In September 2008, I visited the subject of how to attend classical music concerts. During recent internet research surfing, I ran across a fun essay at Theatlantic.com by Erik Tarloff entitled A Few words about Coughing. Tarloff describes a concert of Mahler’s Ninth Symphony he attended at Lincoln Center and the uncanny focus of audience coughing during the quiet passages of music. I’ve noticed this phenomenon, also. Of course, louder passages would drown out the coughing.
What is the reason for the coughing? Here in Minnesota, the usual reason is the common cold or flu. Tarloff, however, posits a theory concerning audience engagement with the music that also makes sense to me. The amount of coughing correlates to the level of lack of interest in the audience member.
Do you cough regularly at classical concerts? If so, and you’re not sick, check your level of engagement in the music, how closely you’re listening to the music and watching the musicians. I find it interesting that Tarloff noted people don’t usually cough during movies (no, they talk or text message on cell phones). I attend plays at the Guthrie Theater on a regular basis and don’t ever recall hearing disruptive coughing during a performance. Not like the hacking that Tarloff describes and I’ve heard during concerts at Orchestra Hall. (I’ve also heard loud snoring in Orchestra Hall, but that’s another issue….)
With flu season almost upon us, and certainly novel H1N1 flu has been upon us since last March, I hereby review how to muffle a coughing fit until you can exit the concert hall. Please, please, cover your mouth! Please use a real cloth handkerchief (if possible) because the cloth absorbs the sound better than tissue. Or, if no handkerchief is handy, do what public health nurses and other officials have been encouraging: cough into your elbow. Easy. And please, if you’re sick with the flu, whether seasonal, H1N1 or the notorious “flu-like illness,” please stay home, rest, drink lots of fluids and protect the rest of us from the illness you have.
Thank you for your consideration!