Abominable members of the classical music crowd

The jingler, Leitmotif man, five-finger exerciser, TV watcher, child conductor, candy eater, critic

Once Leonard Bernstein smiled at little Henry on an airplane. And there he goes, conducting the entire concert from row M of the balcony.
  • Once Leonard Bernstein smiled at little Henry on an airplane. And there he goes, conducting the entire concert from row M of the balcony.
  • Image by Tom Voss

The Jingler

She is an elegant lady who has decorated all available parts of her body with pendant metallic jewelry. From her wrists there hand flurries of fine metal strips; around her neck, more of the same; and her pierced earlobes hold up elaborate, finely wrought mobile sculptures with the most cunning miniature Japanese temple bells in their midst. Every motion she makes results in a merry cascade of tiny, high-pitched percussion sounds — sweet , clear, delicate, and a perfect accompaniment to a Beethoven adagio or a crucially important speech in a play. Whenever she raises a slender arm to adjust her hairdo – and she does this every 30 seconds, for elegance is a full-time job – she provides a sound-source a recording engineer would adore testing himself on: those transient pitches that tease the mind as they bound off beyond the limits of hearing, like a swarm of gnats turned into music. When she scratches herself, it is a tempest in a Lilliputian clock shop. When she sneezes, the jingles resound long enough to interfere with a whole sonata exposition or an entire graveyard soliloquy. She is totally unaware that she has brought a rival orchestra with her. Bells on her fingers and bells on her nose, she shall raise tempers wherever she goes.

The Abominable Leitmotif Man

He sits behind you at Wagner operas, with his girlfriend, who cannot tell Wagner from Pink Floyd but thinks her escort is as groovily wise as — as — as Robert Redford! He is a self-appointed expert on Wagner’s leitmotifs — those repeated themes that serve to identify characters, places, events, ideas – and he provides the lady with a running commentary on their appearances in the music. “Blood on the Waelsungs,” he tells her (and all her neighbors within a dozen square yards). “Siegfried the Hero,” “Alberich’s Curse,” “The Rising Horde no, that’s horde, honey.” She is flabbergasted by his genius: can he really know all those things about that endless nightmare of blasting and croaking and horns and drums he has dragged her to (so horribly different from Joni Mitchell)?

“That’s the Giants — brrroom pa boom, brrroom pa boom.”
“You’ve got to be kidding!”
“No, I mean it. And that’s the Ring. Hear it? Da-dee-da-doo-doo-da-doo – down and around and up, just like a ring, get it?”
“God, George, you turn me on!”

An outraged neighbor whispers furiously for the Abominable Leitmotif Man to shut up.

“A Wagner-hater,” the ALM explains calmly to his friend. “Why do they come if they don’t like this music? Nobody’s forcing them. Listen! There’s Valhalla, the Magic Fire, the Young Siegfried, and Redemption Through Love, all at once!

The Five-Finger Exerciser

He sits next to you in a frenzy of agitation, as though being confined to a theater seat were like being locked in a closet, tied up in a straightjacket, drowned in quicksand. He rolls his program into a tube, unrolls it, rolls it again. His nervousness increases, he begins to rub the rolled-up program across the palm of his hand, back and forth. At a concert, he will at first keep time with the music. But the conductor’s tempos drag him back — he starts to go faster — the paper squeaks rhythmically against his flesh — he starts panting — you look around desperately for another seat you can move to – but the piece is over, and your nervous neighbor bursts into enthusiastic applause. “Terrific!” he murmurs to himself as he slaps the old paws together. “Never been done better!”

The TV Watchers

They are a pleasant, easy-going, charming couple who have never learned to distinguish between watching a play in a theater and watching a program on television. They talk to each other in comfortable conversational tones, as if they were in the privacy of their own living room.

“He’s really telling her off, isn’t he?”
“Well look, didn’t she help the uncle kill the guy’s father? You’d be pretty angry too.”
“Still, to talk to your own mother that way.”
“What about what you said to your mother when she said the Camaro wasn’t as good looking as that Swedish car your sister got? – Hey, there’s that ghost again.”
“Listen how hoarse he is. He sounds like Maureen. I’ve told her a million times to use filter cigarettes, but she likes the feel of tobacco against her tongue.”
“What’s in the fridge, by the way? Any of that Schlitz left?”
“I’ll go see.”

The Child Conductor

Little Henry is a prodigy. He listens to all the symphony broadcasts, as his mother tells everyone in her vicinity. He can already play “There Are Fairies at the Bottom of My Garden” on the piano, using both hands, and at the age of nine! Once Leonard Bernstein smiled at him on an airplane. And there he goes, conducting the entire concert from row M of the balcony, nodding his little blond head, waving his arms, sometimes kicking the back of the seat in front of him to get the orchestra through a really tricky part. It is true that his tempos often seem different from those of the music, and that some of his noddings and wavings and kickings look remarkably like erratic twitches. But what do you expect from a nine-year-old? Isn’t it sufficiently wonderful that such a little boy can get that whole 100-man orchestra to play at all? And wait till the last movement, the one with the big tune – you’ll be simply stupefied at the way he sings the whole thing, right along with the violins, but even more expressively! What a privilege to be in the same concert hall with tomorrow’s Toscanini – in the same balcony – even, for the luckiest of all, in the seat directly in front of him (the one he kicks) – and all for the price of a regular concert ticket!

The Candy Eater

This person cannot bear a moment in a theater or concert hall without munching on a piece of candy. That is, a moment when something is happening on stage – during intermissions, or before the show starts, the mouth is busy commenting and gossiping and does not need its sugary pacifier. Consequently, the process of opening the box and liberating the candy from its wrapper never need get under way until silence has settled over the audience and the actors or musicians have begun to make their organized sounds. As soon as the show starts, however, the craving for sweets becomes overwhelming, irresistible, ineluctable.

The sequence of events that ensues is always the same, for there is no theater-going-type more universal or more standard than the Candy Eater. Jinglers are always women, Five-Finger Exercisers are always men, TV Watchers always come in pairs. But Candy Eaters may be male or female, alone or coupled, young or old; whatever their sex, age or condition of servitude, they all follow precisely the same choreography.

First of all they always choose a sticky type of candy wrapped closely in cellophane. No soft chocolates in silent limp foil for them. Then, the box too must be cellophane wrapped – and only a virgin box will do; boxes already opened at home are entirely inappropriate to these particular oral delights. But one must not get the wrong idea about the Candy Eater. There is no malice in him, and no ostentation, he is, on the whole, a modest, cautious, and courteous person. He realizes that cellophane-crinkling in a silent theater makes noise, and he wants to avoid annoying anyone, or, (worst of all) arousing anyone’s ire. He therefore attacks the box-wrapper in tiny, brief forays, making just enough crickle-crackle each time to startle everyone like a sudden pop on a record, but no continuous, long-lasting sound that might evoke progressive degrees of rage.

Cric! Everyone looks around. But the noise has stopped with that one outburst. Attention returns gradually to the music or play. And just when you have forgotten about the interruption and are concentrating on the show again, the Candy Eater decides that the danger has passed and that it is time to work on the next fold of cellophane. Crac! And so it goes, bit by bit, cric by crac, sometimes – when the Candy Eater is a virtuoso of his art, A Heifetz of random noise – prolonged over a whole symphony or a whole dramatic scene. (Concert-going Candy Eaters prefer the quiet, slow movements, since the quietness compels them to open the box at the slowest possible pace and over the longest period of time.)

And that is just the box! Now it is time to begin on the individual piece of candy, its cellophane tightly wrapped around it and stuck to it as well. Cric! Long silence. Crac! Long silence. Cric crac! The agony of hunger has made the Candy Eater mess cautious than before. Heads look around. Very long silence. Mozart and Shaw are ignored now. Everyone is waiting tautly for the next cric. Cric! There it is! Then, suddenly, a violent precipitous cric crac cricky crac cracky! The candy is freed, popped into the slavering mouth; the agony seems to be over.

But the theatrical Candy Eater is not a sucker, he is invariably a chewer, even if the candy is as hard as Purina Dog Chow. And so, Crunch! Silence, caution, waiting, tension. Crunchy crunch! And a dozen more candies to finish off before intermission!

The Critic

He has a certain busy intellectual shabbiness about him, a frayed cuff, a collar slightly soiled, mismatched socks, ink stains on his fingers, tobacco stains on his teeth. During the performance, much to your astonishment, (Fate has seated you next to him), he produces a flashlight from his pocket and starts making notes all over his program. When he cannot think of the right word, which seems to happen all the time, or when he finds an infelicity in his style, he mutters a curse and scratches things out noisily. You turn your face away from him, hoping to avoid the distraction of the light and the spastic writing motions. No use, as they keep tugging at the corner of your eye. You raise a hand to shade the eye, like a horse blinder. This catches his attention, “I hope this doesn’t bother you,” he says, in a whisper full of vocal nodes. “I’m a critic, and I have to take notes on the performance. I know it’s distracting, but believe me, it’s even harder on me than on you. Ah, ah —!” Something on stage has caught his attention and he jots it down rapidly, his tongue following the movements of his pen, his vivid little eyes agleam. You glare over at the bescribbled program and see that he has written: “If there has ever been any doubt about Miss Le Gallienne’s incompetence as an actress, that doubt was dispelled last night.” He reads it over and over, smiling and chuckling, and pays no further attention to what is going on onstage.

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