Wednesday, December 16, 2015

'Tis the Season for Concert Rudeness

Holiday concerts.

They're about as American as baseball and apple pie, and we are deep into the season now.

But there is a disturbing trend on display at these concerts that I have observed for years I can't let just continue to ignore and hope it gets better next year.

We're family Pottstown and sometimes we need family to tell us the truth.

We're rude, and it needs to stop.

Not exactly a devotee of Miss Manners, I'm usually willing to countenance a bit of rudeness. I mean, I worked for more than 10 years in a newsroom with the late Don Seeley. And I can tell you it's not like we were all sipping jasmine tea and nibbling crumpets on lace doilies at tea time.

But Don was also an unflinching advocate for kids, and if your behavior was ever interfering with student efforts to be and show off their best, he would be first in line to be call you on it; usually in print.

He's gone now, so I guess it's up to me to tell you that when it comes to Christmas concerts, excuse me, "Holiday Concerts," audience behavior needs some work.

Serious, serious work.

I was not at the choral concert Monday, so I can't speak to what happened there. But I can tell you that at last night's instrumental concert, I was embarrassed to be a Pottstown resident.

And I'm not sure I've ever said that before.

As a resident, normally, I stick up for this borough. Considering the additional load of challenging conditions it faces, I bristle at the smug attitude of people who live in their McMansions and say they "would never live in Pottstown."

That, all too often, has been an opportunity for me to be rude that I have not often resisted.

But there is no socio-economic condition that excuses rude behavior while students are performing. It's nobody's fault but ours and if we want to fix it, we have to face it.

You know its a problem when, as the above photo shows, your program has to tell you how to behave at a school concert.

People complain about government controlling their lives, but let's face it, when rules have to be posted, it's usually because we have not managed to govern ourselves and behaved as we should.

Friends of ours, who have the same complaint, made a bet with us Tuesday night about how long it would take the four of us to witness the violation of all nine rules (10 is a given) listed.

People, we didn't make it into double digits.

In previous years, I have resisted the temptation to write about this as I didn't want the focus to be on something negative about an event that ends with the entire audience singing Christmas carols together with the high school band.

It's actually one of my favorite parts of the holidays in Pottstown.

This is supposed to be the students' night; the teachers' night.

But Tuesday night made it clear to me too many in the audience felt it was their night: Their night to talk when the flue or clarinet ensemble was playing a delicate piece; their night to eat from noisy candy wrappers throughout an entire group's performance; their night to crinkle empty water or soda bottles; their night to refrain from disciplining a child who obviously did not want to be there, but was also obviously old enough to know better than to be frolicking noisily in the aisles during performances.

I fought very hard not to turn around and ask this Pottstown family: "Why are you here? It's obviously not to listen to student musicians."

One of the rules of concert etiquette asks that you "not leave as soon as your
child's portion of the concert is over," and I have silently carped about this behavior in the past. But last night I found myself devoutly wishing that this was not the one rule the family behind me would choose to observe.

Is this really the best we can do Pottstown?

Are we really so deeply descended into the increasingly self-indulgent society that America shows off to the world that we can't even keep it together for a few hours on a Tuesday night before Christmas?

For a student concert?

I can excuse infants. They are a constant and they were not built for long periods of quiescence in the dark while loud sounds prevail.

I can excuse kids in younger grades who trundle in during the later concerts, bearing their instruments, to find their parents after their performance is done to ask how they sounded.

That's what a school concert is all about, and I applaud their excitement and pride.

But most of us came to that concert to hear music -- students playing music.

We did not come to experience the circus, and that includes the family circus.

If we want to see the circus, we'll buy tickets and go.

But if you want to BE the circus, do it somewhere other than the school concert. That's what backyards and living rooms are for.

Leave your drama at home. There's already more than enough in school buildings.

I recognize that as a town that rose to proud prominence on the back of back-breaking industry, "High Society" is not how Pottstown made its name.

But the generations that worked in those factories; who worked at Doehlers, at Bethlehem Steel, at Mrs. Smith's Pies; that generation knew how to sit still for a school concert.

They knew how to be respectful enough of the people who were teaching their children to remain quiet during the performances that featured their very own children and their neighbors' children.

And frankly, that generation of people would have taken a sizable portion of the audience at Tuesday night's concert out behind the woodshed and explained the basics of common decency and consideration for others in terms not likely to be forgotten had they been sitting where I was sitting Tuesday.

They would have been ashamed to see how Pottstown was behaving.

Now maybe its the same at other school district concerts. I don't pretend to know and I don't particularly care.

I live in Pottstown and I say we can do better.


  1. Evan, this is spot on! My daughter is a member of the class of '07. Being a member of the Music Association, I have also seen this first hand. Another one is people who actually shout out their kid's name. More than once I have heard "go Mary" or Bobby, Sue, mark or whom ever. Also, Evan, i wish you and your family a Merry Christmas. I may not agree with you all the time, but I respect your opinion and appreciate your work. Thank you.