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I got shushed at a Yo-Yo Ma concert / SLATE

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Yo-Yo Ma leans in to the first of Bach's six suites for solo cello, alone on a vast, otherwise empty stage. It's a muggy September evening at the Greek Theatre in Berkeley, California, a 10,000-seat outdoor amphitheater carved into the middle of a busy, urban college campus, normally host to touring rock bands. It's sold out, of course-Yo-Yo Ma, the living embodiment of quality in classical music, will sell out any venue he plays.

Throughout the performance, which lasts 2½ hours without an intermission, people stomp up and down the aisles spilling their cups of beer, spectators gripe about the hard stone seats, kids fuss and shriek, airplanes roar overhead, and cars honk on the nearby road. Cellphones, banned in the program that nobody bothers to look at, beep out text alerts. It is, in other words, not the quietest venue.

A few bars into the prelude of the first suite, I notice that Ma is bowing the notes staccato, one note at a time, whereas my demanding childhood cello teacher insisted they should be bowed legato, slurred together in a long, sliding stroke. When I developed arthritis in my bowing hand my cello career ended, but my husband, seated next to me, is a professional musician and composer. So I lean over and say, in a very quiet whisper, "That bowing … " Before the third word is out, the woman in front of me whips her head around, glares, and shushes me.

The gesture is more disruptive than anything I'd done, but she does it again when someone accidentally kicks a plastic bottle. She does it again when someone coughs. She does it again when a kid yawns loudly. By this point, I've lost any ability to focus on the music because I'm so distracted by her trying to get 10,000 people to shut up.  Photo illustration by Slate.

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