Sunday, January 31, 2016

Tattling: Usher Special Edition

So, what do you think the responsibilities of music-venue ushers might be? I would say the following:
  • Hand out programs.
  • Help patrons find their seats.
  • Help with special seating situations (a conflict over whose seat it is - I was involved with one of these years ago - or a seat that just doesn't work for some reason).
  • Deal with anti-social audience behavior.
A few years ago, I was at a concert where a woman and a small child - perhaps 8 or 9 years old - were seated a row or two behind me. The child was fidgety and chatty during the first half of the program. I spoke with an usher and the child was silent for the second half.

In the last week, I've been to two programs where somehow the ushers didn't manage to fulfill their responsibilities to the audience in dealing with anti-social behavior from other audience members.

At SFS last week, Marek Janowski conducted a couple of Beethoven symphonies. My partner and I didn't sit together; she was in an accessible seat on a side aisle near the rear of the hall, I was closer to the stage.

During the second half of the program, a couple near her chatted to each other throughout the performance. An usher was seated near my partner, who gestured to the usher about the noise, making what I would have thought was a universally-understood gesture (cue flapping thumb and fingers - I'm sure you know what I mean). After the concert, my partner spoke with the usher, who said, first of all, "but they were in the box." (Implication: people in boxes are too important to be asked to keep quiet during a performance.) The usher also thought, somehow, that it was the movements of the couple that were disturbing my partner.

Now, SFS goes to some lengths to encourage audiences to stay quiet during performances. They've got charming pre-recorded announcements by various members of the orchestra (for instance, Robert Ward doesn't sound nearly as gruff as he looks; he has a sweet light tenor speaking voice). I have never heard an exception, such as "except for you folks in the boxes; you can talk all you want." And of course, most of us have paid good money to sit in the hall, and deserve exactly the same consideration from our fellow audience members. 

If SFS wanted to allow random talking during the performances, they could build out a few glass-enclosed boxes and sell the seats for a premium price -- but they haven't, because of the general expectation that audience members will behave respectfully toward each other and the musicians.

Today, something similar happened at the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra's magnificent performance of Messiaen's Des canyons aux etoiles....One or more audience members chattered through the concert and an usher seated nearby did nothing.

What. The Fuck.

Ushers, it is really up to  you to keep the anti-social members of the audience from interfering with patrons' enjoyment of a concert. Please do your jobs.


Anonymous said...

Well, I'm glad to hear that the Messiaen performance was magnificent. I'm going to hear them at Disney Hall on Tuesday. Did the performance come with Deborah O'Grady's photographic slide show of the Utah parks?

Lisa Hirsch said...

Yes. I did not care for the visuals.

Anonymous said...

In most venues I attend, I don't even know where the ushers are after the concert starts, so I can't call on them. When I do, they're not very helpful. But then, I've been an usher, and nobody ever trained me on what to do for dealing with audience behavior.

What I do for those who talk (they're usually behind me, for some reason):
1) Turn around and give them a glare
2) Turn around and stare at them steadily until they stop
3) Say quietly, "The music has started. Please don't talk during the music" (the condescending tone is deliberate)
4) Write a similar message on a blank page of the program book and hand it to them (particularly useful if they're in front)

Lisa Hirsch said...

Hmmm. It occurs to me that I can investigate this a bit (in my copious free time...).

Alex said...

This past fall during Kissin's Kennedy Center recital I watched a group of ushers blithely ignore a trio of tourists in an adjacent box take pictures and video throughout the entire first half. When dude started leaning out of the box to get a better angle after intermission they finally said something, but still. Madness.

Lisa Hirsch said...

Sheesh. I mean, I'd be emailing Deborah Rutter.