My readers will know that I hate people coughing in concerts. I don’t mean the sudden cough that the person can’t help and does their best to stifle – I mean the self-indulgent barking cough which rings out across the hall and seems to be targeted at specially quiet moments in the music. When you’re performing, especially when you’re on your own on stage, a volley of coughing can really jolt your concentration.
Well, I have noticed a strange thing lately – both when I was playing, and when I was in the audience. There is virtually no coughing from the audience. In fact, there is a quality of silence which feels quite revolutionary. Like many new behaviours, it must be related to the pandemic.
Ever since coughing was identified as a symptom of coronavirus, people who venture out to live concerts are determined not to cough if they can possibly help it, to avoid striking fear into the hearts of those around them. People who know they have coughs simply don’t go to concerts at the moment. Socially distanced seating is probably a factor too: the sight of a hall sparsely dotted with chairs is inhibiting. And I suppose that, because we’ve all been washing our hands and keeping our distance, there are fewer ordinary coughs and colds around anyway.
This week I went to a piano recital in a church where, previously, coughs were amplified by the building’s acoustics. Bouts of coughing could cover up quiet moments in the performance. But this time, from quarter of an hour before the concert and right through the concert itself, there was deep silence from the audience. I found myself enjoying it almost as much as I was enjoying the music. It felt like an active sort of silence, a community effort, each person contributing their share of silence to the whole.
Will it last? Nobody knows, but while it lasts, I’m grateful for it.