In all our fine discussion here about silent listening, there’s something obvious that I’ve forgotten to say.
We’ve talked about noise at concerts, whether it’s from people Twittering, or people talking, or applauding during the music. Some of us are worried that this would disturb the musicians. As in fact it might, but maybe only (as I said in a reply to a comment) because the musicians aren’t used to noise coming from the audience.
Just look at sports. A major league pitcher has to fire pitches at pinpoint targets, maybe at a particular cubic inch of space. At 99 mph. And meanwhile the crowd is shouting, even screaming, even yelling insults directly at the pitcher, using his name.
The pitcher makes the pitches anyway. And the players in the field make their plays. We shouldn’t underestimate how complex baseball strategy can be. A ball is hit, and the fielders have to understand immediately where it’s going, who’s on base, how fast each runner is, and what the strategy might be for the situation unfolding at that moment (based on who’s on base, how many outs there are, what the score is, how late in the game it is, and more). And then they have to react almost instantaneously, run for the ball (I’m thinking of outfielders right now), catch it, immediately throw it where it needs to go, and hit precise targets. All maybe in a fraction of a second, with the crowd screaming.
Same in football. Many complex plays, many instantaneous decisions, many targets to hit. Or, in the case of pass receivers, targets to catch. All with the crowd screaming and roaring.
Cut to golf and tennis. There it’s different. When someone’s serving, or making a difficult putt, nobody watching is allowed to make a sound. If the crowd screamed at Rafael Nadal when he was returning a nasty serve from Federer, maybe he’d be thrown off stride. But that, I think it should be clear, would only be because he’s not used to crowd noise. If he were Johann Santana, pitching for the Mets, he’d make his shot no matter what the crowd was doing.
Maybe it’s different for classical musicians, because their art involves making sound, so they have to listen very carefully to everything that’s going on. I wonder, though, how much difference that would make, since concert noises aren’t likely to be loud. And because — if you’re playing in an orchestra — the orchestra itself makes so much noise that you very likely can’t hear the audience. And may well (depending on where you’re sitting) have trouble hearing all the other instruments. A back-stand violist, sitting right in front of the trombones, may not be well placed to hear exactly what the violins are doing while the trombones play.