From the President (Oct. 31, 2010)

Dear Colleagues,

This past Thursday evening we had our first “Preview Concert” at Burlington High School. It involved our Concert Chorus, String Orchestra, Concert Band and Symphonic Orchestra. We try to limit each group to 15 minutes of music in an effort to be considerate of the time spent by the audience in the concert hall. In actuality our auditorium renovation is not yet complete, so we had our performance in the auditorium at one of our middle schools. As a quick observation, I remember concerts when I was in high school, and also in my early years of teaching, that we two hours long, and parents were glad to have the opportunity to hear their children and the children of others perform; and indeed they STAYED to listen to all the performing groups before leaving. MT POINT; WHY DO WE TRY TO MAKE OUR PERFORMANCES SHORTER THESE DAYS, IN DEFERMENT TO BUSY SCHEDULES. AND WHY DO PEOPLE FEEL IT IS OK TO LEAVE A PERFORMANCE AS SOON AS THEIR OWN CHILD IS DONE? THIS USED TO BE CONSIDERED RUDE AND INCONSIDERATE!

As the concert proceeded I was trying diligently to listen to each performance and also to observe what was happening on and off the stage, and this article is a distillation of what I saw and heard. As you may remember I wrote a similar article last year, but the basic thrust of this one is a bit different; a variation on a theme if you wish.

I was pleased with the progress that all of our groups have made since last year in terms of performance, and there were indeed many moments that point to a bright future for our program. But I choose for this article to consider some of the things that have and still disturb me, and maybe should disturb all of us in some manner. The first was the audience response to the chorus repertoire that I performed. I am making an attempt to be a bit more “inclusive” of repertoire that I do with my general chorus in an attempt to entice more students into the program. But at the same time I try to do reputable arrangements with meaningful texts. Thus, “We’ve Only Just Begun” in an arrangement of Ed Lojeski, a beautiful setting of “Set Me As A Seal” by Richard Nance, and a Barnwell piece called “Wanting Memories.” Of the three selections, the Nance piece was the best better piece of literature in my mind, and also the one with the best text. The Barnwell was last, and understandably if you know the piece. The chorus did well enough on all three selections, but nothing that really even approached my idea of standing ovation work, which is why I was totally confounded by the standing ovation (and of course I stood there on stage to the side and let it happen, for the sake of the students, and was appreciative)! And further by the after concert comments about the literature, almost to a person that the best piece on the program was the Barnwell, and not a mention of the Nance by anyone! MY POINT: STANDING OVATIONS USED TO BE RESERVED FOR OUTSTANDING PERFORMANCES OF REAL DISTINCTION. AND RECOGNITION OF QUALITY CHORAL LITERATURE IS NOT THE FIRST THING ON AN AUDIENCES MIND.

As random as my thoughts might be, please stay with me! As audience members walked into the auditorium I was not surprised to see them entering with coffee in hand from Dunkin’ Donuts and various other places. Food was brought into the performance space as well, and Coke and Pepsi products were prevalent. Audience attire, in my opinion, was quite deplorable. It used to be (when I was in high school and also earlier in my career) that a concert was an EVENT, and people would arrive dressed up for something that was special and somewhat out of the ordinary. MY POINT: FOOD SHOULD NOT BE ALLOWED IN A PERFORMANCE SPACE, AND WHEN ATTENDING A PERFORMANCE ONE SHOULD DRESS APPROPRIATELY BEFITTING THE EVENT! I really believe here that when our parents and others attend performances in jeans, sweatshirts, baseball hats, sneakers and the like, that it sends a very strong message to our students. It has become increasingly difficult to get students to dress well and appropriately as performers in a performance. I often wonder what they must think when they look out upon the audiences they are performing for and see their appearance; and this extends to what they are doing while they perform, like drinking coffee and eating cookies and donuts and sandwiches and the like.

I also was dismayed at the behavior of some students (not performing) in the audience, and still worse with the constant undercurrent of talking and “buzz” going on while the performance is in progress. Students in particular are most rude, often talking while their peers are on stage performing, constantly going to the bathroom, exiting and re-entering the performance space. And what about the two young children that were making so much noise and sometimes crying? In my day (as a parent) at the first signs of this kind of behavior (and of course a child is not necessarily responsible for their behavior at a very early age) I took my children and left the auditorium so that the rest of the audience could enjoy the performance without having to listen to a noisy child. MY POINT: STUDENTS DO NOT IN GENERAL SEEM TO HAVE VERY GOOD CONCERT ETIQUETTE; THEY DO NOT UNDERSTAND THAT WHEN THEY TALK AND DO SILLY THINGS THAT THEY ARE DISTURBING OTHERS THAT WISH TO LISTEN TO THE PERFORMANCE, AND SOMETIMES THIS MEANS THEIR OWN PEERS! ADDITIONALLY, PARENTS HAVE TO UNDERSTAND THAT IF THEY CANNOT CONTROL THEIR CHILDREN DURING A PERFORMANCE, THEY SHOULD REMOVE THEM FROM THE AUDITORIUM WHERE OTHERS ARE TRYING TO LISTEN, OR NOT BRING THEM IN THE FIRST PLACE!

In my very humble opinion I think that a return to some older practices would be in order. I know that we all wish to support our students efforts, and I applaud those efforts by any who might be in the audience. But I do think that the following points are well made and deserve some thought:

1) Reserve standing ovations for performances that really deserve ovations.
2) Share a very healthy dose of quality choral literature to our singers every concert season.
3) Do not allow food or drink in a performance space.
4) Teach our students to dress appropriately for performances and important events.
5) Teach our students what good concert etiquette really is.
6) Teach our audiences what good concert etiquette means.
7) Do not bring children to performances unless they can be controlled.
8) Teach students and parents alike that they should stay for the ENTIRE performance.

The above are difficult issues to address, esp. when it comes to the adults whose children we teach. But I think we start with the students, and than devise instructive and innovative ways to address the adults. I may be the only person that recognizes these things, but for me the distractions get in the way of my ability to appreciate the performance. If there is going to be change, than I think it needs to come from us. And as always, if anyone has anything to add to these observations, and maybe possible solutions, please feel free to share your thoughts.

Most Sincerely,

Frank Whitcomb

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