Everybody does it at some time or another. It’s an involuntary reflex, and can certainly appear at an inopportune moment. I always do my best to keep my coughing under control, saving it for the loud parts of the music or, better still, for the interval between pieces.
The world of concert audiences is divided into two: those who give dirty looks to someone who coughs and those who offer that person a cough sweet. I belong to the latter category.
Having recently suffered from a lingering cough and cold, which made one concert extremely uncomfortable for me and the people around me, we decided to forgo the next concert for which we already had tickets, and take the refund. It is a far, far better thing I do to stay at home and cough to my heart’s content than suffer the slings and arrows of those members of the audience who are unfortunate enough to be sitting near me (I also apologise to those readers who recognize them for the mixture of literary quotations in that sentence – Dicken’s ‘A Tale of Two Cities’ and ‘Hamlet’ for those of you who don’t).
Strangely enough, at one of the concerts at which I didn’t have the urge to cough, a veritable symphony of coughing erupted between the movements of the concerto that was being played. In a sense it was admirable that so many people had managed to contain their impulse for so long, in another it was rather amusing to witness the coordinated restraint displayed by the audience. Obviously, everyone present had admirable powers of control and had been very well brought up.
So, after having had to leave another concert in haste, while the band played on (oops, sorry, I couldn’t resist yet another quote), I resorted at the latest concert to making sure I had the strongest cough sweets at hand. Knowing that each sweet has a limited lifespan once it enters my mouth, I waited to unwrap it till the orchestra was in place but the conductor had not yet arrived, and so there was no music to be heard.
Unfortunately, the sweet I selected was slightly reluctant to leave its pop-up pocket, resulting in a certain undesirable amount of paper-crackling noise being emitted. Still, I persisted, knowing that the only way to ensure that I wouldn’t cough was to get the recalcitrant sweet out and into my mouth.
“Sssh!” said the elderly lady sitting next to me.
I looked at her in amazement. “They haven’t started playing the music yet,” I protested.
“Sssh!” she said again.
Finally at last I managed to get the sweet out of its hiding place. I’m not easily deterred once I’ve set my mind on something, and in this instance it was a case of it-her-or-me, and I was determined that to prevail, no matter what.
“Sssh!” the annoying sound came once more as I joyfully popped the sweet into my mouth just as the conductor ascended the podium.
This was more than I could bear. “You are very rude,” I murmured to my neighbor, as she gently hissed away once more.
“Shall we change places?” my Better Half offered, and I assented.
That is why, O people sitting in the rows behind us, two people stood up and changed places just as the orchestra began to play.
I didn’t cough. No shushing was heard. And the concert passed off very pleasantly, apart from some persistent coughing from other parts of the auditorium.