17 April 2017

Singapore's Concert Hall Staff - A National Disgrace

A Facebook user from Brunei slipped this one past the G.E.S.T.A.P.O.
Anyone sitting in the Esplanade stalls for last Thursday's concert will have been all too well aware of the catastrophic error by the Front of House staff who, in the middle of the Barber Cello Concerto, opened the doors to several dozen late-comers.  As the Concerto's slow movement unfolded, an increasing disturbance spread across the stalls as late-comers, like locusts invading a field, made for their chosen seats.  Far from being encouraged to stay back, the ushers actively abetted the disturbance by flashing their torches like so many anti-aircraft searchlights across wartime night skies, pointing to empty seats and forcing concert goers to stand up and shuffle around to make room for the errant late-comers. 

Whoever made the decision to open the doors mid-work needs, at least, an immediate sideways promotion (possibly to oversee access to the disabled washroom), while I would earnestly hope that the organisation which booked the hall will demand some kind of financial reparation for the distress caused to those of its patrons who had made the effort to arrive and be seated in time.  It is utterly unforgiveable that Singapore's premier concert hall should treat patrons in such an appalling manner; staff changes at the highest managerial level are clearly long overdue.

For those who luckily missed this disgraceful spectacle, the Concerto had been running for about 15 minutes when there was a general pause to set the scene for the tranquil central section.  Possibly noting from the screens outside that nobody on stage was actually moving and no sound of any kind was coming out of the hall (not even a cough - so rapt was the audience in the music) some FOH official made the decision to open the doors.  The waiting crowd outside filed in even as the music was playing, but no attempt was made to hold them back or even direct them to a waiting area.  Instead, oblivious to the fact that there was a concert in full swing, the ushers studied tickets and directed, with the aid of flashlights, the late-comers to their appointed seats - inevitably centre row at the front.

The conductor should have stopped and waited - it was simply impossible to hear the music over the distraction of so many late-comers.  That he did not was an error of judgement on his behalf.  But he should not have been put in that position in the first place. 

If this had been a one-off error on behalf of the Front of House staff, it might be seen as an isolated, if catastrophic, mistake. But it was not.  Such things have become an inevitable feature of concert life in Singapore.  I have arrived late myself to concerts and been obliged to wait outside; and have witnessed the complete absence of any guidance given to those charged with the smooth running of FOH practices, on one occasion having to tell the staff who were about to open the doors, that the music had not finished - it was just very quiet.  From my own professional experience with a concert hall I know the pressure FOH staff are under from those who have bought a ticket and assume it gives them complete authority over the running of the entire event.  But good staff training should be enough to counter such attitudes.

And there you have the root of the problem.  Good staff training.

In the very early days of the Dewan Filharmonik PETRONAS in Kuala Lumpur, I was involved in training FOH staff and ushers and impressed on them that the environment in the concert hall during concerts was sacrosanct, and only a dire emergency could allow doors to be opened in mid-concert.  Staff were given explicit details of when breaks in performance were allowed - I even played recordings of the works to be performed to identify cues for preparing to admit late-comers.  Conductors and soloists were consulted about appropriate points when late-comers could be admitted, and ushers were told about discretion and unobtrusiveness within the hall.  We made mistakes and more than once I or someone else was called out from the office to explain to an angry late-comer why the member of staff at the door was denying them entry.  But generally it worked, and to my knowledge, we never once had the kind of catastrophe which befell the unfortunate audience and musicians on Thursday. 

I would say that it is purely an Esplanade problem.  But Victoria Concert Hall has its FOH issues too.

While the General Esplanade Staff Team Against Photographic Opportunism (GESTAPO for short) means that ushers spend much of each concert moving up and down the aisles and hissing across sibilantly to putative photographers, the VCH team are far more obtrusive, running up and down, climbing over seats and asking patrons to pass messages along to some camera-wielding fan in mid-row.  You do not attend concerts in VCH without being continually aware of the ushers running around in their crazed search for errant cameras.  It's a waste of time in both venues (see above) and an unwelcome and unnecessary distraction; if it matters that much, why not simply confiscate the cameras and phones  at the door?  After all, anyone attempting to gain entry to the Esplanade auditorium has to undergo a security check in which bags are opened.  The purpose of this seems merely to look inside the bags, but it is surely not beyond the wit of man to train the staff to identify cameras and phones and ask them to be left outside?  As it is I fear that if you had an explosive device in your bag marked "BOMB" they would simply look at it and let it pass.

The job of FOH staff is to assist in the smooth running of an event, not to disrupt it.  This is something which eludes FOH staff in Singapore's premier concert halls, and it is a national disgrace.  Even as Singapore is emerging on to the international scene as a major force in the world of music, it is becoming a laughing stock because of untrained and misguided concert hall staff.

1 comment:

  1. Was there and was devastated because I couldn't hear my favourite 2nd movement...*sobs*

    ReplyDelete