Blogger Molly Sheridan of Mind The Gap in a post a few days ago posed the question: "[P]utting aside the inter-movement consumptives for a moment, ambient concert noise: welcome sign of life in the hall or performance death knell?", in answer to which we replied in the post's comments section with just a smidge of snark:
Depends on what's being performed. If it's Cage or Stockhausen or stuff written by their acolytes, it could be a welcome sign of life in the hall. If, however, it's genuine music being performed, say Bach or Mozart, or...well, you know the list, then it's most decidedly a performance death knell.
Then, to Ms. Sheridan's follow-up question: "What's the most ridiculous concert noise you've had to endure?", we, with something more than a smidge of snark and with the intent of hammering home our point, replied (here spruced up just a smidge):
Well, it wasn't in a hall but at an outdoor concert at Philadelphia's Robin Hood Dell some time ago (1962) with the Philadelphia Orchestra with none other than Leopold Stokowski on the podium (famously its conductor for some 26 years, he hadn't conducted the orchestra since 1939 or so and was making a guest visit to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of his assumption of the orchestra’s leadership in 1912). Right in the middle of La Mer, if I remember correctly, a low-flying military helicopter began making its slow way over the Dell. Stokowsky stopped the performance in mid-paragraph, waited until all was silent, then began again — from the top. He had to do that three times during that performance.
And he was right, of course. Helicopters and Debussy just don't work together. Helicopters and Stockhausen, on the other hand....
Looking back on what we'd written, we retired from the comments thread feeling quite pleased with ourself for doing our small bit in making the case for music as distinct from noise — ambient and random, or created by design.
But then our thoughts turned to Slonimsky's Lexicon of Musical Invective and the language so often used by those disparaging the New Music of the time which music came to be viewed as great music by later times, and where one of the most frequently voiced charges was that that New Music was "noise, not music," and then thought of the often remarked phenomenon that everything written on the Internet is forever, which set us to wondering if perhaps that should give us pause to be so unequivocal in our judgments concerning certain New Music and of the works of certain icons of the New Music world.
Well, perhaps it ought to give us pause. But, then, as Hamlet remarked of conscience, such thinking doth make cowards of us all, and while we may fairly be accused of several less than stellar human traits, cowardice is not among them. And so we've determined to continue our incautious way in our judgments until either unexpectedly enlightened, proven wrong, or vindicated. For like Macbeth, we can do no better than to do all that becomes a man, secure in the knowledge that he who does more — or less — is none.