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An essay by Jenny Wren

On Concerts

Title:     On Concerts
Author: Jenny Wren [More Titles by Wren]

I am not thinking about the Albert Hall Concerts, where the highest in the musical world go time after time, always singing the same songs.

Neither am I thinking of "Monday Pops," and purely classical concerts, to which at least half the audience listens with closed eyes and thoughts somewhere in dreamland. They like to be thought musical; they know they ought to appreciate _such_ renderings of _such_ compositions; and after all, when they describe "the treat they had! such a perfect touch, my dear! and the execution!!--" no one knows they have never heard a note, so what does their inattention matter. They have been seen there, and that is all they care about.

No, my thoughts take a much lower range. They are intent on only amateur productions, from penny readings upwards, to those superintended by the _elite_ of the neighborhood, when the seats rise in price to five shillings each.

They are such nice cheery entertainments, so much life, such a great deal of energy about them! You are called on by four separate people to take tickets. In desperation you have to yield at last; paying extra for having your seat reserved, or else you must start half-an-hour beforehand, and scramble in with the crowd. There is generally a series of them too, and you are obliged to go to them all. They are so considerate, these concert-makers, they would not allow you to miss one for worlds.

There is a great deal of novelty and variety about the artists themselves. All the musical members in the neighborhood are routed out, and each is persuaded to contribute to the public pleasure--by the way, there is never very much persuasion needed. It is such a treat to listen to people you know, and whom you have heard perform dozens and dozens of times before in every drawing-room in the place. At least, you know what to expect. You recognize each song, each piece. You wait in suspense until Miss. Brown has passed her high A--always half a tone too flat. You take it as a matter of course that Mr. Black--the first violinist in the place--after tuning up for ten minutes, will break a string directly he begins to play. I should have thought he would be pretty well used to it by now, but he never gets in tune again for the rest of the evening. You would be quite disappointed if Mrs. Green ever concluded her most finished and spirited pianoforte solo on the right chord.

These concerts always begin with a pianoforte solo, and the performers ought to feel very flattered at the way in which they are received. We, the audience, regard them no more than we do the mounted policemen in the Lord Mayor's Show. They are not part of the procession. They are only meant to clear the way and let us know that the concert is going to begin, and then we must leave off our chatter. Naturally, we make the most of our time, and try to get all our talking done at once. In fact, we are so taken up with what we are saying that we actually forget to applaud when the performance is over.

After the introduction in this form, the chief moving spirit of the entertainment comes forward, and, after bowing right and left, stammers out (the chief moving spirit is never a good speaker) that he much regrets that, on account of Mr. Jones, Mr. Smith, and Miss. Blank having been prevented by illness from turning up, he is afraid there will be a little change in the programme. Now as Mr. Jones, Mr. Smith, and Miss. Blank are down for seven things between them there is likely to be a very great change in the programme. Why is it that people never know they cannot come until the last moment, I wonder? Perhaps they think that the more often they disappoint the more they emulate the "stars" in the musical world. Only the force of example, you see. And, after all, what does it matter? The other performers are most kind and sympathetic, and ready to help all they can. They are delighted to sing four times each instead of twice. Selfish people! they have no consideration for the audience, they only think of their own enjoyment!

There is the youth who looks as if he were going to favor us with a sweet treble. Lo, and behold! he opens his mouth, and out comes a loud double bass voice that seems to spring somewhere from the region of his boots. It is not a pretty sound by any means.

There is the smiling, simpering girl who comes forward gorgeously arrayed in light blue satin. She chooses a song, all trills and little scales, running up and down, shaking at last upon a high note for nearly two minutes, and then coming down with a rush. This brings down the house. We applaud lustily; we begin the encoring business here, which, having once started, we do not intend to give up again. We like to get as much as we can for our money, we Britons. She keeps us waiting some time, too--taking a little refreshment in between, perhaps--and then comes back beaming with smiles and, under the impression that she is a second Patti, shrieks out in plaintive tones, "Home, sweet home!" A cat might as well try to emulate a thrush! And we never find it "sweet" either. Never do you dislike "Home" more than when you hear it sung thus.

There is the sentimental man, who gets into position while the introduction to his song is being played. He sticks his finger down his collar (the object of which I can never understand), pulls both cuffs out, stretches out his music a yard or two in front of him and gazes above the audience with a hungry yearning look. His is always a love song, an unhappy love song, that should bring tears to our eyes, only we are so taken up with his expression, and the fear that he is going to die or have a fit, that we have no time for weeping. True to our instincts, he is greeted with deafening applause, and coming back, he generously treats us to the last verse over again.

Everyone is not so fortunate in receiving an encore, though. It depends on how well they are known, not on their desserts. The newcomer in the neighborhood tries her hardest and does her best, but as we have never seen her before we scarcely take the trouble to applaud her, which must be rather disappointing, especially when her mother is sitting among the audience with the encore song on her lap, ready to hand it up.

The best exhibition of all is made by the flutist. He is the only one who plays that instrument for miles round, and so the swagger with which he steps on to the platform is perhaps excusable.

How anyone _can_ play it I do not know. It is such a singularly unbecoming instrument. But the wretched owner never seems to think so. When he once commences he gives us a good dose of it. We begin to think he is going on all night. Suddenly there comes a pause, and applause is started at once, we being only too delighted to make a little noise on our own account. But no--it is a mistake, a delusion, after all. The pause was only an interval between an Andante and a Scherzo; and, with a bland smile at his ovation, on he goes again for another quarter of an hour. We--the audience--are disappointed, we feel we have been tricked, and we therefore sulk for a season. But the Scherzo is so long, it gives us time to get over our ill-humor, though we are mutually resolved that we will not have him back again. Vain hope! From the far end of the room comes thundering applause, which never dies away until the talented flutist appears on the platform again. We find out afterwards that he treats the whole of his establishment to the cheap seats; so, of course, poor things, we cannot blame them. They are only earning their wages. Perhaps they are presented with an extra shilling each when their master returns home.

It is a curious thing how we all like applauding and making a noise. If you notice, at organ recitals in the Church we feel quite uncomfortable. We think we ought to do something at the conclusion of the pieces; so, as we may not clap our hands, we all give a little rustle and cough. This is to show our approbation. _Every_one coughs. It is astonishing how many people have bad colds. For my part I think it is a pity applause is not allowed. It is infinitely preferable to the coughing at any rate.

Of course the comic singer goes down best. He is called back three, sometimes four times. The schoolboys behind grow excited, and greet him with a whistle that would do credit to the "gods." This is too much for decently-clad minds, anything so profane as that whistle. The clergyman, who is in the chair (the proceeds are always to be devoted to some charitable object), rises and insists "that if that most objectionable noise does not cease, the boys will have to be turned out."

Where the "objectionable" comes in I cannot think. The boys are very clever to be able to do it. I have often tried it, and cannot succeed, and so conclude it must be a difficult accomplishment. They stick about four fingers in their mouths, and thereby make quite a different sound to any ordinary whistle. However, it is no wonder the chairman discourages it. When he was reading a few minutes before, reading out some dry little tale with a moral, in which the humorous parts were the heaviest, no encore whistle was accorded him. He was clapped loudly, of course--is he not one of the chief men in the parish? But no one wished to hear him read again, so we stopped our applause just in time to prevent him from re-appearing.

We go home glad at heart, and two mornings later read an account of the evening's performance in the local paper.

We find there a few statements which agree with our own feelings. They say that "Mr. Jones sang in a pure and cultured manner, and deserves special attention for his sweet tenor voice and the refinement of the sentiment in his songs" (whatever that may mean!) "Mr. Smith played two violin solos with remarkable precision of touch and with the greatest ease;" while "Miss. Blank, with a good contralto, was all that could be desired in both her songs!" They were none of them there, but that does not matter. They were praised up more than anyone else, which must be very discouraging to those who _did_ perform. But on account of their non-appearance alone we feel they deserve some approbation, and so do not grudge it them. It is of no consequence to a newspaper reporter who is there and who is not. He takes the programme, ticks off the names, and writes his remarks and criticisms just as he likes. It would be wiser, all the same, on his part, if he found out the absentees, for otherwise his little hints rather lose their effect.

He writes that this one wants a little "animation," that one "sings out of tune." Miss So-and-So plays the piano "with faultless manipulation, the only drawback being a slight preponderance of pedal," and so on. He generally has as good an ear for music as a parish priest who only knew two tunes: one of which was "God save the Queen," and the other wasn't. And once, when a brass band was playing a selection outside the vicarage, he went on to his balcony, hat in hand, and waved it vigorously as he commenced to sing the first line of "God save the Queen."

Well, it does not matter after all. The only object is to appear learned, and to use long words. If the artists do not like being ignorantly criticized they must forbear to appear in public, a result which would incline us to go and shake hands with the reporters all round in the exuberance of our gratitude.

[The end]
Jenny Wren's essay: On Concerts