Stand Up, Stand Up for Jesus! Etiquetteer's Position on Handel's "Hallelujah Chorus," Vol. 14, Issue 43

The first Sunday of Advent launches non-retail activities celebrated as part of the Christmas Season*, including many many performances of Handel's most famous oratorio, The Messiah. At least part of it is famous, the "Hallelujah Chorus," an indispensable part of Christmas for hundreds of thousands who don't otherwise care a rap for choral music. Aside from its Joyous Blasts of Righteous Celebration, this chorus includes one of the most anachronistic holiday traditions, that of the audience standing during its performance. To Etiquetteer's surprise, the origin of this custom has become lost in the mists of time. Etiquetteer always believed the story of George II being so moved by Handel's music that he stood and moved to the front of the royal box, and we all know that no one remains seated when a ruler is standing. Apparently, this charming story can't be substantiated, according to this thorough Boston Globe article from 2009. Frankly, Etiquetteer doesn't understand how anyone could be against this Rather Charming Tradition. After all, if Charles Ives can compose something like his Yale-Princeton Football Game** that often requires audience participation (playing kazoos and cheering), then how can one object to audience participation that involves less effort?

Etiquetteer's purpose is less establishing What Really Happened than advising present-day Messiah concertgoers what to do. First, decide before you go whether or not you intend to stand. If you are attending with others, solicit their opinions (but keep from having a Tedious Discussion of Disagreement.) Prepare to stand silently - this Rather Charming Tradition is sometimes marred by a loud clattering of seats - by securing your belongings that might fall when you rise, like a program, a coat, a handbag, or an open bag of cough drops.  And when the conductor has called forward the Familiar First Blast from the orchestra, rise calmly and remain standing until the last hallelujah. There are those conductors, aware of the tradition, who will turn and cue the audience. Etiquetteer supposes that this eliminates some confusion, but wishes that it wasn't considered necessary.

One thing you must NOT do is Glare Menacingly at those who are standing (if you remain seated) or seated (if you stand up). And most important, don't stand up smugly with an air being better than everyone seated around you who can't figure out what to do.

And if you prefer not to stand, Etiquetteer does not condemn you, but encourages you to close your eyes and think of England. Do not complain about your view being blocked; on this one occasion it's a risk that must be taken.

Etiquetteer should add that this Rather Charming Tradition applies no matter what arrangement of the Messiah is being performed, the more austere and Perfectly Proper arrangement prepared by Handel Himself, or the Ostentatiously Exuberant Cacophany put forward by Sir Thomas Beecham, sadly favored by That Mr. Dimmick Who Thinks He Knows So Much. (While he weeps with Tender Appreciation over every extra phalanx of brass and percussion instruments, Etiquetteer can distinctly hear in the background the kitchen sink that was thrown in. All that seems to be missing are gongs and bagpipes.)

Now run along and have a nice time, and be grateful you don't have to worry about leaving your sword or hoopskirt at home "to make room for more company," as those attending the Messiah premiere did.

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Etiquetteer's 2015 Holiday Gift Guide is out if you require some assistance in finding a Perfectly Proper Present this year. And if you have concerns about difficulties over the holidays, please drop Etiquetteer a line at queries_@_etiquetteer_dot_com. Etiquetteer wants to help.

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*Theologians may point out that the Christmas Season begins liturgically on Christmas Eve, and they are entirely correct. Secular practice, however, points to the day after Thanksgiving, known popularly by its ominous title Black Friday.

**How annoying not to find a recording of this interesting piece of music that does include audience participation. This link seems representative of what's available.

Dazzling Perfect Propriety, Vol. 13, Issue 30

Alas, interruptions by cellphone and other handheld devices are still part of public life. This violinist's dazzling response to his solo being interrupted by a Nokia ringtone leaves Etiquetteer in awe:

Would that all such situations allowed such an elegant response!

Holiday Gift-Giving and Money, Vol. 12, Issue 13

Dear Etiquetteer: I take my god daughter and her brother to [Insert Large Traditional Holiday Entertainment Here] every year. Their parents come, but their tickets are not part of my gift. Last year they gave me a check for their own tickets. This year they did not. Is there a polite way to ask for the check, or am I [Insert Euphemism Here]?

Dear Godfather:

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year always reveals that Absentmindedness is the true Gift That Keeps on Giving. It's always more Perfectly Proper to assume Absentmindedness in such cases, rather than Malice or Cheapness. It's possible that you could introduce the topic with the parents by claiming the absentmindedness was yours rather than theirs, such as "In the excitement of taking Ethelred and Ethelredina to [Insert Large Traditional Holiday Entertainment Here] I did not remember to get your check. Would you mind awfully sending it to me? I do enjoy making this possible for the children!"

Etiquetteer must caution against the Worst-Case Scenario, in which the parents respond that they had no idea they had to pay for their tickets this year. Etiquetteer hopes you specified that in the invitation, but no one wants Max Fabyan hollering "Dees ees for lawyers to talk about!" as part of what is supposed to be a Happy Time. If they do, in the interests of Harmony, it might be best to drop it - but to be careful to specify it in invitations for all subsequent years.

Dear Etiquetteer:

I usually tip my cleaning lady the amount of a regular cleaning at Christmas. This year she will be cleaning the week after Thanksgiving and just before New Year. So, do I give it to her on early or late December. I am FIRMLY opposed to holiday creep, but . . .

Dear Householder:

Tip on your regular schedule. While the holiday cleaning is beginning earlier in your household this year, it's still ending at the same time.

Tomorrow night, Monday, December 9, Etiquetteer will a festive celebration of the anniversary of Prohibition's Repeal at The Gibson House Museum in Boston, including a few brief remarks on the Culture of Alcohol Concealment that Prohibition helped foster. It will be an amusing time!

Seven Actions for Perfect Propriety in Public Life in the New Year, Vol. 12, Issue 2

Here we are, embarked on a New Year, and Etiquetteer is working hard to maintain a Feeling of Hope for increasing Perfect Propriety. Etiquetteer has identified seven areas -- some simple, some quixotic -- where action should be taken. At once. 1. Homeowner associations (HOAs) need to write exceptions into their governing documents allowing homeowners to display the American flag on or from their properties without being fined or censured. Every year an HOA makes the news when it sues or fines a homeowner who displays an American flag on his or her property against the HOA rules about decorations and displays. These stories are even more poignant when the flag is tattered or in otherwise less-than-perfect condition, usually because of its association with a family member who died in service to this nation. If you live in an HOA, take the initiative now to modify your bylaws to permit display of the American flag on one's property.

2. Anyone who has charge of an escalator, whether it's in a shopping mall, transportation hub, government or office building, or any other public place, needs to be sure that every rider knows that standing is on the right, and passing is on the left. This can be achieved with signage or a painted line down the center.

3. Retailers need to stop colonizing private life and pandering to our baser instincts by scheduling outrageous sales events on holidays - and we need to stop letting them do it by buying into this manufactured "excitement." Etiquetteer was outraged that some retailers actually scheduled some sales to begin on Thanksgiving Day Itself, and appalled viewing some of the video footage of the Black Friday mélee. Etiquetteer has extreme difficulty reconciling this with the True Spirit of Christmas. If it was up to Etiquetteer -- which, of course, it ought to be -- Black Friday sales would not be allowed to begin until 10:00 AM on Friday. Even if the retailers don't, Etiquetteer wants you to make the commitment to refrain from shopping on holidays.

4. Unfortunately, Western civilization has reached such a low level of sloth, selfishness, or contempt that more and more people don't care about being properly dressed in public. Indeed, many don't even know what proper dress is. With great reluctance, Etiquetteer must endorse the use of instructional signage, such as "No Visible Undergarments" and "No Sleepwear" so that standards can be reinforced.

5. Theatres and concert halls need to enforce more vigorously the rule not to use recording devices of any kind (cameras, recorders, smartphones, etc.) during concerts. Anyone who has ever had their view of a performance blocked by rows of upraised arms with iPhones will appreciate this. Etiquetteer believes that violators should be evicted, which means that ushers will need to be more vigilant and prowl the aisles during performances more often. (It is interesting to muse on how differently Woodstock might have affected Western culture if everyone there had had a smartphone or videocamera. Etiquetteer is mighty relieved they didn't.)

6. The battle between drivers, cyclists, and pedestrians must stop. To quote Stu Ackerman, "There is only 'we.' 'Them' is a hallucination born of fear." Everyone has the same goal: to get wherever they're going as quickly as possible. Etiquetteer would like them to get there as safely as possible, too. And this means being aware of one's own situation and of other travelers around one. For pedestrians, it means looking left, right, and left again before walking across the street -- and only at intersections. For drivers, it means knowing where one is going before getting in the car and relying on an often-faulty GPS. For cyclists, it means awareness that both pedestrians and drivers, through no fault of their own, will have to cross the bike lane. For all it means putting away one's electronic devices so that one can travel with full concentration and without distraction! Etiquetteer's heart has leapt into his mouth more than once seeing a pedestrian blithely walk into an intersection while staring intently at a smartphone screen, or a driver making a sharp left turn with one hand on the wheel and cellphone held to the ear. In summary, no one group of travelers is evil, as many would like to think. Rather, there are impatient and inattentive travelers in each group. Etiquetteer urges you to represent the best aspects of your particular Mode of Travel.

7. If parents are not going to enforce Perfect Propriety in their children when dining out, restaurants are going to start having to do it for them by either asking them to leave, being sure they know not to come back until the children can behave, or banning children altogether. While hastily acknowledging the very many good and attentive parents who understand and train their children well, Etiquetteer must note that the legions of oblivious and ineffective parents make dining out difficult for everyone.* The stories from waiters and waitresses (one need only search the Web) can curl one's hair.

And that, as they say, is that. Etiquetteer welcomes your Perfectly Proper queries resulting from these recommendations at queries_at_etiquetteer_dot_com.

*It's worth noting, too, that every time Etiquetteer sees a news story about Chuck E. Cheese, it's because grownups started a brawl there.

Two Current Events, Vol. 11, Issue 1

Two items in the news recently came to Etiquetteer's attention, each disturbing in its own way, and each worthy of comment. First, let's turn attention to Patron X, the gentleman whose smartphone stopped the New York Philharmonic mid-Mahler and enraged both the audience and the conductor. First, Etiquetteer has only praise for conductor Alan Gilbert. Not only did he sensibly stop the performance, later in the week he graciously accepted the personal apology of Patron X. Other artists of a more, shall we say, "artistic" temperament might have swooped down like a flock of harpies and banned the offender forever from concerts. It is to Mr. Gilbert's credit that he has accepted this man's sincere apology, and even to express sympathy for his predicament.

The situation could not have been more humiliating. Patron X was sitting in the front row of the concert hall with a new iPhone (received the day before from his company) that he only partly knew how to work. When the iPhone alarm clock went off, Patron X was near powerless to stop the noise. Etiquetteer believes that the contrition of Patron X is genuine and forgives him for this horrifying lapse of Perfect Propriety. But the entire experience boldly underscores the unquestioned necessity of powering off all personal electronic devices during a live performance of any kind. Not just to "silent" mode or "vibrate," but OFF. There is nothing so urgent that you need to know about it in the middle of a performance, and if it IS that urgent, maybe you shouldn't even be there. Power off completely and experience the performance completely! Dividing your attention will diminish your pleasure, and could eliminate the pleasure of others distracted by you.

When speaking in public, Etiquetteer begins with a "ritual power-down," so that everyone in the audience can switch off their cell phones and other paraphernalia together, making a group commitment to Perfect Propriety and Mutual Respect.

Then there's the Caddo Parish official trying to ban the wearing of pajamas in public:

Etiquetteer cannot claim to have seen people (of any age) cavorting about in their nightclothes, so perhaps this Lapse of Decency is only a local problem. What bothers Etiquetteer more is the careless attitude of offenders. Shreveport resident Khiry Tisdern is quoted saying "I'm an American, and I can wear my clothes anywhere I want. I'm a grown man. I pay my own bills, so I can wear my clothes the way I want." Mr. Tisdern may be a grown man, but he's not a grown-up. Grown-ups don't wear their pajamas in public.*

Even worse is the slovenly attitude of mother-of-three Tracy Carter, who says "... they're covering everything. I've got a three-year-old, a five-year-old and a 12-year-old to deal with." Her implication that Motherhood is so difficult that her family should be excused from putting on street clothes is an insult to parents everywhere who work hard to raise their children to behave and be strong, contributing members of Society. Etiquetteer's contempt for Ms. Carter cannot be stated too clearly.

This proves, too, that Perfect Propriety cannot be legislated. But because one has the Freedom to do something does not mean that one should do something.

*Some wag will certainly ask "Well, what about a pajama brunch?" And Etiquetteer will Heave a Weary Sigh and explain what is Perfectly Obvious: "If one is attending a pajama brunch in a private home, that falls under the definition of a costume party. If one is attending a pajama brunch in a restaurant, one attends in street clothes to avoid appearing like one is Trying Too Hard. If one is waiting tables at a restaurant's pajama brunch and one has to wear pajamas, they become one's uniform for the shift."

Etiquetteer hopes to greet you in person on February 1, 2012, at the Gibson House Museum for "Good Manners at the Gibson House with Etiquetteer."

Houseguests/Current Events, Vol. 7, Issue 13

Dear Etiquetteer:

On a recent vacation trip to a far away place, I stayed in the home of a good friend and colleague.  While I was there, another professional colleague called my host and insisted on knowing with whom I was traveling and what the sleeping arrangements were.  My host was, of course, perfectly proper, and we all had a good laugh about it.  My question is, am I entitled to include this story when recounting my travels either to friends or to colleagues?  May I tell the story in the inquiring colleague's presence if I don't actually name him?

 

Dear Traveling Man: 

 

Etiquetteer commends the discretion of your host in not divulging any of his domestic details; clearly it was None of a Busybody’s Business. 

 

No one loves a good story more than Etiquetteer, and this does indeed sound like a very good one! But even so, it’s more Perfectly Proper to keep this one to yourself. Good stories have a way of traveling on their own, picking up extra embellishments along the way. Should the original Busybody ever hear of it, which is more of a Possibility than most people care to consider, it would only reflect badly on your host having divulged a confidential conversation.

 

Stories of This Sort are best Filed for Future Reference. Thanks to your host, you’ve just learned an important characteristic of your Busybody professional colleague that can help you evaluate his reactions in professional settings. 

 

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Etiquetteer has been doing his best not to get too involved in the 2008 political campaigns and resulting candidate faux pas. Etiquetteer feels sure that Barack Obama hasn’t done much to court the Militant Feminist Vote, but he made a SERIOUS misstep last week by referring to WXYZ-TV reporter Peggy Agar as “sweetie.” Terms of Endearment are, by definition, those we use with people who are close to us. And while we all know how close politicians like to be to the press during campaigns, “sweetie” is TOO close. Another way for men to gauge their behavior: if you wouldn’t say it to a man, you cannot say it to a woman. 

 

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Etiquetteer was horrified to read in the Duluth News Tribune on May 10 about an insensitive lawsuit. Jeffery Ely hit a dog with his car, killing it. He then sued the dog’s owners, Niki and Daniel Munthe, for damages to his car. No matter how wronged one feels in such a situation, no matter how justified, one’s own sense of Perfect Propriety should prevent one from filing such a lawsuit. Honestly! What was he thinking? “Your dog dented my car as I was running it over so you should pay to fix my car?” Clearly Mr. Ely cares more about money than his reputation OR the feelings of others.

 

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From the “Children Must Be Seen and Not Heard” Department, Etiquetteer was delighted to hear that the Red Thai Restaurant of Portland, Oregon, has begun banning children younger than six years of age from its establishment. If more parents knew how to control their “precious snowflakes” in public such a ban might not be necessary. After hearing from a colleague that she saw a woman breast-feeding* her infant at a theatre performance (!) Etiquettteer understands that parents don’t understand where their children are welcome and where they are not. It is insensitive to others in the audience to bring a babe in arms to a live concert or performance where they could start howling any moment. It is equally rude to dine at a “grown-up” restaurant with young children who haven’t yet been taught to use inside voices, silverware, or to keep their seats. Parents of Young Children, take note! 

 

*You may be surprised to learn that Etiquetteer has no trouble at all with breastfeeding in public. This necessary function can be handled discreetly and modestly in restaurants, vehicles, and other public places. But in places of assembly, such as theatres, concert halls, or churches, it distracts too much from the program one is supposed to be watching.

Tipping, Vol. 7, Issue 11

Dear Etiquetteer:

I went to a concert last night at [Insert Name of Popular New England Concert Hall Here] and tipped my usherette $2. She seemed very surprised. Is tipping ushers/usherettes at concerts or at the opera still appropriate? Thank you.Dear Tippety Tip Tip:Etiquetteer believes the custom of tipping an usher for showing one to one’s seat did not cross the Atlantic from Europe to the New World. While Etiquetteer has never known this to take place in the United States, reference has been made to it on the “other side,” particularly Paris. Etiquetteer’s beloved Cornelia Otis Skinner writes about the “harpies” or “vultures” she had to tip at the Comédie Française during the 1920s in her delicious memoir Our Hearts Were Young and Gay. (While for decades ushering in the United States was a profession only for men, in France it seems to have fallen exclusively into the province of women.) And in the 1936 film version of Camille, sharp-eyed viewers will notice the resigned shrug of the lady usher when handed an inadequate tip by the Baron de Varville. So if you’re left of the Atlantic, by all means tip your attendant. And if on the right, keep your two dollars handy for the coat check.Lawsuits related to tipping have made the news quite a bit in 2008 already. Starbucks lost a class-action lawsuit by baristas who had to share their tips with shift supervisors. American Airlines lost another class-action lawsuit brought by skycaps who were deprived of significant income when the airline began charging $2.00 to check a bag curbside, but didn’t explain that it wasn’t a tip. Unfortunately for the skycaps, American Airlines has now posted signs at Logan Airport, Boston, that tipping is prohibited.Etiquetteer deplores tipping anyway, but is disgusted by management “skimming” tips from employees who are often underpaid. As long as tipping has to be part of the American economy, it might at least be transacted honestly. And related to that, Etiquetteer was surprised to hear from waiters and waitresses how often they have to claim tips given on credit cards, and how often tips are “pooled:” shared equally among all waiters and waitresses on a shift, whether they’re any good or not. If you want to be sure that a superior waiter or waitress is completely tipped, please tip in cash.

The Brawl at Symphony Hall, Vol. 6, Issue 19

No doubt many readers are eager for Etiquetteer to comment on the "brawl at Symphony Hall" that occurred on Wednesday, May 9, 2007. Needless to say Etiquetteer is Absolulely Appalled at what happened and would ban the two men in question from Symphony Hall for life.

In summary, Michael Hallam and his female companion were talking throughout the first two numbers of the Boston Pops. Matthew Ellinger and his female companion, sitting behind them, were understandably annoyed, and Mr. Ellinger shushed them more than once. With Hallam still talking, Ellinger reported him to an usher. He then "tapped" or "struck" Hallam (depending on who tells the story) with his program. Hallam then threw the first punch. As they say on fark.com, "Hilarity ensued."

This Hallam Person bears the principal responsibility for dragging Boston through the mud like this. When someone in a theatre asks you to be quiet, that is exactly what you should do! You don’t have to be embarrassed that you’ve inconvenienced someone else, but Etiquetteer thinks it helps if you are. Hallam then branded himself Unfit for Polite Society by threatening to throw Ellinger over the balcony and then, of course, punching him in the face.

Mr. Ellinger’s error, unfortunately, was making physical contact with Hallam. Up until then he had done everything appropriate by shushing Hallam and then notifying an usher. But one never ever touches someone one is confronting. Physical contact is easily misinterpreted; just look at how one side of this argument uses the word "tapped" and the other "struck."

Etiquetteer has long felt that the White Middle Class is Giving Up when it comes to Perfect Propriety, and this sad incident seems like another Nail in the Coffin. What struck Etiquetteer first, however, in looking at the photos, was how badly everyone was dressed. Not one man sitting in or near the brawlers was wearing a jacket and tie. And Etiquetteer doesn’t care at all that they were sitting in the second balcony. This is a concert hall, not a bear garden, and Proper Dress should be worn. A crisply-pressed shirt is not enough. And of course now the Unspoken Rules must be spoken: no denim, no athletic or athletic-looking clothes or shoes, and No Visible Underwear. And it’s not just the Young and Untutored showing up like this. Etiquetteer has seen on many occasions Those Old Enough to Know Better appear at Symphony Hall improperly dressed. Ladies in sneakers with scoop-neck cotton tops, old gentlemen wearing plaid flannel shirts with jeans, anybody in a down jacket with a hood – this is Letting Down the Side.

Did conductor Keith Lockhart behave with Perfect Propriety by halting the concert until the brawlers were removed? There are two schools of thought here, each with its merits, but Etiquetteer is inclined to say that he did. The Stiff Upper Lip folks would say "Damn the torpedoes! Full speed ahead!" Continuing with the concert would, perhaps, have called less attention to the Bad Manners in the Balcony. Under the circumstances – loud screaming having called all attention to the balcony – to keep playing would have seemed to Etiquetteer like Nero fiddling while Rome burned. Mr. Lockhart showed respect to his musicians, the audience, and to the music itself, by halting the performance.

As Etiquetteer said, the brawlers should be banned from Symphony Hall for life. Both of them should be sentenced to community service as theatre ushers. Now if only there was a way to ban that Little Old Lady Who Rattles Bangle Bracelets and Cough Drops . . .

 

Etiquetteer cordially invites you to join the notify list if you would like to know as soon as new columns are posted. Join by sending e-mail to notify <at> etiquetteer.com.

 

Reader Response, Vol. 5, Issue 15

Etiquetteer heard from a few readers after a recent column about concert hall manners and bumper stickers, some of which are worth sharing:Dear Etiquetteer:Although I have been going to concerts since I was very young (not as a babe-in-arms, though!) and learned early on to watch my parents for the signal to clap, as a professional violinist concerned about the future of classical music, I hesitate to criticize those who clap between movements. Sometimes the music is just so moving or the performance so incredible that it seems totally appropriate and wonderful that people express their appreciation with clapping. This was in fact the classical tradition until Mahler criticized it and insisted that people wait until the end of the piece. We need to break the barriers between new concert-goers and classical music and make it accessible, less like an event that might cause embarrassment if you don't know "the code." Recently, I played a concert with the Lexington Symphony to a sold-out hall, where people clapped between several of the movements, expressing sheer joy for the gifts of baritone Robert Honeysucker as he sang Copland's "Old American Songs." It was music to our ears. What a wonderful display of enthusiasm and how rewarding for all of us on stage to know that this music and its performers are held dear to many.Etiquetteer responds: Thank you for raising a different point of view. Etiquetteer certainly did not mean to criticize those genuinely moved by a performance, but those who applaud early solely to call attention to themselves. A breathtaking recording of Luciano Pavarotti, Joan Sutherland, and Marilyn Horne in recital at Lincoln Center is marred only by some pretentious man honking "Bra-VEE! Bra-VEE!" at the end of several pieces. So now everyone knows he can conjugate Italian . . . and would rather not have that knowledge. Etiquetteer agrees with you wholeheartedly that new concert-goers need to be welcomed enthusiastically into the concert hall. But Etiquetteer must gently express some concern that too many people believe that making classical music "accessible" means letting people behave any way they wish with no regard for those around them. Do not underestimate the value of embarrassment. Thinking people will learn from it and thereby grow in Perfect Propriety.Dear Etiquetteer:What's worse than boors who applaud before the last note are the hordes of (I'd call them one of the names that come to mind but I hate to insult a whole group of tacky people for these are worse.) Those I speak of are the people who must rush to leave and take care of the thief making off with their car.As for bumper stickers, I once pulled behind a car with one that read "Honk if you love Jesus." I honked politely and got the well-known finger.Dear Etiquetteer:I no longer employ bumper stickers, as a result of an otherwise Perfectly Proper (and very successful) interview back in the early 1970s, followed by watercress sandwiches on the exclusive suburban lawn of my Republican hosts. I had gone to the effort of getting a short haircut, polished shoes, clean car, etc, and felt wonderful as the enthusiastic hosts walked me to my car. (You know what's coming).As I watched them cheerfully wave goodbye through my rear view mirror, I saw their hands drop abruptly as they read the message on my rear window (which I could read, because now it was reversed and read right to left), "Impeach The Cox* Sacker".Of course, I didn't get the job.*The writer is referring to Archibald Cox, who was fired by President Richard Nixon during Watergate.

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