Showing posts with label Coughing in concert halls. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Coughing in concert halls. Show all posts

Friday, October 06, 2017

The mind behind the cough

Diagram from Wikipedia
Last night I went to the London Piano Festival concert and in the middle of the Rachmaninov I felt the first warning signs. Like most other people in London, the PM included, I've had a lurgy. It's gone, but left lingering dregs in the form of a tickly but persistent and "productive" cough. Nothing that Vocalzone pastilles can't sort out, I thought, heading off to Kings Place. And all was well until 2/3 of the way through Charles Owen and Katya Apekisheva's splendid performance: in the Rachmaninov Suite No.2's Romance, the bug decided it was time to get me. Just after friends and I had spent half the interval grumbling about people coughing.

It starts with a soft sensation like cat-fur brushing against one tonsil. Perhaps a quiet 'hem-hem' will clear it. No...The cat fur is pressing and now feels more like a brush-bristle. A needle. It's agony, all down the right side of my neck. I put my coat over my mouth and cough as quietly as humanly possible. Did you know that if you stifle a cough in material it helps muffle it, but if you put your hand over your mouth it just amplifies the noise? Take note, dear friends... Yet the cough remains. And I can't cough properly, especially not in this bit. Oh, come on, Jess, it's not like you're the PM...

But...oh help. Oh gawd. What to do? I can scarcely take a breath. My eyes are watering. On stage Charles and Katya are in Rachmaninov Heaven and everybody around me is blissing out. If I get up and run for the door, won't that cause more disturbance than coughing? But I can't cough either. What's more, if I pick up my handbag and start rustling around for my Vocalzone under the tissues, Oystercard, lipstick, Ghost Variations flyers and change that fell out of my purse, that'll cause impossible disturbance too... But I can't cough. What would my friends say? What would my neighbours say? What about the other press?

Won't it be over soon? Won't it pass? Won't this movement, at least, end, and then I can attack the bag for a pastille? I thought the suite was quite short, but it seems not - this movement has turned interminable. Rachmaninov will make sure it goes on forever and forever more. And far from being gentle and romantic, it's eating me alive.

By now something inside my throat is shivering like violin vibrato and my eyes are streaming so much that it must be wrecking my make-up (upside: maybe everyone will think the music moved me to tears...) My whole body is shaking. I try to control it, but slowly the whole of Kings Place seems to be tipping slowly over to the right. Is this real? Is it all psychological? Is this every worst experience of my whole life coming back to destroy me, in the middle of a piano festival? Is this what it's like to have a breakdown? They're going to have to carry me out in a heap of melted hopelessness.

The movement ends. There's a second or two of silence. I can hear the cough sweets screaming at me from the bottom of the bag. In a moment...but Charles and Katya catch one another's eye over their pianos, hands raised, motionless. And they plunge straight into the finale.

Suffice it to say that this morning I'm alive and well. I wonder if every other concert-cougher feels as I do when that happens to them. Rather cruelly, I hope so, because it really does disturb the music. I managed to muffle mine, despite personal suffering. So you can, too. Remember: use material, not your hand, and never leave home without a cough sweet.

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Thursday, January 31, 2013

Five ahems about coughing

So it seems they do it on purpose. Coughing in concerts. Report on latest research is here.

But here are a few points that appear not to have been taken into consideration.

1. Pre-emptive coughing. You cough when you can, in the breaks between movements, because you can. And because you know you that in another moment won't be able to and if you're afraid you might need to then you get it out of the way first, just in case.

2. Nervous coughing. There's nothing like being unable to do something to make you feel a terrible urge to do it. This can manifest itself quite physically, in the form of a truly ghastly scratch at the back of the throat that makes your eyes water and your hands sweat and you feel you can't breathe, and you really do have to cough. Believe me, I've experienced this - about ten years ago I had a phase of a few months in which it happened to me every time I went into the RFH. It started, and later stopped, for no particular reason.

3. No drinks in very dry concert halls coughing. I'm not thinking of beer. I'm thinking of nice, fresh, cough-cooling WATER. The air inside concert halls can become very, very dry, which sets off coughing because your throat dries out. The concretey Barbican is a case in point, but it can happen anywhere. Daring members of an audience will often smuggle in a small bottle of spring water in case of coughing. But I'm sure plenty others don't dare, because we're not supposed to take drinks into a classical concert. Nuff and stonsense. Water should be mandatory.

4. I'm not too happy about the idea that we cough because we're bored. But the fact remains that people cough less if they're really focused on what is going on. The more exciting a performance is, the less coughing there tends to be.

5. Why do people cough more in the quiet bits? I'm not convinced they do. It's just that in the loud bits, you can't hear them!