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A Musical Service



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On The New Criterion’s blog, Armavirunque, I have a post of musical miscellany. I spend most of my time on “audience noises and nuisances.” I’d like to publish a letter, here on the Corner. But first, those noises and nuisances:

You have talking, coughing, and snoring (and other forms of noisy sleeping). You have teeth-sucking, the unwrapping of candy, and cellphones. Worse than cellphones is the self-righteous scolding of the man with the cellphone — the clucking, the murmurs.

Anyway, you have many things. But the “big two,” as I write, are plastic bags and hearing aids: “errant, wayward, singing hearing aids.”

A plastic bag is an amazingly ruinous object in a concert hall or opera house. The crinkles are absolutely deafening. One afternoon at City Opera, a woman behind me was playing with a plastic bag — non-stop. Just kneading it unconsciously . . .

Three or four seats over to my left, a fellow critic of mine, Robert Hilferty, was sitting. He beseeched me — commanded me — to turn around and grab the bag from the woman. He looked like he was about to leap over the seats himself. I forget what happened, in the end.

And hearing aids! I think they may be the worst — faulty hearing aids. The wearer can’t tell that the aid has gone haywire. The devices sing and pierce. I feel sorry for the wearer — he has done nothing wrong, but his device has.

One time, Dawn Upshaw, the soprano, stopped her recital, because of this problem. Another time, a hearing aid sang and pierced throughout an entire Metropolitan Opera Orchestra concert. As I remember, the hearing aid would not make a sound when there was silence — such as between movements of a symphony. It sang only when there was music from the stage. I think the music set off the hearing aid.

Years before that, I was at a Tristan — or was it Parsifal? — where a hearing aid sang and whistled and pierced for a full two acts. Some members of the audience were homicidal. They were semi-assaulting the ushers, who could not locate the offending instrument, or its wearer.

Okay, the letter. It comes from a friend of mine, who’s a musician, as is her husband. “Just last month,” she writes,

we were at concert of the Berlin Philharmonic Wind Quintet. One of the members addressed the audience between movements, asking if someone could locate the hearing aid that was going off. He even proceeded to explain a better setting for the thing during a performance.

That, I have never heard of. Service with a smile, I trust.



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