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, "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 . . .


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