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Produced & Maintained by Idaho Mountain Express, Box 1013, Ketchum, ID 83340-1013 
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Copyright © 2001 Express Publishing Inc.
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For the week of August 22 - 28, 2001

  Opinion Column

Summer sun, the Symphony and snobbery

Commentary by JoELLEN COLLINS

My friend stifled the urge to address the judgmental music "expert" with this rejoinder: "Youíre probably right. Many people might be here for the first time ó and isnít that wonderful?"

Overheard at one of the Sun Valley Summer Symphony chamber music evenings under the big white tent: "Really! Can you believe all that clapping? Youíd think these people had never been to a symphony before!" The speaker was referring to some applause after the second movement of a piece with four movements. The particular passage sounded like a finale, but the piece wasnít over. So some people clapped "in the wrong place" instead of waiting for the selectionís end.

My friend stifled the urge to address the judgmental music "expert" with this rejoinder: "Youíre probably right. Many people might be here for the first time ó and isnít that wonderful?"

That incident has inspired me to comment on some of the issues that have arisen as our small town is increasingly blessed with the presence of excellent art, music and theater; some of it highly sophisticated.

First, let me say up front that I am inordinately thrilled to be able to hear the music produced by the Symphony. Every summer more fine musicians are added, more people attend, little problems are worked out, and I am able to enjoy the rhapsody of music ó free! Several years ago, when the Symphony was much smaller, I was responsible for its publicity and thus have always felt a special pride in the extent to which it has flourished. I am truly grateful.

However, I also am a bit dismayed at what I increasingly hear from friends and other concert and theater goers that there is a rarefied atmosphere around some of these activities that is daunting to many.

Problems of smug intellectual superiority seem to arise within some members of the audience, not with the musicians. The orchestraís leaders have the right idea about accommodating a wide spectrum of listeners. Extensive program notes and Conductor Alasdair Nealeís commentary guide the audience through each number. At a recent chamber music evening featuring cellos and soprano Lara Nie, Stephen Honigberg, renowned member of the National Symphony Orchestra and director of the Chamber Music Series of the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C., asked the cellists to share with us the ages and origins of their beautiful instruments. One might not be led so graciously at Carnegie Hall. I, too, welcome the help to those of us who are not musicologists.

However, condescending people can spoil the experience for many novices. Feeling stupid or being intimidated for applauding at inappropriate times is a representative issue. Even concert goers who attend more formal presentations in cities like San Francisco or New York have admitted that they sometimes wait for others to begin clapping. Part of the acquired skill of a good audience, of course, lies in listening carefully to the movements so one senses the number of pauses between movements, but occasionally the music is just so beautiful or stimulating that one is taken into a reverie of sorts and may forget. What is really so harmful about clapping too early? Attend an opera in Italy and see if that matters. I think many of us take pride in our cultural knowledge, but most of us have experienced hearing a piece of music for the first time and applauding at a pause, or making a comment about a play that revealed some lack of knowledge about the material or author.

I know someone who used to be so intimidated by the "elegance" of the art scene that she didnít enter galleries for fear she would not be dressed properly. I remember feeling the same way when I was snubbed in a famous San Francisco Gallery. Even when I was a teacher at Beverly Hills High School I was loath to shop in some of the boutiques nearby. In my forties and not famous, I would not create even a stir of interest from the bored salesgirls, who barely looked up as I walked in. So, Iím not immune to feelings of inadequacy.

I certainly abhor pretentiousness and snobbery, and like the idea audiences should enjoy this summer gift. I do, however, draw the line at some boorish behavior I have observed at recent Symphony evenings. I have witnessed people pushing others for seats and some who make noise with food and drink and interfere with otherís listening. People should have manners at any gatheringÖeven under an outdoor tent, even if they are not sitting in a formal hall. Talking loudly during any performerís presentation is rude: I remember being embarrassed at the lack of attention paid to the great artist Diane Schurr a couple of summers ago at River Run. People wined and dined loudly and forgot, I think, that they were in the presence of one of the preeminent jazz singers of the past several decades. We can eat and drink anytime, so why not suspend the chomping and joke-telling for a little while in order to honor her magnificent voice?

I worry that our "big city" aspirations may make us forget the stated goal of the symphony, as included in the SVSS program notes, to be "accessible to all the public." I assume that this includes novice concert goers. I hope we donít get so pretentious that we stress credentials over enthusiasm. Yes, how wonderful, indeed, that some of the audience may be truly attending their first symphony.

The Idaho Mountain Express is distributed free to residents and guests throughout the Sun Valley, Idaho resort area community. Subscribers to the Idaho Mountain Express will read these stories and others in this week's issue.