Staying at Concerts
Late last year I visited the Royal Festival Hall, an acclaimed concert hall on the south bank of the Thames, known for staging a happy stream of high class culture and entertainment, from the Royal Philharmonic to Joan Baez.
I was there to see Jon Hopkins, an effortless musician and artist, who I had seen once before in a, dare I say, far less “classical” venue. He also happens to be an electronic act.
In his live performances Hopkins offers a wonderful incoherency to his gentler records. Where as the musical content remains the same, he builds an experience from the foundation of his tracks up to a complete and spectacular occasion. The music becomes heavier and dirtier, the lights flash and spin bright and all the while a projection of some of the most inspired and beautiful film and animation I have seen run in incomprehensible synchronisation to each track.
And the couple sat in front of me, who stood up and awkwardly shuffled out during the warm up act, never to be seen again, missed it.
So here is my question.
How much do our preconceptions affect our engagement?
Firstly, their exit from the warm up act was not unjustified. Many people apprehensively shimmied along the rows to the exits. I myself sat in my seat a little wide eyed, hands occasionally drifting over my ears. I can appreciate that the young man was in a difficult position. An entire room of people not really there to see or hear him, chatting and guffawing loudly, and without the aid of lights or film to grab his audience’s attention. However he himself took swigs of beer in cumbersome places and was long gone before the final note had died, offering nothing more than an apologetic raise of his beer in acknowledgement of the applause.
Knowing what was to come, he didn’t quite seem coherent.
The majority of the audience returned to their seats when the ding of the bell announced the end of the interval and the start of an astounding concert. But the couple in front of us did not.
They were a sweet natured, mature couple, perhaps late 50’s, all smiles as they took to their seats. Regular RFH attendees, they told us, and had clearly taken a stab in the dark, ready to see something new, and this electronic musician truly had great reviews.They had listened to the records and it seemed quite gentle and beautiful.
And he was playing at the Royal Festival Hall after all.
As soon as the unceasing beats of the apologetic man and his beer hit us, I glanced at them. Their suspicions and reservations had been confirmed. They had gambled on electronic music and it had fallen short. This was not the show nor the style for them. So they stood up, shrugged on their coats and left.
By the end of the show the entire audience had been part of something. Jon Hopkins got his audience (we were entirely his) on our feet, elated in the RFH, and a moment later had us in our seats and in tears, playing us his piano with strings.
And as it ended I couldn’t help but think – they missed this.
Perhaps it is our age, our background, our experiences, or some superficial form of the animal instinct that drives us away from things we have already deemed “not for us”.
But how much do our predetermined ideas of something affect our engagement with it?
How much do we miss, have we missed, after we shrug on our coats and leave?