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18/10/2021

Itches, coughs and orchestral manoeuvres

Gerry Moran Kilkenny

I love a bit of culture, however, I have a problem - you see, I think I’m allergic to classical music Picture: Pexels from Pixabay

So, Culture Night has come and gone and it was, despite the menacing shadow of Covid, a wonderful success. Bravo to all concerned.
I love a bit of culture, however, I have a problem - you see, I think I’m allergic to classical music.
Allergic to allegros, adagios, concertos and oboes. I think I’m allergic because as soon as that hallowed silence descends on the auditorium, as soon as the conductor stands up, as soon as the music starts up, little itches crop up all over my body.
It starts with a harmless little one on my hand, but pretty soon it spreads. Before I know it, my legs are itching; my back is itchy and, most embarrassing of all, my head.
Now you can scratch most parts of your anatomy, even at a classical concert, rather discreetly (in fact it’s the only way to scratch at a classical recital!) but itching your head is a very public exercise and leaves you open to public opprobrium.
And as if itching isn’t bad enough I also, for some god forsaken reason, develop a cough. Not a bad cough but a cough nonetheless.
A cough, of course, is no more than a slight itch in the throat. But an itch that must be scratched. And the only way to scratch your throat is to cough. Now I seldom, if ever, cough (and I most certainly wouldn’t during Covid). The Asian Flu could lodge in my body for a month and I still wouldn’t cough.
So why, oh why, should I start coughing at a classical concert where silence is a sine qua non and in the presence of Schubert of all people? Though it could just as well be Beethoven, Bach or Brahms. The cough isn’t particularly choosy as to which composer, it just seems hell-bent on making a show of me.
And coughs, I’ve noticed, are highly contagious. Once one starts, usually with me, a tiny chorus of coughs ensues, from the little old lady in the front row, to the gent in bow tie at the back. And not alone do we not cough in the same key we all have our own, unique variety of cough. Some are short and swift, as classical concert coughs ought to be, while others are staccato-like little barks. Civilised little barks, of course.
Something I don’t do at classical concerts is actually clap. And I don’t clap because I haven’t a pup’s notion when to. I clapped at a classical concert once before in the wrong place, at the wrong time, and I’ll never forget it.
Have you any idea what the sound of two hands clapping - your two hands, and your two hands only is like? Have you any idea how the audience stares at you? How the orchestra glares at you? Or how the conductor admonishes you without even turning his back!
So, I don’t clap at classical concerts anymore. Not even when the audience is bringing the house down.
Another little difficulty I have at classical concerts is with my bladder. Now this may well have to do with the interval during which a few of us aficionados of alcohol make a hasty exit to the nearest hostelry for a little fortification and the opportunity to itch and scratch and cough in comfort.
And although I religiously go to the loo before re-entering, it doesn’t seem to matter.
After 10 or 15 minutes I feel a slight tension below in the bladder. Oh God, I think to myself, this is not possible. Within the space of 20 minutes that wee tension mounts and my bladder feels like the back wall of the Aswan Dam.
This is serious. This is troubled water at its best. Or worst.
Whatever about scratching or coughing or clapping, this activity in the nether regions defies discretion. This demands attention. Standing to attention and making a bee-line for the door. A door that is invariably locked and blocked by a portly, po-faced gentleman hell bent on keeping late-comers out and the weak-bladdered in.
After a confusion of whispers, an agitation of hands and a contortion of the legs he reluctantly releases you into the night air for some sweet relief.
And a slim panatella. No concerto I know of can compare to that simple pleasure. It is sheer bliss.
Finally, and to my credit, the one thing I have never done at a classical concert is break wind. Considering the catalogue of my ‘classical’ allergies I think I am to be applauded!

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