The effect of masks on a serious music concert

Yesterday afternoon, for the first time in more than a year and half, I went to Lincoln Center for a chamber music concert at Alice Tully Hall.

Outside the hall, there was a short line where friendly Lincoln Center people advised us to get our vaccination certificates and photo ids ready for inspection. We did. Every one of us showed our certificates and photo ids.

No one protested. No one. I looked around. Were there anti-vaxx people, a/k/a “libertarian” fascists, brandishing signs and shrieking about freedoms and abortions?

There were not.

Tully holds around 900 people. Yesterday, there were around 750 of us. All masked.

The concert, by the young string quartet Calidore (who did not wear masks; they were up on a stage and more than fifteen feet from the front row), gave us works of four composers: Puccini, Brahms, Webern and Shostakovich. After each work, all us masked folk applauded gratefully. The masks did not interfere with our applause. Or, for that matter, with our listening.

At half-time (oops, sorry; I came to the concert after a football game) — I mean at intermission, numbers of us did what we are wont to do during that break: visit the bathrooms. I can report now the masks did not in any way interfere with or interrupt the process of peeing. Or washing our hands. Nor did the masks interfere with the automatic towel dispensers: I waved my wet hand in its general direction and the towel slid out.

At the end of the concert, we applauded really loudly, and ovated, standing. There were many people yelling. Sections of the final movement of the Shostakovich are described in the program by musician and writer, Nicky Swett, as “deranged scherzo…the cello wails away as the others trill furiously”, and “…Three of the strings start to play lightning-fast sextuplets while the other member of the group hammers out an angry tune in double stops.”

That sort of thing tends to make an audience scream in catharsis and jump to its feet. The screams were fully audible through the masks. Nor did the masks impede us from getting up on our feet at speed.

As I applauded, I raised my arms. I did notice that after so long without live performances my applause muscles had atrophied a bit but I continued to exercise them throughout three bows. (The mask had nothing to do with the atrophy.)

Then we all, still masked, left the hall, full of the joy of live, great music.

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