27th August 2011 | Concerts, Musings | 3 comments

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.’


  1. Spiros Bousbouras

    Even better , the pepper grinder could be pressed into service by an avant-garde composer. A symphony for an orchestra of untuned pepper grinders would be a thing to behold , I’m sure.

  2. Paul Austen

    Wonderful story!! It reminded me of several years ago arriving at a small guesthouse in Belgium and my host was perplexed by a buzzing noise as we went up the stairs to my room. I noticed it as well and was equally perplexed until I realised it was coming from my suitcase and discovered my electric toothbrush has switched itself on!!!

  3. peter

    Some years ago, there was a concert by a famous flautist in a concerto with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra at the Sydney Opera House, which was interrupted by a trilling mobile phone. The soloist had to apologize, as it was his phone that had rung.


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