Voices Off, Please! by Elizabeth Coombs

My mother has always been a big one for apologies. Kindness and consideration start with knowing how to apologize, she always said. “Everyone slips up sometimes,” she continually reminded my brother and me. “The easiest way to get past it is to say you’re sorry, even if you think the other person is wrong, too. That at least starts the conversation.”
Well, I’m going to take a page from my mother’s book. I do think I need to apologize, but this time it’s because I’m really hoping to end the conversation. In particular, the endless conversation during children’s performances in Culver City. I mean during the CCUSD Elementary Music Festival at Robert Frost Auditorium—last night’s big event. My husband and I have attended these concerts for four years now, first as choir parents, then as 3rd-grade-recorder-ensemble parents, and this year as band parents. So please bear with me, I have a lot to apologize for.
I’m sure you’ll recognize me. Freshly Miss-Clairoled auburn hair and a blue batik dress. Angular face and thin lips that can purse themselves so imperiously that I become a cartoon of annoyance. I scare the pants off myself with that ugly face sometimes.

It was just so astonishing to me that you did not notice your preschooler climbing back and forth, back and forth, over the seat in front of him, or your preteen traversing the aisles so she can listen to every number with a different set of friends.
I apologize for turning to look blankly—well, I guess I didn’t really pull that face off—while you discussed a mutual friend, or the soccer coach, or summer camps, I really don’t know what, with another parent, in a normal tone of voice throughout every performance until your own child came on stage.
I do realize it was very nosy of me to try to look over your daughter’s shoulder to try to read the text messages that you and she were chatting about so animatedly. I guess my curiosity got the better of me. I was desperate to know what could cause such excitement in teenager and a grown woman at the same time.
I’m sorry I shushed your kindergartner so loudly when Mr. Pascoe, our only elementary-school instrumental music teacher in the district, was trying to explain with a modicum of dignity that he has been pink-slipped and will miss working with all our children. I just thought that the gracious Mr. Pascoe, whom I like to think of as our district’s “One-Man Band,” would think we did not appreciate the Herculean job he has performed for the last six years if we could not hear him. I’m sure you would have shushed your kid eventually.
It was rude of me to look askance at your family standing in the aisles, saying your goodbyes after your last child had performed. I was channeling my inner adolescent flute-player, perpetually crippled by stage-fright. I just couldn’t get over myself enough to remember that the 200 or so kids then starting to sing had to be less of a priority to you than these people you probably won’t see all summer or your own tired kids, gosh darn it. It’s judgmental of me to expect that you will just try to take your family home quietly.
It’s pompous of me to wonder how our kids are going to grow up to sit quietly through performances at fancier and more expensive venues, or listen to a presentation in a business meeting, or simply learn to respect other people’s moments in the spotlight when we can’t provide them with the example. I’m sorry. Just me acting like I’m the Village or something.
I am sorry for being so predictable. Truly. You knew that last bit was coming. And I really do wish this stuff didn’t make me so darn mad. But can we just agree that if I listen to your children perform with respect and manners, that I can expect you to do the same for mine? It’s good to turn off your cell phone. Now turn yourself off, please, and just listen.

The Actors' Gang


  1. Oh, wow does this ever need to be said! I’d say you’d have been better off in the front, but unfortunately up there the constant traffic running back & forth was actually hazardous to those of us with feet that couldn’t be squeezed fully underneath our seats. I was rather thinking having a concession stand contributed to the chaos. If it’s always been there in previous years, I never noticed it. It was definitely an unusually unruly District Concert. We were sorry, because it was our last one.

    Thanks SO much for this article, Elizabeth ~ I don’t think you’re cranky at all!

  2. Well written, well said. I hope that Elizabeth’s message hit home.

  3. Good for you Elizabeth!
    People need to practice focused attention! It is exceedingly difficult at this moment in history for humans to be calm, quiet and centered. We are being hard-wired from birth to crave stimulation. With the click of a button the world of information, entertainment, news, art, gossip and virtually anything is in our face on a screen. We are losing our ability to be still. I totally agree with what you so eloquently and passionately said. I find the rudeness maddening. Adults and children alike seem to lack any awareness of the people around them. So many of us are plugged into our headset phones or texting someone imminently more important than whomever is in front of them at the moment. What is the answer? Meditation, yoga, caning? I have been loquacious since birth. With much effort and practice I have trained myself to pay attention. I consider performances sacred, especially when young kids are bearing their souls in front of a room full of strangers. Our culture needs to somehow engender listening skills in children and adults as well. I believe it all comes down to respect and common courtesy. We need to bring back manners. We need to respect our children and each other. I most definitely respect you Elizabeth Coombs. Please continue to speak your mind. When I see you at a concert I’ll be sure to nod a silent and respectful hello.

  4. Well done, Elizabeth. A little respect can go a long way. I wonder if those rude parents also watch Fox news.

  5. Well said and I agree completely. The next issue though is how to deal with yackers and texters. At the Damn Hankies show last month at The Frost, three women in their 70’s were talking (complaining) through the whole show. When I turned and said “Please stop talking” one of the grandmothers loudly called me an asshole. Last time I asked an adult to turn off the 10000 watt blue glare as she texted in the middle of a movie I swear she was gonna kill me. Rude people scare me. And it seems there are more of them than us.

    Why don’t the people who produce these shows say, while introducing the show, “Ladies and Gentlemen, if that’s what you are, please treat this performance with respect. Tell your kids an auditorium is not a playground and don’t talk.” And then I’m gonna dress up like an official usher with a giant mag lite and when people treat a concert like a tractor pull, I’ll shine a spot light on them. Some time a little public shaming is just the right thing.

  6. Dear Shele,
    I don’t know you, but you are truly funny. I’ll get a matching usher uniform and a billy club and we’ll work the crowd together!! Actually, volunteer ushers would be great ! Give them the authority to handle the dangerous, foul-mouthed grannies. State the rules in the begining and hold the audience to them. I think we should ban all noisy (& bright) devices from movies, concerts, libraries and other places where quiet is important. Cell phones didn’t even exist a few decades ago and we all managed to get through an evening without them~As far as rude people , they’ve been around forever and need to be dealt with accordingly. It’s not fair that polite people have to be tortured by rude people’s behavior.

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