For me few things in life rival the excitement of live entertainment. Somehow, it has the ability to uplift us and to transport us into another realm of consciousness. I was very pleased this past weekend to attend a piano recital here in St. Andrews at the United Church which I will never forget. One of the most enjoyable aspects of any musical performance for me is actually watching the musicians playing their instruments, and the piano is my favorite. To be sitting a few feet away from Ludmila Knezkova-Hussey, a Rothesay resident and world class pianist who is playing arguably one of the most challenging pieces ever written for piano was a real highlight for me - a magical moment. Anyone who has ever had the rare opportunity to see a live performance of Spanish Rhapsody composed by Franz Liszt knows what I mean. As if that were not enough, Ludmila had also composed, in a few hours no less, a beautiful piano composition in honor of the patron who so generously donated the baby grand piano to the St. Andrews Arts Council. Hence, we were all treated to a world premier.
This backdrop brings me to the discussion for this column, namely concert going etiquette. Different concerts have different codes of dress and conduct appropriate to each. In this particular case, given the fact that the performance was in a church, people dressed smartly. It is usually hot inside churches during the summer, and this was not exception. As a result, light airy clothes were preferred. I noticed people tended to sit in the back of the church until the pews
became filled. They apparently wanted to be able to make a quiet escape if the heat became too overwhelming. However, the concert concluded in an hour and no one suffered from the heat. Even if they had been uncomfortable, the music would have distracted them sufficiently to ease any discomfort. People arrived ahead of the 7:30 start time and everyone was seated when Ludmila appeared. During the concert cell phone are turned off, or at the very most to vibrate. There were thankfully no small fidgety children or crying babies to interrupt the music. It is always best to leave them at home. Before each piece, Ludmila, who is also a music history professor, gave a brief introduction of the composition and the composer of the piece about to be played. This I find extremely interesting as well as educational. Although this audience was filled with a number of people 'in the know', I was not amongst them and benefited from this tidbit of education. Who knew Chopin's heart was buried in Poland?
Applause was held until the conclusion of each piece. The artist made it subtly clear when that moment was and the audience responded appreciatively. It can be very disconcerting (no pun intended) to either hear applause prior to the end of a movement of piece. It is equally awkward if one is not familiar with a piece, to now when to applaud. My advice in that case is to simply wait until others begin. Novices need not be the first to clap or to rise to their feet. Following the lead of others makes this part of any performance more enjoyable to everyone. Standing ovations are also part of most concerts. After all, the main interaction during such an event is between the artist and his or her audience. Showing one's appreciation of the the performance is something few artists tire of. Most relish in that brief moment in time. It also gives the audience a thrill to show their gratitude and respect. Occasionally people are unsure of whether a standing 'O' is appropriate or not. Again, my advice is to follow the lead of others. If people begin to stand up, it should signal others to follow suit. This is, after all, not a political arena, and statements of approval are generally meted out more generously.
Conversation during the playing of the music should be curtailed or at the very least kept to a low whisper. If one is hard of hearing, expecting someone to 'speak up' during the performance is ill advised. Carrying on the tradition of playing classical music, interspersed with contemporary music written in the classical tradition is a wonderful testament to the history of our culture as humankind. Be it western culture or that of a foreign land, there is a thread that binds us to our history as people. In a way, we are honoring and respecting our past, but in so doing being mindful of appropriate social behavior in the moment. Magical moments occur when you least expect them. Treasure them!