A friend was telling me about a piano recital he attended last year in the Wigmore Hall. During a Beethoven sonata, members of the audience were distracted by a low buzzing noise emanating from somewhere in the room, and judging by the pianist’s increasingly cross glances in the direction of the stalls, he was conscious of it too. The noise went on and on and people started to get restless. In a break between pieces, while the pianist was offstage, a young man in the audience suddenly sprung to his feet and, pointing at an elderly lady sitting near him, he declaimed, ‘It’s her!’
As my friend said, it was like the moment of denunciation in an Agatha Christie thriller. The lady looked up aghast. ‘Me? What do you mean?’ ‘The buzzing noise!’ ‘What buzzing noise?’ ‘The buzzing noise that is coming from your bag!’ Other people nearby joined in: ‘Yes, there’s a buzzing noise coming from your bag!’ The lady looked down at her bag in consternation. Evidently she hadn’t heard anything herself. She fumbled in her bag and produced an electric pepper-grinder which, it turned out, she had just bought that afternoon. Somehow it had got switched on, and had been grinding pepper remorselessly throughout the Beethoven.
After we had finished laughing, we discussed whether the pepper grinder could be pressed into service by the Examining Boards as a challenge to be met by students taking performance diplomas. ‘The candidate must be able to hold their concentration while an electric pepper grinder is turned on and operated for a portion of the performance.’