A selfishness to be pitied

The old man sitting next to me at the performance of Magic Flute in Berlin was a hummer. All classical music attenders know who I am talking about– someone that bursts into humming any time a familiar lick is being played.

It is of course selfish for someone to hum at a concert. However, I want to distinguish between objective (or public) and subjective (or private) selfishness.

He is objectively selfish because he is willing to interfere with the experience of others. This is obvious.

But the objective selfishness can be dealt with. A couple loud ahems and an “accidental” heave of the arm mostly cured the problem; occasional lapses were brief thereafter.

I am thinking here more of subjective selfishness. The man has not left himself open to the full polyphonic experience; he can only think about the “melody,” which he, precious music appreciator that he is, has mastered.  He is not hearing the clarinets, violas, and horns, unless they happen to be doubling the melody. He has not actually opened his soul to a musical experience.

There is a selfishness that, ironically, prevents one from having even a private experience.

7 thoughts on “A selfishness to be pitied

  1. “He is objectively selfish because he is willing to interfere with the experience of others. This is obvious.”

    Assuming that he hums intentionally, yes. Otherwise, he is objectively selfish because of his neglect. Surely he would take care not to drool, pass gas, or jostle those around him. The same restraint ought to be enforced with regard to humming.

    In short, a hummer is only a few steps more respectful than a snorer – and perhaps a few less, if the humming is intentional.


  2. Mr. TJH,

    Great observations, (i’m a music fan myself!) I just had a few questions that I hope you wont mind answering whenever you get a chance.

    Why do you call (private) selfishness “subjective selfishness”, if your objective standards of selfishness are applicable to define it? Would I be correct in describing it as “Mr. TJH’s concept of objective internal selfishness?”

    You also say:

    He is objectively selfish because he is willing to interfere with the experience of others.

    But, you were also willing to interfere with his experience, so under certain circumstances it must be ok to interfere with someones experiences, without considering yourself selfish. If this is so, then what are the standards?

    Or would you say that you were also “subjectivly” selfish for not opening your soul to the music the man was making? (And objectivly selfish for interfering with his experiance?)

    I appreciate any answers you offer to my questions!

  3. Since he paid to listen to opera, rather than someone else’s humming of it, TJH ought to be considered rational.

  4. Yes, but an enlightened individual can take in the full polyphonic experience, opening his/her soul to the music, and appreciating all insturments involved.

    Seems to me like the entire set up, from programs to pan flutes, adds to the experience of the performance! Else why see it live? If this is the case, then even the very presence of the person next to you will affect in some way the experience!

    This is something you realize before ever buying the ticket in the first place!

    If Mr. TJH wanted to experience ONLY the opera, then he should have bought the CD! As it is, he is fine with applying his own standards of what constitues selfishness onto his neighbor, in an attempt to mold the experience into a more TJH friendly one!

    Who is the selfish one again?

  5. No, shotgun, Hummer should buy the CD and hum to his heart’s content.

    Hummer’s ticket, like mine, indicated what we were paying to hear. And that was not to hear people hum, belch, fart, or beat on pots and pans.

    If this isn’t obvious, you have obviously spent way too many years in public schools — and not yet recovered.

  6. Mr. TJH!

    I really appreciate you taking the time to respond to me, since I have a great respect for you and Mr. MRB. (It’s like going to a concert and having Dolly Partin look right at you!)

    Could you tell me the difference between a malfunctioning microphone, (or maybe a slight mispositioning of one of the ellipsoidal lights, or any other various small imperfection in the experience) and Mr. Hummer?

    They’re all part of the live show that you paid to go see! (in my previous response, I made the claim that even the audience is part of the experience!) …

  7. First, opera does not use microphones.

    More to the point, however, the difference is simple: the malfunctioning equipment is unintentional, while the humming is intentional.

    If the malfunction were intentional (or culpably “unintentional”) we wd have even more reason to be outraged, and even to demand our money back.

Comments are closed.