With the myriad of spring concerts behind most community musical groups, it seemed like an opportune time to express some personal opinions which have been festering in my head for some time. Over the past two weekends, during which I have attended three concerts and one play, and played in one performance, a few pet peeves have boiled to the surface of my consciousness. This seemed like a good time to pontificate on my aversion to the many distractions to which concert goers and performers are subjected. Let's just lump these all under the heading of distractions.

Before mounting my high horse about audience decorum, I feel compelled to recall two incidents years apart that evoke laughter for me. The first happened many years ago when I attended my first symphony concert after my arrival in Toronto. It was at a time when there were regular "Prom Concerts" at Varsity Arena. These were promoted as less formal than the winter concerts at Massey Hall. Unfortunately, the interpretation of the term informality by the two elderly ladies seated directly behind me, went too far for my liking. Throughout the entire concert I was "treated" to the incessant rhythm of clicking knitting needles.

The second incident occurred a couple of years ago, during a solo piano recital of a renowned pianist (Emmanuel Ax, I think it was) at Roy Thomson Hall. A cellular phone in the audience rang out loud and clear. With amazing will power, this artist continued playing without so much as a break in the continuity of the music. He turned to face the audience and calmly stated "If it's for me, tell them I'm busy."

I'm tempted to say that I long for the days before cellular phones, I-Pods and digital cameras. I could then reminisce about the days when the major annoyances at concerts were such simple distractions as talking, contortions restricting one's view, rustling of programmes and possibly the unwrapping of candy. By now most of us are well acquainted with the standard cautions prior to most performances asking audience members to turn off their cell phones and refrain from popping off the flashes of cameras. However, at the most recent Hannaford Band's recent Festival of Brass I was subjected to new "silent" distractions. As I savoured the solo performances of the young competitors, there were within my field of view, half a dozen members of the audience, cell phones in hand, text messaging. Whether they were exchanging views of the performance with friends in the audience or staying in touch with others more remote. I asked one simple question: Why?

Two days later, at the concert featuring guest soloist Joe Alessi, the person sitting directly in front of me felt compelled to photograph every nuance of the soloist's slide movements. Throughout the entire solo performance, held up directly in my field of view, was the LCD screen of his digital camera. With modern technology, a flash was not necessary: the rules about flashes were not violated, but I required considerable will power to refrain from taking the camera from this man.

After this last of the Hannaford concerts, a few of us, all involved in music, adjourned to a local restaurant. There the conversation found its way around to what might be termed the etiquette and decorum of the rehearsal. The number one pet peeve of all present was talking during rehearsal. This was closely followed by foot tapping, especially when out of synch with the conductor, and chewing gum. Also scoring high marks for slowing the progress of a rehearsal is the individual whose music is chronically out of order. The entire group must sit on their hands and wait.

High on my personal list of unacceptable rehearsal conduct is that of members answering questions directed to the conductor. These individuals seem to presume that they are better qualified than the conductor to answer another member's question. In one instance in my experience, I had no fewer than five such responses to my question which drowned out the answer of the conductor. Since sarcasm is one service I am wont to provide with little provocation, I responded with. "In case you hadn't noticed, my question was directed to the director of music; I would like to be able to hear his response." Needless to say that was not well received by my self-appointed benefactors.

So much for rehearsal conduct; what about the decorum of performers while on stage? One of my most vivid recollections is of a performance at the old grandstand at the CNE. All of us were appropriately attired in our black "gig suits" and white shirts. Alas, one member, clearly visible from the audience, had decided that bright orange socks would be just fine. Others in the group had a different opinion.

I am a firm believer that people listen with their eyes as well as their ears. Visual distractions can colour one's perceptions of a performance quite significantly. Whether it's the facial expressions of the soprano, awaiting her entry, grimacing with every change in mood of the work, or of the tenor badly in need of a new vest, having outgrown the old one. At a recent Easter season performance of a major choral work which I attended, all soloists were provided with bottles of water which they consumed periodically during the performance. In my mind, if they are going to so blatantly advertise one particular brand of bottled water, perhaps they should ask the bottler to act as a sponsor in return for their strong testimonial. On seeing one or more soloists tipping up bottles during more solemn moments, I half expected a commercial announcement stating "this crucifixion is sponsored by the ABC water company."

For me, the crowning distraction during a concert performance took place about a year ago. In the midst of a major number on the programme, a member of the group sitting in front of me picked up a cell phone and began text-messaging while on stage during a performance. It's true that he had a few bars rest, but it wasn't easy for those of behind the culprit to remain focused on the music we were playing.

Coming Events - Please see the listings section for full details

Sunday, May 3, 10:45 am, the Metropolitan Silver Band 75th Anniversary

Friday, May 8, 8:00 pm, the Etobicoke Community Concert Band, Concert

Saturday, May 9, 7:30 pm, the Northdale Concert Band, Concert

Please write to us: bandstand@thewholenote.com

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