John McIntyre, whom James Wolcott calls "the Dave Brubeck of the art and craft of copy editing," writes on language, editing, journalism, and other manifestations of human frailty. Comments welcome. Identifying his errors relieves him of the burden of omniscience. Write to jemcintyre@gmail.com, befriend at Facebook, or follow at Twitter: @johnemcintyre. Back 2009-2012 at the original site, http://weblogs.baltimoresun.com/news/mcintyre/blog/ and now at www.baltimoresun.com/news/language-blog/.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

The chattering classes

A holiday weekend bonus post: People need to shut up.

Last night Kathleen and I went to Oregon Ridge Park for the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra’s Fourth of July concert and fireworks display.* No one would expect people sitting on folding chairs or lying on blankets on a hillside to observe the same decorum as in a concert hall, but still. . . .

There was the woman who conducted a conversation on her cell phone throughout the performance of Charles Ives’s variations on “America.” (She also continued to smoke after the announcement requesting the audience not to.)

There was this penetrating exchange directly behind us:

Voice 1: “I didn’t know you liked popcorn.”

Voice 2: “Love it.”

Voice 3: “You didn’t know that?”

I’m not certain, but it seems likely that Voice 3 was also the source of some impressive percussive effects with chewing gum.**

Of course, people are conducting banal conversations in the concert hall, at the movies, loudly, over cell phones, in the street. And at church.

There used to be a convention that people entering a church before a service would sit down quietly, to pray, to listen to an organ prelude, or simply to settle themselves calmly. No more. I’ve attended services in recent years in Episcopal churches that were noisier than hotel lobbies. And it is by no means the heedless young who are chattering away; the heedless young don’t go to church.

The prospect that someday someone in authority will authorize the use of cell phones on airplane flights leaves me sweaty with fear.

The social and cultural changes that have produced this incessant chin-wagging are probably irreversible, and certainly not by the comments of a lone blogger.

But still, you few who read this, give it a rest. Sit quietly. Listen to the music. Follow the progression of your thoughts inside your own head for a while. Declare your independence from the noisy.



*And on Friday night we had dinner with friends. After spending most Friday and Saturday nights since 1980 producing newspapers, I’m becoming a gadabout.

**I’m aware that the musical content of these concerts is negligible. There were some nice touches: a thirteen-year-old delivering a stunning rendition of the national anthem, the Ives, a couple of Sousa marches. Apart from that, a medley from Carousel, a schlocky arrangement of “America the Beautiful,” and the “1812 Overture” — a work despised by its composer that commemorates the defeat of a totalitarian despotism (Napoleonic France) by a monarchical despotism (czarist Russia) and which has become an American holiday favorite simply because it was written to be accompanied by explosions.

Actually, we enjoyed the concert. I even managed the struggle to get off the grassy field where we and thousands of others parked with greater equanimity and less swearing than you would expect.