I admit that, from time to time, I skip out of a concert during intermission. More often than not it’s because I’m off to another concert that’s unfortunately scheduled for the same evening, and I’m trying to catch some of both events. However, I really can’t understand why some people feel compelled to walk out of a concert while a performance is still going on. Is anything really so unbearable to sit through for, usually, at the most another half hour? How can you really decide that you hate something before you’ve heard the whole thing? And does a feeling of some sort of sonic discomfort ever justify spoiling the experience for everyone else who is attentively listening during these all-too-frequently unsilent departures?
I wonder what prompts people with such tender constitutions to attend concerts in the first place. Admittedly, I’ve witnessed these impromptu leave-takings more frequently during a piece of new music injected into an otherwise standard repertoire program. But last week I saw someone rush to the doors during a New York Philharmonic performance of Debussy’s Images. Debussy can drive ’em away—who knew! And a few summers ago I also witnessed a mass exodus during Brian Ferneyhough’s opera Shadowtime. Didn’t the folks who bought tickets for this show know what they were getting into?
Is a piece of music really capable of bringing out the same sensation of immediate revulsion that accidentally swallowing undercooked chicken or sour milk elicits? If you live in a city, you’re bombarded with all sorts of sonic disturbances, ranging from randomly honking car horns to the incessant power drills and bulldozers of construction work day-in and day-out. And even if you live in the ‘burbs, you still occasionally have to deal with crying babies, barking dogs, etc. So what kind of hermetically-sealed environment do folks who march out of concerts mid-piece live in that they deem the music to be unduly gnarly?
I’ve also often wondered where such folks go after they walk out of a concert before it’s over. Since they were expecting to stay for the entire performance, they can’t have anywhere else they need to be. But maybe, like me, they’re also charging off to hear part of another concert somewhere else.