What will happen now if you cough in a concert?

What will happen now if you cough in a concert?


norman lebrecht

May 01, 2020

Larry Perelman raises an elbow to his mouth as orchestras and opera house make plans for a resumption:

At the peak of cold and flu season—which overlaps with the opera and symphony season—it’s typical to hear coughs, sniffles, and sneezes during performances. In 2018, conductor Riccardo Muti stopped his Chicago Symphony Orchestra mid-performance when someone coughed loudly. Back then, his reaction was viewed as extreme, but post-Covid-19, will ushers escort culprits from the hall for endangering the maestro, orchestra, and audience?

The past could be a prelude here. In 1918, the Spanish flu caused many performing-arts institutions to shutter nationwide—but not in New York City, where health commissioner Royal S. Copeland chose not to close most theaters. Instead, Copeland insisted that they remain open and undergo thorough cleaning and sanitation. In addition

Read on here.


  • Brian says:

    Worth noting that NYC was a special case in 1918-19. The city experienced a first wave of the flu in the spring of 1918 before other parts of the U.S. had become infected. As a result of that early round, the populace had built up a degree of immunity that kept the flu at bay when it hit harder that October and November. Most other parts the country did close theaters in those years (see “The Great Influenza” by John Barry).

    • Brian v says:

      I have asthma when I go to a concert I make sure the seat is near the exit
      So I can go out quickly if I a bad cough

    • Herd Immunity in New York says:

      Maybe the entire point is building up immunity. That’s a controversial Swedish approach today but it was the New York approach in 1918 and seems to have worked.

  • Monsoon says:

    Exactly. There is so much coughing in the winter. Carnegie Hall prides itself on giving away like a million Ricola cough drops each season.

    There’s just no way to do concerts until there’s a vaccine.

    • Maria says:

      Well Americans are notorious for coughing. We hear it in Britain all the time with Met broadcasts and our lot sitting in utter silence, or go out if the cough!

    • End the hysteria says:

      That’s such a closed- minded and, frankly, wimpy, thing to say.

      Let people choose for themselves, and let’s be pragmatic.

      Forget about a vaccine – it’s likely not going to be available for at least a year.

      The mortality rate is much lower than initially estimated. Could be as low as .025% given what we are starting to learn about the infection rate (higher and more widespread than previously thought)

      Time to expand the debate to include options for reopening society – including concert life.

      Let freedom ring.

  • Una says:

    If there are any concerts to go to safely before 2023!

    • End the hysteria says:

      Oh please. Spare us the melodrama.

      We should be back in business in a few months.

  • sam says:

    Seriously, what is worth the risk of a week in intensive care?

    A concert is not among my top 100 most vital things I must do by sitting in an enclosed space with 100s of people for hours.

    Right up there with riding in the subway listening to your ipod.

    Plus, catching the coronavirus is particularly disgusting: a total stranger’s spit gets into your nose/mouth into your lungs.

    • John Borstlap says:

      Virusses are very indecent entities which don’t seem to care about manners.

    • Monsoon says:

      Yep. I’ll keep donating to orchestras and opera companies, but I’m not renewing my 2020-2021 subscriptions.

    • Just saying says:

      “…a total stranger’s spit gets into your nose/mouth into your lungs.”

      Do you think that *only* happens when you catch coronavirus?

    • End the hysteria says:

      Then you are free to cower inside your home.

      Let the rest of us decide for ourselves.

  • Allen says:

    For dry, non-disease related coughs that seem to get worse the more you try to suppress them, I use pholcodine linctus, which can be bought over-the-counter in the UK. Far better than sugary cough sweets, IMO.

    However, it is an opioid, so should be used sparingly. Doesn’t make Stockhausen sound any better though.

  • Dalledu Alletre says:

    There are no ideas here from this consultant — just history, questions and truisms.

    • Read the article says:

      It’s amazing how many people post here without actually reading the articles referenced.

      There are a series of ideas listed at the end of the piece.

      Why don’t you actually read?

      • debuschubertussy says:

        Read the article? Don’t you know that skipping right to the comments section is always more fun and interesting?

  • SVM says:

    Assuming you are in reasonable health, it is eminently possible to *not* cough for an hour at a stretch (I can manage this even when feeling ‘under the weather’). It is a simple matter of drinking enough water beforehand and maybe clearing your throat gently (before the music starts). If you cannot control your coughing, do not attend the concert, like I said back in December 2014:

    “Like most communal situations, concerts require people to be considerate of each other. Coughing, as well as being sure to spread infection, is noisy and distracting, even when confined to the break between movements (although once instigated, the barrage of coughing rarely desists until several seconds into the following movement). Part of the moral contract of living in a society is to accept that you must sometimes act to your own detriment, in order to safeguard the greater good of others. This means that if you know that you are unlikely to be able to prevent yourself from coughing during a concert, then you should not attend.”

    [see https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/dec/06/should-you-go-to-concert-cough-kyung-wha-chung ]

    • Janet Taplin says:

      OK so no coughing – ridiculous this is not always possible. Some prescription drugs can cause this and if you try and suppress it can get worse. Cover your mouth with a tissue/handkerchief. It is no worse than mobile phones ringing during concerts/operas both of which I have experienced . I would rather hear a cough

  • John Borstlap says:

    Since singing seems to spread the virus more than anything else, it is to be expected that opera auditoriums will keep the first 20 rows empty.

    • Movetheorchestra says:

      By your logic they will have to my love the orchestra pit twenty rows away as well.

      • John Borstlap says:

        Indeed…. it will get very difficult to get everything together, singers and orchestra.

        Maybe opera houses will follow the example of Bayreuth where the pit is covered. Maybe including the opening strip, covered with a cloth.

        • End the hysteria says:

          If this virus was a threat to healthy people, such measures might make sense.

          But with each passing day, this virus seems less serious than what “experts” initially claimed. Yes, very dangerous for those who already have serious illnesses and/or are elderly.

          But for everyone else, this is just another coronavirus (i.e. flu).

          The charade of “crisis” cannot be maintained indefinitely. Especially as the economic effects are so very devastating.

          People will not stand for it. Furthermore, they will not stand for any more hyperbole and hysteria.

          Let’s get reopened – and get our concert life back on track.

          • Tom says:

            Your fatuous comment is breathtaking. “Not as serious” is one of the stupidest things I’ve read since this pandemic started. Shame on you.

          • Saxon Broken says:

            Er…it actually is less dangerous than some experts feared two months ago. And outside high risk groups it really isn’t very dangerous at all. The great majority of people who get the virus only have mild symptoms. The British government’s chief scientific advisor went on record to say this yesterday. [Of course, we didn’t know this for sure two months ago.]

            We still don’t know how many people in Britain have had the virus, but it could well have been 15 million or more. In which case maintaining the hard lockdown really isn’t sensible.

  • Edgar says:

    Interesting that we see a picture of a sparsely populated Met auditorium….

    • Pre-Pandemic Met says:

      One can argue that the Met was already doing social distancing on some of their more unsuccessful pre-pandemic evenings.

  • Bruno Michel says:

    Interesting article with insights on the past. However, its suggestions are flawed, as:
    -“keeping ill spectators away” does not solve it: the huge number of asymptomatic “healthy” carriers makes it so that clearly, avoiding those who look or act sick will not suffice. Many have it and look and feel perfectly healthy. Several other sentences in the article are to that effet, and do not work (“people who feel ill should self-isolate”) for the same reason, and because of the incubation period.
    -“venues will arm employees with forehead thermometers” ditto. Health carriers do not run a temperature.
    -“sitting in every other seat” is silly, and will be experienced in the Paris tube next week, but neither there, nor in any performing arts venue in the world would sitting in every other seat allow you to keep the recommended 2 meters, by a very long shot.
    There is no solution.

    • Attack of the Coughs says:

      Maybe the point of the article is that this isn’t just about this pandemic but about even something as little as a cough. Why people with the flu or pink eye or a cold ever went to concerts in the first place is the issue.

      As for asymptomatic carriers, there is still a lot that is unknown. The writer is obviously talking about a post-Covid-19 period when more will be known. If nothing else is know we have much more to be worried about than concerts. We can then all just give up and stay inside forever. That will not save us from all of the other I’ll that can attack us.

      • Brian v says:

        Bosses always come in to work even if they are unwell spreading their germs.
        The same with some people at concerts they still come to the concert.if unwell I have had people sneezing next to me at the proms

      • Tamino says:

        Oh please, what happened to reason. Such hyperbole and fearful snowflakes everywhere. A sign of our times where people have lost touch with their natural foundations.

      • Saxon Broken says:

        Attack of the Coughs writes: “Why people with the flu or a cold ever went to concerts in the first place is the issue.”

        Most people buy their tickets months in advance. Once they have bought the ticket then they are going to go to the concert since they won’t be given a refund. That is what needs to be addressed.

  • david says:

    In my experience, the problem at concerts is not people genuinely needing to cough, but instead deciding purposely (or unthinkingly) to clear their throat, usually with an explosive sound louder than a normal cough.

    Just listen to the cacaphony that breaks out whenever there is a break between movements. That’s not the sound of dozens of people all suddenly needing to cough at once.

    • John Borstlap says:

      I have often heard people waiting till a very soft adagio comes along to burst into loud coughing, sometimes with wide arm gestures. Probably they are allergic to low-volume adagios. I have observed that such people keep very quiet during overwhelming Mahler tuttis, when they prick-up their ears in great attention. Coughing during concerts may be a matter of taste.

      Before the coronie, my PA selected concerts with baroque music to visit when she had a cold.

      • Peter San Diego says:

        Indeed: the incidence of coughing is inversely proportional to the music’s volume (and no, it’s not because one can’t hear the coughs during loud music).

        Perhaps a new coinage would be appropriate: cacoughony.

  • Jonathan says:

    I attended a concert on probably the last weekend it was permissible, just before lockdown but when the virus was already on everyone’s mind. It was notable how few coughs there were, in particular the absence of the cacophony of coughing between movements. I’m firmly of the view that most coughing is psychological in nature, and that people can avoid coughing if they put their mind to it. If the coronavirus means less coughing during concerts, that could be one small consolation.

  • JP Sydney says:

    Here in Australia, we are being encouraged to download a CovidSafe app to our mobile phones so that – if someone becomes sick – our health authorities can quickly contact people with whom they have been in close proximity for more than 15 minutes, e.g. in a concert. So the instructions at the beginning of concerts will have to change. Instead of ‘turn off’ all mobile phones, it will have to be ‘set all mobile phones to silent and with no vibration’.