A classical guitarist meets the new America

A classical guitarist meets the new America


norman lebrecht

November 23, 2016

A classical guitarist whose name we’ll protect for reasons that will soon be apparent was practising his instrument quietly in a US airport while waiting for his plane.

Another passenger objected. The guitarist, who is a professor at a prominent US university, put a mute on his instrument and carried on practising. The departure lounge was crowded and noisy.

The other passenger continued to protest from ten metres away.

Finally, the guitarist asked if the objector was a Trump supporter.

The man confirmed that he was, adding ‘that in this new America there is no place for a person like me. To go back to my country (Cuba).’

Two things disturb us about this incident, which has been shared widely among musicians. First, the normalisation of xenophobic expression, previously unacceptable. Second, a decision by Facebook to take down the guitarist’s post – not once but several times – for allegedly violating its codes.

We are keeping this post name-neutral in order ensure wide dissemination.

music in airport


  • Tom Moore says:

    all good feelings for the guitarist, but, really, I think it’s simply not a good idea to impose music of any sort on my neighbors. Especially in an airport, where people are stressed and rushed.

  • John Borstlap says:

    It’s everywhere now: rightwing extremism in politics encourages the underlings to come-out of the woodwork and occupy public space loudly. These people don’t udnerstand their own culture, and apparently have never integrated.

    It happened before in the German thirties.

    • V.Lind says:

      Maybe it’s just me, but I find this very confusing. I’m not clear to whom you are referring with “these people.” Or any other reference. Too many pronouns, not enough nouns.

      • John Borstlap says:

        I know, it’s difficult isn’it? In spite of all the media attention. Well, there we go: When public figures or politicians expose their racism, mysoginy, xenophobia etc. etc. through the media, simple folk who suffer from the same afflictions suddenly feel vindicated and free to offend ‘apparent’ carriers of such labels in public space. With the primitive, such talk takes away some remnants of inhibition. We know from history what can happen if such inscincts are mobilized.

    • pooroperaman says:

      The word ‘underlings’ expresses your own attitudes perfectly.

    • Allen says:

      “encourages the underlings to come-out of the woodwork and occupy public space loudly”

      How dare they! They should be put to work in factories, or digging tunnels perhaps.

      As you say, it happened before in the German thirties.

      • John Borstlap says:

        I soooo wholeheartedly agree! There’s so much work to be done here on the estate and it has become so difficult to get a cheap work force.

  • Will Duffay says:

    Unpleasant story and I have absolutely no sympathy with the new hard right, but surely practising in a public space is odd and unnecessary behaviour.

    • John Borstlap says:

      Have you ever played the guitar, a classical one, without amplification, in a busy airport? If so, you would have noticed that you can hardly hear yourself when plucking the strings. The classical guitar is the musical instrument with the lowest volume range. Someone getting irritated by whatever margin of the sound getting through the noise, is very neurotic or has a bad marriage.

  • David says:

    There is a piano in the Minneapolis-St. Paul Airport open to the public. All are invited to play it. I’ve never seen anyone within 10 yards of it.

    I’d enjoy some classical guitar in the airport, that’d be pretty sweet. But discretion is always best, if the lounge was crowded I’d say Mr. Guitar used poor judgement and made himself an object of attention.

    • John Borstlap says:

      Maybe he was on his way to a performance and had not had enough time to practice. On the point of practice flexibility locations, guitarists have great advantages over organists.

  • Rene says:

    This was the original post.

    “While waiting to board my plane, a person in the Airport started gesturing his disgust at me playing guitar while waiting. I was playing very soft and far away from the individual to show a considerate gesture I place a mute on my guitar so it could be barely heard. The people next to me where talking louder than whatever you could hear. The man was still displeased and I approached him and asked him why it bothered him so much even after I put the mute and he could not possibly hear it. When he noticed my accent, he went on a rant how I was invading his personal space (mind you, I am more than 10 meters away from him) and he could not concentrate on his crossword puzzle. The airport is fairly noisy and the guitar was not loud at all. When he heard my accent he went on a rampage of how I was invading his personal space and in this New America there is no place for me. To go back to my country. I asked him if he was a Trump supporter and he confirmed that he was. I am not saying that Trump supporters are like this individual, however this is a first time I have been told that I am not welcome here. Make America Great Again?

    • Suzanne Eklund says:

      I suspect the key is the disturbed man “could not concentrate on his crossword puzzle.” Asperger’s, anyone? In which case, we might cut him a little slack for going off – although not for the xenophobic content of his rant.

      • Risa W. says:

        We have people with Asperger’s Syndrome in our family. Please do not misdiagnose others and make it the basket catch-all for unpleasant behavior. My family members with the syndrome behave beautifully in public and would never engage in such rude behavior. Attributing rude behavior to Asperger’s is every bit as offensive as telling someone to “go back home to their own country.”

        • Suzanne Eklund says:

          I was not making Asperger’s synonymous with bad behavior, I was proposing it as a possible explanation for why this person got so upset in the first place. Having dealt with three generations of family members “on the spectrum,” from Asperger’s to autism, I can attest that sounds that might appear innocuous to most neuro-typical people can be perceived quite differently. The sound doesn’t have to be loud to be bothersome (although some individuals on the spectrum are sensitive to volume levels); in many cases, the culprit is a pronounced hypersensitivity to sound of a certain pitch or within a certain range. The fact that softly played classical guitar was so highly irritating to this man that he was unable to concentrate on his crossword puzzle suggests the possibility of some extenuating circumstance. Sorry you were so mortally offended, Risa W.

          • Frank says:

            Glorious to see Donald Trump described as an “extenuating circumstance”. The understatement of the year.

  • Ceasar says:

    Maybe the guitarist should’ve moved somewhere else to practice in the airpot? Modicums of decorum…

  • Frank says:

    First of all, this isn’t some random hippy playing Zeppelin in an airport; he’s a world-class player with a robust solo and teaching career. I know that because we just played a chamber music concert together, and this incident happened as he was traveling the day before. Incidentally, he has lived in the US for well over a decade (I believe) and was returning from playing a concert on one of the most prestigious classical guitar series in the country.

    I’m quite certain he was sensitive to the space/feelings of others around him, and in any case it would be quite difficult to make a lot of noise or disturbance with a muted guitar. When I recall some truly appalling incidents of noise/rudeness/selfishness at airports around the world, someone quietly practicing might even make traveling a little bit more pleasant.

    Further, the original post (above) appeared on Facebook and elicited hundreds of comments. It was pulled down at least twice for inexplicable reasons (although there are screen shots floating around). After Facebook’s endless fake “news” posts and quite a bit of offensive and heated commentary on practically every topic, why is it ok for them to censor this particular discussion?

    New America, indeed.

  • Dave Rasmussen says:

    I cannot believe the assumptions of many prior posts insinuating offensiveness of severely muted musician practice. I’m sure Rene was almost merely fingering the notes, barely noticeable, easily covered up by even the ruffling of a newspaper. I’m an amateur violinist and have actually done same to kill time.

    A couple years ago before the new order of cultural profiling and mistrust, I was delayed at the Atlanta airport and observed a female trumpet player, practicing in an area without travellers, away from as many people as possible with mute, what appeared to me to be a complicated contemporary symphonic work. She later got the attention of an airport worker who played jazz and later sharing a sandwich with me she said she was going to audition with the MSO and showed me pictures of Dennis’ mouthpiece lathing. Anyways she was white and 2 years ago was a different time, but no one was offended.

    It is unfortunate that society now thinks it is ok to persecute people who they deem different even when they aren’t bothering others. I am perhaps empathetic to this because of many inconsiderable remarks concerning my height, but that can be ignored.

    If only these people knew what a treasure Rene was to his university students and all of us who enjoy his music.

  • Marshall says:

    Putting these topics in are clearly to evoke reactions of outrage-but people who read slipped disc seem quite reasonable and are not taking the bait. As with the Hamilton post-the issue wasn’t freedom of speech-but how appropriate was it in that setting. Glad most questioned-no matter how great the talent or the music-is an airport the appropriate place to practice? What if it had been some rap which I can’t stand-but that is not the point-would I have been accused of racism for asking the person to stop?

    Where I live-Trump country for sure-I just heard they won’t allow the movie of The Christmas Carol to be played in local schools-so don’t fear-political correctness, of I guess the left in very much in the saddle. Classical music is also frowned upon in many settings as it is said to represent the patriarchal white culture.

    This mind control is a slippery slope wherever it’s coming from.

    • Frank says:

      Hard to know where to start here, but:

      – Mr. Pence attended “Hamilton” by his own choice (although I doubt he understood even a fraction of the principles on which the play is based). A theater is not a public space such as an airport or subway, unless you buy a *very* expensive ticket. The cast had every right to respectfully address him, as they would any other audience member who disrupted a performance, as Mr. Pence did simply by attending just after the election.

      – Actually, this is a freedom-of-speech issue, since FB inexplicably (and repeatedly) pulled a post with hundreds of comments. Why?

      – I’ve seen lots of people practice musical instruments (discreetly) in airports around the world. I’ve also endured loud phone conversations no one wanted to hear, witnessed physical violence, verbal abuse, aggressive intoxicated behavior, and 1000 other things that are (somehow) tolerated daily at US airports without any official intervention, or even someone ranting as in this case.

      – I can’t stand Rap either, but if someone were quietly mumbling to themselves in an airport with headphones on (“practicing?), what’s the problem? And it’s interesting that you seem to imply anything related to Rap would automatically be a racial issue.

      – Totally agreed not allowing Christmas Carol to be performed is absurd, or worse. So how did that decision get made? Who are “they”? Did you get involved or try to communicate some sort of common sense in the matter? Or just complain about it after the fact?

      Finally- “Classical music is also frowned upon in many settings as it is said to represent the patriarchal white culture”.

      So what? That’s not exactly breaking news. I play concerts and talk about music in every imaginable setting, for every conceivable demographic. And afterwards, many people (and a lot of kids) change the way they think and feel about art and music and life because of that. Some don’t. Just because some idiot hillbilly would rather hear Kid Rock than Mozart doesn’t mean I’ll stop playing for inner city kids or anyone else. There’s a reason people still play Mozart. Nothing against Kid Rock, btw.

      So precisely who’s mind is being controlled here?

  • Robert Levine says:

    Given the intrusiveness of TV news in every American airport, I’d rather have seen him playing the “Internationale” on electric guitar. That would be a fitting response.

  • James Louder says:

    I absolutely HATE it–my blood boils, when I see some perv in an airport doing a crossword puzzle right out there in the open–drives me up a wall! Don’t those people have any sense of decency, any consideration for others? There are children all over the place and their parents have to explain to them what…that…man…is…doing. As if their innocence wasn’t already under bad enough attack from old creeps playing the classical guitar! Disgusting!–there oughta be a law.

  • Cyril Blair says:

    It’s not okay to play your instrument in a crowded waiting area – and that is the only issue here! This man may be the most delightful, talented, humane, loving, loved-by-all guitarist in the world but none of that makes a difference. And if you are playing guitar and it annoys someone, you should stop! The world does not revolve around you. You need to be respectful of the situation and the environment. Any noise you emit in public is inflicted on others. You may not see it that way, but it is.

    No one has mentioned the fact that people in airports are often trying to hear announcements over the intercom about their flights or whatever it is, so the noisier it is the harder it is to hear these. Exercise some common sense and try to make as little noise as possible to help out your fellow travelers.

    And for God’s sake, don’t ask someone if they are a Trump supporter. It was the guitarist who helped this situation become unpleasant, at least initially, not the other person.

    However I do agree that Facebook should not have removed the person’s posts.

    Obviously my comment was not popular, as I was asked to complete 7 captchas…

    • Marshall says:

      Yes, exactly. It’s very simple-about common courtesy, some acceptable norms of behavior in public, not thinking always of yourself, whoever you are. It’s bad enough with these self-justifying smart phones which have eroded what used to be accepted norms-(why some trains are marked as quiet-for the people who might sleep, or god forbid still read) The erosion of many of the common sense, and commonly decent codes of public behavior continues, and are discarded at our peril.

      And asking whether you are a Trump supporter is so inappropriate-more of the crap going on
      I’m sure there will be many unpleasant and uncivilized holiday dinners in America today-because people no longer have any respect for people they disagree with

    • Armin Egger says:

      Your comment is nothing but a justification of xenophobia and racism. There is NO excuse for xenophobia, racism, homophobia, mysogyny etc. no matter whether you agree or disagree on somebody´s behaviour. You only rant about the lack of respect on the guitarist´s side but never mention the racism in a single word.
      And I think I know why “no one has mentioned the fact that people in airports are often trying to hear announcements over the intercom”: most probaly because no one who has ever heard a classical guitar would come up with the ridiculous idea that a muted classical guitar played ten metres away could possibly make it difficult to understand an announcement made at an airport.

  • Wai Kit Leung says:

    Facebook is a fxxxing joke. Back in May, when oboist Katherine Needleman waged her smear campaign against me on Facebook, her lynch mob posted many offensive messages there. I flagged a few of them to Facebook. They never stepped in.

    A month and a half later, I went public with my story here on Slipped Disc. By that time the Facebook thread had been deleted by the group administrators, and to cover up her crime, Katherine Needleman lied about the nature of the attack. I posted the actual screenshots of the attack on Facebook, and Facebook took down my page upon someone (you guess who)’s request. They were happy to let a lynch mob attack a user, but not willing for the victim to show the evidence.

  • Marcin says:

    Loved to have seen an anti crossword puzzle Pop Up group form around that person and give him “Hell”. LOL

  • Dagobert says:

    What is your purpose in publishing this little story? So a self-absorbed guitarist meets a jerk in an airport – big deal. Your tale is divisive, anecdotal, free of any context and actually tells more about you than the putative participants. I doubt the story, but not you or your purpose.

  • James says:

    Of course no one supports this type of behavior, as described but the whole thing seems distorted and I question the veracity of the incident based on the following observations: No classical guitarist can “mute” his instrument. It implies he was using some sort of amplification. No classical guitarist holds his guitar in the way depicted in the picture. That person is a folk guitarist playing a much louder steel string guitar as further evidenced by the strap which no classical guitarist uses. As said by others, I would also question the wisdom of practicing in public to begin with. By passing himself off as a classical guitarist he is looking for sympathy as no one commonly would object to a beautiful Bach prelude, would they? However, rock, folk, country or someone just practicing a piece badly is not so universally accepted…!

    • Armin Egger says:

      Of course you can mute a classical guitar: Just put a guitar mute or any piece of cloth between the strings and the soundboard and you can hardly hear anything anymore.
      Im pretty sure the photo used has nothing to do with the story in question. It´s just a random picture of a random (non classical) guitarist in a random airport.

  • Holly Golightly says: