I know, I know, I said I wasn’t going to write about this anymore, but this issue won’t go away! Last week’s post was about Kyung Wha Chung, and her strong reaction to some coughing at her comeback recital. Well, she has responded to the criticism she received with an online article of her own in The Guardian’s music blog, and, well, she’s really not helping herself (or more importantly, classical music’s image problem) with it.
In the article, entitled “I have always welcomed children to my concerts,” Chung begins by saying how wonderful it is that a supposedly dead art form can still cause this much discussion. This is a standard line about classical music, which I personally hate, and does no good to repeat. It also has nothing to do with the subject at hand, her behavior onstage.
This is followed by a couple of paragraphs explaining how important the concert in question was to her. No one, myself included, has ever questioned this – her comeback was a great story and she deserves great credit for having persevered through what seemed to be a career-ending injury. Again, though, it’s not the point, and it reads like she’s looking for sympathy.
When she finally mentions the coughing and what she euphemistically calls “my surprised reaction” to it, I was ready for her to say that it was wrong or poorly handled or at least something acknowledging that she didn’t handle the situation gracefully, but no such luck. Instead, she pivots immediately to the idea that concert halls are “the last havens of peace; places in which it is still expected that audiences can sit, absorb, think and contemplate without interruption.”
The rest of the article builds on this idea, and Chung adds that “learning to listen is a life skill,” and that it’s important to help children learn this by bringing them to concerts appropriate for their age. Here’s the most important sentence, though: “Live performances hold a certain magic, and the concert hall still commands the ability to create a sacred world far removed from the bustle of everyday life.”
So, no apology – instead we get a reminder that performances are sacred. No wonder not so many people come! It bears repeating that this is not the image concert music needs, nor is this “sacred” space the concert hall Mozart knew.
Look, Kyung Wha Chung is not alone in what she thinks – there are lots of examples of performers with similar attitudes described in that New York Times article I cited in the last post. I don’t think people should deliberately make noise at a concert, but I definitely don’t think we should make them feel bad if they do so accidentally!
I just wish she’d suggested someone get the poor little girl a glass of water – it would have displayed another “life skill” – empathy – and it sure would have been nicer to write about that!
Till next time (and I promise I’ll write about something else!),