Relaxing into loud music

16th August 2010 | Concerts, Daily Life, Musings | 5 comments

Walking over Waterloo Bridge the other evening I decided to pop into the Festival Hall. A very good Afro-Brazilian band was playing in the foyer and a large multi-cultural crowd, people of all ages, had gathered to listen. Many of the audience seemed to be South American and were gently dancing to the music. London feels good at such moments, with people from many places all gathered in a good mood to enjoy live music.

At the same time I always feel a surge of jealousy because you rarely see this kind of crowd gathered to listen to classical music. I can’t help feeling that the absence of amplification in classical music has something to do with it. Somehow, when music is quiet and played acoustically, people feel intimidated by having to be quiet themselves in order to hear it. When music is hugely amplified – as the foyer band was – people seem to relax and feel that they can move about and talk without distracting or competing with the musicians. To me there’s something perverse in feeling liberated by very loud music, but I realise I’m in the minority. I have never tried playing amplified classical music and would quite like to have the experience, to see what the effect would be on me and my listeners.


  1. Steve Zade

    Every August at the Parc Floral of the Bois de Vincennes in Paris there is an outdoor festival of classical music. There are about 3.000 seats under a canopy which opens on to the magnificent park. The music, chamber music or chamber orchestral, is amplified. The audience shows the same proportion of greying heads as do the Parisian concert-halls, and if people do speak during the concert it is in muffled whispers. The amplification, which works surprisingly well, doesn’t seem to amplify the public!

  2. peter

    Technically speaking, all the music played in the main concert hall at the RFH is amplified. The hall uses clever electronic amplification of certain pitches (I think, mainly in the bass) to ensure that all seats have good acoustics.

  3. Susan Tomes

    I’m sure you’re right, Peter, but that’s a much more subtle kind of amplification than the one I experienced in the foyer!

  4. Gretchen Saathoff

    The Metropolitan Opera in NY has concerts in the parks during the summer. They are amplified, and the reviewers always mention the unevenness of the sound, extra noise, etc. I haven’t been to a summer opera performance, so can’t comment further.

    As far as your wish to try playing with amplification, there’s always a first time!

    This would make a fascinating topic for audience surveys.


  5. Beverly Woodward

    Well, there are different ways of listening to music, but I don’t think one can really listen if there is a large crowd talking and moving about–even if the music is amplified. One can, of course, relax and move to the beat of the music and this certainly can be a pleasant experience. On the other hand, if there is too much amplification, that may not be so pleasant.

    In recent years some classical performers have been performing in bars and cafes, generally without amplification. In this situation noise and conversation are kept to a minimum while the performers are performing, but the atmosphere is more relaxed, people order drinks–and drink them–and so forth. The relaxed atmosphere may in fact help to focus attention on the music.

    Amplification affects the quality of the sound, not just the “quantity,” so that is a concern.



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