Friday, March 1, 2024
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Because You Are Polite

by Ginger Philbrick

My husband and I recently attended a local orchestra concert. We thoroughly enjoyed the performance; however, there was a gentleman seated behind us who sang the words to the songs, even those to which the audience was not invited to join in. While I love to see people enjoying themselves, it did take away from our enjoyment of listening to the music. I did not approach him about this, but thought that you may have a suggestion of how I could have handled it. Even though I feel like the grinch asking about this, I would like to hear your response.

Mildly Irritated Music Lover,


Dear Mildly Irritated,

My Dad was a hummer. He was always easy to find because, like the buzz of a bee, his signature hum could identify his location. At times, we found this annoying and would ask him to give it a rest, which would help only for a while. I clearly remember asking him why he hummed and he answered, just as clearly, “I can’t help it, honey; the music is in my soul.”

In Dad’s defense, however, Emily Post would have given him an A for his comportment during musical performances. When in groups, he neither uttered a musical sound nor engaged in other common irritants such as smacking gum, rattling the pages of programs, tapping or drumming fingers in time to the music, or talking in audible “whispers.”

Perhaps your neighbor at the concert also had music in his soul, but that was not the time to share it. Should it happen again, try turning around with a smile and putting your finger to your lips in a silent “hush,” much the same as our elementary school teachers did. Or you might try a bit of flattery by beckoning him to lean forward a bit and saying, “You have a very good voice, but I’m afraid I’m having trouble concentrating on the orchestra.”

Do not be hesitant to do this, dear Mildly Irritated. It is not grinch behavior, it is both a making-it-more-pleasant-for-others behavior, and perhaps a teaching moment for the off-stage soloist.

Ginger Philbrick is the owner of Because You Are Polite LLC. You are invited to email your manners questions to her and she will respond as time and space allow. You may contact her at [email protected].

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