Lots of people have written to me today about coughing. Why? Because of a BBC News report about violinist Kyung-Wha Chung’s comeback recital at the Festival Hall in London. She was disturbed by a child coughing in the audience, and remonstrated with the parents. Her response to the coughing divided the audience. Some were shocked or disapproving, others sympathetic, even grateful to her for raising an issue which bothers many music-lovers.
I was interviewed by the BBC last year about coughing in concerts, and for some reason I was quoted in today’s news report – that’s why people wrote to me to ask if musicians are really so sensitive that they are thrown by a bit of innocent coughing?
As a matter of fact, there’s a whole chapter on coughing in my new book. To sum up: it’s complicated. Musicians tend not to mind the genuine cough, particularly if they realise that someone is desperately trying to stifle it. What performers resent is the loud, self-indulgent bark which rings out around the hall. This kind of cough can give a performer a real start. If you study such coughs and their timing, you begin to realise that it’s not a straightforward matter. For example, there’s often a volley of coughing in the quietest passages, when the performers (and hopefully also the audience) are most immersed in the music. Could there be an element of … shall we call it unconscious sabotage? There’s more on the subject in my book.