I recently started a performance again when its hushed opening was interrupted by a mobile-phone. Judging by the public’s supportive reaction they seemed grateful, but I’ve since thought twice about my knee-jerk reaction and on reflection I’m not sure if it’s a performer’s role or indeed our right to tell audiences how they should behave.
The advantages of music being heard with silent focus and rapt concentration are obvious, and the journey from the minstrel’s gallery to the etiquette of modern-day concert-halls is essentially beneficial. But has something been lost along the way? Music is a social experience and whether being played or heard, enforcing rules runs contrary to the most natural idea of what music-making is all about. Classical music is the only musical medium that discourages audiences from participating in the performance and the resulting disconnect between listener and player is dangerous. I’m not advocating singing along, or applauding instrumental solos before movements have finished, but forbidding people from doing so creates an inhibiting atmosphere. Within that context, it’s not surprising that some feel alienated from the experience.