Thankfully, the Guy Behind Me Talked Incessantly During the Entire Performance.
by Drew Holmes
The guy sitting behind me was incessantly talking and it was really starting to get on my nerves.
My store, Boomer Music Company, had a booth at the UNC/Greeley Jazz Festival and I stepped away to attend the performance by High Plains School, a middle school jazz band directed by my friend Shawna Lemons. The festival features groups of all experience levels and allows them to play a set and then briefly clinic with a professional.
Common with middle school ensembles, some of the audience did not seem familiar with jazz performance etiquette, which is different than in a formal concert hall. While at an orchestra performance, for example, clapping between movements is a major no-no and audience appreciation is delayed until the completion of the piece. Jazz is a bit different. When someone finishes a solo, it is considered poor form to *not* clap and acknowledge their efforts. Both settings are instrumental performances, but the context dictates what is appropriate behavior.
Seated in the audience, I was excited to hear Shawna’s band play. The first tune was great, but there was a man seated several rows behind me who was talking throughout the performance. This continued between and during each song and it sounded as though he was on a phone call and refused to leave the room.
I could not make out what exactly he was saying or to whom he was speaking but with each passing moment I was increasingly annoyed. I felt bad for the kids, knowing how hard they worked to prepare for the festival. If I could hear the constant talking, they assuredly could as well, but did an amazing job staying focused and blocking out the distraction. I was on the edge of saying something to the talker as the band was wrapping up their final tune.
Context dictates proper behavior. Getting cut with a knife could be an assault or a life-saving surgery. A newspaper report of something being stolen could describe a jewelry store robbery or a baseball game. Without additional crucial information we may respond inappropriately to the situation.
As the band finished their set, the audience applauded. The kids performed at a level that would make any middle school director proud, even with the constant distraction of endless talking. Then something happened I did not anticipate. As the audience applauded Shawna acknowledged the incessant talker and invited him on stage.
Suddenly I understood. The man who had been talking the whole performance was the clinician. He was not on the phone, but speaking into a recorder, offering in-the-moment tips and feedback to the band that they could review later.
His engagement with the band and their attentiveness to his clinic showed this was not someone ignorant of etiquette, but a professional who cares deeply about the success of these kids. What seemed like a rude distraction was the biggest benefit of participation in the festival in the first place.
Knowing the full context of the situation changed my view of what had happened. What I thought was a good performance despite a distraction, was a superlative experience because of it. Thankfully, the guy behind me talked incessantly during the entire performance.