Piano: A Cultural Discovery

by Lisa Johnsen

Concert de piano à l'église Saint-Pierre des Cuisines. Photo de Lisa Johnsen

Piano concert at the Saint-Pierre des Cuisines. Photo by Lisa Johnsen

On Monday, September 14th the Dickinson group went to hear a piano concert that was part of the annual festival, Piano aux Jacobins. Many of these concerts are featured at the beautiful Cloitre at the Eglise des Jacobins, however this concert took place the Eglise Saint-Pierre des Cuisines. This church no longer holds services, but is instead used as a concert hall throughout the year. We had the opportunity to see pianist David Violi perform pieces by Liszt, Brahms, Dukas, and an encore featuring Liszt and Schumann. Though concert etiquette may seem universal, there were a few cultural differences that I noticed throughout the evening. At the beginning of the concert, the Dickinson students received programs containing information about the performer, the composers, and the location of the concert from the always helpful Dickinson Center staff. None of the other audience members received any information about the performance. In the United States, most audience members receive a program containing information about the performance they have come to see, and usually advertising and promotion for other events. When we debriefed our experience of the concert the next day, Madame Toux remarked that when the French go to see a concert, they know who they are going to see and what they will hear. This is not usually the case for many Americans, who may go to a concert with no idea of what they are about to experience. In addition, many Americans would have been frustrated with the lack of information provided at the venue. This is part of the implicit vs. explicit culture of France and the United States, respectively, that we have studied in FR 300, Toulouse Colloquium. Another interesting note, during the intermission, there was no sale of drinks or food, nor was there any merchandise pertaining to the festival or the artist. Everything was very simple, and most people stayed in their seats although they began talking. It seems as though in the U.S. there are many more opportunities for commerce as well as advertising. Thinking to many American cities, it seems as though advertising takes up a lot of space, and is aggressively fighting for attention. The centre ville of Toulouse, while filled with many people, contains stores, but also a park and an area to sit together with friends. It gives off an entirely different vibe.

The concert started about 15 minutes late, however I did not find this to be particularly unusual, as many performances in the U.S. do not start exactly on time. No one in the audience seemed to be confused or frustrated with the later start time. Something I found to be surprising was the 2 encores after Violi had finished the original program. Normally, in the majority of concerts I have been to in the U.S., the audience may give applause, cheers, and even a standing ovation, but after many bows by the performer, the audience leaves. This audience clapped enthusiastically, with little cheering and no standing ovation, but the performer came back and continued to play. I found this to be surprising and also frustrating, as I was very tired after a long day. I know many of the other Dickinson students felt the same way, but the rest of the audience seemed to enjoy it, and even expect it. Overall the concert was lovely, and I plan on attending another concert that is part of the festival Piano aux Jacobins at the end of the month. The next time, I will research the concert beforehand, and expect an encore.

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