[Some little imaginative sketches about real life experiences which most concert goers will recognize.]

Mayhem in the Concert Hall

1. The Cougher

The old lady kept coughing through the slow movement of the Mozart Clarinet Quintet. I kept waiting for her to get up and leave but she didn’t. I thought back to my apartment in Brooklyn, forty years ago, where every time I started listening to the slow movement of a Beethoven String Quartet the firehouse down the block would disgorge a riot of sirens and bells. Happened every damn time. Finally I couldn’t take it anymore. She was just across the aisle and a couple of rows down. I jumped up and reached her in a few steps. I saw that she was very old and her cane lay in the aisle. She was also very short, so when I kicked her I connected with her head. It flew off like a football on a field goal attempt, arced through the air, and smashed through a window of the hall. The audience began to applaud, but I stared them down immediately. Jerks! The music wasn’t over yet.

2. The Disgruntled Harpist

I suppose I should have been grateful for the work. It’s not often they hire a second harp for a small venue like this. But during the rehearsal I realized that Shostakovich wrote two harps into his deservedly obscure Fourth Symphony without any respect for the instrument at all. He gave me nothing to do but plink occasionally along with the first harp, which mostly plinked along with something else just to add a spurious touch of “color” and the damn parts were so simple that any of my students could have played them.

Well, after sitting through most of this stupid noisy piece with nothing to do, and the things to do so fucking stupid, and the composer being long dead and beyond my vengeance, there was only one thing left to relieve my frustration. As the audience began to applaud, I lifted the harp over my head and hurled it at the conductor. It fell a little short, but it smashed with a very, very satisfying sound. I’m only sorry I didn’t have a match and some lighter fluid.

I’m thinking of taking up the accordion.

3. The Concert-Goer’s Revenge

My silent scream at the conductor drew no response. I pleaded for some nuance, some shaping, but the phrases spat out from the instruments remained blissfully free of any such niceties. Who cares! they shouted. For once we are free from tyranny!

Meanwhile the conductor’s resolutely bald head kept reflecting light painfully into my weakened left eye. Finally, it was more than I could bear. I stood up and drew my gun. All around me, people ducked under their seats, mistaking me for a terrorist. But when I just blew the conductor’s head off, sat down, and put my gun away, there was an audible sigh of relief. The white-haired man next to me patted me on the shoulder, whispering, “Good work,” as the music continued unabated and, perhaps, even better coordinated than it had been before my rash liberation.

4. The Motorcycle Music Killers

It always happens when the music is most vulnerable. This poor guy from Arizona was sitting on the stage in Woodstock, two thousand miles from home, playing the slow movement of a Bach Suite for unaccompanied cello. As one of Bach’s long melodies floated out over the ecstatic crowd, a noise grew from the distance and began to compete with the music. Within seconds it had blasted Bach into smithereens–a motorcycle, like most of the ones of its breed, its muffler removed. Where are the cops when you need them? On their own motorcycles somewhere, it seems.

The noise grew louder and louder. Blood began to spurt from the ears of the audience. But then, I saw their faces start to change. Even the octogenerians began to turn red with fury. As the roar of the motorcycle hit its peak, the audience’s cumulative psychic fury hit the engine. There was a bang louder than the roar. Then, silence in the background, as Bach returned to supremacy. The cellist, still playing, began to smile.

5. The Baby at the End of Time

They should never have been in a concert hall, but there they were: some kind of extended family with an older man, two younger women, and two small girls, both under five. I wasted a few moments trying to figure out the relationships, but when mind started to turn into a TV show I started paying attention to the music instead.

It was not music for children. By the end of the first half of the program, taken up with two long, wonderful but challenging new pieces, I was starting to feel a bit of wear on my own psyche. The girls had made various kinds of noises, but their mothers–I guess they were the mothers–had succeeded in shushing them fairly quickly, the disturbances lasting just enough to pull my attention away from the music and leave me suspended.

During Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time, though, the girls started to get out of control. After all, what little children can sit quietly for that long through anything? Finally, they got up and ran out of the hall, the women trailing behind them. I caught sight of them all running past an open doorway at the front of the hall.

Then, of course, they all returned, noisily, during the unaccompanied clarinet solo, just as the clarinet player was playing the softest note I’d ever heard. His command was so awesome that he brought that same note gradually up, louder and louder, until he was playing the loudest sound I’d ever heard from a clarinet. Then, it got louder, and more strangely complex. I turned around to see how the girls were reacting, just in time to see them begin to melt into puddles.–“Leslie Gerber

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