Now that live performance is back, would everyone please be quiet?

Now that we’re all getting back to normal type life and the ability to mingle with others while enjoying music or other performance, I have a request. Don’t get mad. How about let’s not talk during the performance? 

Polly Campbell
Polly Campbell

People sure talk a lot while music is happening. They talk about work. Their kids’ soccer coach. First-date questions. Their dogs. They talk through the opening act, through the songs they don’t know. Some people even talk over the music about how much they love the band that’s playing and all the other epic times they’ve seen them. It drives me crazy. It makes me not like people, and I actually do like people. 

Remember the movie “Whiplash” from 2014? It’s about a kid who wants to become a great jazz drummer, despite a sadistic teacher. It was pretty gripping, but I just kept thinking “So you want to work this hard so you can play in clubs and have people talk over you like you’re background music? 

Jazz clubs might be the worst, where the most highly skilled players are the most ignored. But it happens during all kinds of music. It can be at a loud rock show in a bar, where people have to yell to share the important facts about their dog. Or at the Aronoff or the Taft, where they also like to stand up at the beginning of the first song. Classical music seems exempt. I might have to get serious about loving Mahler so I can listen to something disturbed only by coughs. 

It’s rude and annoying to pay for a concert ticket and spend the time yakking, disturbing people who also, by the way, paid for a concert ticket. But I also think about what the yakkers are losing out on. Live music offers an experience unlike any other: if you give yourself up to it, you can be immersed in something outside yourself. You can meld with another person’s consciousness through their creativity. You can feel in your body the excitement of rhythm and live instruments. You can thrill to the soprano’s high notes. But you have to be willing to let go. 

I once went to a Queens of the Stone Age show at PNC Pavilion because my daughter was in town and none of her friends were around. Not my kind of show at all. But it was thrilling that every person there was into nothing but the music, for as long as it lasted. It was immersive, like riding a wave. My husband and I saw Paul McCartney at Great American Ball Park several years ago. The feeling of 40,000 people singing “Hey Jude” in unison, like one huge life form bigger than any of us, was thrilling. 

But it doesn’t have to be a spectacle to be immersive. My sister and I fell in love with Willie Watson, having gone to see him on the basis of a description of his folk music. He sings and plays banjo and guitar solo, and for an hour and a half or so, we thought of nothing else but his amazing, unique voice. Fortunately, his fans seem pretty reverential and they didn’t interrupt our experience. 

But it seems to be very hard to let go of whatever’s on our minds, or going on inside us, long enough to give ourselves up to a new experience. We’re always thinking ahead, or back, or sideways. I’ve had dinner with friends when we talked about dinners we had in the past, and what we’re having for dinner tomorrow. The dinner we were actually having? Well, we’ll talk about that next time. I’ve been on group trips where people talked about other trips. 

Sure, sometimes the art just doesn’t grab you. A friend of mine who loves music passionately has no patience for solo performers. We went to the zoo to see a concert featuring a one-string African instrument. She took a walk. My husband and I went to a Sofar Sounds event a while ago, precisely because it was meant to be an attentive listening experience. The 20-somethings there were so nice and polite and quiet. Too bad the music was kind of terrible, and I wished I’d brought a book, but we just politely listened and left when we could. Why ruin it for anyone else? 

Isn’t this about what people call mindfulness? Art is a way to be here now, to give your full attention to something, so you can forget all the mundane stuff you usually think about. To leave yourself behind for a bit. And it’s great when you do that with a roomful of other people. 

A few weeks ago, my other daughter recommended the movie “Everything, Everywhere All at Once” so my husband and I went to see it at a theater. There was a safe number of people, maybe 20 or 30, but I started worrying about being close to that much humanity and their potential for loud popcorn eating and talking. But we settled into a pleasant murmur of conversation. I’m not generally into sci-fi, time and universe-traveling martial arts movies, but this was so good, with a real story about a middle-aged woman, her marriage and her daughter and unlike most of the movies I see, it was funny. And everyone laughed at the same time. I was glad to be out with my fellow humans again.

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