Last night's audience was less tubercular, for a mercy, but gracious me did they wander! I mean they got up and wandered around the concert hall, re-seating themselves periodically. It was like the musical chairs Messiah. Except that because Maestro Kramer is relentless, they never really had time to get seated before the music started again. 

Here's a thing about Toronto audiences: they're rarely early. We'll peep into the hall as we're heading into the choir loft, five minutes before the performance is scheduled to begin, and more than half of the seats will be empty. People are still scuttling to their seats as the orchestra tunes, and there's always a rush during the first chorus as latecomers try to find their seats. So we get used to a certain amount of wandering around.

In this Messiah, though, people filtered in throughout the first half. 


And, as I mentioned, this Maestro is relentless. He doesn't really stop between pieces, even to cue the choir to stand or sit. A lot of our stand and sit cues are things like "Stand on the downbeat of the first bar of this chorus," or "sit in the fourth bar of the intro to this aria." In one place, we start the chorus sitting, and then stand on the third beat of the bar, mid-way through, on the word "Arise!" The soloists wander out to sing their bits while the orchestra is playing or the choir is singing. In keeping with this relentlessness, and because the Maestro is also a completist, who has included most of the choruses, uncut, and the extended versions of all of the arias, the intermission is 15 minutes long. Which is exactly enough time to get out of the concert all, turn around, and come back in, and is nothing like enough time to use the washroom, drink anything, or have a snack. 

So people also filtered in throughout the second half. One couple came in three pieces in. They were seated in the middle of the fifth row, but as they headed down the aisle to their seats, a woman in one of the aisle seats stopped the woman heading to her seat, and the two held a whispered conversation for several minutes, while the man found his seat. Eventually, an usher reminded the conversational ladies that there were others in the audience who might like to hear something other than their conversation, and the first woman headed to her seat, in the middle of the row. 

I should point out that in a concert hall with over a thousand seats, there are maybe a hundred audience members who behave inappropriately, though perhaps more cough a lot. Most people who attend concerts do seem to understand that talking, coughing, using cellphones, retching, and making rude gestures at the performers constitute inappropriate, disruptive behaviour. I do think that it's in part a matter of culture and education—fewer people attend live performances, and not everyone is aware of the standards of conduct. I think the breaches of decorum are also, in part, because audience members often attend theatrical events—movies, amplified concerts, and Broadway-style plays—where the performers can't see the audience, and may be less affected by the audience.

I mean, a movie doesn't care what the audience does. Other audience members may care, but the movie will keep playing no matter what. And while musicals are live performances, they're often amplified, so the coughs and rustles can be drowned out. Moreover, performers often have bright lights shining in their eyes, so they can't really see the audience in the same way. 


In a concert hall, we can see and hear everything. What we see and hear from the audience affects the performance we give. If an audience is engrossed and excited (and not coughing), we work really hard for them. If an audience is fidgety, talkative, or otherwise inattentive, we get distracted and feel unappreciated. So if someone is wandering around, or coughing, or whatever, they're affecting other people's experience in two ways: they distracting their neighbours and they're distracting the performers, which affect the performance. I wonder how many audience members really understand this. 

I mean, we'll sing the best we can in any case, and I'm grateful for the butts in seats, because putting on that dress and singing to an empty hall would be sad. I just find the changes in audience behaviour kind of fascinating—perhaps because I can see most of what audiences get up to. 



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