One of the great joys of life is going to the symphony but here’s a question for you. Why does no one in the audience tap their feet to the music . . . or wiggle their fingers . . . or bob their head? I noticed this phenomenon last weekend. My friends and I sat in the balcony, second to the last row center, and had a great view of the orchestra as well as the whole audience.
First up was the premiere of Starbursts, a new work by a daring young composer, Jonathon Leshnoff. It was startling and brilliant. It took my breath away; definitely toe taping and head nodding but no one except the orchestra moved. I gazed out over the audience. Everyone sat stock still.
Next came world famous Hilary Hahn and her magical violin. I can sort of understand why no one bobbed around during her enchanting version of Sebelius Violin Concerto. We were all too mesmerized by the sweet tones of the music and Ms. Hahn’s awesome technique to do much bobbing.
But then came Igor Stravinsky’s Firebird. It there was ever a toe tapping hand keeping-timer composition, that is surely it. Michael Stern, our excellent conductor, did a veritable ballet, dancing on his toes and swinging his arms in sweeping arks, but the audience, all of us, sat in somber silence.
I couldn’t help it. I began to tap my feet, just a teeny bit, but a wicked glance from the lady seated next to me made me stop. No one else moved. Even during the liveliest parts, some people napped, or so it seemed. I guess that’s called enjoying the music.
Go to any other kind of musical event and none of this is so. In fact, at some concerts, if you don’t jump up and down, you can’t see the artists and you risk being trampled.
Why is this? What is it about symphony music that stops us from doing what comes naturally? I’ve asked my most ardent symphony-going friends and here’s what they say.
Good manners require you to sit still.
It shows respect for the musicians and the composer.
The music reaches higher levels (I’m not sure what that means)
One is transfixed . . .
The audience is old . . .
but my favorite is . . . And sleepy!
My symphony-going friends and I would love to hear from you if you have a better answer. Until then, may you enjoy peaceful, motionless listening.