It started out the same as any other concert by Utah’s Weber State University Symphony Orchestra. But music professor and orchestra conductor Michael A. Palumbo created a stir when he apparently halted a November 13 orchestra performance and asked a noisy audience member to leave the hall. According to spectator accounts published in Utah’s Deseret News, Palumbo stopped the performance once after hearing a noise in the crowd, walked to the edge of the stage, and peered out into the audience to see where the sound had come from. After restarting the performance, Palumbo stopped the orchestra again and told the audience, “There are to be no children at these performances,” a reference to a rule that only children eight years and older can attend concerts. When a noise occurred a third time, Palumbo asked the person to leave the auditorium, to which an audience member shouted back that the person was disabled.
Palumbo later told the regional Standard-Examiner that he had been unaware the person responsible for the noise was handicapped. “I found out after the fact that it was a handicapped child, but it was unruly noise just the same,” Palumbo said. “I hate being characterized as someone who has a problem with disabled children or adults, because I am not. The problem is with the noise. Noise is noise, and it doesn’t matter who is making it. Noise interferes with the rest of the audience’s enjoyment.” Palumbo went on to state that he had stopped orchestra concerts due to noise multiple times in the past and never received complaints.
At a time when many orchestras are struggling with attendance and rethinking the concert experience, the issue of noise may not be so clear-cut, however. Orchestras are increasingly performing in venues—such as clubs and parks—where background noise is the norm. Even if absolute silence is the ideal concert atmosphere, how does one deal with noise in the moment? The audience member who spoke to the Deseret News seemed to be unaware of the noise until Palumbo stopped the concert, and more upset at the disruption of the performance.
What do you think? Should orchestra concerts continue to require silence at all times, or does such standard practice make the concert hall feel “stuffy”? If silence is preferable, how should it be enforced? Should the conductor stop the performance, as Palumbo did, or simply “play through” and make adjustments at the next break? And are children even the biggest problem when it comes to noise? What about cell phones? What about (seemingly unavoidable) noises like coughing or the high-pitched sound of hearing aids?