As someone who has performed in concert halls, both as part of ensembles (choir, instrumental ensembles) and solo (piano), I can tell you that crowd noise is extremely
noticeable to performers, especially
to solo performers.
For me, little things like paper rustling and squeaking in chairs are amplified when I'm on stage solo. I don't really pay as much attention when I'm in an ensemble, perhaps because I'm not feeling as much pressure on myself. But when I'm alone on stage, I'm so focused on listening to what I'm playing that it's like my ears become over-sensitive and I pick up every little detail I can manage.
Which means that when my little brother dropped his program once, I was annoyed. When he dropped it again, I was a little unnerved. When he dropped it the third time, I lost my concentration and had a little memory slip-up (rest assured, he didn't hold a program at my next recital
). Makes me understand why Paderewski had his programs printed on silk for concerts that were being broadcast over radio.
I also had the pleasure of having some music appreciation student come to my senior piano recital and forget to turn her cell phone off, and sure enough, about halfway into my Schubert Impromptu (Op. 90 #1 for those familiar...), it goes off. And she doesn't answer right away. No, apparently, this cell-phone was stuck at the bottom of her purse, so she has to go digging through to find it, and finally about 15 seconds later she finally manages to shut the damn thing off.
Now, I've been an audience member when someone's cell phone goes off and it pisses me off like nothing else. Imagine my feelings being the performer!
It's actually quite an interesting reaction, it's almost as if I split my thoughts, because there was one part of me that immediately took notice and got extremely
annoyed, and yet I was able to keep going with the piece without losing my place. Looking back I think it would've been nice if I'd stopped, turned to her, and just waited until she finally turned it off
, but I'm glad and frankly a little amazed that I managed to continue with the piece relatively undeterred (although I had some choice - and loud - words for her when I got backstage - thank God the backstage doors are thick!
). But of course every time I listen to the cd of the performance, that lovely cell phone is in there. Makes you wonder how many live recordings could've turned into legendary masterpieces of interpretation if it weren't for some thoughtless audience member.
If one good thing came of my misfortune, it's that in addition to having the "please turn off all cell phones/pagers/watches" blurb in the programs, my school started having the recording techs come on the intercom before each program and actually remind audience members to make sure that all cell phones and pagers are turned off.