Greg Sandow singled out not talking to the audience as one reason why “classical music doesn’t connect to our larger culture,” he probably wasn’t thinking of this kind of talk as the solution:

So, on Friday night, I go to Carnegie Hall for a Christmas concert. The King’s Singers are performing with the New York Pops Orchestra; Marilyn Horne is a special guest. This should be an evening away from politics — just a little fodder for my next New Criterion music piece, you know?

Shortly into the concert, the conductor turns to the audience and speaks about “the holidays.” This year, he says, Hanukkah and Kwanzaa are overlapping with Christmas. (According to what I can find, Kwanzaa begins on December 26, but never mind.) Then we have New Year’s Day. And “on January 20, there will be a new beginning for our country.” The crowd, of course, erupts into cheers. Then he says, “I see I’m not the only one who’s ready”…

Politics aside, where are manners? Where is consideration for a minority of audience members? Where is a sense of public space, and what is appropriate and not? The guy was uncouth, as much as anything. And the sad thing is: There’s no one to call him on it…

I suppose that conservatives, somewhere, act like that conductor, injecting politics where it doesn’t belong, transgressing against public decorum (and simply displaying bad manners). I have not witnessed it, though.

He’s got a point. But that’s the problem with talking to the audience. Does the audience really want to know what the performer thinks?

When I’m in the audience, I sure don’t. I attended an event at a local nightclub a few months ago, as a favor to a friend. I liked some of the music and didn’t like the rest of it. But I liked none of the talking, and found it lowered my confidence in the performers’ abilities overall.

I think it’s a mistake to think that, because performers are good at communicating when they perform, they also have a gift for communicating when they talk.

But I think the conservative critic underestimates the extent to which liberals are subjected to politics in public performance venues. Kate Smith singing God Bless America started showing up at Milwaukee Brewers games a few years ago, in which seemed to me a clear correlation with the Iraq war. And, shortly after the invasion of Iraq, we showed up at a runout and were ordered to start the concert with the National Anthem. We start every season with the National Anthem, which is a venerable tradition that I have always enjoyed. But being required to play The Star-spangled Banner at the start of a preventive war that many of us opposed was equally “uncouth.”

Maybe we should just focus on the music.


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