Friday, May 10, 2013

The most annoying musicians in Charlotte

If you've been to an event at the Belk or Knight theaters in the last couple of years, you may be able to guess the group I mean: That gaggle of brass players who squawk and bleat as soon as the first patron hits the sidewalk after a show.

You may just have had your spirit lifted by "Les Miserables" or your soul plumbed by a Mahler symphony. You may be lost in your thoughts or in conversation with a friend. They couldn't care less. As soon as they see anyone who might give them a dollar, they split the air with tuneless roaring.

I love jazz: My collection stretches from Louis Armstrong to Wynton Marsalis, with a hundred stops in between. But this bunch doesn't play jazz: They simply make sounds. Their repertoire includes nothing that's quiet, nothing that's slow, nothing that sounds like variations on any kind of theme, nothing that has a tinge of melody. They simply smash away at drums and blast us with brass.

I asked someone familiar with city busking rules how this could go on night after night, and she told me the group doesn't need to apply for a noise permit, as long as they don't amplify their instruments. (Someone making half as much noise with an amp would have to get a permit. Go figure.) As long as they don't stand on private property -- which they're careful not to do -- nothing but a formal complaint with the police would dispel them, and even then they'd probably show up the next day.

Patrons are used to them by now, the way one gets used to an ingrown toenail that occasionally flares up. Most people simply pass them by, collars shrugged up over their ears to avoid the rain of sound. (Though you can't avoid them by leaving the Belk via a side door; they're audible through every part of the lobby.)

I'll be at the season-ending Charlotte Symphony concert tonight, listening to Beethoven's Ninth Symphony. I already dread the moment I'll walk away from this sublime music, trying to absorb the last echoes, and be confronted by the brassy screeching. I'll try to remember the sentiment expressed in the final Ode to Joy: "Alle menschen werden bruder," or "All men will be brothers." But I'm likelier to be thinking about its opening line: "O freunde, nicht diese tone." Oh, friends, not THESE sounds!


Arts Aficionado said...

Toppman, I will have to admit that I'm 50/50 on this one with you. On one hand I will have to agree that the out-of-tune brass and loosened drum heads can be a bit disturbing, on the other hand I wonder why anyone that is not a fan would even care. The walk to your vehicle or chosedn mode of mass transit is only minutes away...and then it's over! Could it be that you are unfamiliar with their R&B-laden repertoire or rather their unchoreographed style.

I am not criticizing you or the words but simply not understanding the purpose of this topic.

Anonymous said...

I think they add some sorely needed character to the uptown scene. Just because you don't enjoy their music doesn't mean that it is bad or annoying to others. Loosen up.

Lawrence Toppman said...

Actually, there are situations where this band can be enjoyable. I've heard them play at street festivals, and I've stopped to listen. (And tipped them once, long ago.) I wouldn't mind hearing them at Trade and Tryon at lunchtime. I'm also a fan of other kinds of brass bands, including R&B.

The point I'm making is that they have a negative effect when they play right after a classical concert or a show that doesn't go with their kind of music. Yes, the exposure is brief. But suppose you were sitting at a restaurant table, savoring the last moments of a great meal, and someone came up and blew cigarette smoke in your face. It would hover only a moment, but it would leave a bad taste in your mouth. The same is true here.

Anonymous said...

They annoy me too. If there were actually good, then they would add character.

Anonymous said...

I agree on all counts, Mr. Toppman. The notion that this group adds character to the city of Charlotte...well, adds what "kind" of character? That Charlotte is filled with bad musicians? Sometimes we are so concerned with being tolerant of people's views, music, etc... that it outweighs good sense. I don't think it matters what kind of show or music you may have just witnessed inside the theatre. To be fair though... how would the city be able to say what group could play? Whether it's this rowdy brass band or any other type of group..great or terrible... I mean, what is the city to do? Audition folks? On who's criteria? I guess we (patrons) would maybe like to see/hear some variety..rather than to ALWAYS be subjected to the squawking/blatting. The group might become more tolerable "once in a while".

Anonymous said...

I think of it as punishment for the CSO patrons who give standing ovations for EVERY performance. This adulation has encouraged Maestro Warren-Green to continue down the ill-advised road of faster and faster renditions to the point where phrasing is slurred, ensemble is compromised and nuance is non-existent.

Perhaps he could learn something from the brass bleaters, who at least know how to lock down a groove that breathes