Monday, May 29, 2017

Coughing in Concerts

Let's get the science out of the way first. Musical sounds tend to range between 60 decibels (normal piano practice) and 130 decibels (loud symphonic music). A human cough ranges between 70 to 90 decibels. Yes, it's true, here's the link. So if you cough in a concert you will completely blot out several musical notes, likely ruining the perception of the entire phrase, for everyone seated within thirty or forty feet of you. Every time you cough you seriously impair the concert experience for fifty people or more. The only mystery to me is why we do not fall on these people en masse and throw them out?

You may not cough in concerts.

YOU MAY NOT COUGH IN CONCERTS!

YOU MAY NOT COUGH IN CONCERTS!

Got it? Europeans may know when to clap, but they cough in concerts as much as anyone. Some people seem to cough with no attempt made to stifle it, just as if it were completely normal and acceptable.

You may not cough in concerts.

YOU MAY NOT COUGH IN CONCERTS!

YOU MAY NOT COUGH IN CONCERTS!

And at the concert last night, they even had a stack of boxes of cough drops for sale at the bar at intermission. Why don't people get this? No, you are not at home where your cough will bother no-one. You are in a highly sensitive acoustic environment where your cough will disturb many, many people. You can avoid coughing in concerts. I have been going to concerts for forty some years and I have never, NEVER, coughed during a musical performance. I had a hell of a tickle once and stifling the urge to cough was really hard (and I did cough between movements) but I did not cough during the performance.

You may not cough in concerts.

YOU MAY NOT COUGH IN CONCERTS!

YOU MAY NOT COUGH IN CONCERTS!

I hope that is clear? Sure, most musicians and audience members just ignore it and stay focussed. But make no mistake, every time you cough in a concert you are seriously disturbing both the audience members and the musicians. Please stop.

This has been a public service announcement from The Music Salon.

5 comments:

Steven said...

Heh, Amen. People probably think that one cough in two hours will be fine. But, to be Kantian about it, if everyone did that in a 2000 seat concert hall, that would be 2000 coughs over two hours. Sometimes I've gone to performances where the number didn't seem that far off.

Also infuriating is when people check their phones. In a dimly-lit hall -- or in one case for me, during a cathedral performance of the Matthew Passion -- it is a radioactively bright and rude intrusion.

Bryan Townsend said...

Oh god yes, the bright cellphone screen in the dark hall is really annoying. But no-one was doing that except between pieces, so on that issue, I had no complaints. But coughing?!?

Will Wilkin said...

Yup, I agree. It is in the symphony halls where I am reminded how much people are like cattle.

JBB said...

130 dB for loud symphonic music?

Purdue University (the first Google hit for me) says an example of noise at that level would be "Military jet aircraft take-off from aircraft carrier with afterburner at 50 ft."

I've never heard an orchestra play at that volume. The same P.U. chart gives 114 as the level of live rock music.

(https://www.chem.purdue.edu/chemsafety/Training/PPETrain/dblevels.htm)

Bryan Townsend said...

While I have not had the experience of standing 50 ft from a military jet taking off on afterburner, I have played in an orchestra pit right in front of three trombones and the tympani. It can get pretty loud. But looking around, I see that there is a lot of variation in how different sound levels are described. For example, on this chart I pulled up (http://www.noisehelp.com/noise-level-chart.html) 130 db is described as "peak stadium crowd noise" which seems about right. This chart gives a level of 150 db to "rock music peak": http://www.hearnet.com/at_risk/risk_trivia.shtml

But it doesn't really matter too much what the numbers are!