“How to be a Classic Snob!”

This is the title of a very tongue in cheek article by Joel Stein that appeared last week in the LA Times.  It is a wonderful essay demonstrating that we might be better served if the stereotypical “classical” policeman stayed at home and listened to their stereo instead of attending a concert….

Sacrilege I hear, obviously I don’t want anyone who knows anything about music to attend our concerts right?  No, this article is the story of a quest to become a snob, a classical security guard who’s primary purpose is to bestow their disapproval upon any reaction around them at a concert (warning there are some digs about New York musicians in his article):

But because my cultural 401(k) depends on being able to cite conductors, orchestras and recording years, I called David Moore, a bassist for the L.A. Philharmonic, and asked him to get me on the road to insufferability. Moore met me at the Walt Disney Concert Hall and said that, like me, he got into classical music late — in his case at USC, where he started out majoring in jazz, which he discovered by getting into guitar solos in Rush and Iron Maiden songs. New York is the center of high culture because its orchestra members keep these kinds of things secret.

The intent seems to be to demonstrate that in some ways an audience member who engages in “snobbish” behavior is in some ways performing also:

Moore kept giving me advice on appreciating music, but I didn’t care about that. I wanted to know how to express snobbishness about it. “Knowing Sibelius is Finnish and influenced by natural surroundings can deepen the experience, but you don’t need to know it’s cold and dark in Finland to appreciate it,” he said. Yes, I do. This was great advice. A quick Wikipedia read is always the first step to intolerability.

Sensing my excitement, Moore started to get what I was looking for. “If you can refer to recordings or conductors, then you can be elitist and mock me for not knowing that stuff,” he said. Check. “Also, pronounce composers in their language of origin.” Got it. BAY-toe-fen. And if people applaud between movements during a concert, I should stare, loudly shush and shake my head in disapproval. The musicians don’t mind the clapping, but snotty audience members love to assert their knowledge of classical music etiquette.

Thankfully we are talking about a tiny minority (at least I have witnessed) that has all but disappeared, it’s fun reading though.  It’s not that we shouldn’t highlight basic common sense etiquette in our programs (in particular flash photography) but to the idea that applause should be suppressed, I asked my board when they see someone unfamiliar at the concert clapping between movements, to go and welcome them and not even mention the applause.  Chances are they might be there for the first time, and we want them to come back!  Once upon a time applause occurred in the middle as reported by Mozart from the premiere of his Paris Symphony:

“Just in the middle of the first Allegro there was a Passage I was sure would please. All the listeners went into raptures over it — applauded heartily. But, as when I wrote it, I was quite aware of its Effect, I introduced it once more towards the end — and it was applauded all over again.”

I think he would have loved Jazz!  I don’t encourage or discourage applause between movements, that way when it comes, especially between movements, it’s earned rather than expected or suppressed and people are able to freely to express themselves.

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